Mexico, officially known as the United Mexican States, shares its northern border with the United States, and its southern border with Guatemala and Belize. The country is comprised of three distinct regions: the highland areas, the great depression, and the coastal slopes. It is a land with the oldest continuous culture in the Americas, and one that has seen many great civilizations. Maya, Teotihuacán, Olmec and Aztec cultures all flourished here. The Olmecs, in particular, were renowned for their greatness in sculpture, science and philosophy and were the first astronomers of ancient America, as well as the first Mexican people to use a calendar. The capital, Mexico City, is the largest city in the world. A great majority of Mexico’s population is of mixed Spanish and indigenous descent. Spanish is the official language, although there are also nearly 50 native tongues and dialects.
Mexican culture is a mix of native, Spanish and American traditions. The country is divided into 31 states, each with its own identity. Residents of one state usually identify strongly to their area, yet, Mexicans take great pride in being part of the Mexican federation as well. Mexican culture has also had a strong influence on the culture of the southern United States, as California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas states were all part of Mexico until the middle of the 19th century.
Men live by a traditional code of behaviour, known as machismo, and family takes priority over work. Mexicans, spirited people who know how to enjoy life, pay special attention to weekends, holidays and festivities. Music is an important aspect of life and is a special part of the many colourful festivals held annually. Folk dances and songs, which are often accompanied by the guittarón (guitar), tell stories of the nation’s history.
Mexican cuisine is also one its greatest cultural exports, especially in other North American countries. Indeed, some Mexican specialties such as tacos, nachos and burritos have become staples in Canadian households. Chocolate lovers might argue that the country’s greatest culinary legacy is chocolate, as the native tribes of Mexico cultivated cocoa and prepared a chocolate drink as early as 1900 BC. The Aztecs are credited with being the first to use of tomatoes in cooking. The country is also known for its chicle, a milky sap extracted from trees found throughout the Yucatán peninsula, which launched the worldwide chewing gum industry.
Each area of Mexico produces unique arts and crafts. They include decorated pottery or silver jewellery set with turquoise, since the nation is famous for the silver found in almost all its states. Elaborate wood carvings are made from the local copal tree. Papel picado, the art of perforated coloured paper, is a traditional Mexican folk art and is closely associated with celebrations such as Christmas, Easter, weddings, christening and the Day of the Dead. Piteado, the art of embroidering leather items with agave fibers, is also a very popular craft.
Textile arts in Mexico are varied and date back many centuries. At first, fibers such as yucca, reeds, and palms were used, followed by cotton which was highly prized by the Aztecs. The Spanish introduced wool and silk, and foot treadle looms. Today, the Mayans and the Amuzgo are well-known for their skilled quality weaving and embroidery. Women use back strap looms, a portable loom that is tied on one end to a post or a tree and to the weaver’s back on the other. This type of loom allows the weaver to work just about anywhere to make medium-width panels.
The huipil, the traditional square blouse worn by indigenous women in Mexico, is assembled by stitching panels together, and usually features intricate and colourful embroidery of flowers, geometric designs and animals, as well as lace. The rebozo is a shawl-like garment, which can be used to cover one’s self or to carry children of goods. It is said that virtually every Mexican woman owns a rebozo. It is usually made using the ikat technique, where each thread is tied and dyed, woven, and the fringes woven with fingers into complicated patterns. Handmade wool rugs, made by the Zapotec, feature ancient geometric patterns. The knowledge for making the carpets has been passed down from one generation to the next for two millennia in the Oaxaca state.
Mexicans are among the newest immigrants in Canada, having only begun arriving here in the 1950s. Many were professionals, managers, technicians, and students who came seeking a better life for themselves and their families. The greatest number of Mexicans settled in Ontario and British Columbia, while others went to Quebec and Alberta. Mexicans have founded several organizations to meet their social and cultural needs, including the Mexican-Canadian Association, the Mexican-Canadian Alliance, the Association of Mexican Professionals, and Alianza, a Mexican folklore group specializing in popular music and dance. As of 2011, there were over 96,000 people of Mexican ancestry in Canada.
Sponsor: Martha Weber, Yolanda Corvese | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons