Culture, History & Politics of Mexico

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  • 0:00 Native Tribes
  • 0:40 Spanish Colonization
  • 1:35 Fight for Texas
  • 2:10 Political System
  • 3:15 Culture
  • 3:55 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson explores the country of Mexico. It highlights the country's native tribes and the impact of Spanish colonization. It also discusses the single-party political domination of the PRI.

Native Tribes

Today, most of the people of Mexico speak Spanish and hold to the Catholic faith. Of course, this speaks to the huge influence of European colonization. However, there is more to Mexico than its ties to Europe. To explore this ancient land, let's take a look at the history, culture, and politics of Mexico.

Years and years before Mexico was invaded by Europe, it had a rich culture of its own. It was home to many tribal people. For instance, the Maya, and the Aztecs were a few of the most famous native tribes of Mexico. Living off the land, these tribes existed for generation upon generation. Sadly, this all changed with the close of the 15th century.

Spanish Colonization

As the 16th century dawned, Spain invaded the lands of Mexico. Searching for gold and silver, the European explores wiped out many of the native people. Even the mighty Aztecs couldn't stand against the tide of European invasion. Soon, most of Mexico's native people were either dead or enslaved.

As Spanish explores and settlers swarmed the land, the face of Mexican culture changed. Rather than being either Aztec or Mayan, the people of Mexico became divided into two main categories. They were Criollos and Mestizos. At the top of the social ladder were the Criollos of pure Spanish descent. In other words, these wealthy landowners considered themselves purebloods. No one in their family tree had ever mixed with the natives of Mexico. They looked down on the Mestizos, or those who were descended from both Spanish and native descent.

Fight for Texas

Creating their own culture, these new people groups of Mexico desired freedom from Spain, and they got it! By the early 1820s, Mexico claimed independence from Spain. Of course, the wealthy Criollos were more than happy to become the new rulers of the land, and as rulers, they were rather gutsy. They even took on the U.S. over the right to Texas. Unfortunately for them, this was a bigger bite than they could chew! The war for Texas not only saw them lose Texas, they also lost the areas known today as California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah to the United States.

Political System

Pulling themselves up after this loss, Mexico went on to create its own political system. The main characteristic of this system in modern times has been single-party domination.

To explain, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or the PRI, dominated Mexican politics during most of the 20th century. Founded in the 1920s, it began as a loose association of powerful political bosses, but by the 1960s, it had millions of members.

The PRI gained such massive power by letting the common classes feel like they were part of the political process. Yes, history tells us the leaders were involved in all sorts of intimidation, bribery, and even some cruelty, but somehow they gave the common classes enough to keep the country from all-out revolution and upheaval. Considering that much of Latin America suffered in devastating violence during the 20th century, the PRIs ability to do this was a rather monumental task!

Although its power has waned over the last few years, the single-party domination of the PRI has defined Mexico's modern political world in the same manner that Spanish influence has dominated its culture.

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