The culture of Mexico has undergone a tremendous transformation over the past few decades and it varies widely throughout the country. Many Mexicans live in cities, but smaller rural communities still play a strong role in defining the country's collective vibrant community.
Mexico is the 12th most populous country in the world, with over 123 million people in a July 2016 estimate, according to the Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook. According to the CIA, Mexico consists of several ethnic groups. The mestizo (Amerindian-Spanish) group accounts for 62 percent of the population. Amerindian people or predominantly Amerindian people account for 21 percent, while 10 percent of the population is white. These groups create a culture that is unique to Mexico.
Here is a brief overview of Mexican culture.
Languages of Mexico
The overwhelming majority of Mexicans today speak Spanish. According to the CIA, Spanish is spoken by 92.7 percent of the Mexican population. About 6 percent of the population speaks Spanish as well as indigenous languages, such as Mayan, Nahuatl and other regional languages. Indigenous Mexican words have even become common in other languages, including English. For example, chocolate, coyote, tomato and avocado all originated in Nahuatl.
Religions of Mexico
"Much of Mexican culture revolves around religious values and the church, as well as the concept of family and inclusiveness," said Talia Wagner, a marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles. Around 82 percent of Mexicans identify themselves as Catholic, according to the CIA, although many have incorporated pre-Hispanic Mayan elements as part of their faith. Christian denominations represented include Presbyterians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists and Anglicans. There are also small communities of Muslims, Jews and Buddhists.
Values of the Mexican People
Family is one of the most important elements in Mexican society, according to History.com. Especially outside of cities, families are typically large and Mexicans are very conscious of their responsibilities to immediate family members and extended family such as cousins and even close friends.
Hosting parties at their homes plays a large part of Mexican life and making visitors feel comfortable is a large part of the values and customs of the country.
"Family units are usually large, with traditional gender roles and extensive family involvement from the external members who assist one another in day to day life," Wagner told Live Science. There is a strong connection among family members. "Parents are treated with a high degree of respect, as is the family in general and there may be constant struggle, especially for the growing children between individual wants and needs and those wants and needs of the family," added Wagner.
On large event in a Mexican family is the quinceañera. This is a celebration of a young lady's 15th birthday. It signifies the girl's journey from childhood to womanhood. The party includes an elaborate dress for the girl of honor, food, dancing, friends and families. Before the party there is often a mass at the girl's church. The girl is accompanied throughout the festivities by her damas (maids of honor) and chambelánes (chamberlains), according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
Mexican cuisine varies widely between regions, as each town has its own culinary traditions, according to "Mexico For You," a publication of the Mexican Cultural Institute of Washington, D.C. Tortillas and other food made from corn are common everywhere, though, as are pepper, tomatoes and beans. Rice is also a staple, according to History.com. Many foods that originated in Mexico are popular worldwide, including avocadoes, chocolate and pumpkins.
Mexico is known for its tequila, which is made from agave cactus that is well suited to the climate of central Mexico. Soda is a very popular drink in Mexico, as the country has a well-developed beverage industry.
Clay pottery, embroidered cotton garments, wool shawls and outer garments with angular designs, colorful baskets and rugs are some of the common items associated with Mexican folk art. Millennia-old traditions continue in silver-smithing, mosaics, textiles, pottery and basket-weaving, according to "Mexico For You."
The country is closely associated with the Mariachi style of folk music, according to "Mexico For You." Originated in the southern part of the state of Jalisco sometime in the 19th century, it involves a group of musicians — playing violins, guitars, basses, vihuelas (a five-string guitar) and trumpets — and wearing silver-studded charro suits and elaborate hats. "La Cucaracha" is a well-known Mariachi staple.
Two of Mexico's most famous artists are Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Their paintings include vibrant colors and depictions of life in Mexico. Rivera was a pioneer of Muralism, a movement that used expansive wall art to educate the people.
Many may not think of Mexico as a place that fosters high fashion, but many fashion designers hail from Mexico, such as Jorge Duque and Julia y Renata. There is also a Mexico Fashion Week. In the cities, fashion in Mexico is influenced by international trends, so the typical urban Mexican dresses similar to people in Europe and the United States.
Traditional Mexican clothing for women includes a sleeveless tunic-like dress called a huipil, according to Don Quijote Spanish School. Originally, these cotton dresses were made very simple with garnishes of color. However, traditional Mexican women´s clothing now regularly includes lots of ornate embroidery, often including images and patterns that have symbolic meaning attached to them.
One distinguishing article of traditional men's clothing is a large blanket cape called a sarape. Boots are also a wardrobe staple. The charro suit, with its origins as the outfit worn by Mexican cowboys, is most associated with Mariachi musicians. The suit is also an acceptable substitute for a tuxedo at formal events in Mexico. The charro suit includes the sombrero, a wide-brimmed hat that provides plenty of shade.
Holidays and celebrations
The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is celebrated on Dec. 12, is a major Mexican holiday celebrating the appearance of the Virgin Mary to an Indian man in the first years of Spanish rule. She is the patron saint of the country. This is followed closely by Posadas, a nine-day celebration in which people re-enact Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem to search for a place to stay. Families go from door to door carrying candles and singing, asking for shelter until the owners open the door, at which point the party begins.
The Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos), celebrated on Nov. 2, is a day set aside to remember and honor those who have died, according to the University of New Mexico. Carnival is also celebrated in many communities throughout Mexico to mark the period before Lent.
Independence Day, marking the country's separation from Spain in 1810, is celebrated on Sept. 16. Cinco de Mayo, which marks a Mexican military victory over the French in 1862, is more widely celebrated in the United States (as a beer promotion) than it is in Mexico.
Additional reporting by Alina Bradford, Live Science Contributor