A Kid’s Guide to Mexico

Mexico is a country that is directly attached to the southern part of the United States. It is a part of North America, but because the Spanish language is spoken there, it is also considered a Latin American country. There are many people living in Mexico; in fact, it has one of the largest populations in all of the Latin American countries! Because it is so close to the United States, it is called a neighboring country, and both countries share a lot of history. There are many people in the United States who have relatives who are originally from Mexico or who may still have family there. With its long history and the many fascinating cultural traditions that are passed down from one generation to the next, Mexico is a very interesting country to learn about!
 
History

La_Venta_Pirámide_cara_norteMexico’s history can be traced back to early civilizations that existed before Europeans came to the Americas. One of the first of these civilizations existed as far back as 1200 B.C.! That’s a very, very long time ago. The people of this society were called the Olmecs and theywere responsible for building one of the first known pyramids in Mexico called La Venta. After the Olmecs, there were other societies including the Zapotecs and the Mayans. The Mayans were a very advanced and resourceful people who built cities and pyramids and created things like a writing system, a calendar, and sculptures. The Temple of the Inscriptions is one of the most famous pyramids built by the Mayans.

Another great society of people were the Toltecs. They too built pyramids. They used these pyramids for ceremonies and even sacrifices to the gods they worshiped. The last of the great native civilizations was the Aztecs. The Aztecs joined with other groups and became very large and powerful. They developed cities, schools, government, and an army. They also built pyramids to worship their gods. One of these pyramids was called the Great Pyramid, and it was located in the Aztec’s capital city. The Aztecs were strong, but their society came to an end with the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500s.

Around 1519, a Spanish adventurer by the name of Hernán Cortés arrived in Mexico. The Aztecs treated him well because they thought he was one of their gods. As he traveled with the Aztecs toward their capital and heard of their gold and riches, he and his army made plans to attack the Aztecs. The capital city was destroyed, including the Great Pyramid and other structures. The Spanish also carried diseases that were new to the Aztecs and other native people. This made them very ill, and many of them died. The Spanish people conquered the Aztecs, took over their capital, and turned many of the native people into slaves. Mexico City was built over the ruins of the destroyed Aztec capital.

Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821 and two years later it established a constitution. The state of Texas was once a part of Mexico, but it separated from the country in 1836. This separation led to much conflict between the United States and Mexico. By 1846, the United States declared war on Mexico. The war continued for two years, until the U.S. won in 1848. Mexico didn’t just lose the war; it also lost even more of its land to the United States. Because they were defeated, they lost parts of what are now California, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada. In 1910, another war broke out in Mexico, this time against rulers who oppressed the Mexican people. Seven years after the people’s victory, a new constitution was developed.
 
Geography

The United States of America borders Mexico to the North. The southern half of Mexico is bordered by the countries of Guatemala and Belize. Mexico has an area of roughly 758,449 square miles and has a lot of natural resources. Natural resources are things that come naturally from the earth that have some kind of value to humans. In Mexico, some of the major natural resources include silver, copper, and oil. In fact, the country produces more silver than any other place in the world!

Mexico has two main mountain ranges, one that is to the west and one to the east. To the east is the Sierra Madre Oriental and to the west is the Sierra Madre Occidental. The country’s highest mountain is Pico de Orizaba, which is also North America’s highest volcano. The main rivers are the Yaqui and the Rio Grande.

Things like climate (or weather conditions), wildlife, and plant life are different depending on location in Mexico. These things vary a lot; for example, there are both dry desert areas and wet rainforests in Mexico. There are rainy areas with warm temperatures year round, and there are temperate areas that do not experience extreme weather conditions. Mexico’s rainforests are home to animals like jaguars, parrots, monkeys, and anteaters. Snakes, coyotes, armadillos, and pumas can be found in the drier, more desert-like areas of the country. There are also many different types of flowers and plants. Some of them are decorative and other types can be eaten as food. Jalapeño peppers and habanero chilies are from Mexico, as are avocados, chocolate, vanilla and so much more!
 
Culture

8129744925_e2661ca8c9_oMexican culture is pretty amazing! It is filled with a lot of holidays, events, and foods that are unique and fun. Food is an important part of Mexican culture. Many of the dishes are traditional and play a part in everything from festivals to family gatherings. Many of these dishes include corn or maize, beans, rice, and squash. Tortillas are also used in many dishes, including enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos, and soft tacos. Examples of other popular foods include tamales, sopas, menudo, pozole, empanadas, and huevos rancheros. Food is important on holidays, and there are many in Mexico. One of the main holidays is the Day of the Dead on November 1. This day might sound scary, but it is really a fun festivity that celebrates life and honors people who have died. In Mexico, it is called Día de Los Muertos. In September, the country celebrates its Independence Day. Mexico’s patron saint is honored on Dec. 12, El Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe. This is just one of the holidays in December. At Christmastime, the country has a nine-day-long celebration called Las Posadas. Las Posadas starts on December 16 and ends on the 25. Another day celebrated at this time is Día de Los Reyes, or Three Kings Day. This celebration does not happen until January 6, but children get most of their gifts on this day.

 

Chichén_Itzá_GoalSports and art are both important to this country’s people, as well. Mayans were great artists who created many murals that can still be seen today. Modern Mexican artists include the sculptor Rufino Tamayo, the painter Frida Kahlo, and mural artist Diego Rivera, to name just a few. Sports have long been important in Mexico, going back to a game that was likely played by the Olmecs and other early civilizations, dubbed “the Mesoamerican ballgame.” It is believed that this game was similar to volleyball or racquetball and that players used a rubber ball. The ball was hit with a player’s hip, arm, a bat, or some type of racquet. Today there is a modern version called Ulama. Popular traditional sports include bullfighting and a rodeo-like sport named Charreada. Other popular sports include lucha libre (wrestling), fútbol (soccer), baseball, rugby, boxing, and golf.

Life Today

Today, the official name for Mexico is the United Mexican States. Its capital is Mexico City, the official language is Spanish, and the currency is the Mexican peso. The government is a federal republic that has a Chamber of Deputies and a Senate. The head of the government is called the president. Right now, Enrique Peña Nieto is the country’s president. There are about 120 million people who live in Mexico. They practice many different religions, but Roman Catholicism is the religion that most people in the country belong to. Like other countries, the flag in Mexico has special meaning. When a person looks at the flag they’ll see three colors: green, white, and red. These colors all mean something. For example, green is the color of hope, red means bravery, and the white in the middle is for unity.