So varied and complex is Mexico that only one word can truly describe this incredible culture: miscegenation or multiracialism. The Mexican culture has some unique characteristics that are a result of the combination of two distinct cultures: European traits from the Spaniards and the indigenous Mexican population.
It is estimated that, of the 112 million habitants of the country, the majority of the population has some degree of native blood and 10% of them are pure blood native Mexicans. Of these, approximately half of them still conserve one of the 62 native languages present in the country as their first language, which converts Mexico into one of the most important linguistic centers in the world. In fact, federal laws guarantee that Mexican natives maintain legal autonomy in order to conserve their ancestral customs.
The majority of the indigenous population in Mexico resides in the southern part of the country. The two largest groups of Mexican natives are likely to be the Nahuas and the Yucatec Mayas, descedents of the grand Aztec and Maya civilizations respectively.
The Aztecs, or Nahuas, were originally a nomadic group from the northern part of present day Mexico that later occupied central Mexico. Attracted to the region by a prophesy that ordered them to settle in the place where an eagle on a cactus devoured a snake, they founded their grand capital city of Tenochtitlan on a large lagoon. Through wars and alliances the Aztecs subdued neighboring cities creating a great civilization in what is today central Mexico.
Aztec life was based on a religion rich in mythology and they boasted colossal pyramids known for their human sacrifices. The Spanish conquest of South America would lead to the fall of this grand empire, giving way to a rich mixed European/indigenous culture. These indigenous cultures also affected the Spaniards who adopted words like “chocolate”, “tomate” or “aguacate” from the indigenous Mexican languages.
Contrary to popular belief, the Mayas never formed an empire in the modern sense of the word. Rather, they formed a series of city states in Central America that reached their apex before the Spaniards arrived. The Mayas are well known for their advanced skills in mathematics and astrology which enabled them to build wonders of the world such as the pyramids of Chichen Itza or Coba.
The Maya civilization is also one of the indigenous Mexican groups that has best conserved its identity. In fact, the majority of the members of the Zapatista army, which defends indigenous rights among other things, are of Maya origin.
Even among the general Mexican population and those who do not consider themselves to be indigenous, the amount of multiracialism and cultural mixture is very high. In fact, many typical Mexican traditions owe their origin to divine worship before the arrival of Christianity. For example, the Virgin of Guadalupe is a Christian adaptation of the goddess Tonantzin and the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico actually originates from an Aztec festival in honor of Mictecacihuatl, the Goddess of Death, who is often featured on many altars below the figure of the Santa Muerte (Holy Death).