When we think of Mexico, we usually imagine a broad stereotype, of a uniform culture that stretches from one end of the country to the other; of course, some of these stereotypes are true about some parts of the country. However, Mexico is a country rich in history and culture, and offers us a good deal of surprising discoveries and little tidbits of interesting information.
The more of these you find out, the more you will want to visit Mexico, if not live in Mexico to begin exploring this fascinating country for yourself. The following are just a handful of those facts, divided into the categories of “culture”, “history” and “economy.”
Culture – Did you know that …?
Tequila is a region of Mexico
- The liquor took its name from its place of origin, which is relatively near Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta. Tequila is a type of “mezcal,” liquor made from the agave plant (a type of cactus with many long, pointed leaves growing outwards from a central point – a similar shape to the aloe vera plant.) Other popular mezcals come from the state of Oaxaca. The famous idea of the worm in tequila is a misconception from the Oaxaca type of mezcal, which can actually be bought with a worm in the bottle. Both drinks have their origin in the pre-hispanic “pulque,” a think, slightly sour, fermented drink which is still enjoyed in village weddings and other celebrations to this day (it can be a little harsh to the unaccustomed stomach, however.)
Mexican culture is diverse
- Just like many people erroneously believe that South American food will include spicy tacos, it is also a slight misconception that all of Mexico shares a common culture. From Chihuahua on the U.S. border to Merida in Yucatan, there is a good deal of variation in language, food, social customs and history. Increasing migration within the country is creating slightly more blending.
Over 60 indigenous languages are still spoken in Mexico
- Although the majority of Mexico’s native peoples have been incorporated into the very large majority “Mestizo” population (those of mixed European and native ancestry), those who still speak indigenous languages have official rights to government services in their own language. The two most common of these still spoken as first languages are Nahuatl (the language of the ancient Aztec empire) and Mayan (the language of the ancient Mayan civilization.)
Polka influenced traditional Mexican music
- With the arrival of a large number of immigrants from Poland and Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) during the late 1800’s to the north Pacific area, especially Mazatlan, came bands with an accordion, base and a distinct rhythm still showing traces in the “norteño” style of music. These same immigrants founded the Pacifico brewery, still producing one of Mexico’s favorite beers. Another large immigrant group was the Lebanese, whose kebabs inspired “tacos al pastor,” perhaps Mexico’s most popular kind of taco.
- Other foreign influences come from the international tastes of the middle and upper class. The “gayabera” dress shirt was originally used by Cuban fruit pickers and was adopted by residents of Yucatan, where it is still very popular to this day. (An alternative explanation is that only the name came from Cuba, but the shirt originates in Yucatan itself.) French-influenced architecture can also be seen in older parts of Mexico City, a reflection of one president’s love for French culture (see the section on “Dictator” below.)
Mexico has 31 World Heritage Sites
- Including historic, cultural and natural sites, Mexico ranks first in North and South America. World wide, it ranks #5.
The Day of the Dead is a holiday to commemorate friends and family
- Although celebrated on the two days following Halloween (Nov. 1 and 2), the holiday is very different. An alter is built for family members and friends who have passed away, and a separate, larger alter is built for anyone who has died during that year. Pictures, food and items which the people liked, or remind the family of that person are placed on the alters, along with small skull figures made of sugar and chocolate.
- On Nov. 1, some families include other items in their home, such as a the favorite music of the departed member. That night, the family goes to the cemetery, to leave flowers at the grave, singing or praying to provide company for dead. In some communities, residents pass from home to home to leave candles at the alters, console the family and talk to them about their memories; some homes offer visitors a hot fruit punch and tamales. The traditions vary greatly from region to region. Halloween and the associated costume parties are becoming increasingly more popular among the middle class.
History – Did you know that …?
Independence Day is September 16
- 2011 is the bicentennial of the beginning Mexico’s Independence. The festivities the night before include fire-works, and, in some small towns, one person will run around with a wire framework of a bull on their head, with firecrackers shooting off in many random directions (visitors and most expats will almost never have the pleasure to witness this very unsafe and exciting spectacle!) A key item is the “Shout” of Independence and ringing of bells, which commemorate the heroes of Independence, and the original call to arms in the early morning of September 16, 1811. This call was given by a priest named Miguel Hidalgo, ringing the church bells of small town called Dolores in central Mexico.
- This year is also the centennial of the Revolution (see “Pancho Villa” below.)
“Cinco de Mayo” is a small, local holiday
- Most Mexicans do not celebrate this holiday. It is given most attention in Puebla, a city about 2 hours east of Mexico City, (and, for some reason, among Mexicans in the United States.) In 1862, the French invaded Mexico over debt repayment issues, and the Mexican army unexpectedly defeated the French near Puebla on May 5. The victory, however, was isolated and the French overthrew the Mexican Republic, replacing it with an Empire ruled by Maximilian, a member of the House of Habsburg. (Members of this dynasty also ruled in the Holy Roman Empire and many nations – most notably Austria and Spain – for about 500 years.)
A Dictator ruled Mexico for 33 years (1887-1911)
- After the defeat of Maximilian and the restoration of the Republic, the second elected president was deposed by the general Porfirio Diaz, who went on to be dictator until the Mexican Revolution forced him to resign and go into exile in 1911. While he is heavily criticized for his systematic repression of democracy and the media, and his complete lack of attention for the poor, these years (the “porfiriato”) were generally defined by peace, prosperity and modernization (the “pax porfiriana”).
Pancho Villa rebelled against 3 presidents
- This legendary hero of the Mexican Revolution was very successful and won every battle in which he engaged during the first part of the Revolution. He originally fought to end the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz (1910/1911), defeat his supporters and later to oppose a newly attempted dictatorship by another general (1913). During this time he became famous for robbing trains and seizing estates to fund the revolution, as well as his unique military tactics, which were directly filmed by Hollywood cameramen. He had the support of the American government.
- His success went downhill quickly during the second part of the Revolution, in which he came into conflict with the new president, originally one of his allies (1914/1915). He lost every battle, and lost the support of the U.S., soon being confined to a small area near the U.S. border. Later he retired and gave up the war in return for a large estate, which he turned into a colony for his veterans. He was assassinated when he tried to re-enter politics (1923).
Economy & Statistics – Did you know that …?
The population of Mexico is about 111 million
- This compares to about 350 million in the U.S., about 3 times as much.
Mexicans in the U.S. number around 10 million
- A total of about 30 million of American citizens and residents claim Mexican ancestry. Exact numbers of immigrants born in Mexico is uncertain due the number of those without official documents.
Americans living in Mexico number around 1 million
- This number, too, swells greatly, not with illegal immigrants, but with seasonal residents, such as the “snow-birds.” The exchange is a little uneven, not only in numbers, but also in motivation; while many Mexicans enter the U.S. looking for higher wages, Americans move to Mexico looking for a lower cost of living in a warm climate. One ironic similarity; both seek (and often find) a higher level of comfort and convenience in their lifestyle.
Mexico City is the second largest metropolitan area in the world
- The metropolitan population is 22 million; this would be like taking the entire population of Texas and putting it in one city. The number one city is Tokyo, which has 36 million inhabitants, similar to the population of California, and more than Canada. New York City and Seoul, South Korea, run neck and neck with Mexico City and are sometimes placed ahead.
In New Expressway Projects Mexico ranks #1
- This country surpasses infrastructure giants such as Brazil, and even the United States.
The Mexican Economy is Growing and Healthy
- Mexico’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) about 1.5 trillion USD, placing it in the “trillion dollar” class, which includes 14 countries. Mexico ranks 11th, above Canada which ranks 14th. (The U.S. is, of course, #1, with China catching up quickly). Large-scale promotion and support of investment and economic activity during recent presidencies has produced a fairly low unemployment rate of 5%. (It is still an issue, however, that a large portion of the employed work force does not earn enough.) Generally speaking, the economic growth is ideal for investment in Mexico real estate as well as other industries.
Interested in learning more about Mexico? Come and discover the country for yourself.
TOPMexicoRealEstate.com; Mexico’s Leading Network of Specialists for Finding and Purchasing Mexican Properties Safely
About the Author: Thomas Lloyd, founder and president of TOPMexicoRealestate.com.
Originally from Indiana, and a graduate of Purdue University in the Krannert School of Management, he holds a degree in management with a speciality in finances. Lloyd has several diplomas and certifications in Mexico Real Estate topics and is one of only a few professionals to hold Mexico’s new degree in real estate. This degree is accompanied by a Professional Identification Number, “cedula profesional,” which is issued for trained professionals such as those in the medical field, or in law. He has over 15 years of direct experience in Mexico’s business culture.