Amanda is a retired educator with many years of experience teaching children of all ages and abilities in various contexts.
History of Mexico
Before the first Europeans set foot in Mexico in the sixteenth century, the land was host to a series of astonishingly complex and wealthy civilizations.
These great, ancient civilizations date back to at least 1200 years BC.
Early Great Mexican Civilizations
While the Maya and the Aztec are most widely known, the earliest of the great Mexican civilizations was the Olmec, then the Teotihuacan. The Mayan civilization came after that, then the Toltec, enduring until the time of the conquistadors (the Spanish conquerors) when the Aztec civilization was dominant.
Mexico has a strong sense of its historical heritage and the country boasts several of the finest museum collections in the world.
Hernán Cortés and the Conquest of Mexico
To many, he was a hero, to others a god, to yet others nothing but a ruthless killer. Hernán Cortés, the first of the Spanish conquistadors, landed his ships on the Gulf of Mexico in the year 1519.
Many people claim the Aztecs mistook Cortés for their returning god, Quetzacoatl. However, recent scholarship has pointed out that Spanish scribes promoted the story after the conquest. The lengthiest account of this story is by Cortés himself, in a letter to the King, in which he attempts to portray the native people in a poor light.
It's unlikely that the story is true. Such legends are common and history is, as they say, written by the conquerors. In reality, given what we know about the complexity of Aztec culture, language, science, religion, and society, it’s doubtful the Aztec people would have thought anything of the kind.
The conquest of Mexico, like the conquest of North America hundreds of years later, was a bloody one, and also involved the attempted genocide of native people.
Europeans also brought diseases with them to which the Aztecs had no natural immunity and so they wiped out many populations through illnesses such as the common cold.
The rule of Spain continued into the early 19th century. But it was not to last.
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Father Hidalgo and Mexican Independence
In 1810, the revolutionary priest, Father Hidalgo, organized a rebellion against Spanish authority. In a short time, the struggle was successful and Mexico declared its independence. For a hundred years Mexico enjoyed a state of peace. But that would also change as the social tensions between the rich and the poor put an increasing strain on the nation's stability. Mexicans celebrate Independence Day on September 16th.
The Mexican Civil War
In 1910, the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest in a country that had become riddled with corruption and inequality had grown too wide. Political and diplomatic avenues to bring about social change had failed. Once again, Mexico tore apart, this time in a civil war lasting over ten years. During the conflict, many millions of Mexicans, on both sides, met their deaths. The war ended in the 1920s with the formation of the United Mexican States.
Mexican Food, Festivals and Folk Arts
In the years after the end of the war, Mexico enjoyed a cultural blossoming that continues to this day. Mexico is a land of many colors, a melting pot of different races and cultures, which has given rise to a vibrant and powerful array of arts festivals and fabulous cooking. The distinctive style of Mexican art is instantly recognizable.
Popular Mexican Folk Arts
Some of the most popular and well-known Mexican folk arts include:
- making wooden masks
- beautiful, multi-colored textiles
- making repoussé tin items
- making papel picado
Papel picado is a craft which involves punching designs out of colored paper. Some of the designs can be very elaborate.
Many beautiful craft objects are made especially to celebrate seasonal and religious festivals, such as:
- sugar skulls for The Day of the Dead
- piñatas for birthdays, Christmas, and Easter
Mexicans make piñatas either from clay, woven straw, cardboard, or papier mâché. They resemble animals or people. People fill piñatas with sweets and treats, then hang them from the ceiling or the branch of a tree.
Food and cooking also play an important part in Mexican daily life. Traditional Mexican cooking, which uses rich flavors and plenty of spices such as hot chilli, has become popular all over the US and Europe, as well as within Mexico itself.
Mexico City stands over the original site of the ancient Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan. It is a large, historic city that boasts dozens of extraordinarily beautiful monuments. These include everything from ruined fragments of the ancient Aztec buildings to the soaring edifice of the Metropolitan Cathedral.
The city is in a unique location, too, being 2,240 meters above sea level and nestled down in the valley between two giant volcanoes. If the city itself seems too hectic and crowded, on the outskirts you can find peace and relaxation in Xochimilco—a maze of waterways bordered by poplar trees and bright-colored flowers.
The Troubled Story of the Mexican Border
The border between the USA and Mexico stretches 1,952 miles coast to coast, from the Gulf of Mexico in the east to Tijuana in the west.
Border controls have a complex history and a troubled present.
Many Mexicans who still struggle in a state of relative poverty try to cross the border in the hope of establishing a better life in the United States, just as the Pilgrims crossed the oceans from Europe to America with the same hope.
But it’s not only simple folk seeking a better life that troubles the Mexican/USA border. There are drug smugglers, illegal arms traders, and, more recently, potential terrorists, also attempting to cross.
In more recent times, to increase control of who can and cannot cross the border, the USA has constructed many miles of fences and walls along the most accessible stretches of border territory.
But the border isn't closed. At legal crossing points, with the right papers and a passport, traffic flows both ways, into and out of Mexico. The largest and busiest of these legal border crossings is in Tijuana, located right in the top north-west corner of the country.
10 Amazing Mexico Facts
Mexico covers an area of 742474.45 square mile
On the Mexican flag, the green stands for hope, the white for purity and the red for the blood of the people. The eagle eating the snake refers to an Aztec legend
An historical consequence of the Spanish Invasion, the currency in Mexico is still the peso
Mexico is rich in natural resources, including oil, gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, gas and timber
While still highly controversial in the minds of many, Mexico's national sport is bullfighting. In fact, Mexico City is host to the world's largest bullring
Mexico City is one of the fastest expanding urban populations outside China, with over 20 million inhabitants and rising
The dominant religion in Mexico today is Roman Catholicism
Modern Mexican culture has been influenced by contact with Spain and Asia. This is reflected in the cooking style and in the fact that Spanish is the most common language in Mexico
Much of Mexico is very mountainous. The world's largest active volcanoes, Popocatepet, Ixtaccihuati and Citlaltepetl, are all found in Mexico
On Lake Xochimilco, rafts float loaded with soil, anchored to the bottom. These self-watering, floating gardens support a wide variety of fruits and vegetables
Mexico is a beautiful country which boasts a beautiful landscape of rugged mountains, rumbling volcanoes, deep forests, wild deserts and seemingly infinite, tropical beaches.
Unfortunately, it still has its fair share of troubles, from water pollution to the wide gap between rich and poor.
But there's no doubt that Mexico is a beautiful land and the Mexican culture is a vibrant and colorful one.
As a people, Mexicans are warm and welcoming with a strong sense of tradition, of family, and of faith.
Hope you enjoyed the trip to Mexico. It just remains to say:
© 2014 Amanda Littlejohn
Hey, it's good to talk! I always answer comments and questions...
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on January 30, 2015:
Thanks for your comment. Yes, it is true that Mexico has a long and complex, fascinating history. It is also an extraordinarily rich place culturally today.
Bless you :)
peachy from Home Sweet Home on January 30, 2015:
Fascinating, there are a lot of historical stories behind mexico
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on October 01, 2014:
Thanks so much. I'm so glad you enjoyed this. Mexico really is a fascinating place.
Bless you :)
FlourishAnyway from USA on September 30, 2014:
Great hub as always. Beautiful images, fun facts, engaging content for a variety of ages. Voted up and more and pinning.
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on September 30, 2014:
Thanks for calling by. I'm glad you enjoyed the article about Mexico and found the information useful.
Bless you :)
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 29, 2014:
This is an interesting and useful hub! The text, pictures and videos provide lots of great information.
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on September 27, 2014:
Thanks so much for your comment. I'm delighted this was useful to you. Please feel free to use any of the information here in class. If you would like to receive updates on new articles as they are published, sign up for the newsletter by visiting my profile (just click on the link at the top right side of this page)
Bless you :)
Joanna Salis on September 27, 2014:
This was great. Just what I was looking for. Brilliant facts about Mexico with nice pictures and a positive viewpoint. Thanks.
Jo (MG Teacher)