"Poor Mexico! So far from God, so close to the United States..."—Porfirio Díaz
Home of Speedy Gonzales, Bumblebee Man, and Guillermo del Toro, Mexico can stir up more emotion in three syllables than can be wrought from a Wangst filled Romantic Plot Tumor. Whether it's love or hate depends entirely on the person.
Officially named the United Mexican States, but usually called "Mexico" to avoid confusion with the other United States.
- ¡Three Amigos!
- A Day Without a Mexican
- A Fistful of Dollars
- A Fistful of Dynamite
- Amores Perros
- Banana Republic
- El Chapulin Colorado
- El Chavo del Ocho
- El Mariachi
- El Santo
- Eugenio Derbez
- Gratuitous Spanish
- Latin Land
- Like Water for Chocolate
- Magnificent Moustaches of Mexico
- Masked Luchador
- Mexican Food
- Mexican Politics
- Mexican Revolution
- Mexican Standoff
- Mexican-American War
- Mexicans Love Speedy Gonzales
- Mexicans With Machine Guns
- Mexico Called. They Want Texas Back.
- Once Upon a Time In Mexico
- Pilli Adventure
- Run for the Border
- Salvando Al Soldado Perez
- Soap Opera
- South of the Border
- Spaghetti Western
- The Illegal
- The Mexican
- The Three Caballeros
- The Wild Bunch
- Y Tu Mama Tambien
Mexico's almost as racially diverse as Brazil and Mexicans dance nearly as passionately as Cubans but with half the talent. There's a sizable part of Mexicans who don't like their country (Mostly on the border states and rich-to-middle-class people). Another phenomenon is Malinchismo: a very old and widespread tendency to show any unjustified preference, however slight, for foreign over national stuff. Mexicans range all over on the political spectrum but most are religiously conservative Catholics (i.e. it's possible to find someone who's devout while very supportive of gay marriage, for example). Also, due to the Philippines having been technically under New Spain, Mexicans also tend to have fairly close cultural ties with Filipinos.
Also, as per Hispanic custom, Mexicans have two family names: the first is the father's one, and the second is the mother's. Because children only get the first family name of either parent only the father's name is passed on through successive generations. Also you can have more than one given name (think middle initial)... sometimes even three. And sometimes you even get single family names made of multiple family names. Example: former president Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León. Women don't lose their maiden name when marrying, but traditionally added the husband's family name to their own, this has no legal value and is also disappearing as a custom.
Mexican humor is diverse but largely formulaic and simplistic. For example shows and stand-up comedians mostly resort to tried and true jokes Older Than Radio. Comedy may rely on pure slapstick ("El Chavo") or feature social/political comentary (however it's very rare to find this trait on mainstream media), but our stongest and most characteristic type of humor is the famous "albur" (pronounced "al-BOOR") which consist in heavily sexual wordplay and double entendre, basically it's Getting Crap Past the Radar taken Up to Eleven since many people in the country already have the double entendres memorized, especially censors. The albur serves as the foremost justification that Mexicans have in believing themselves the most ingenious and good natured nation ever. If they make fun of others, rest assured they have developed a level of self deprecating humor Woody Allen would admire (before knocking himself for it). Since making fun of people based on their race, their gender, or their handicaps isn't considered as politically incorrect as it is in the US or the UK it may seem that Mexican comedy can be crass. But it's precisely because of their greater disregard towards political correctness that limits in Hollywood's depiction of Mexicans are rather set by Chicanos than by actual Mexicans.
In The Media
Generally there are only a few stock Mexicans:
- The hopeful illegal immigrant looking for the American dream,
- The greasy illegal immigrant looking to lower property values
- The downtrodden villager who can't defend himself,
- The Spicy Latina with a whole lotta attitude and a big butt
- The tattooed drug dealer, the logical progression of the desperado,
- And the gang banger/kidnapper.
Mexico itself is usually shown either as a dusty, dilapidated small town, an urban slum of a deathtrap, or a beautiful tropical resort hotel. Also, don't drink the water. (We make more money if you drink the Tequila.) (You do have very good food, though.) (Why thank you! Here, have a Concha!.) (OM NOM NOM NOM. Pan de dulce: provides 100% RDA of win.). Due to it's spicyness (see below) and perceived hygiene conditions, Mexican cuisine is often portrayed as inducing to extreme bowel movements. But is one of the best of the world .
Tourism is an important source of revenue, regularly ranking among Mexico's top 5 moneymakers. Important touristic places include the clichéd to Mexicans but impressing to foreigners Channels of Xochimilco, sort of our version of Venice but with cheaper prices and more colorful boats. Oh and the Mayan pyramids such as Chichen Itzá, shorter than the Egyptian ones but featuring nigh unbelievable architectural progress. Also, but don't expect any tour to take you there, you can find astoundingly poor mountain villages with Indians, starving to death and forgotten to the world. The slum village you seem in the movies can be found almost exactly as pictured in several places of the North, and it is worth mentioning the towns bordering the US aren't considered examples of the best of the country, so don't judge us from those places, please. (No offense to the brothers on the Border) This is not to say that the rest of the country has no slums at all, but they look different from the Hollywood depiction of them.
On The Media
Due to the relative backwardness of Mexico, broadcast commercial television is still by far the dominant medium in the country. There are two major broadcast networks: Televisa and Azteca, both private and suspect of being colluded in a duopoly cartel that decides what is or isn't shown on open air TV in the country, which would also explain why so many politicians bow to these companies' whims. Leaving this aside, there are also a few public cultural channels like Once TV and Canal 22, providing documentaries and cultural programming for those who do not have cable tv (and the latter channel earning several international accolades).
Most of you should know the cheesy "Telenovelas", Lucha Libre and masked luchadores like El Santo or Blue Demon, and perhaps even El Chavo del Ocho and that creepy Santa Claus movie Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffed once. But there has been more stuff that, due to Creator Provincialism , might never see the light of day outside from Mexico, like lots and lots of old movies and sketch series made between the 40's and 70's. Like the rest of the world, cable and some commercial broadcast programming material consists heavily of imported American TV and films.
Most newspapers in Mexico are unprofitable but survive thanks to bribes that local city or state governments or the drug cartels pay to keep them quiet on certain inconvenient issues and/or put a positive spin on those issues. Only a handful of papers (mostly those who enjoy national distribution or have a very large market) survive on their own. Comics made in Mexico are almost an underground movement. Even the most successful are often unable to reach a true national distribution, be it on magazines or newspapers. There are, however, a few good comics that in spite of being very old still keep their fandoms, old and new, like Kaliman, La Familia Burron and Memin Pinguin (the latter being responsible for a minor diplomatic incident due to African-American groups viewing it as racist, see above for Mexican attitudes towards political correctness).
Traditional and cellular telephone services are quite inefficient and charge some of the highest service rates in the world. This in part due to the fact that most traditional phone land lines are serviced by a company called Telmex, property of Carlos Slim, the richest man on the planet, whose company enjoys a monopoly grant from the government. This has been changing as cable companies are entering the traditional phone services at a lower rate than Telmex, and recent laws allow people to switch companies without having to change phone numbers.
The pop music industry is quite influential in the Spanish speaking world but it's very hampered because Mexico is a haven of copyright piracy. Local music that plays harder than 2 in the Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness was actively ostracized by mainstream media for decades, specially after the fiasco caused by the "Rock y Ruedas sobre Avándaro", in which the government had to step in due to a sudden Moral Panic. Another factor that stifled the genre preferences was Siempre en Domingo, a musical variety show displayed on Sundays, which, with a few exceptions, it was more a showcase of the presenter's favourite artists rather than a real musical variety show.
The film industry used to be the sixth in the country in terms of exports and it's also victim of the widespread piracy in Mexico. Mexican film making reached its Golden Age roughly from 1935 until 1960. In the 70's however the government introduced its own brand of Executive Meddling via financiation schemes that ended up virtually ruining the industry for more than 20 years. An alleged renaissance has been improving the quality encouraging the rise of new talent like directors Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and actors such as Guillermo Luna and Gael Garcia, however the industry still depends heavily on government subsidies and only releases between 50 and 100 films a year.
Mexican Food, certainly not Tex-Mex
The cuisine is world-renowned for being colorful, intense, spicy, greasy, and fiery hot (on par with Korean or Thai food). Mexicans absolutely love chili peppers: you can find at least 10 varieties at any supermarket, it's present in pretty much every single dish, you can even buy candy made with dried chili, and any Mexican who can't stand them is automatically called a pansy. Most of our traditional dishes are a mix of traditional prehispanic and medieval Spanish food; the pozole, for example, is often made with Mexican corn grains, beans, tomatoes and chili peppers; and Spanish radish, lettuce / cabbage, and beef / pork.
There are some exceptions, though: if you roll around the streets, chances are you'll find some stalls in the sidewalks selling tacos al pastor, which can be best described as "Mexican doner kebab" but frequently made of spiced pork, brought by a wave of Lebanese immigrants. And of course, we also have our fair share of weirdo dishes, such as huitlacoche (fungus that grows on corn) and chapulines (fried grasshoppers), note that most average Mexicans will also squeam at these.
And for the record: Taco Bell is not a Mexican company, though the recent opening of a few nearby has caused us great amusement. Their food is certainly absolutely not Mexican. And the taco bell Chihuahua? It was considered a culinary delicacy by the Aztecs. In general, Tex-Mex food is a blasphemous rip-off of Mexican food and is shunned by every respectable Mexican.
Useful Tip: Do NOT tell a Mexican guest that you are taking him to a "Mexican Restaurant" unless you are 100% sure it is not actually Tex Mex. Take him anywhere else: Thai, Korean, even American Food (yes, there is such a thing... vaguely) is better on the off chance that the Mexican restaurant is actually Tex Mex. (Then again, globalization probably means it's going to be staffed by Chinese cooks anyway). If you do, the consequences will be dire... amused Take Thats, noting how the food is slightly (or hugely) off. Or feigned indignation, that is if any is registered. Honestly, take out a Mexican to dinner and you likely won't get any complaints: Free Food!
In case you can't tell, we also have a bit of an ongoing sore spot with the "Mexican-ness" of Mexican immigrants to the United States. While we're cut from the same cloth and are, in theory, "on the same side", Mexicans tend to dislike Latinos for being "traitors" who: left their country (even if forced by necessity), are forsaking their heritage to become like the ever loathed "gringo" (just like Mexicans in Mexico), and in general "aren't mexican" (see Tex Mex food). To be fair, polls usually show a lot of Mexicans willing to leave their country if they had the chance. Chicanos for their part, (particularly those born in the States) tend to view Mexicans as snobby, stuck up, and generally all too proud with very little to be proud of (in other words, elves). Generally, considering that most Mexicans place a high importance on personal relationships in general, this is ignored in families and constitutes one of the reasons why remesas (money orders) are sent by immigrants to families back home and ties are maintained despite the distance—to the point that entire towns live exclusively off money sent from abroad, and money orders are Mexico's second largest income after oil imports. Chicanos or "Pochos" in all honesty deserve their own Useful Notes page, but for now their search for an "identity" that doesn't compromise heritage and nationality is an ongoing issue for them as with other immigrant groups.
An (not so) abridged history
Before it was colonized, it was home of and originator to some of the Precursors for the Olmec, Mayan, and Aztec civilizations. Expect them all to be lumped together when the Adventurer Archaeologist investigates ruins in search of treasure. But we don't care about those silly brown people. Well, not unless they're hot and/or there's a Curse involved.
It was colonized by Spain, those people in the funny metal Conquistador hats who looked for cities of gold (or means to get gold, they weren't picky), and proceeded to massacre the "cannibal natives" and "idol worshipers" with plagues and horses. (The plagues were actually unintentional but handy at first, inconvenient after victory). Hernán Cortés and his men were able to win against the Aztec empire by manipulating their unwilling subjects into an alliance. Fun and profit were had by all. And by all, we mean Cortés, his soldiers, and many of his native allies. Everyone else was either forcibly converted and enslaved in the Hacienda system (think Plantation) or killed. Even his native allies got sort of shafted, also being forcibly converted and becoming second class citizens below spaniards... which was still loads better than plebeian mexicans who were actually worse off than under the Aztecs, but who cares about them?
Many things happened in the Colonial period, but for some reason the next 300 years are mostly ignored until "La Independencia!" Lots of shooting and fighting, wherein the Spanish rule is kicked out for being The Empire. Right after, one of the leaders of the winning group, Agustín de Iturbide, arranged for himself to be crowned emperor and ruled... 11 months. After that he was exiled, and executed when he decided to return. Then Guadalupe Victoria became our first presidente. His Meaningful Name and very Gender Blender Name is not an accident, as he picked it himself.
After this pop culture kind of skips the next 30 or so years of political infighting until the Mexican American War, at which point Mexicans become Red Shirts to attack The Alamo. By the way, don't bring this up in the company of polite Mexicans unless you want to hear an earful about how the US supported Texas' independence only to annex it and use it as a casus belli once we attacked. Bring it up in the company of impolite Mexicans and, well... let's just say we can hold a grudge for centuries (just ask Spain). Worth noting is how Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón (try to say that without stopping to breath), mostly known as Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna or just Santa Anna, went from Independence hero to eleven times president/dictator to national traitor, first class, due to the loss of the war. It's because of his merry-go-round presidencies that Mexicans, to this day, distrust re-election on principle.
At some moment in 1838, France invades Mexico as payback because a baker's shop was destroyed in the fighting... among another things. Want to know the name of the war? "The Pastry War".
Problems were far from over as there were two main groups who wanted to have complete influence in the political life of the country. One group were called the Conservadores, who believed that many mechanisms that worked well in Colonial Mexico should be maintained. Some also believed the country should be ruled by a European monarch (as they saw the republic system as the worst thing that happened to the country, what with the endless rebellions, coups d'etat, and lame duck governments).
Opposing them were the Liberals, who believed the colonial past should be left behind in favor of modernization and decided to take the U.S. as an example of how things should be done. (They felt quite betrayed when their admired big brother invaded and took a good chunk of Mexico's territory). Then president Ignacio Comonfort was not as comfortable as his name suggests. He got a mixed cabinet of both liberals and conservatives and then self-coup d' état'ed. As it turns out, both groups engaged in mature and constructive debate for the betterment of the country via nasty war.
Because of the already mentioned conflict the Mexican economy was in the red, so it was decided to suspend the foreign debt until some money could be collected to pay it. This wasn't of the liking of Spain (to whom we owed the most), the British Empire (to whom we owed a little less), and France (to whom we owed the least), so they decided to send ships and soldiers to demand their money. When they arrived in the port of Veracruz, President Benito Juárez arranged a treaty promising that payment would be made... but not at the moment. Britain and Spain decided it was okay after having their ambassadors taken to a particularly underdeveloped area and realizing that they were shitting them not with "no freakin' money" and retired, but France moved inside the country as they planned to invade anyway... again.
Napoleon the Third decided that it needed a French protectorate to stop the growth of influence of the United States, and believed that Mexico was the perfect place for his plans. Many of the Conservadores actually went to France to arrange this. The crown was offered to Maximilian, younger brother of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria  which made him brother in law of famous Sissy. One memorable event in between is when our Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, led by Ignacio Zaragoza, beat their awesome croissants in "El Cinco de Mayo", and now we get another holiday out of it (they kind of kicked our tacos around for a few years after that, but shh). This holiday is notable for being probably the sole honest-to-God pride of your country events in the whole history of Mexico, losing the war or not it was simply unbelievable for the French or the mexicans themselves that this paradise of coups d'etat defeated motherfucking France in a serious battle, sort of that short nerd in your classroom beating to a pulp the tall jock with all the chicks... only to have the whole football team handing his ass later, yeah, but still; "The weapons of Mexico have been covered in glory" indeed.
The second Mexican empire lasted 3 years until it was defeated and Conservadores everywhere shot. The Liberales may have won the Civil War, but many political fights happened inside the victorious party as everybody wanted to be president. President Juárez went for reelection, but war hero and budding Magnificent Bastard Porfirio Díaz tried to rebel... and failed. Better luck next time! But, as good national heroes always do, Juárez died just in time (in 1872, merely one year after his reelection) to avoid going the way of Santa Ana into Infamy. Mexican "heroes" tend to end that way. (Harvey Dent was right about that). He was succeeded by the next in line for the job, Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada (Sebastián, not Miguel, as both brothers were very important in the Liberal party), then after his time was up he also tried to postulate himself for reelection. Porfirio Díaz rebelled again... and won, won so hard that he got to rule Mexico for the next 30 years. He first ruled for 4 years or so, then put his compadre (godsib) Manuel González on the presidency, but his presidency sucked ass and Díaz decided to reelect himself (after all, where did it say people could get reelected in different president terms?). The hypocrisy of rebelling against a president for trying to rewrite the constitution to get reelected, then doing so for thirty years himself, was probably not lost on him, as he actually exalted the character and justified the actions of Juárez, to justify his own by proxy.
Depending who you ask things were "relatively" dull under Porfirio Díaz's mostly enlightened "Presidency" until 1910 and "La Revolución!" (For some reason, Americans really dig this part of our history. As a Mexican school kid, all this troper can say is any civil war with more than three factions is a headache to keep track of (not complaining about the holiday, though). This is where you'll see "Bandidos" and outlaws, charismatic rebels like Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata leading the peasants against the centre, small Mexican towns in need of rescue by Mighty Whitey, and quite a few westerns... (southerns?)
Once La Revolución ends, we have some nice, long 70 years of
dictatorship democracy bordering on Banana Republic under the PRI, founded by the people who won the Revolution. Thing is, while it was a single party system, the presidents only served for six years apiece (originally 4 years, but Lázaro Cárdenas expanded the term), giving the illusion of change. All were corrupt, some were visionaries, a few went insane. The last one that tried to get reelected (some people never learn), Álvaro Obregón, Carranza's bff (who got his arm blown off by Villa himself) was murdered by a Catholic fanatic... so the next one who succeeded him, Plutarco Elías Calles A.K.A. "El Jefe (Máximo de la Revolución)" just decided that ruling from the shadows was way safer and more profitable, until Cárdenas exiled him.
During World War II, Germany sank two of our oil tankers, so in response we declared war (and it has been the only time we've fought on foreign soil). They sent the Escuadrón 201 to do combat, reconaissance and supply interception against Japanese forces in the Phillipines.
Much bloodshed happens. Two massacres, the Tlatelolco Massacre and the Jueves de Corpus Massacre were indications that the regime was slowly starting to go to oblivion. 10 days after the Tlatelolco Massacre, we had olympic games! It basically got to be an opportunity to whitewash the massacre, specially after Smith and Carlos raised their fists. Two years later, we had our first Worlf Cup tournament, and the president got a hughe whistle from angry spectators because of his poor administration (not to mention killing more than 200 students). After these things, you'd think we'd have at least some decent governor right? Enter José López
Por Pillo Portillo, A.K.A. the guy who caused 3 devaluations. His bff Arturo "El Negro" Durazo got to be police chief and he'd end up in jail after discovering the extreme corruption his employees got on and the incredible wealth he recieved (he even built himself a palace on Ixtapa known as "El Partenón"!). After this, president Miguel de la Madrid got to be the boss. On September 19, 1985, Mexico suffered the most devastating earthquake in its history. and what did the president do? Hide in his gouse of course! Mexicans basically had to scrub the rubble by ourselves and it gained De la Madrid some very loud whistles during the 1986 World Cup Opening Ceremony, just like the last time.
This "dictatorship that looks like a democracy" thing starts really fading away in 1994, when Ernesto Zedillo finally eases back on the President's grip over the country (not mentioning his predecessor, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, being one of our most hated presidents due to the financial crisis that ensued because of his actions and winning a very controversial election), and finally ends in 2000, when Vicente Fox wins and the ruling party is replaced.
Due a combination of the government ignoring them, poverty, and America's lax weapon laws, and the high profit of selling drugs, the Gangs and Cholos became Organized, resourceful, and very violent, despite the fact that they were (and still are) in plain sight, recruiting young people because they're led to believe that Gangsters Are Cool, even gaining control of certain Cities and lots of small towns. Daily shootings are reported on places like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, and most people there can claim to know someone on the Drug's Business, but no one does anything, since it is, for the most part, useless. To make things worse, denouncing narcos to anyone but the army is a guarante for a horrible fate for you and your family if you are (and you will be) discovered, or more simply, because being in "El Negocio" (The Business) is not seen as a bad thing. Hell, you can hear songs (narcocorridos, "drug trafficker runs") describing a Cruel and Unusual Death and the life of a gangster on parties, taxis, karaokes and bars. The drug subculture became Ingrained in lots of states, and many teenagers aspire to enter in the Business world or escape from Mexico (legally or otherwise).
It must be noted, however, that though consumption has been increasing there still aren't a lot of consumers in Mexico; the main profit still comes from the American consumers, though now traffickers are starting to fight over who owns the local market. The drug cartels use violence within Mexico against each other for control of the land routes, and against the Mexican government because it is against them. In turn, the Mexican government fights against them because they're undermining national security, society, sovereignty... and because America puts pressure on them.
Nowadays, we're mostly democratic, and slightly less pessimistic about being doomed to live in a Crapsack
World Country Gangsterland. It's kind of a work in progress, really. Check out Mexican Politics for more.
Please keep this article from sneaking into Useful Notes On America—being this an American wiki, "America" here stands for the USA, with the continent being referred as "American continent".
- None taken, after all, it's the legions of fellow Mexicans immigrating from the south and the interior who actually inhabit these slums.
- After Santa Anna at least three more presidents (Juárez, Díaz and Obregón) got themselves reelected in the 70 years that followed.
- (also uncle of that Franz, this family had some rotten luck in the 19th and 20th centuries)