Indigenous Peoples of Mexico


“When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself.”

Indigenous Peoples of Mexico

The pre-Columbian civilizations of what now is known as Mexico are usually divided in two regions: Mesoamerica, in reference to the cultural area in which several complex civilizations developed before the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century, and Aridoamerica (or simply “The North”) in reference to the arid region north of the Tropic of Cancer in which few civilizations developed and was mostly inhabited by nomadic or semi-nomadic groups[citation needed]. Mesoamerica was densely populated by diverse indigenous ethnic groups which, although sharing common cultural characteristics, spoke different languages and developed unique civilizations.

One of the most influential civilizations that developed in Mesoamerica was the Olmec civilization, sometimes referred to as the “Mother Culture of Mesomaerica“. The later civilization in Teotihuacán reached its peak around 600 AD, when the city became the sixth largest city in the world, whose cultural and theological systems influenced the Toltec and Aztec civilizations in later centuries. Evidence has been found on the existence of multiracial communities or neighborhoods in Teotihuacan (and other large urban areas like Tenochtitlan). The Maya civilization, though also influenced by other Mesoamerican civilizations, developed a vast cultural region in south-east Mexico and northern Central America, while the Zapotec and Mixtec culture dominated the valley of Oaxaca, and the Purepecha in western Mexico.

The most significant groups are the Tarahumaras, Nahuas, Huicholes, Purépechas, Mixtecos, Zapotecas, Otomís, Totonacas and Mayas. They still form the major population group in some regions of the country, but as in other parts of the world, indigenous peoples in Mexico are treated as worth-less, second class citizens by ‘pure European’ Mexicans and mixed race mestizos (like Travellers in Ireland). High levels of migration to the cities – where they often end up as the cheapest of the cheap labour – and to the U.S. has been one consequence of the loss of traditional lands.

There are 62 indigenous groups in Mexico, each with a unique language, although certain languages have multiple dialects which may be mutually unintelligible. In 2005, the indigenous population was estimated at 12 million, some 11% or 12% of the national population. The majority of the indigenous population is concentrated in the central and south-eastern states.

“There is a place that the Spirit of Truth has prepared
so that it shall be from there from which will be born the
Liberation of the Indigenous Peoples. It is called AZTLAN,
which means Paradise; it is where the Spirit of Truth lives.”

Yaqui Elder Rafael Guerrero, Coronel, Division del Norte de Pancho Villa

Aztlan is the mythical place of origin of the Aztec peoples.
In their language (Nahuatl), the roots of Aztlan are the two words:

aztatl – tlan(tli)

meaning “heron” and “place of,” respectively. ‘Tlantli’ proper means tooth, and as a characteristic of a good tooth is that it is firmly rooted in place, and does not move, the prefix of this word is commonly used in Nahuatl to denote settlements, or place names, e.g. Mazatlan (place of deer), Papalotlan (place of butterflies) or Tepoztlan (place of metal). The Nahuatl language is often said to include three levels of meaning for its words or expressions: literal, syncretic and connotative. The connotative meaning of Aztlan, due to the plumage of herons, is “Place of Whiteness.” The mythical descriptions of Aztlan would have it to be an island.

You would replace -tlan with -tecatl to identify a resident or person from the given place. So, for the examples above, we have that people from Mazatlan would be Mazatecatl, someone from Tepoztlan a Tepoztecatl, and someone from Aztlan an Aztecatl.

In the origin myths of the Aztecs, they emerged originally from the bowels of the earth through seven caves (Chicomostoc) and settled in Aztlan, from which they subsequently undertook a migration southward in search of a sign that would indicate that they should settle once more. This myth roughly coincides with the known history of the Aztecs as a barbarous horde that migrated from present-day northwestern Mexico into the central plateu sometime toward the end of the first millenium AD, when high civilizations of great antiquity were already well established in the region. It is known that the Aztecs had a sector (“barrio”) in the Toltec city of Tollan, and the cultural influence of the Toltecs on the rough-edged Aztecs was subsequently to be very marked. On the view of some scholars (e.g., Nigel Davies), all of Aztec cultural development was an effort to recreate the grandeur that they knew at Tollan.

The exact physical location of Aztlan is unkown, other than it must have been located near estuaries or on the coast of northwestern Mexico, though some archaeologists have gone so far as to locate the present town of San Felipe Aztlan, Nayarit, as the exact place.

In Chicano folklore, Aztlan is often appropriated as the name for that portion of Mexico that was taken over by the United States after the Mexican-American War of 1846, on the belief that this greater area represents the point of parting of the Aztec migrations. In broad interpretation, there is some truth to this in the sense that all of the groups that would subsequently become the various Nahuatl-speaking peoples of central Mexico passed through this region in a prehistoric epoch, as attested by the existance of linguistically related groups of people distributed throughout the U.S. Pacific Intermontane region, the U.S. southwest and northern Mexico, known as the Uto-Aztecan-Tanoan group, and including such peoples as the Paiute, Shoshoni, Hopi, Pima, Yaqui, Tepehuan, Rara’muri (Tarahumara), Kiowas and Mayos.

“Every mestizo is one less Indian
or one more Indian waiting to reemerge.”

Jose Barreiro, Taino/Guajiro

“We do not want to be classified as ‘Hispanicized Indians’.”

“To be Chicana/Chicano is to be indigenous.”

Vivian Lopez, Yaqui/Apache

“La piel del jaguar ya adornaba el suelo,
y hoy es noble, armadura de mi pueblo.
Como ferroz guerreros defendiendo la tierra,
zapata vive y sigue en pie de guerra”

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Ois Botik (Thank you)

Native Nations/Languages of Mexico
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Mapa de Localización de los
Pueblos Indígenas Originarios de la Entidad.

Origins of Mexico

The original inhabitants of Mexico called themselves the “Mexicas”. The word ‘Mexico’ is identical in several languages, such as Mixtec, Otomi, Pame, and Tarasco. In “Nahuatl” (the language of the “Aztecs/Mexicas”) it is the combination of three words:

1. Metx(tli) – ‘moon’
2. xic(tli) – ‘navel’
3. co – ‘in’

This gives Mexico a meaning of “In the navel of the Moon”. Since the postions of the lakes, upon which Mexico City was founded, are shaped like a rabbit and correspond to the same pattern on the moon, thus:

Mexico = “The Rabbit’s Navel”The “Aztecs” emerged in the Valley of Mexico, or Anahuac as it was called by its peoples, around the 14th century. Aztec legends tell of seven Nahua tribes, known as the Chichimecas. According to Aztec myth, the journey from Aztlan (ancient capital of modern day Nayarit) to Anahuac was directed by Huitzilopochtli (left-handed hummingbird), who represents the sun god, and his sister Malinal Xochitl (grass flower), manifested as the moon. Near the end of the journey he abandoned his sister, who took refuge in Malinalco (today a famous archeological center). Malinal’s son Copil (royal crown), also representing the moon, attempted to incite the people of the Valley to destroy the Aztecs at Chapultepec (hill of the grasshoppers). On the Cerro del Penon (Hill of the Big Rock) war was waged between Huitzilopochtli and Copil. Copil was killed by Huitzilopochtli, who told Tenoch to go and bury his nephew’s heart at the site where the high priests had been seeking for nearly a century (Aztec century = 52 years). This spot is said to be located in the “Plaza de Santo Domingo”.

[The name Tenoch is part of the name originally given to Mexico City “Tenochitlan”. It is derived from the tree which produces the tenochtli (red, hard, prickly pears). Tenochtli is the symbol of human hearts sacrificed to the sun.]

Without documentation, what makes this the exact location where Mexico was founded? The following facts will help show that:

The sun and its nahual ‘double’ the eagle are one and the same, that is, their names are interchangeable. Likewise, the moon is identified with its nahual the rabbit that lives on it. Unlike the sun, which is all fire, the moon is a place of quiet peace. The home of the rabbit is a symbol of fertility. This is also the reason why the pyramids at Teotihucan are called the ‘sun’ and ‘moon’.

Even though the sun defeated the moon, that does not deprive the moon of its place in Mexcio’s beliefs. The moon’s role is that of keeping the waters of the cosmos, sending rain, and preserving the moonlight. Here is a metaphor concerning the rabbit:

“The earth, in conjurings, was called ‘face-up’ rabbit, for thou art resplendent mirror..’; that is, the rabbit is the reflection of the earth on heaven or viceversa”.

The words Mexico Tenochitlan appear on the shield of the nation.

Mexico is the largest Spanish-speaking country and the second-largest Roman Catholic nation in the world. It extends from the 14th to the 32d parallel north of the equator in southern North America. Brazil and Argentina are the only Latin American countries that exceed it in area. The United States borders Mexico on the north, while Guatemala and Belize are found on the southeast, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea on the east, and the Pacific Ocean on the west and south. The country’s name is taken from the Mexica, one of seven Nahuatl tribes that inhabit the central region of the country.

Political strife, anarchy and war marked the next half century. This period brought war with the United States in 1846 and the loss of what is now Texas, followed in 1848 by the cession of lands included in the present U.S. states of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, and California. In the late 1800s, dictator Porfirio DIAZ brought a long period of stability and development by foreign interests. The 1910 Revolution signaled the beginning of a period of dramatic social change that led to the creation of the Constitution of 1917, which remains in force. President Lazaro CARDENAS achieved widespread land reform and nationalization of the country’s basic industries in the l930s. Although Mexican industry expanded substantially between 1940 and l980, rapid population growth prevented millions of Mexicans from escaping the chains of poverty. After 1980 a recessionary world economy slowed progress.


Mexico is mostly mountainous. The volcano Orizaba, located near Puebla in a chain of mountains called the Transverse Volcanic Sierra, is Mexico’s highest mountain, with an elevation of 5,747 m (18,855 ft). This sierra extends east-west across Mexico to the north of Mexico City, the country’s capital, and includes the spectacular volcanoes POPOCATEPETL (5,452 m/17,887 ft), IXTACIHUATL (5,386 m/17,671 ft) and PARICUTIN (2,774 m/9,101 ft), the last born only in 1943.


The two main mountain ranges to the north of Mexico City run north and south; they are southward continuations of the Rocky Mountains. These are the Sierra Madre Occidental in the west, with elevations exceeding 3,300 m (10,000 ft) and the Sierra Madre Oriental in the east, which rises to more than 4,000 m (13,000 ft). The Mexican Plateau, covering over 40% of the country’s area, sits between them. This tableland increases in elevation as one moves southward; the farther south, the cooler and rainier it becomes. The Sierra Zacatecas divides the Mexican Plateau into the dry, sparely settled Northern Mesa and the lake-dotted, densely populated Central Mesa. Coastal plains border the mountains along the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific coasts. The BAJA CALIFORNIA peninsula is separated from the mainland by the Gulf of California.

Mountains along the southern Pacific coast are dominated by east-west trend lines; they are structurally related to landforms in Central America and the West Indies. These mountains are interrupted by the down-faulted lowland of the Isthmus of TEHUANTEPEC, Mexico’s narrowest point. They include the rounded, worn, and ancient rocks of the Southern Sierra Madre, which descend steeply to the Pacific coast between Cape Corrientes and the Gulf of Tehuantepec. The isolated Balsas River Basin separates the volcanic zone from the Southern Sierra Madre.

In the east the YUCATAN PENINSULA is a low limestone platform that projects northward into the Gulf of Mexico. In the southeast, between the Yucatan Peninsula and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the principal landforms are the Tabasco Plain, along the Gulf of Mexico; the Chiapas Highlands, which reach elevations of more than 2,85O m (9,385 ft); the Chiapas Valley; the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, an eastward continuation of the Southern Sierra Madre; and a narrow coastal plain along the Pacific Ocean.


Mexico’s most fertile soils are alluvial; they develop mainly in river valleys and along the Gulf and Pacific coastal plains. Lacustrine soils are formed on the dry beds of ancient lakes; they are common in the Bajio de Guanajuato and other basins and are also very fertile. Soils of volcanic origin are likewise generally productive. Arid soils, deficient in humus and often highly alkaline, are found in dry areas of the northern Mexican Plateau, in the Sonoran Desert, in Baja California, and in the northern Yucatan Peninsula. Rendzina soils, found in warm and humid areas underlain by limestone, dominate the northern Gulf coast plain, parts of the Balsas River Basin, and the southern Yucatan Peninsula.


The climate of Central Mexico has average temperatures of 65-74 deg. F. It is moderated by elevation of area. The annual precipitation is 38 in. The soil type is volcanic – very productive for maize and beans, which are the main crops. Resources of the area include flora, fauna, minerals, mines, gold and silver.

Mexico’s climate is hot and humid in the southern coastal areas but becomes increasingly arid toward the north. Temperatures decrease with increasing altitude. One of the most important features of Mexico’s climate is the pronounced seasonality it experiences in rainfall distribution. The rainy season comes during the warmer half of the year, from May through October; during those months moist winds blow onto the land from the adjoining oceans and are forced to rise up over mountainous areas, creating OROGRAPHIC PRECIPITATION. Tropical cyclones add to summer rainfall. In the cooler half of the year, when the world’s wind belts shift southward, the Bermuda Subtropical High dominates the climate of most of Mexico and brings clear skies with almost no precipitation.

The wettest areas, where rainfall varies between 1,000 and 3,100 mm (45-120 in) each year, are located south of the 22nd parallel and include the mountainous, windward slopes of southern and central Mexico. Drier conditions prevail in the north. The driest areas on the Mexican Plateau receive less than 3O5 mm (12 in) of precipitation a year.

Temperatures decrease with increasing altitude, giving Mexico several altitudinal temperature zones. The hottest lands (tierra caliente) are along the coastal plains, in the Balsas River Basin, and in the Chiapas Valley. Tropical crops and irrigated vegetables are common in these areas. Temperate (tierra templada) to cool (tierra fria) conditions are common over most of the Mexican Plateau. In Mexico City, which is situated at an altitude of 2,240 m (7,350 ft), July temperatures range from a low of 12 deg C (54 deg F) to a high of 23 deg C (73 deg F). High mountain slopes experience even colder temperatures.


Subject to tsunamis along the Pacific coast and destructive earthquakes in the center and south; natural water resources scarce and polluted in north, inaccessible and poor quality in center and extreme southeast; deforestation; erosion widespread; desertification; serious air pollution in Mexico City and urban centers along US-Mexico border


The major rivers flowing to the Pacific are the Colorado, which empties into the northern end of the Gulf of California; the 724-km/450-mi-long) Balsas; and the 927-km/576-mi-long) Lerma-Santiago river system (the longest in Mexico), whose headwaters are diverted for use by Mexico City. The valley within which Mexico City is situated is a basin of interior drainage, and its major rivers evaporate, disappear underground, or flow into lakes. The nation’s capital suffers from chronic water shortages.

Vegetation and Animal Life

Mexico is divided by a major biogeographic regional boundary: the imaginary line that separates the temperate and tropical floral and faunal zones. This contributes to Mexico’s great biological diversity. Rain-forest vegetation predominates in the states of southeastern Mexico, especially southwestern CAMPECHE, northeastern CHIAPAS, northern TABASCO, southeastern VERACRUZ, and in the southern and eastern regions of the Yucatan Peninsula. Annual rainfall exceeds 2,000 mm (80 in) in these places. Coniferous and oak-tree forests predominate in humid areas at higher elevations, including the Sierra Madre Oriental, the Sierra Madre Occidental, the Sierra Madre del Sur, the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, the Transverse Volcanic Sierra, and the uplands of northern Baja California. Tropical savanna dominates much of the Yucatan Peninsula and some parts of the Pacific and Gulf coastal plains. Thorny desert thickets and dry grasslands can be found in dry areas of the Mexican Plateau, northeastern and northwestern parts of the country, and in Baja California. Mangrove swamps are common in low, muddy areas along the Gulf and Pacific coasts south of the Tropic of Cancer.

Widely distributed fauna include deer, coyote, rabbits, skunks, badgers, pumas, bears, snakes, and many species of birds. The tropical areas are inhabited by armadillos, iguanas, tapirs, monkeys, macaws, parrots, crocodiles, and snakes.


Mexico has abundant petroleum resources along the Gulf coastal plain. The Reforma field of Chiapas and Tabasco states, developed since 1972, and offshore in the Gulf of Campeche, where deposits were discovered in 1978 and 1981, have made Mexico the fifth-leading exporter of oil in the world. More gas and oil fields were found in 1984, bringing Mexico’s proven oil reserves to almost 66 billion barrels in 1992. Natural gas, sulfur, and salt are found with the petroleum deposits. Other minerals of commercial importance are coal and iron ore. Mexico is also the world’s leading exporter of silver and an important producer of gold, copper, lead, manganese, zinc, mercury, fluorite, and salt.

Because Mexico has so much arid territory and terrain in slope, lands suitable for farming are only about 15% of the total area while lands for grazing make up about 38%. Forests cover 25% of the land. Fish are abundant in waters off both coasts. The government in the mid-1980s worked to increase greatly the exploitation of marine resources. Many hydroelectric power sites are located along the steep edge of the Mexican Plateau.


The Mexican government has not collected or officially recorded racial data since 1921; for that reason precise data about the ethnic composition of the population are not available. About 51% of the Mexican people are mestizos (see MESTIZO), a racial category resulting from the intermarriage of European Caucasians and Native Americans. Roughly 33% are Native Americans, 15% Caucasians, and 1% fall into other categories. The federal government uses the primary language spoken as the basis for identifying ethnic groups. In the 1990 census, 91% of the people reported that Spanish was their primary language. The most widely spoken languages other than Spanish are: Nahuatl, used in east central Mexico; Maya, primarily in the Yucatan; Zapotec and Mixtec, spoken in OAXACA state; and Otomi, spoken near Mexico City and in parts of PUEBLA and Veracruz states. In 1990 over 6.3 million Mexicans spoke one of the dialects of these languages.


An estimated 93% of the population are Roman Catholics, 3% are Protestants, and 3% identify themselves as nonreligious; Jews number about 100,000. Freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed. Church and state are strictly separated, partly because of a strong anti-clerical tradition.


From only about 15 million persons in 1910, Mexico’s population grew to 34 million in 1960, more than 69 million in 1980, and 91,987,000 in 1992. With an annual rate of natural increase of 2.2%, the population is projected to grow to 109,480,000 by the year 2000. The rate of natural increase has declined since the early 1970s because of a vigorous family-planning program backed by the Mexican government. Although birth rates have declined, they are still high. Because of these established demographic trends, Mexico has a very young population; over half of the people are under 20 years of age.

The most densely populated areas are found in the south central part of the country, mostly at altitudes above 1,000 m (3,280 ft). This central core was heavily populated even before the arrival of the Spaniards. The most sparsely populated areas are the states of Baja California Sur, plus Campeche and QUINTANA ROO on the Yucatan Peninsula. Migration from rural to urban areas proceeded at a rapid pace during the last half of the 20th century. Mexico is now a highly urbanized country, with 71% of the people living in cities and towns.

MEXICO CITY is the nation’s largest city as well as the capital. So many people have moved into the metropolitan area that it has become the world’s largest city, with a population of 22.2 million in 1990. Netzahualcoyotl is Mexico City’s biggest suburb. Mexico’s second-largest city is GUADALAJARA. Other large cities, ranked by population size, are MONTERREY, PUEBLA, LEON, CIUDAD JUAREZ, CULIACAN, MEXICALI, TIJUANA, MERIDA, and ACAPULCO.

Education and Health

Intensive adult education programs were begun in the 1970s to decrease illiteracy. Today, the literacy rate is 87%. Most of the young people between 6 and 14 years old attend a 6-year, free, compulsory elementary-school program. About 8 million students are enrolled in secondary schools and colleges; of these, many attend regional technological institutes where training emphasizes skills needed for national development. Only about 5% attend institutions of higher learning, such as the National Autonomous University of Mexico (see MEXICO, NATIONAL AUTONOMOUS UNIVERSITY OF) or the National Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1936.

Since 1931, when the first Social Security Law was passed, health conditions in Mexico have improved dramatically under the aegis of the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS). Life expectancy has steadily increased in the decades since 1930, and the number of medical specialists has risen markedly. Mexico now has about one physician for every 1,200 people.

The Arts

Mexico’s most famous writers are Mariano AZUELA, Carlos FUENTES, Octavio PAZ, and Agustin YANEZ. Noted Mexican poets include Amado Neo and Manuel Gutierrez Najera. Modern Mexican art dates from the Revolution of 1910 and is expressed in the work of such famous artists as Jose Clemente OROZCO, Diego RIVERA, David Alfaro SIQUEIROS, Rufino TAMAYO, and Juan O’GORMAN. Their murals and mosaics, which often contain social and political criticism, decorate many of Mexico’s modern buildings. Carlos CHAVEZ and Silvestre Revueltas are two outstanding composers. Mexican music is rich and varied. Its influence has extended far beyond the borders of the country. Regional folk arts, a legacy of Mexico’s ancient native cultures, also flourish. Mexico has an influential film industry. The Churubusco studios in Mexico City produce a steady flow of movies shown widely in Spanish-speaking countries. The television industry is also expanding rapidly.


Overview: Mexico’s economy is a mixture of state-owned industrial facilities (notably oil), private manufacturing and services, and both large-scale and traditional agriculture. In the 1980s, Mexico experienced severe economic difficulties: the nation accumulated large external debts as world petroleum prices fell; rapid population growth outstripped the domestic food supply; and inflation, unemployment, and pressures to emigrate became more acute. Growth in national output, however, has recovered, rising from 1.4% in 1988 to 4% in 1990 and 3.6% in 1991 and coming in at 2.6% in 1992. The US is Mexico’s major trading partner, accounting for almost three-quarters of its exports and imports. After petroleum, border assembly plants and tourism are the largest earners of foreign exchange. The government, in consultation than two-thirds of its state-owned companies (parastatals), including banks. In 1991-92 the government conducted negotiations with the US and Canada on a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was still being discussed by the three countries in early 1993. In January 1993, Mexico replaced its old peso with a new peso, at the rate of 1,000 old to 1 new peso. Notwithstanding the palpable improvements in economic performance in the early 1990s, Mexico faces substantial problems for the remainder of the decade – e.g., rapid population growth, unemployment, and serious pollution, particularly in Mexico City.

Mining and subsistence farming, the predominant economic activities during the Spanish colonial period, remain important today. However, silver is now less important than petroleum, natural gas, and other industrial minerals, and commercial agriculture has been actively promoted by government-sponsored programs of agrarian reform, irrigation, and road construction. Manufacturing grew rapidly after 1940. Today, however, services such as tourism, banking, and advertising are the dominant and fastest-growing sector of the economy, contributing 56% of the gross national product (GNP). Tourism, which has been officially encouraged, is Mexico’s second-largest earner of foreign exchange, after oil. The country earned more than $4.8 billion from tourism and more than $10 billion from oil exports in 1989.

Nevertheless, a recessionary world economy and depressed oil markets contributed to an economic crisis that started in the early 1980s and persisted. Following multiple devaluations of the peso, the nation faced bankruptcy. Whereas a U. S. dollar bought 23 pesos in 1980, it bought well over 3,000 in 1992. Inflation exceeded 150% in 1987. Real income plunged in the 1980s. An estimated 40% of the workforce was unemployed or underemployed in 1990. The government imposed a broad austerity program to stimulate the economy, taking such measures as the privatization of more than 1,000 companies. The country began emerging from its economic tailspin in 1991.


Because of the recent growth of service industries, a declining percentage of the economically active population is engaged in manufacturing. Principal iron and steel centers are located at Monterrey and Monclova, close to the Sabinas coalfield, and at Lazaro Cardenas, near the mouth of the Balsas River. The two largest government-owned steel mills were put up for sale in 1991. Most other industries are attracted to the densely populated urban areas in and around Mexico City, Guadalajara, Orizaba, and Puebla. Besides steel, the main industries are food processing, petroleum refining, the manufacture of petrochemicals, synthetic fibers, textiles, fertilizers, paper, and pharmaceuticals, and automobile assembly.

The growth of “maquiladora” (literally, corn-ration, meaning sweatshop-wage) factories in cities along the U. S. border is a recent development. The Border Industries Program, begun in 1965, has led to the creation of more than 1,000 manufacturing plants in border cities, such as Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana. These firms can import raw materials duty-free from the United States and assemble them with cheap labor into such products as appliances, which they export back to the United States, paying taxes only on the value added.


Petroleum, the production of which was nationalized in 1938 and is now controlled by the government agency PEMEX (Petroleos Mexicanos), is Mexico’s principal mineral resource and leading export. Mexico mines more iron ore than it does any other metallic mineral; the biggest iron mines are found in the state of Durango and near the mouth of the Balsas River. The tonnage of salt production almost matches that of iron ore; most of the salt is made in evaporation ponds on the eastern shore of Baja California. Mexico’s other minerals include silver (about 15% of the world’s production), lead, and zinc; these are mostly produced from the old colonial mining centers of GUANAJUATO (city), LA PAZ, PACHUCA, SAN LUIS POTOSI (city), TAXCO, ZACATECAS (city), and Parral. Copper, worked at Cananea in the northwest and near Santa Rosalia on the Baja California peninsula is exported mostly to Arizona for smelting. Since l956 sulfur has been extracted from deep beneath the ground near Jaltipan in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.


In 1988, Mexico produced an estimated 110.8 billion kW h of electricity. About three-quarters was generated in thermoelectric plants fueled by coal, petroleum, and natural gas; the other one-quarter was produced in hydroelectric plants located on the steep southern and eastern edges of the Mexican Plateau. Over half of all electricity is produced in this densely populated and industrialized zone, and distribution to other areas is limited.

Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing

About a quarter of the economically active population is employed in agriculture, forestry, or fishing. Most are subsistence farmers producing small amounts of maize, beans, and squash, while sometimes raising a goat, some chickens, or a pig. Maize is Mexico’s leading crop, with production approaching 10 million metric tons each year. Much is used for making tortillas, an important food for most Mexican people. One major region of commercial farming is concentrated in irrigated districts of the arid north, where cotton, wheat and sorghum are the chief crops; tomatoes and melons are specialty crops along the Mayo, Yaqui, and Fuerte rivers. Other important commercial crops include sugarcane (grown in Veracruz, Sinaloa and Morelos); rice (a specialty of Morelos); coffee (concentrated in Chiapas and Veracruz); cacao, tobacco and vanilla (mostly in Veracruz); plus pineapples, bananas and coconuts (in tropical rainy lowlands).

Cattle raising, an important colonial activity, is concentrated in the semiarid north; sheep are raised in drier parts of the Mexican Plateau and goats in more rugged sections. Since the 1910 Revolution many large estates (haciendas) and ranches have been broken up and distributed as small holdings (ejidos) to landless farm workers. However, President Carlos SALINAS DE GORTARI proposed in 1991 to dismantle the ejido system, replacing it with larger private landholdings and a more effective rural credit system, as a means of stimulating farm productivity.

The forest industry is as yet small. The principal trees cut are pine, oak and tropical hardwoods; about 80% of cut wood is used for lumber, and about 20% for pulpwood. A significant amount of Mexico’s tropical rain-forest has been destroyed since 1970. Fishing is a similarly underdeveloped but potentially profitable industry. Fish plays a minor role in Mexican diets, and most of the catch is exported. The most valuable catches are shrimp from the Gulf of California, Campeche Bay, and Gulf of Tehuantepec; tuna and sardines, taken from the Pacific Ocean off Baja California; as well as groupers, snappers, pompano, and other tropical fish from the Gulf of Mexico.


Despite the mountainous terrain most parts of Mexico are now well served by a network of modern highways. Mexico has the most paved highways of any nation in Latin America. The road system focuses on Mexico City, the nation’s cultural and economic hub, and includes among its major axes the 1,189-km-long (739-mi) PAN AMERICAN HIGHWAY to Nuevo Laredo, the 1,979-km-long (1,230-mi) Central Highway to Ciudad Juarez, and the Pacific Coast Highway. The nationally owned rail network is well-maintained, carrying millions of passengers and millions of tons of freight each year. The airport at Mexico City is by far the busiest in the nation. It offers both national and international flights, as do many other commercial airports, which number over 50. Air services now carry many more passengers than the railroads. Veracruz is Mexico’s chief general cargo port. Coatzacoalcos, also on the Gulf Coast, is the nation’s tonnage leader (if salt from ports on Baja California are not counted). Ciudad del Carmen and Tampico are other important Gulf ports. Mazatlan, Guaymas, Manzanillo, Lazaro Cardenas, and Salina Cruz stand out on the Pacific coast.


Mexico had an unfavorable balance of trade in 1990, with imports exceeding exports in value by more than $3 billion. Important export commodities are petroleum, metal products, machinery, industrial vehicles, chemicals, silver and other minerals, cotton, and foodstuffs. Imports include metal products, machinery, industrial vehicles, chemicals, consumer goods and capital goods. Trade with the United States accounts for more than two-thirds of all imports and exports; other major trading partners are the nations of the European Community and Japan. Negotiations with the United States on a free-trade agreement began in 1991.


Of the more than 5O major daily newspapers published in Mexico, about 30% are headquartered in the Mexico City area. Well over 100 television stations are now broadcasting, as are several hundred radio stations.

Highly developed system with extensive microwave radio relay links; privatized in December 1990; connected into Central America Microwave System; 6,410,000 telephones; broadcast stations – 679 AM, no FM, 238 TV, 22 shortwave; 120 domestic satellite terminals; earth stations – 4 Atlantic Ocean INTELSAT and 1 Pacific Ocean INTELSAT

Government Mexico’s present constitution was adopted in 1917 and in much-amended form provides for a division of powers between the central government and the 31 states and the federal district (Mexico City). The president is elected by popular vote and is limited to one 6-year term. Despite the limit, the president has tremendous executive power. Mexico has a bicameral National Congress, composed of a Chamber of Deputies, with 500 members, and a Senate, with two senators from each state and the federal district. Judicial powers are vested in the Supreme Court of Justice. The Institutional Revolutionary party (see PRI) has dominated national politics since 1930.

Political parties and leaders: (recognized parties) Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Fernando Ortiz Arana; National Action Party (PAN), Carlos CASTILLO; Popular Socialist Party (PPS), Indalecio SAYAGO Herrera; Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), Roberto ROBLES Garnica; Cardenist Front for the National Reconstruction Party (PFCRN), Rafael AGUILAR Talamantes; Authentic Party of the Mexican Revolution (PARM), Carlos Enrique CANTU Rosas; Democratic Forum Party (PFD), Pablo Emilio MADERO; Mexican Ecologist Party (PEM), Jorge GONZALEZ Torres

Other political or pressure groups: Roman Catholic Church; Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM); Confederation of Industrial Chambers (CONCAMIN); Confederation of National Chambers of Commerce (CONCANACO); National Peasant Confederation (CNC); Revolutionary Workers Party (PRT); Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants (CROC); Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers (CROM); Confederation of Employers of the Mexican Republic (COPARMEX); National Chamber of Transformation Industries (CANACINTRA); Coordinator for Foreign Trade Business Organizations (COECE); Federation of Unions Provding Goods and Services (FESEBES)

National holiday: Independence Day, 16 September (1810).


Three equal vertical bands of green (hoist side), white, and red; the coat of arms (an eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its beak) is centered in the white band.

Administrative divisions

31 states (estados, singular – estado) and 1 federal district* (distrito federal); Aguascalientes, Baja California, Baja Morelos, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, Oaxaca, Puebla, Queretaro, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tabasco, Tamaulipas, Tlaxcala, Veracruz, Yucatan, Zacatecas

Mexico Honors Indians of the Past?

by Anthony DePalma

Mexico City

SHROUDED in mystery and Myth, the heroes of Mexico’s Aztec past are honoured in glorious monuments all over the country.

But the living descendants of Montezuma are not allowed to eat in some of Mexico City’s best restaurants.

Although all Mexicans are considered equal under the country’s constitution, Mexican society remains deeply divided on racial lines.

And as the richest and poorest of the 91 million Mexicans are driven further apart by such sweeping changes as the North American free-trade agreement, many Mexicans are starting to discover the dangers of their own deeply ingrained, yet rarely acknowledged, brand of bigotry.

The racial inequities are not limited to the Maya Indians in the state of Chiapas, who took up arms on the very day NAFTA took effect a year and a half ago in what is slowly taking on shades of a national civil rights movement for Indians. Indigenous people all over Mexico — and those with Indian features and dark skins, all feel a degree of the same kind of intolerance.

While Mexicans typically deny that discrimination exists, the not-so-subtle racial undertones of their society are apparent to foreigners who live and work here.

When Henry McDonald, director Of the Cushman & Wakefield Real Estate office in Mexico City, took his family out for dinner last August, he didn’t think twice about inviting his housekeeper, Gabriela Miranda, 45, an Indian.

It was a Friday night, and they went to a popular Italian restaurant called Prego in the polanco section of Mexico City.

“We got there early by Mexican standards, around 7:45, and the place was empty,” Mr. McDonald said. “But we stood there waiting and waiting until finally the maitre d’ came along and told me, in English, that domestics are not served here.” Mrs. Miranda was not wearing a uniform, Mr. McDonald said. The restaurant simply assumed that because she was an Indian, she was a maid.

The restaurant manager, Mario Padilla, acknowledged that it is policy at Prego and other top restaurants to prohibit servants and drivers, many of whom are Indians.

“The type of people who usually come to restaurants of this class all have servants, but they usually leave them at home, ” Mr. Padilla said. He said the restriction is needed to protect patrons against people who “lack discretion” and try to bring their servants.

He denied that the policy is discriminatory. “We’re not racists,” he said. “We’re just trying to protect the image of the restaurant.”

Now that Mexico is struggling to overcome an economic crisis caused by the peso’s devaluation last December, there is concern that racial tensions will flare.

More than half a million Mexicans have been thrown out of work in the last six months, and the struggle to survive is likely to be decided on the basis of education access to money and cultural connections, all of which are based in large part on racial identity.

“There is going to be a sharp increase in social tensions,” said Sergio Aguayo, a human- rights activist in Mexico City, “and some of it is going to be racially inspired.”

Bias against Indians has long been more economic than personal. Sixty per cent of Indians over 12 years of age are already unemployed, and of those who work, most earn less than the minimum wage of about $2.50 a day.

But most Mexicans say bigotry does not exist here. School children are drilled on the life of Benito Juarez, a Zapotec who was president of Mexico in the 19th century, and told that his election proves all Mexicans are equal.

Mexico has no affirmative-action laws. The National Commission of Human Rights has never received a discrimination complaint and does not have a process to handle one.

Complicating questions of race is the mixed lineage of most Mexicans. From the Spanish founding of Mexico, social class has been determined by racial purity, with those born in Spain at the top and full-blooded Indians on the bottom. But centuries of intermarriage mean that nearly all Mexicans are considered part Indian.

Now it is the degree of Indianness, or the darkness of skin, that determines status.

Mexicans living in cities rely on hair dyes or skin lighteners to appear less Indian.

“Yes, Mexicans honour their Indian roots with statues,” said Miguele Acosta, an investigator at the Mexican Academy of Human Rights at the Autonomous National University of Mexico, but historic roots are not at all useful when it comes to eating or just living today.

Mexico City has the highest concentration of Indians in the country, yet most times they are nearly invisible, showing up only in knots of beggars at busy intersections and among the feathered dancers who perform for tourists.

No Indians serve in the cabinet of President Ernsto Zedillo, and only a handful are in the congress, although 3 in 10 Mexicans is considered Indian. The racial insensitivity extends to blacks, although few live in Mexico. A recent commercial on national television featured a dark-skinned man in a white tuxedo telling viewers that at Comex, a Mexican paint company, “they’re working like blacks to offer you a white sale.”

There were no complaints about the ad “because we don’t have a racism problem — that’s the key to it all,” said Marisela Vergada, an account executive at Alazraki Agency, the large Mexican advertising firm that produced the 20-second spot. “It is simply an expression that everyone uses.”

Such expressions pop up in a commercial for packaged toast that features a black baker boasting that his skin colour gives him the expertise to recognize the right shade of toast. Aunt Jemima pancake mix goes by the brand name “La Negrita” here.

Mexico’s Indigenous Peoples United by Shared History

MEXICO CITY — In Mexico’s urban slums and poor villages, in its southern jungles and harsh central mountains, a vast indigenous Indian population clings to cultures and languages from another millennium.

Mexico’s 12 million indigenous people speak more than 60 languages and live scattered throughout the country’s 31 states and Mexico City.

What unites them, besides a shared history, is a position at the bottom of society that they have occupied since the Spanish Conquest.

“Ours is a poverty that’s been built over 500 years,” said Antonio Hernandez, a Tojolabal Maya activist and member of the federal Congress.

When the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century, Mexico was ruled by the Aztecs, who built their temples on the lake-filled plateau that is now Mexico City. The Aztecs dominated dozens of indigenous communities. Believing gods were pacified by human blood, they killed thousands in human sacrifice.

The Spaniards subdued the Aztecs and other indigenous communities in a bloody conquest that left millions dead — some in battle but most from disease spread by the newcomers from the Old World.

They forcibly converted the indigenous people to Roman Catholicism, creating a hybrid Catholic-Indian religion that exists today. Many indigenous groups worship God, Christ and traditional deities.

In the aftermath of the Conquest, Mexican society organized itself into castes. To this day, mixed-blood “mestizos” hold power in business and government. The Indians have languished, driven onto poor land after losing their land to mining, logging and bigger farmers.

The Yaquis, who once flourished on the river banks of the Yaqui river in the northern state of Sonora, watched their land dry after a dam diverted water away from them.

The Tzeltal and Tojolabal in Chiapas were driven into the rocky highlands after their lush flatlands were taken over by wealthy landowners.

Indigenous culture has diminished as Indians have married mestizos or abandoned their language and tradition because they invite discrimination.

The percentage of Mexicans who call themselves indigenous has shrunk from about 45 percent of the population at the start of the century to about 13 percent of the country’s 90 million people today.

The cultural survivors, often bilingual in their own language and Spanish, are varied — some isolated, others adapted to modernity.

In Chiapas, a few thousand Lacandons live by choice in the deepest jungle. The men wear their hair to the shoulders and women dress in tunics. They still hunt with bows and arrows.

In the northern state of Chihuahua, the Tarahumaras live on the plateaus of the Sierra Madre mountains accessible only by narrow dirt roads. In a blend of Catholicism and indigenous worship, they celebrate Easter with ritual dances, wearing headdresses and with their bodies painted in white spots.

But even there, modernity has encroached. Last year, a Tarahumaras dancer, his body painted and wearing a headdress, got into the front seat of a journalist’s car. “Do you have any Kenny Rogers?” he asked, glancing at the tape player.

In Mexico City 25,000 Nahuatl and 16,000 Otomi, who once dominated the lake-filled region, now dominate the slums. They work as maids and drivers or in factories — or they beg.

Periodically the government has tried to improve conditions for the Indians by giving out land titles and increasing spending in rural zones.

The government today is trying to combine preservation of indigenous cultures with economic development.

But while development eases poverty, it also brings radios, television and Spanish and English communication that can erode indigenous culture.

“The more assistance they get the less autonomy they get,” said Ricardo Romo, who teaches Mexican-American history at the University of Texas in Austin.

Mexico’s Indigenous Peoples Expanding Drive for Greater Autonomy

RANCHO NUEVO, Mexico — The smoke of an open fire and the lilting notes of Mixteco wafted into the black sky as women, barefoot and silent, boiled coffee and listened to men talk of rebellion.

They spoke of the biggest act of defiance in their lives — a seven-month armed occupation of the municipal hall last year by the region’s indigenous people.

“Our eyes are opening,” Ignacio de la Cruz said, staring into the dancing flames. “Look at this place.”

He swept a hand toward Rancho Nuevo, a remote village of 700 Mixteco Indians that lacks electricity, running water and working telephones. “We don’t have anything.”

The defiance in Rancho Nuevo in the Pacific state of Guerrero reflects a growing assertiveness among Mexico’s 12 million indigenous people. All over Mexico, indigenous villages — for centuries among the country’s most backward and downtrodden — are demanding greater rights.

“Each day we’re closer to lifting up our faces, to recovering our dignity,” said Margarita Gutierrez, 33, a H’nahnu activist from the central state of Hidalgo.

The drive for greater Indian rights, a passive movement for decades, gained momentum following the uprising by Mayan guerrillas in southern Chiapas state in 1994 that focused attention on the poverty of Mexico’s native peoples. Although the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas has faded, local Indian rebellions continue to break out.

— Hundreds of Huastecos went on hunger strikes in the central state of San Luis Potosi last month, demanding the reversal of a constitutional amendment that ended agrarian reform several years ago. After the Huastecos’ 72-hour fast, the government opened talks aimed at trying to satisfy their demands.

— In the southern state of Puebla, a Nahua community has been protesting against logging in the Sierra Negra mountains where they live. The region’s municipal president retaliated in April by burning 49 acres of forest the community used for wood, according to Mexican media reports.

— In February in the southeastern state of Tabasco, Indians took on Mexico’s state oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos, joining thousands of farmers in blocking oil wells to demand compensation for environmental damage to their land. Talks with the government continue.

— Since the Zapatista offensive ended, tens of thousands of Mayans in six Chiapas regions have declared themselves “autonomous,” meaning they recognize only Indian leaders and not the central or state government.

“It started in Chiapas and one by one other villages are taking up the struggle,” said Alberto Cruz, a Mixteco who is among Rancho Nuevo’s dissident Indians. “It will go on until the government understands.”

Last year, at least 25 Indian movements joined to form a Plural Indigenous National Assembly for Autonomy, a de facto native Mexican parliament that is pressing for Indian self-government rights.

“It’s the first attempt to unify all the indigenous people,” said Nilo Cayuqueo, director of the Abya Yala Fund, a California-based group that aids Latin American indigenous movements.

The government appears to be taking a conciliatory approach to the indigenous unrest.

President Ernesto Zedillo, who took office in December 1995 promising to address Indian concerns and has made several conciliatory speeches since, promised in February to spend at least $300 million this year to help modernize indigenous communities.

Indian “poverty and lack of access to justice … are problems we need to resolve,” Zedillo said.

In February, federal government negotiators signed an accord with the Zapatista rebels that calls for expanding indigenous rights. It would grant them greater control over electing their own leaders and over their natural resources and economies. It is the first of several accords that are expected to culminate in a peace treaty to formally end the Chiapas conflict.

In the coming months, the federal Congress is expected to debate measures to allow indigenous communities to elect their own autonomous governments and to earmark more spending on roads, schools, electricity and running water in indigenous regions.

But tensions continue to boil over.

Hundreds of soldiers last month entered the Chiapas village of Oventic, an indigenous community that supports the Zapatista rebels. The army said the soldiers were searching for marijuana fields, but Oventic leaders denounced the move as a provocation aimed at showing military strength.

Rancho Nuevo’s Mixtecos allege that since they seized the municipal hall last year, at least nine indigenous peasants in the region have been murdered in unexplained circumstances by unidentified assailants.

Still, the response by state officials to the Mixteco unrest has been to launch negotiations rather than to crack down. They did not deploy security forces to end the municipal hall seizure, for example, but instead sent officials to talk with the Rancho Nuevo Indians.

“The governor’s policy is to avert conflict,” said Rodolfo Martinez, a spokesman for Guerrero Gov. Angel Aguirre Rivero.

It is a pattern that has been followed elsewhere.

The renewed attention from the government to the Indian rights issue has created feverish optimism among Indian communities. “From this moment on, no Indian will walk with his or her head down,” Gutierrez said.

The dramatic economic and social contrasts between the haves and have nots in Guerrero state help explain the unrest in Rancho Nuevo.

Guerrero is home to Acapulco, where Mexican and foreign tourists with silky tans heap their plates from buffets at five-star hotels while waiters rush to light their cigarettes. But it is also home to dozens of Mixteco villages like Rancho Nuevo, in the mountains 130 miles to the east.

Ragged children run up to approaching cars with delight because motorized vehicles are a rare sight. In the evening, the town’s elders offer visitors all that is available — coffee sipped by a fire that provides the only light.

When townspeople go to sleep, they enter their thatched shacks and lie down on bare cement floors, still wearing their clothes.

Dawn reveals the extent of the destitution — pigs snort through garbage, a retarded man sits on a dusty path, grinning into space.

Late in the morning, women serve beans and coffee to sun-weathered men, including de la Cruz, a wiry 53-year-old town leader.

“Thirteen villages took part in the takeover,” he boasted, recalling the uprising last May when hundreds of local Indians walked to Tlacoachistlahuaca, the seat of municipal government, 35 miles away.

About 100 people occupied the town hall from May to December to demand electricity, better roads and other services. “But we never got anything so we just left,” he said.

Municipal president Armando Ramos said the Indians had at least 20 guns, albeit old and battered. They burned municipal records, leaving the hall charred inside, and walked off with office equipment and three government trucks, which they later returned.

Undeterred by the lack of results from the town hall protest, the local Indians are stepping up their activities. Rancho Nuevo is becoming a dissident camp as Indians from other villages arrive almost daily to help in what they call “the struggle.”

“My people sent me,” said Mario Espiritu, a 36-year-old Amuzgo whose job is to write protest letters on a typewriter that once belonged to the town hall.

They have changed the village name from Rancho Viejo to Rancho Nuevo de la Democracia and declared it “autonomous.” They formed a police force and now want the state government to recognize their independent status.

“We want uniforms and guns for our police,” de la Cruz said. “If we don’t get recognition we’ll go back to Tlacoachistlahuaca. We’ll go to the state capital” Chilpancingo, about 80 miles east of Acapulco.

Mexican Geneology

Somos Primos

Mexico has been the fourth largest source of immigrants since 1820, and by far the largest source of immigrants in recent years. In fact, Mexican immigration has occurred in varying amounts for hundreds of years. In addition, many Mexicans “moved” to the United States as a result of the annexations of Texas and the West.

Early in the twentieth century, large numbers of Mexicans came to the U.S. to work in agriculture in California or as miners and track layers throughout the West. This pattern of Mexicans coming north of the border in search of better paying jobs has continued until the present day, with the largest numbers of Mexican-Americans residing in California, New Mexico, and Texas.

Contacts and Sources

Chicano Research Collection

Department of Archives and Manuscripts

Hayden Library, Arizona State University

Box 871006

Tempe, AZ 85287-1006

Telephone: (602) 965-3145

Los Fundadores and Friends of Santa Clara County, California

1509 Warburton Avenue

Santa Clara, CA 95050

Telephone: (408) 926-1165, or (408) 248-ARTS for a recorded schedule of events

Publication: Los Fundadores

Hispanic History and Ancestry Research

9511 Rockpoint Drive

Huntington Beach, CA 92646

Institute of Genealogy and History for Latin America

316 West 500 North

St. George, UT 84770

Telephone: (801) 652-1710

Fax: (801) 674-5787


For more information:

Institute of Genealogy and History for Latin America

Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research

Web Sites

In Helpful Web Sites, you can find links to useful resources about Mexico:


* Mexican immigration to the United States: A Study of Human Migration and Adjustment, by Manuel Gamio

* Ethnic Chronology Studies: The Chicanos in America, 1540-1974, by Richard A. Garcia

* Mexican and Spanish Family Research, by J. Konrad

* Genealogical Research in Latin America and The Hispanic United States, by Lyman D. Platt, Ph.D.

* Hispanic Surnames and Family History, by Lyman D. Platt, Ph.D.

* Latin American Military Records, by Lyman D. Platt, Ph.D.

* Latin American and Spanish Census Records, by Lyman D. Platt, Ph.D.

* Mexico, General Guide: Political Divisions, by Lyman D. Platt, Ph.D.

* Mexico, Guía general: Divisiones Eclesiásticas, by Lyman D. Platt, Ph.D.

* Mexico: Research Guide, by Lyman D. Platt, Ph.D.

* Research in Mexico City, by Lyman D. Platt, Ph.D.

* Tracing your Hispanic Heritage, by George Ryskamp

* Una Bibliografía de Historias Familiares de Latinoam Zùrica y Los Estados Unidos, by Lyman D. Platt, Ph.D.

* Tracing Your Hispanic Heritage, by George R. Ryskamp

Other Genealogy

Native American Heritage/Genealogy:

Cyndi’s List


American Indians:
A Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm

Cadereyta Jimenez Genealogy Research and Hispanic Genealogy Books


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