The Mexican culture is perhaps one of the most fascinating cultures worldwide. The mixture of strong native legends, artistic expressions and Spanish culture elements make the Mexican culture unique.
A huge distinction of Mexican culture is the Spanish language that is primarily spoken by 80% of the population. Of the 62 Amerindian languages recognized, Nahuatl is the most important, spoken by nearly one fourth of the population. Maya is spoken by 14% of Native Mexicans, followed by Mixteco and Zapoteco which are spoken by 7%.
Among other minority languages that appear in Mexico, it is interesting to find German, spoken by Mennonites, and the Chipilo dialect of the Venetian Language.
Unique and distinct, Mexican art is a huge representation of Mexican Culture displaying rich heritage and colorful pride.
Mayan traditions are still present in the society, and this might be best represented in paintings. As the greatest exponent of the Mexican art, paintings have achieved a well deserved popularity outside Mexico.
Some of the most influential artists have sprung from Mexican heritage. Frida Khalo is recognized as one of Mexico’s vibrant painters, as well as Diego Rivera, who painted in 1934 a well known, yet controversial, mural in Rockefeller Center in New York City.
Folk art traditions are also well rooted into the Mexican culture, displaying a wide array of handcrafted ornaments like clay pottery, garments with angular designs and multi-colored baskets and rugs. Handmade masks are created for national festivals, but these valuable items also adorn Mexican homes.
Elements of Mexican mythology are still used in designs, most commonly figures of Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoc. The details can be found adorning items such as high-end furniture and decors.
Mexican literature is renowned for names like Agustín Yáñez, Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes and many others. It dates, however, to the works of the early Mesoamerican tribes. Although much of this was lost due to poor preservation of the written pieces, a significant part was transmitted orally through many generations.
A prominent figure in the Pre-Columbian era was Nezahualcoyotl, who left behind a legacy of poetry and written works in the Classical Nahuatl language.
Many Mexican legends are quite famous too, like the legend of “La llorona” (“the weeping woman”), a woman whose spirit still cries for her lost son, or the legends of the Sacred woods of Chapultepec, where Aztec emperors had their effigies sculpted in order to achieve immortality.
Perhaps one of the key legends present in the Mexican culture is that of Quetzalcoatl, the most important figure of the Mexican cosmogony. It is said that Quetzalcoatl, while searching for the bones he needed to create mankind, reached Mictlan (“the region of the dead”), where the evil god Mictlantecutli tried to stop him. Aided by his sacred bees and worms, Quetzalcoatl was finally able to get the precious bones and he used them to bring the human kind into the world.
Modern times brought to recognition the works of Octavio Paz. Receiver of various prizes (notably the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990), Paz is certainly one of the greatest authors of the 20th century.
Music and Dance
Proud of their native heritage, Mexican people have preserved many of their ancestors’ traditions. Many of these are now found in the Mexican music, some of which resembles the sounds produced by the ancient Aztecs’ drums.
When thinking of music and dance in the Mexican culture, a colorful Mariachi band might come to mind. Mariachi is a folk style of music traditionally consisting of 5 musicians wearing a “charro” suit. They are most memorably heard playing a popular song called “La Cucaracha”, which translates to “the Cockroach”, on the street, at festivals or in restaurants.
Folks songs called corridos will tell a story of the Mexican Revolution, pride, romance, poverty, politics or crime. Other traditional music includes the Banda, Norteño and Ranchera styles.
Pop and rock are prevalent today in Mexico, as the country has the largest media industry in Latin America, producing artists who are famous in the Americas and parts of Europe.
Folk dancing is still common in Mexico and is known for its iconic “Mexican Hat Dance”, Jarabe Tapatio. This dance is performed by one or several people and it involves tossing a sombrero to the center of the stage, performing around it and ending the number with a collective “OLÉ!” and a hand clap.
Cinema reached its peak in Mexico between 1935 and 1959, a period called the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. The quality during this era was when actors such as Cantinflas and Dolores del Río were introduced to the big screen and became world renowned.
Despite this peak, Mexico still provides Hollywood with Academy Award winning directors like Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant), Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth).