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Mexico City is a feast for the senses. One the sidewalks, bodies jostle to the beat of norteño music and the cries of street vendors, mingling their sweat with the scent of freshly fried tortillas. Eight-lane highways run past ancient pyramids, Catholics make pilgrimages to pagan temples, and cacti compete for space with palms. Somehow it all seems to make sense. Composed of 350 “colonias” (neighborhoods), Mexico’s capital is one of the world’s largest and most exciting cities in the world. Estimates of the city’s population vary depending on who’s counting and how one determines the urban limits. A contender for the title of most museums and theaters in the world, the city takes in more than 2 million tourists per year. In the city, Mexicans refer to the megalopolis as “el D.F.” (deh-EFF-eh, short for Distrito Federal), but to the rest of the country, it is simply Mexico, a testament to its immense size and importance.
Mexico City extends outward from the centro roughly 10km to the north, 8km to the east, 20km to the south, and 10km to the west, though there is much debate about where the city actually begins and ends. Few tourists venture past La Basílica de Guadalupe to the north, the airport to the east, San Ángel and the UNAM to the south, or the Bosque de Chapultepec to the west; this roughly corresponds to the extent of Metro coverage. A rectangular series of routes (the Circuito Interior) and a system of thoroughfares (Ejes Viales) help make cross-city travel manageable. Of these, the Eje Central, commonly known as Lázaro Cárdenas, is the central north-south route.
At a more local level, the city is difficult to know well; even locals don’t have it all down. What’s more, many different neighborhoods use the same street names. Still, it is only a matter of cardinal directions and good old-fashioned trial and error before you’ve master the basics of this megalopolis. The most important thing is to known the name of the colonia (neighborhood). Col. Polanco, Zona Rosa, Col. Roma, and Col. Juárez are some of the most touristed. Disregard street numbers and orient yourself using nearby monuments, museums, glorietas (traffic circles), cathedrals, and skyscrapers. If you are brave enough to drive around the city, a good map of the outer routes is essential. The Guiá Roji Ciudad de México is a comprehensive atlas perfect for those planning to stay in the city for some time who don’t want to reply on a GPS.
Mexico City overflows with history, culture, and entertainment. It is impossible to see everything, and even after the longest trip there always seems to be something that you’ve missed. Most museums are closed on Mondays but free on Sundays. Each distrct has something unique to offer, whether that be beautiful landscapes, majestic architecture, historical pyramids, or bustling marketplaces.
With so much to see in this vibrant city, it’s hard to pick which sites to visit during your stay. Here is our list of must-sees. Click the links to explore and book tours or local guides.
Meal options fall into six basic categories: very cheap (and sometimes risky) vendor stalls scattered about the streets; fast, inexpensive, and generally safe taquerías; slightly more formal cafeterías; more pricey and decorous Mexican restaurants; locally popular US-style eateries; and expensive international fare. In addition, US fast-food chains mass-produce predictable fare for the timid palate. VIPs and Sanborn’s, popular with middle-class Mexicans, run hundred of restaurants throughout the capital. Vegetarians will have more to eat here than anywhere else in Mexico: the bright orange chain Super Soya has soy versions of many Mexican and US favorites served up in freshly-made waffle cones. Local supermarkets have higher prices than mercados, but lower prices than corner stores. Except for Bodega Comercial Mexicana, Carranza 125, at Correo, most are far from the centro, at residential Metro stops. Superama in the Zona Rosa is directly outside M: Polanco. For fresh produce and meats, try La Merced, the mother of all supermarkets.
Although regional cuisine varies widely, tortillas are popular throughout the country. This millennia-old classic is a flat, round, thin pancake from either harina (wheat flour) or maíz (corn flour) In the North, flour tortillas are the norm, while corn rules the South. Arroz (rice) and frijoles (beans) round out the triumvirate of Mexican staples. Arroz, either of the yellow Spanish or white Mexican variety, is prepared with oil, tomato sauce, onions, and garlic. Frijoles range from a soupy “baked” variety to a thick “refried” paste. Expect to see this trio accompanying most restaurant meals.
Mexican culinary experts enjoy spicing up a meal with chiles or peppers. Most meals come with red and green hot sauce, and sometimes chiles curtidos – jalapeño peppers fermented in vinegar with sliced carrots and onions. Be careful when attempting to bite into any sort of pepper: keep in mind your own tolerance toward spicy food, and don’t be fooled by size. A small chile can pack a dangerous punch: measuring less than 6cm, Mexico’s native habanero pepper is the world’s hottest!
Salsas and moles (sauces) add zest and flavor to most Mexican dishes. The classic salsa Mexicana blens jotimate (red tomato), cilantro (coriander), and tomatillo (green tomato) with copious amounts of onion, garlic, and chiles. Mole poblano is a thick, simmered-down sauce made with three to four types of chiles, garlic, tomato, cocoa, and a variety of nuts and spices.
Breakfast can range from a simple snack to a grand feast rivaling the midday meal. Huevos (eggs), prepared in one of countless ways, are the mainstay of most Mexican breakfasts, often served with a side of café con leche (coffee with milk) and pan dulce (sweetened bread). Huevos revueltos (scrambled eggs) are usually prepared with jamón (ham), tocino (bacon), machaca (dried, shredded beef), or nopales (cactus). Huevos rancheros (fried eggs served on corn tortillas and covered with chunky tomato salsa), huevos albañil (scrambled eggs cooked in a spicy sauce), heuvos motuleños (eggs served on corn tortillas, topped with green sauce and sour cream), huevos ahogados (eggs cooked in simmering red sauce) are other common preparations. In more expensive restaurants, omelettes are offered with any of the common meats or with camarones (shrimp) or langosta (lobster).
Mexicans eat their main meal of the day – la comida – between 2 and 4pm. Both parents and children come home for an hour or two to eat, relax, and perhaps indulge in a siesta. Restaurants often offer comida corrida (sometimes called la comida or el menú), a fixed-price meal including sopa (soup), ensalada (salad), té (tea) or agua fresca (cold, fresh fruit juice), a plato fuerte (main dish), and a postre(dessert).
One of the most popular caldos (warm soups) is sopa de tortilla (or sopa azteca), a chicken broth-based soup with strips of fried tortilla, chunks of avocado, and chipotle peppers. Other favorites are caldo tlalpeño, a smoky blend of Mexico’s strong national pride is evident in pozole, a chunky soup with red, white, or green broth. Served with tostadas (fried tortillas) and lime wedges, pozole is made with large hominy kernels, radishes, lettuce, and meat (usually pork).
The main dish of any comida will usually feature some sort of carne (meat) platter – usually beef in the country’s interior or fish along the coasts – with sides of frijoles, tortillas, and arroz. Choose from carne barbacoa (barbecued), parrillada (grilled), or milanesa (breaded and fried).
Mexicans tend to snack lightly around 9 or 10pm. Dominating nearly every Mexican menu, antojitos (little cravings) are equivalent to a large snack or a small meal. Tacos consist of grilled pieces of meat folded in a warm corn tortilla and topped with a row of condiments. Burritos, which are especially popular in northern Mexico, are thick flour tortillas usually filled with beans, meat, and cooked vegetables. Enchiladas are rolled corn tortillas, filled with cheese and usually meat, baked in a red or green sauce. Quesadillas are flat tortillas with cheese melted between them; quesadillas are flat tortillas with cheese melted between them; quesadillas sincronizadas (sometimes called gringas) are filled with ham or pork. Tostadas are crispy, fried tortillas usually topped with meat or vegetables. Chimichangas are burritos that have been deep-fried for a rich, crunchy shell. Flautas are similar to chimichangas but are rolled (like a cigar) before being deep-fried, and resemble small flutes, for which they are named. Adventurous eaters can look out for the fried jumiles (stinkbugs) or chapulines (grasshoppers) sold at roadside snack stands.
Mexicans have an incurable sweet tooth. Beyond the ubiquitous chocolates (often flavored with chili powder) and pastries, traditional desserts include flan, a vanilla custard cake with a toasted sugar shell, nieve (ice cream), and arroz con leche (rice pudding). Many of the more traditional Mexican candies rely on fruits and produce, such as coconuts, bananas, and sweet potatoes for sweetness, rather than sugar.
Along with the table staples of tortillas, beans, and rice, cerveza (beer) ranks high in Mexican specialties. It is impossible to drive through any Mexican town without coming across numerous Tecate and Corona billboards, painted buildings, or roadside beer stands proudly advertising their products. Popular beers in Mexico (listed roughly in order of quality) are Bohemia (a world-class lager), Negra Modelo (a fine dark beer), Dos Equis (a light, smooth lager), Pacífico, Modelo, Carta Blanca, Superior, Corona Extra, and Sol (watery and light). Mexicans share their love for bargain beer with the world, as demonstrated by Corona Extra’s status as a leading export and international chart topper in Australia, Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, and many other European markets.
Tequila is the king of Mexican liquor. A more refined version of mezcal, tequila is distilled from the maguey cactus, a large, sprawling plant often seen along Mexican highways. Herradura, Tres Generaciones, Hornitos, and Cuervo 1800 are among the more famous, expensive, and quality brands of tequila. Mezcal, coarser than tequila, is sometimes served with the worm native to the plant – upon downing the shot, you are expected to ingest the worm. Pulque, the fermented juice of the maguey, was the sacred drink of the Aztec nobility. Ron (rum), while originally manufactured in the Caribbean, is incredibly popular in Mexico and is manufactured in parts of the Valley of Mexico. Coffee-flavored Kahlúa is Mexico’s most exported liqueur, but well-made piña coladas (pineapple juice, cream of coconut, and light rum), cocos locos (coconut milk and tequila served in a coconut), and the ever-popular margaritas (tequila blended with ice and fruity mix) are just as tasty. A michelada – lemon juice, tabasco sauce and light beer – is a popular way to perk up after overindulging.
Non-alcoholic favorites includes licudos (fresh fruit smoothies or milk shakes) and horchata (milky, rice-based beverage loaded with cinnamon and sugar). Atole is a thick drink made from cornmeal, water, cane sugar, and vanilla; the cocoa-based version is known as champurrado.
Whether you want to dance, drink, talk, sing, listen, or watch, you will find your kind of place in the D.F. Clubs offer salsa, rock, house, electronic pop, and everything in between – but there are also laid-back bars, theaters, cinemas, and wild cantinas. The options, like the city, are almost limitless.
Cover charges are a necessary evil of the capital city’s night life. At discotecas (dance clubs), called antrols in the D.F., men are charged while women are often admitted free after a certain hour (usually 11pm or midnight) or at half-price. After this time, you will still have to buy drinks – rarely will you be lucky enough to find a barra libre (open bar). If drink prices are not listed, ask to avoid exorbitant gringo prices. Bebidas nacionales (Mexican-made drinks, from Kuhlúa to sangría) are considerably cheaper than imported ones.
The hours, prices, and popularity of entertainment establishments sometimes change faster than even an annually updated book can track. In the summer of 2001, night owls were stopped in their tracks by mysterious green signs, reading “Clausurado” (shut down), placed over the doors of dozens of the city’s bars and clubs. The seals explained that the city government had closed the establishments indefinitely, “for violations of the regulatory statutes in effect.” Some establishments re-opened within a few weeks, but the future of most were unclear. The Zona Rosa, the Centro Histórico, and the city’s gay nightlife were the hardest hit.
Mexican art can be classified into three periods: Pre-Hispanic (1500 BC-AD 1525), Colonial (1525-1810), and Modern (1810-present). With the arrival of the Spanish, Mexican art changed dramatically, but its indigenous roots still influence artists today.
Early Mexican history comes to life in the art and architecture of this period. The pre-Hispanic forms of architecture are often inseparable from the religion that produced them: from pyramids to ritual ball courts, the ruins evoke the vanished traditions of pre-Hispanic Mexico. Despite the differences between civilization that made their home here, common architectural elements like the use of stone are noticeable across Mexico. The Olmecs (1200-1500 BC) shaped basalt into the famous colossal heads. The Toltecs (AD 850-1100) built the Altantes columns out of stone to support the temple that one stood atop the Pyramid of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli at Tula. The Maya (AD 300-900) and Aztecs (AD 1200-1500) used limestone and sandstone as building blocks for palaces, temples, altars, and stelae (upright stone monuments often inscribed with glyphs and reliefs).
On a smaller scale, some of the most impressive pieces of pre-Hispanic art are carved jade and ceramic figurines. Mayan and Aztec gods and nobility were often depicted adorned with massive addresses replete with feathers, necklaces of egg-sized beads, and bracelets of copper and gold to match the enormous bangles hanging from their earlobes.
Pre-Hispanic peoples also used art to tell stories that were central to their way of life. Murals, such as those covering the walls at the Mayan site of Nonampak, reveal scenes of warfare, sacrifice, and celebration. Fresco-like paintings on interior walls of buildings at Teotihuacán depict paradise scenes, floral arrangements, religious rituals, and athletic events. Similarly, scenes painted onto pottery depict mythological stories. Other reliefs and objects reveal calendrical events and dates – the Aztec Stone of the Sun is a famous example. This prophetic calendar weights over 20 metric tons and measures nearly four meters in diameter. Its concentric rings contain the four symbols of previous suns (jaguar, wind, rain of fire, and water), each of which represents a different epoch. The Aztecs believed they were living under the fifth and final sun – the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores would later fulfill their prophecy.
The Spanish used colonial art to facilitate conquest and religious indoctrinations of the indígenas, erasing local religions by building Catholic churches directly on top of existing temples and pyramids.
Franciscan, Dominican, and Augustinian missionaries used distinct styles in building churches and monasteries. The Franciscan style tended to be economic, while the Dominican style was more ascetic and harsh. The Augustinian architects indulged in gratuitous decoration whenever possible. Some remarkable buildings include the Monastery of St. Augustín of Acolman near Mexico City and the Monastery of Actopán in Hidalgo, where the frescoes exhibit indigenous influences.
The steady growth of the Catholic Church throughout the 17th and 18th century necessitated the construction of cathedrals, parochial chapels, and convents. The luxurious Baroque facades of the cathedrals in Chihuahua and Zacatecas teem with dynamic images of angels and saints aimed at producing feeling of awe and respect in the recently converted indígenas. Baroque expression is also reflected in the works of artists Alonso López de Herrera (c. 1580-1660) and Baltazar de Echave Orio (1558-1623). The genre of portraiture also became popular in colonial times; one of the most famous artists was Miguel Cabrera (1695-1768), whose paintings adorn churches in Querétaro and Taxco.
Luxury, frivolity, and ornamentation became more prevalent in the works of the artists and builders of the 18th century. While the Mexican High Baroque reached its extreme, the Churrigueresque style, a Spanish version of the opulent and graceful Rococo style brought further turns of excess into the world of Mexican architecture. Sculpted rays of light and garlands graced the interiors of Churrigueresque churches, and the intricately decorated estípites (pilasters), a hallmark of the style, were installed for looks rather than support. Neoclassicism replaced the Rococo style as Spain asserted its dominance over the Mexican colony. With independence from Spain 1821, Mexico artists began to break away from Spanish artistic traditions and follow the cultural currents of Europe. Although the Neoclassical style persisted in government-sponsored works, foreign travelers soon introduced Romanticism, and later Realism, styles that allowed artists to explore elements of their indigenous past.
One of the most important painters of the turn-of-the-century Mexico was José María Velasco (1840-1912), whose landscapes of the Valle de Mexico anticipated Cubism. On the political front of art, José Guadalupe Posada’s (1852-1913) famous calavera (skeleton) cartoons and engravings criticized the Porfiriato; these later became an inspiration for politicians and artists alike. Gerardo Murillo (1875-1964) took on the name Doctor Atl, a Náhuatl word meaning water, and is well known for painting volcanos with “Atl-colors” (pigments dried with resin).
As the Revolution reduced their land to shambles, Mexican artists further rejected European models by developing a national style that better reflected Latin American culture. After the Revolution, Mexican artists became intent on building the concept of Mexico as a nation, and were eager to use art to do so. Using a Mexican art form dating back to the early days of the Spanish conquest, when evangelists used allegorical murals to teach indígenas the rudiments of Christian iconography, muralistas to decorate the walls of hospitals, colleges, schools, and ministries.
Diego Rivera (1886-1957), the most renowned of the muralistas, based his artwork on political themes including themes including land reform, Marxism, and the marginalization of indígena life. He used stylized realism to portray the dress, action, and expression of the Mexican people, and natural realism – complete with ugly faces, knotted brows, and angry stances – to represent Spaniards and other oppressors of the indígenas. His innovative blend of Mexican history and culture reached a wide audience and embroiled Rivera in international controversy.
Though Rivera is credited as the first to forge the path for muralistas, two other artists were vital in defining the art form: José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949), whose dark, angular shapes captured the brooding nature of his works’ racial themes, and David Alfaro Siquelros (1896-1974), who brought new materials and dramatic revolutionary themes to his murals. The Cubist-influenced artist Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991) also adopted the use of murals, but to a less politically charged end than the other muralists who preceded him.
Not all 20th-century Mexican artists exchanged the traditional canvas for walls. By combining abstract art with realism, Juan Soriano (1920-2006) forged a name for himself as a painter and sculptor. Surrealist painter Frida Kahlo (1907-54) is the only 20th century Mexican painter with a place in the Louvre. Both Rivera and Kahlo, who shared two turbulent marriages to one another, blended indigenous subject matter with stylistic modernism. Crippled by both polio and a trolley accident that made her infertile, Kahlo was confined to a wheelchair for much of her life and her paintings and self-portraits are icons of pain. In the world of photography, Mexico’s master Manuel Álvarez Bravo (1902-2002) brought the art of the lens to the fore. A photographer for Sergei Eisenstein’s unfinished “Qué Viva Mexico!”, Álvarez Bravo exhibited at New York’s Julien Levy Gallery with Henri Cartier-Bression and Walker Evans, advancing a new Mexican style of photography characterized by an attention to everyday and indigenous life.
Research indicates that Náhuatl and Mayan were the two dominant Mexico before the arrival of the Spaniards. Dating back to 600 BC, the earliest inscribed at San José Mogote and Monte Albán are thought to be the examples of Mesoamerican writing. The tumultuous conquest and imposition of the Spanish language resulted in the loss of valuable information relating to indigenous language and culture. The conquistadors burned Mayan and Aztec codices (unbound “books” or manuscripts), considering them an affront to Christianity works. Nevertheless, a number of codices and a handful of narrative survived, notably the May Books of Chilam, Annals of the cakchiquel, and Popul vuh, the book of Creation. Rabinal Achi, the story of a sacrificed Mayan warrior, is considered to be the only surviving example of pre-Hispanic drama.
The Spanish eagerly sent home about their conquered land and the Mexicans’ way of life. Letters, including Hernán Cortés’s (1485-1547) Cartas de relación (Letters of Relation), were mainly crown- and church-flattering documents detailing the ongoing efforts to educate and convert indígenas. One of Cortés soldiers, Bernal Díaz del Castillo (1495-1584), wrote of the conquistadors’ feats in La conuista de Nueva Brevísimas relacíon de la destrución de las Indias (Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies) is hailed as a humanistic defense of the indigenous people. Also known as the Florentine codex, Historia General de las Casas de Nuevas España (General History of the Things of New Spain) by Fray Bernardinoo de Sahagún (c.1500-90) is a compilation of Aztec history and culture in Náhuatl and Spanish.
Poetry also rose to prominence in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Mexican literary culture. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695), a criolla of illegitimate birth who joined a convent in pursuit of an education, became a master lyricist known for her wit. Her most famous works are “Respuesta a Sor Folitea” (“Response to Sor Filotea”) and “Hombres necios” (“Injudicious Men”).
By the start of the 19th century, the struggle for independence became the central topic in most Mexican texts. in 1816, Mexican journalist José Fernández de Lizardi (1776-1827) wrote what is considered the first Latin American novel, El periquillo sarniento (The Itching Parrot), a satire of Mexico’s social status quo. Using historical themes to mask sweeping indictments of the military and clergy, Mexican novelists such as Manuel Payno (1810-94) sought to define a new national identity by glorifying strength, secularism, progress, and education.
Literature during the Porfiriato period (1876-1911) abandoned Romanticism for rational Realism. Most writers, however, avoided critiquing the political regime, since that would most likely lead to incarceration. During the late 19th century, the modernismo trend emphasized the value of pure aesthetics and reshaped Mexican literature under the direction of core figures like Amado Nervo (1870-1919). Nervo, the famed “monk of poetry,” abandoned the clergy to pursue his writing. In addition to his first and most famous work, El Bachiller (The Baccalaureate), he produced several collections of introspective and often mystical poetry, notably Serenidad (Serenity), Elevación (Elevation), and Plenitud (Plentitude).
The desire to reintegrate vestiges of pre-Hispanic culture into the national tradition pervaded post-Revolutionary era Mexican literature. Works produced immediately after the Revolution highlighted social themes, particularly the plight of Mexico’s indígenas. Mariano Azuela (1873-1952), who joined Pancho Villa’s forces in 1915, relates first-hand the military exploitation of indígenas in Los de abajo (The Underdogs). Similar works, such as El indio (The Indian) by Gregorio López y Fuentes (1895-1966), reinstated the novel as a vehicle of social reform. Octavio Paz (1914-1998), the first Mexican writer to win a Nobel Prize, drew on Marxism, Romanticism, and postmodernism in exploring the making and unmaking of a national archetype in such works as El laberinto de la soledad (The Labyrinth of Solitude).
The 1960s saw the advent of Magical Realism, a literary movement that blends the ordinary and common with fantasy and wonder, resulting in texts that portray a dreamlike and distorted reality. At the forefront of this movement in Mexico stands Carlos Fuentes (b.1928), an acclaimed contemporary novelist whose many works include La región más transparente (Where the Air is Clear) and La muerte de Artemio Cruz (The Death of Artemio Cruz).
The works of female writers, such as Laura Esquivel (b.1950), who wrote the fantastical, recipe-laden Como agua chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate; 1989) has been well received both nationally and internationally. In 1991, Elena Poniatowska (b. 1932) wrote Tinísima – a novel recounting the life of activist-photographer Tina Modotti. In the past three decades, the Chicano literary movement has worked to describe the experiences of Mexican immigrants to the US. Sandra Cisneros’s House on Mango Street – a 1984 novel narrated by an 11-year-old girl who talks about her life on both sides of the Mexican border – has made one of the most recognized Chicana authors today.
Usually sing by guitar-plucking troubators, these songs remain strongly linked to their folk origins. Based in the oral tradition of storytelling, corridos recount the epic deeds of famous, infamous, and occasionally fictional figures from Mexico’s past. A corridista may also function as a walking newspaper, singing songs about the latest national disaster, political scandal, or any other decisive event. Controversial narcarridos, tales of drug trafficking, have also gained popularity. The outpouring in 2004 of shocked fans in Mexico and the US after corridista Adán “Chalino” Sánchez died in a car accident at the age of 19 revealed the depth of the genre’s appeal.
Black-and-red-clad men with bells and capes – the same ones that appear in tequila ads around the world – have long been popular images of mariachis. The most famous of Mexican musical styles, mariachi is lively and light-hearted, with strong guitar and energetic horn sections. Wandering mariachis strike up in front of restaurants and play at traditional fiestas. The world-famous tradition of women being serenaded by a group of mariachis in Mexican garb is a must for any romantic evening. Traditional mariachi music may deal with one or several of the following topics: being very drunk, being abandoned by a woman, pondering the fidelity of one’s horse, and loving one’s gun. In their more somber or (sober) moments, mariachi songs have also been known to deal with death, politics, and revolutionary history.
Born in a fit of nationalistic fervor following the 1910 Revolution, rancheras were originally conceived as “songs of the people,” dealing with matters of work, love, and land. Once performed with marimba and flute, rancheras are now backed by the guitar and trumpets of mariachi bands. The songs are characterized by a passionate, sincere singing style, with long, drawn-out final notes. Like American country-western music, today’s rancheras are sentimental songs about down-and-out towns, faithful dogs, and love gone wrong. Norteños are a type of ranchera based in the northwest and strongly influenced by polka. Popular norteños bands such as Los Tigres del Norte have attracted a number of fans outside of Mexico.
Mexican music along the east-central coast and continuing into the Yucatán carries a strong dose of Afro-Caribbean rumba. In Veracruz and Quintana Roo, drum-laden bands often strike up irresistible beats in the evening twilight of central plazas. The style has inspired countless marimba bands, whose popularized music can be found blasting in markets throughout Mexico. Imported from, cumobia has joined salsa as the dance music of choice across central and southern Mexico.
Mexico knows how to rock, since original rock pioneers Maldita Vecindad and El Tri set the stage during the 1960s. Supergroup Maná has been recording music since the 1980s, and their collaboration with Santana on Corazón Espinado bought them global acclaim in 1998. They won the Grammy for the Best Latin Rock/Alternative Artist in 2002. In 2003, the same award went to Cafe Tacuba, who mixes ska, rock, and hip hop with traditional Mexican forms of music. El Gran Silencio has also garnered critical acclaim for its innovative blend of norteño influences and modern rock, and the indie band Kinky has been nominated for three Grammys as of 2002. Calfanes, a famous band in its own right, later became Jaguares, a socially-conscious rock group that has used lyrics to promote human rights in Cuidad Juárez.
Over a century old, the Mexican film industry remains a vital part of Mexican culture. With the 1910 Revolution came a slew of documentaries, notably those of the Alva brothers – Carlos, Eduardo, Guillermo, and Salvador. In 1931, Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein began shooting Qué Viva Mexico (Long Live Mexico!), a social critique intertwined with panoramic shots of Mexican landscapes; although hailed as a masterpiece, it was never completed. The 1940s ushered in the golden age of Mexican cinema, which began with Emilio “El Indio” Fernández’s María Candelaria (1943), a Cannes honoree, and Luis Buñuel’s Los Olvidados (The Forgotten Ones, 1950), a grisly portrait of the Mexico City barrio. Comedian Mario “Cantinflas” Moreno (1911-1993), pioneer of Mexican slapstick, earned the moniker of “the Mexican Charlie Chaplin” for his poor campesino (peasant) character Cantinflas. In 1960s, cinema hit a new high when Mexico received its first Oscar nomination for Roberto Gavalín’s Macario, a film about a starving woodcutter who strikes a deal about Death and get the gift of healing.
Fox Studios built the first American studio in Mexico in 1996, and a direct-to-video market has flourished alongside increasing Mexican collaboration with hollywood. María Novaro received critical acclaim for her 1991 hit Danzón, a film about a Mexico City telephone operator who journeys to Veracruz to find ballroom dance and love. Texan Robert Rodriguez gathered a shoestring budget to film 1992’s El Mariachi, which was later followed by Desperado (1995) and Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003). In 1992, director Alfonso Arau adapted Laura Esquivel’s novel Como agua para chocolate, which held the title of highest-grossing foreign film released in the US until 1997. In 1999, Antonio Serrano’s Sexo, pudor y lágrimas (Sex, Shame, and Tears) smashed movie records, winning five Ariel awards, the Mexican equivalent of an Oscar.
At the turn of the century, Mexican film cemented its place in American culture with two art-house blockbusters including Aldonso Cuarón’s Y tu mamá también (And Your Mother; 2001), starring Mexican heartthrob Gael García Bernal. Bernal went on to star in Carlos Carrera’s El Crimen del Padre Amaro (The Crime of Father Amaro; 2003) and numerous Spanish- and English-language films. Iñárritu later filmed 21 Grams (2003), while Cuarón brought his take on male adolescence to the set of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban(2004).
Mexican television can, for the most part, be broken down into four different categories: telenovelas (soap operas), comedias (comedic variety shows), noticias (news shows), and imported international TV dubbed into Spanish. Of these, telenovelas are second to none and occupy huge chunks of mid-afternoon and prime-time television. Mexico’s first globally exported soap operas, the 1979 series Los Ricos También Lloran (The Rich Cry Too), drew millions of loyal international viewers. Though sitcoms are not terribly popular, Mexico loves its variety shows, which feature sketch comedy intermixed with musical numbers and audience participation. The long-running sketch comdey show Chespirito was so popular that its characters have become cultural icons; it was the inspiration for Bumblebee man on The Simpsons. News and current events shows are popular in the late evenings, but fútbol matches dominate airwaves at all hours, especially during the World Cup.
Although more commonly associated with Spain, bullfighting is Mexico’s national sport. During the summer, matadores and their entourages perform in packed bullrings across the country. Jaripeps (rodeos) are also immensely popular.
While bullfighting is popular, Mexico’s heart belongs to fútbol (soccer). The Mexican affinity for competitive ball games originated in 1200 BC, when Mesoamerican natives invented the rubber ball. Today, any unused patch of dirt, grass, or concrete is likely to be swarming with young children playing a rowdy pick-up game. In addition to informal street games, Mexico has a popular professional football league with at least one team in each major city. At the international level, the entire country cheers and jeers the Mexican National Team, a gang of flashy green-clad young men; life comes to a standstill during important fútbol matches. Mexico played host to the World Cup in 1970 and 1986, and hosts other important matches in the Olympic Stadium.
Additionally, bélsbol (baseball) attracts players and spectators at all levels, and Mexico has had its fair share of world boxing champions in the lighter weight divisions. There have been some notable Mexican marathon runners in the past years, and no discussion of Mexican sports is complete without mention of the country’s illustrious record in the Olympic events of race walking and equestrian riding, two of the sports in which Mexico has won a gold medal.
Mexico loves to celebrate its rich history, and nearly every month boasts a national holiday. In addition to these official fiestas, cities and towns across the country host smaller-scale but lively events in honor patron saints and local traditions. Sundays are always special; “daily” schedules frequently refer only to Monday through Saturday.
Mexicans almost always use formal terms of address when speaking to one another. As in other countries, professional and academic titles convey respectability. Those who have earned a college degree may be addressed as licenciado or licenciada, and those with doctorates as doctor or doctora. When introducing yourself, a simple señor, or señorita (for young or unmarried women) is appropriate.
There are two ways of addressing someone in Spanish: usted is formal and indicates respect and distance, while tú indicates a closer relationship. Traditionally reserved for people of authority, usted and its proper verb conjugations are appropriate for use with strangers. Tú and its verb conjugations are used to reflect familiarity and may be used toward tourists to suggest warmth and welcome. Locals use both, depending on location and establishment.
Outside of the business world, Mexico is notorious for its relaxed approach to fixed meeting times and schedules. This phenomenon derives not from a Mexican indifference to punctuality, but from a more relaxed attitude toward time and its pressures. So, if you find yourself tapping your foot and staring at the clock expectantly while awaiting the arrival of a friend, it might be more comfortable to pull up a chair.
Originally reserved for those of European descent, the term gringo has recently lost its harsh association and welcomed all English-speaking visitors. Expatriates in Mexico have even taken to referring to themselves as gringos. Americans may sometimes find themselves labeled more specifically as yanquis (Yankees), and minority travelers may have to put up with racist epithets, but the gringo community embraces everyone. Minority travelers should also note that words like negro and chino are not meant as slurs, but rather as adjectives to describe race or nationality; they do not have the negative connotations that they might in other languages.