The United Mexican States (Spanish: Estados Unidos Mexicanos (help·info)), or commonly Mexico, is a federal constitutional republic in North America. The United Mexican States comprise a federation of thirty-one states and a federal district, the capital Mexico City, which is one of the world's most populous cities.
Covering almost 2 million square kilometers,Mexico is the fifth-largest country in the Americas by total area and the 14th largest in the world. With an estimated population of 109 million, it is the 11th most populous country and the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world.
Mexico is the 12th largest economy in the world by gross domestic product (GDP), on par with countries like Canada and Spain, even though income inequality is still high. The economy is strongly linked to those of its North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners. Elections held in July 2000 marked the first time that an opposition party won the presidency from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional: PRI) which had held it since 1929, culminating the political alternation at the federal level, which had begun at the local level during the 1980s.
.: Mexico City
.: Total 1,972,550 km² (15th)
761,606 sq mi
.: From Spain declared September 16, 1810
.: Recognized September 27, 1821
.: 2007 estimate 108,700,891 (11th)
.: 2005 census 103,263,388
.: Density 55/km² (142nd)
The culture of Mexico reflects the complexity of Mexico's history through the blending of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican civilizations and the culture of Spain, imparted during Spain's 300-year colonization of Mexico. Influences from the United States have shaped Mexican culture, and to a lesser extent, influences from Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Mexican culture is known for the unified nature of the family. The country's divorce rate is among the lowest in the world. Children regularly live with their parents until they marry, even if they remain single until their thirties or later. It is also quite common for family units to remain connected, often with grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and children all living in the same area or even in the same house. Loyalty within the family is absolute – brothers will fight for the honour of their sisters, and family members are often tapped for employment opportunities.
The roles of the parents in Mexican culture are generally well-defined, with the father acting as the family's ruler and the mother as the family's heart. Machismo (Spanish for "male chauvinism") is quite common in Mexican families, with the father exercising authority in a manner not unlike a dictatorship. Some have called adultery a social norm for men, and abuse, both physical and emotional, is common. Wives are generally expected to endure this treatment from their husbands, and many consider it acceptable behaviour. A mother is often exclusively responsible for maintaining the household and caring for the children, who as a result often revere her, while fearing their authoritarian father.
In the past few decades, these stereotypes have begun to somewhat break down. As influences from the United States continue to shape Mexican culture, machismo is slowly becoming more recognized and despised, especially in the northern part of the country, where the American influence is more pronounced. In southern and more rural communities, however, these basic behaviors continue to exist.
Unlike the United States where citizens take pride in their economic independence, one nation that still values “community” in its cities and towns, its plazas and schools, and its work organizations is Mexico. In Mexican culture the expectation of working and socializing together is a key component of society, and has a basis in the strong ties formed within the family.
However, lack of faith in the government and other organizations is a result of widespread political corruption. Even at the lowest levels, police officers readily accept mordidas ("bribes") from those wishing to avoid the nuisance of a traffic ticket or a night in prison. In recent years, the government has begun addressing this corruption by reducing the number of state-owned businesses and calling on Mexicans to refuse to give bribes. This, however, has proven difficult, and the progress has been slow.
During the Spanish conquest and colonization of Mexico, Roman Catholicism was established as the dominant religion of Mexico, and today, about 89% of Mexicans identify themselves with that division of Christianity. Evangelical denominations have grown in recent years, to about 6% of the population. Other religions make up the remaining 5%, with the most notable growth among The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Jehovah's Witnesses.
The methods of Spanish domination of the Mexican indigenous people often resulted in forced conversions to Catholicism, which ultimately meant that the people continued in their previous belief system. This led to widespread religious syncretism, since indigenous religious practices were incorporated into the practices of Catholicism. It also explains the general lack of conviction among Mexican Catholics today – instead of being a religion that was chosen by individuals, it was forced upon a whole group.
Perhaps the most striking example of this fusion of different traditions is the widespread veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Day of the Dead is another example of religious syncretism, in which the European Catholic All Souls' Day is combined with indigenous rites of ancestor veneration. In many Mexican communities, curanderos (traditional healers) use indigenous folk medicine, spiritual, and Christian faith healing to treat ailments and "cleanse" spiritual impurities.
In the southern areas of the country, which are predominantly indigenous, traditional religion has been mostly incorporated into Catholic rituals, as can be seen by the change in priest's attires, which instead of being decorated with the usual western symbols, instead include indigenous weaving designs and symbols. For example, the Christian cross converted to a flowery tree of life. In Mayan communities, the jmen, or healer, has an important place in the community comparable to (but not in competition with) that of a priest.
Mexico is known worldwide for its folk art traditions, mostly derived from a combination of the indigenous and Spanish crafts. Particularly notable among handicrafts are the clay pottery made in the valley of Oaxaca and the bird and animal figures made in the village of Tonala. Colorfully embroidered cotton garments, cotton or wool shawls and outer garments, and colorful baskets and rugs are seen everywhere. Between the Spanish conquest and the early Twentieth Century, Mexican fine arts were largely in imitation of European traditions. After the Mexican Revolution, a new generation of Mexican artists led a vibrant national movement that incorporated political, historic, and folk themes in their work.
The music of Mexico is extraordinarily diverse and features a wide range of different musical styles. The best-known Mexican genre by far is ranchera, interpreted by a band called mariachi. This style of traditional Mexican song which is considered old-fashioned but respected traditional music and is usually listened to as much as modern music.
Mexican gastronomy, in terms of diversity of appealing tastes and textures, is one of the richest in the world, rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals, though some people unaccustomed to eating it characterize it as greasy and excessively spicy. Popular dishes include tacos, enchiladas, and pozole. Traditionally the main Mexican ingredients consisted of turkey, sweetcorn (not really sweet), tomatoes, peppers, chilies, squashes, peanuts, avocados, guavas, chocolate and vanilla. The Spanish then influenced these by adding milk, cheese, rice, wheat, cinnamon, oranges and peaches.
Mexico is a large country, covering nearly 2 million square kms from the more traditional Tijuana in the northwest (near the border crossing with California) to the Florida-style tourist resort of Cancun in the southeast. Physically, Mexico looks like a boot, with its toe end curling upwards towards the Yucatan and the Caribbean, its heel pointing towards the Pacific and its leg reaching into the States. The long boot spur is Baja California (the world's longest peninsula), trailing down in a thin strip from California towards some of the best whale watching areas in the world. The Sea of Cortez lies between Baja and the mainland.
Mexico is a land of enormous variety, with arid semi desert in the north, and tropical forest and some of the last remaining tracts of jungle in the south. The central mainland has volcanic mountains rising to an impressive 5700m, while the tropical low lying beaches of the Yucatan are famous for their white sand beaches, bathtub warm water and mesmerizing reef life.
The Mexican currency is the Mexican pesos. The exchange rate: roughly US$1 = 9 pesos (the peso is very strong at the moment). It is always useful to carry a credit card. Visa, Mastercard and Amex are widely accepted and virtually all towns have ATM facilities.