Mexico is a country with a rich cultural heritage that dates back thousands of years. Here are some of the main things that Mexico is known for culturally:
Mexican cuisine is one of the most popular and beloved in the world. Some iconic Mexican dishes include:
- Tacos – Corn or flour tortillas filled with meat, cheese, veggies and salsa
- Quesadillas – Grilled corn tortillas with cheese, meat and other fillings
- Tamales – Corn dough with meat or other fillings, wrapped and steamed in corn husks
- Mole – A rich, complex sauce made from chiles, spices, chocolate and more
- Salsa – Mexico is known for its many varieties of salsa, from mild to very spicy
In addition, ingredients like corn, beans, avocado, tomato and different chiles are staples of Mexican cooking. The cuisine varies by region, with distinctive styles found in places like Oaxaca, Yucatan and Baja California.
Mexico has a vibrant musical culture that includes many different regional styles. Some of the most popular genres include:
- Mariachi – Ensembles of musicians playing trumpets, violins, guitars and a Mexican folk harp
- Ranchera – A romantic style evolved from mariachi with solo singers
- Banda – Brass band music that emerged in the states of Sinaloa and Zacatecas
- Norteño – “Northern” Mexican music heavily influenced by polka with accordion and bajo sexto
- Cumbia – A Colombian style that became popular along Mexico’s coasts
In addition, Mexico has produced many popular musicians across different genres like rock, pop, and folk that have achieved international fame. Some examples include Carlos Santana, Vicente Fernandez, Alejandra Guzman and Mana.
Arts & Crafts
Mexico has a long tradition of arts and crafts that draws on the country’s indigenous heritage. Some signature items include:
- Pottery – Especially the colorful Talavera pottery from Puebla
- Textiles – Like the beautiful, handmade embroidered blouses and dresses
- Alebrijes – Whimsical wooden sculptures of fantastical creatures
- Tin art – Decorated tin mirrors, boxes and other objects
- Basketry & weaving – Using natural fibers like palm and ixtle
- Lacquerware – Gourds, boxes and furniture decorated with lacquer
- Glass art – Stunning blown glass objects, especially in green and blue tones
Different regions of Mexico have their own unique arts and crafts traditions that have been passed down for generations.
Mexico is filled with spectacular architecture that fuses indigenous, Spanish colonial and modern influences. Some highlights include:
- Ancient ruins – Like the pyramids of Teotihuacan, Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza and other sites
- Spanish colonial – Beautiful Baroque and Neoclassical cathedrals, monasteries, haciendas and more across the country
- Churches – Lavishly decorated churches and basilicas built in the Baroque style, some with ornate facades and domes covered in mosaic tiles
- Haciendas – Majestic rural estates built by wealthy Spaniards during colonial times
- Palaces & Historic Buildings – Like Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City which was a residence of the Spanish viceroys
- Modern Architecture – Contemporary icons like the Museo Soumaya in Mexico City
The historic centers of cities like Mexico City, Oaxaca, Guanajuato and Moreila showcase Mexico’s diverse architectural heritage, with cobblestone streets and colonial era mansions, churches and government buildings.
Festivals & Celebrations
Mexicans love a good party and the country has some of the most lively festivals and celebrations in the world. Some major examples include:
- Day of the Dead – The iconic holiday when Mexicans honor deceased loved ones with offerings, parades, parties and more on November 1st & 2nd
- Independence Day – September 16th celebrates Mexico’s independence from Spain with parades, street fairs, music and patriotic displays
- Cinco de Mayo – Honors Mexico’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, celebrated with parades, music, food
- Guelaguetza – A huge cultural festival in Oaxaca every July with indigenous dances, costumes, food and crafts
- Semana Santa – Major Holy Week celebrations leading up to Easter, especially in cities like San Cristobal
- Virgin of Guadalupe Day – Honoring Mexico’s patron saint on December 12th with processions, dancing and song
Each region also has its own unique festivals and celebrations rooted in local culture, religion and history.
Mexico is home to over 70 indigenous groups, each with distinct cultures, traditions, languages and more. Some of the major groups include:
- Nahuas – The largest group, including the Aztecs, centered around central Mexico
- Mayans – Based in the Yucatan Peninsula with a historic civilization and iconic architecture
- Zapotecs – Centered in Oaxaca with one of Mexico’s most enduring indigenous cultures
- Mixtecs – Also from Oaxaca with ancient codices and handicrafts still made today
- Taramumar – A northern group known for their long-distance running abilities
- Tzotzil – Maya people from Chiapas known for beautifully woven textiles
Aspects of indigenous culture like languages, clothing, festivals, cuisine, crafts and more are still preserved and celebrated in communities today.
Literature & Art
Mexico has an impressive artistic and literary heritage spanning centuries. Some iconic figures include:
- Octavio Paz – Poet and essayist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990
- Frida Kahlo – Pioneering Mexican painter known for vivid self-portraits and bohemian style
- Diego Rivera – Muralist famous for large-scale public artworks showing Mexican culture/history
- Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz – Beloved 17th century poet and scholar considered the “Tenth Muse”
- Juan Rulfo – Influential 20th century writer known for novels like Pedro Páramo
- Los Tres Grandes – The “Big Three” muralists: Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros
Mexican art and literature draw heavily on themes of indigenous identity, revolution, nature, death and both the rural countryside and bustling cities for inspiration.
Family & Social Values
Mexican culture places a strong emphasis on family values and social customs:
- Extended families are close-knit, with multiple generations often living together
- Godparents play an important role in family celebrations and responsibilities
- Children are taught to respect elders, follow traditions and be polite
- Family events like baptisms, birthdays, weddings are big celebrations
- Social customs like bringing food when invited to someone’s home are valued
- Machismo culture and clearly defined gender roles persist, especially in rural areas
Family unity, social etiquette and traditional gender norms are still important aspects of Mexican society today.
Sports & Entertainment
When it comes to sports and entertainment, Mexico has some clear favorites:
- Soccer is by far the most popular sport, with soccer clubs and the national team followed religiously
- Lucha libre wrestling, with masked fighters and acrobatic moves, has a strong Mexican fanbase
- Baseball is also widely enjoyed both as a participatory pastime and professional sport
- Telenovelas, over-the-top soap operas, are broadcast throughout Latin America and loved for their drama
- Cinema is popular and Mexico has produced internationally acclaimed directors like Guillermo del Toro
- Banda, ranchera and mariachi music are part of the mainstream music scene
Sports, TV melodramas and traditional music genres are integral parts of mainstream popular culture.
History & Politics
Key moments in Mexico’s rich history and political evolution include:
- Mayan Civilization – One of the great pre-Columbian civilizations built massive cities and temples
- Aztec Empire – The Aztecs ruled large swaths of Mexico until being defeated by the Spanish conquistadors
- Spanish Colonial Era – Mexico was part of the Spanish Empire for over 300 years from 1521-1821
- Independence – Mexico won independence from Spain in 1810-1821 led by figures like Miguel Hidalgo and José María Morelos
- Mexican Revolution – Major armed struggle from 1910-1920 that ousted dictator Porfirio Díaz
- PRI Dominance – The Institutional Revolutionary Party controlled Mexican politics for 71 straight years
- Contemporary Issues – Income inequality, corruption, cartel violence are still problems today
Mexican identity is closely tied to indigenous civilizations, Spanish colonialism, independence struggles and ongoing sociopolitical developments.
Religion plays a major role in Mexican cultural identity with the following faiths being most prominent:
- Catholicism – Brought by Spanish and embraced by indigenous groups, around 80% of Mexicans are Catholic
- Indigenous Beliefs – Native practices fused with Catholicism, like Day of the Dead rituals
- Our Lady of Guadalupe – Mexico’s patron saint seamlessly blends Catholic and native traditions
- Other Christian Denominations – Including Protestantism and Mormonism
- Judaism – Small Jewish community with roots dating back to the Inquisition
Catholicism was spread through colonization but indigenous spiritual practices and beliefs are still influential in Mexican religiosity.
The primary language of Mexico is Spanish, which was introduced during the colonial era:
- Over 90% of Mexicans speak Spanish as their first language
- Mexican Spanish dialect has influences from indigenous languages and is distinguished by unique slang and idioms
- English is spoken by less than 10% as a second language, mostly by upper/middle class Mexicans
- Mexico still has around 364 individual indigenous languages like Nahuatl, Maya, Mixtec, Zapotec and Huichol
While Spanish is by far the dominant tongue, Mexico still has more native language diversity than any other country in Latin America.
Key aspects of the Mexican education system and culture include:
- Mandatory schooling from ages 4 to 18 with both public and private options
- Strong emphasis on literacy, math, sciences, history, arts, and civics
- Most schooling is in Spanish, with some bilingual schools for indigenous youth
- Historically limited school availability in poor and rural areas but improving
- Robust university system with major institutions like National Autonomous University of Mexico
- Low levels of education spending as percentage of GDP compared to OECD countries
Access to education has expanded significantly in Mexico but there are still disparities between affluent urban areas and poorer rural zones.
As discussed briefly earlier, Mexican cuisine is one of the pillars of the country’s cultural identity. Some key attributes include:
- Corn is a staple ingredient in dishes like tortillas, tamales and more
- Chiles and salsa add signature spice, flavor and heat to Mexican food
- Common ingredients like beans, rice, avocado, tomato define homestyle dishes
- Regional diversity seen in mole sauce from Oaxaca, fish dishes from Veracruz, etc.
- Tacos are the quintessential Mexican street food with countless regional varieties
- Food culture values fresh, local ingredients cooked lovingly at home
Mexican cuisine seamlessly blends indigenous staples like corn with ingredients introduced by the Spanish to create a hearty, spicy, comforting culinary tradition.
Gender Roles & Expectations
Mexican gender culture is defined by traditions as well as changes:
- Strong history of defined gender roles with men as providers and women as homemakers
- Machismo culture emphasizes masculine pride, assertiveness and responsibility for men
- Marianismo for women values duty to family, motherhood, modesty and chastity
- Modern Mexico has seen more equality with more women working and gender roles evolving
- Legal protections against gender discrimination instituted but inequality still exists
- LGBTQ issues like same-sex marriage increasingly accepted but traditional attitudes persist
While Mexican society has become more progressive, elements of traditional gender expectations created by longstanding cultural norms remain.
Mexico has a robust tourism industry centered around destinations like:
- Beaches – Coastal resorts in Cancun, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, Tulum, etc.
- Archaeological sites – Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza, Tulum, Monte Albán, Templo Mayor
- Colonial cities – Oaxaca, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Morelia
- Ecotourism – Monarch butterfly reserves, whale shark spotting, wildlife sanctuaries
- Adventure tourism – Surfing spots like Puerto Escondido, hiking volcanoes
- Cultural tourism – Day of the Dead festivities, art/food tours in Mexico City
Tourism is a major part of Mexico’s economy and highlights the country’s diverse natural beauty, indigenous sites, colonial legacy, cuisine, festivals and more for visitors.
Mexico has a deeply layered cultural identity forged from ancient indigenous civilizations, three centuries of Spanish rule, struggles for independence and nation-building. Mexican culture emphasizes family, celebrates tradition through magnificent festivals, expresses spirituality through both Catholic and native rituals, and exalts the country through music, arts and food. While modern influences constantly enter and reshape Mexican society, pride in the nation’s history and culture remains an unwavering constant.