Indigenous peoples in Mexico

Indigenous peoples in Mexico

Infobox Ethnic group
group = Indigenous peoples of Mexico

caption = Notable Indigenous Mexicans:
Cuauhtémoc, Benito Juárez, Comandante Ramona
and Emiliano Zapata
population = 36 million (Estimated at between 11% to 30% of the Mexican population).
regions = Mexico
languages = Nahuatl, Yucatec, Tzotzil, Mixtec, Zapotec, Otomi, Huichol, Totonac and other living 54 languages along the Mexican territory, as well as Spanish.
religions = Christianity (Predominantly Roman Catholic, with an Amerindian religious elements, including Aztec and Mayan religion.)
related = Other Indigenous peoples of the Americas

Mexico, in the second article of its Constitution, is defined as a "pluricultural" nation in recognition of the diverse ethnic groups that constitute it, and in which the indigenous peoples ["Indigenous peoples" is the preferred term in Mexico to refer to the Amerindian ethnic groups in North America] are the original foundation. [ Constitución Política de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos] Art. 2] According to the National Commission for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples ("Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas" or CDI in Spanish), there are ca. 36 million indigenous people in Mexico, of many different ethnic groups, [ Los pueblos indígenas de México] , Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas] which constitute about 30% of the population in the country.

The indigenous peoples in Mexico have the right of free determination under the second article of the constitution. According to this article the indigenous peoples are granted:
* the right to decide the internal forms of social, economic, political and cultural organization;
* the right to apply their own normative systems of regulation as long as human rights and gender equality are respected;
* the right to preserve and enrich their languages and cultures;
* the right to elect representatives before the municipal council in which their territories are located;

amongst other rights. Also, the Law of Linguistic Rights of the Indigenous Languages recognizes 62 indigenous languages as "national languages" which have the same validity as Spanish in all territories in which they are spoken. [ [ Ley General de Derechos Lingüísticos de los Pueblos Indígenas] ] According to the National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Data Processing (INEGI), approximately 15% of the population speaks an indigenous languagendash that is, approximately half of those identified as indigenous. [ Indicadores seleccionados sobre la población hablante de lengua indígena, 1950 a 2005] ] The recognition of indigenous languages and the protection of indigenous cultures is granted not only to the ethnic groups indigenous to modern-day Mexican territory, but also to other North American indigenous groups that migrated to Mexico from the United States [ [ Kikapú] ] in the nineteenth century and those who immigrated from Guatemala in the 1980s. [ [ Aguacatecos, cakchiqueles, ixiles, kekchíes, tecos, quichés. (Chiapas)] ]

History of the indigenous peoples

Pre-Columbian Civilizations

The pre-columbian civilazations of what now is known as Mexico are usually divided in two regions: Mesoamerica, in reference to the cultural area in which several complex civilizations developed before the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century, and Aridoamerica (or simply "The North")Hamnett, B (1999), "A Concise History of MEXICO", Cambridge University Press; Cambridge, UK] in reference to the arid region north of the Tropic of Cancer in which few civilizations developed and was mostly inhabited by nomadic or semi-nomadic groupsFact|date=April 2007. Mesoamerica was densely populated by diverse indigenous ethnic groupsHamnett, Brian (1999) "A Concise History of Mexico", Cambridge University Press, UK] Manuel Aguilar-Moreno (2004) "A Handbook to Life in the Aztec World" Facts of Life, Inc., USA] which, although sharing common cultural characteristics, spoke different languages and developed unique civilizations.

One of the most influential civilizations that developed in Mesoamerica was the Olmec civillization, sometimes referred to as the "Mother Culture of Mesomaerica". The later civilization in Teotihuacán reached its peak around 600 AD, when the city became the sixth largest city in the world, whose cultural and theological systems influenced the Toltec and Aztec civilizations in later centuries. Evidence has been found on the existence of multiracial communities or neighborhoods in Teotihuacan (and other large urban areas like Tenochtitlan). [ [ The Quest for Aztlan] ] [ [ New Tomb at Teotihuacan] ] [ [ Pyramid of the Sun, Moon] , "...There is archaeological evidence that Teotihuacan had been a multi-ethnic place, with distinct Zapotec, Mixtec, Maya and what seems to be Nahua quarters."] The Maya civilization, though also influenced by other Mesoamerican civilizations, developed a vast cultural region in south-east Mexico and northern Central America, while the Zapotec and Mixtec culture dominated the valley of Oaxaca, and the Purepecha in western Mexico.

Colonial Era

By the time of the arrival of the Spanish to Mesoamerica, many of the diverse ethnic civilazations (with the notable exception of the Tlaxcaltecs and the Tarascan Kingdom of Michoacán) were loosely joined under the Aztec empire, the last Nahua civilization to flourish in Central Mexico. The capital of the empire, Tenochtitlan, became one of the largest urban centers in the world, with an estimated population of 350,000 to 700,000 inhabitants. During the conquest of the Aztec Empire, the conquistadores, only a handful compared to the millions of indigenous peoples, used the ethnic diversity of the country and exploited the discontentment of the subjugated groups, making important alliances with rivals of the Aztecs. While the alliances were decisive to their victory, the indigenous peoples were soon subjugated by an equally impressive empire. Wars and forced labor were accompanied by the spread of European diseases previously unknown in the New World. Pandemics wrought havoc on the native population killing, according to some estimates, between 90% and 95% of the pre-contact population.

At first, the colonial system imposed a system of castes, in which the indigenous peoples were marginalized. [ [ Colonialismo y modernidad: la enseñanza del español en la Nueva España] , "...El racismo y la estratificación de la población de la Nueva España fueron las características de la organización social del Virreinato..."] Nevertheless, a cultural symbiosis took place: the indigenous peoples adopted and syncretized Roman Catholicism, and a new ethnic group was born: the mestizo, of mixed European and indigenous ancestry.

Independent from Spain

As the New Spain got independent from Spain, its citizens decided to name the new country after its capital city, Mexico City. Mexico declared the abolition of slavery and the equality of all citizens under the law. Some indigenous individuals integrated into the Mexican society, like Benito Juárez of Zapotec ethnicity, the first indigenous president of a country in the New World. [ [ Seminario sobre Participación y políticas públicas para pueblos indígenas.] ]

The greatest change, however, came about as a result of the Mexican Revolution, a violent social and cultural movement that defined 20th century Mexico. The Revolution produced a national sentiment that the indigenous peoples were the foundation of Mexican society. Several prominent artists promoted the "Indigenous Sentiment" ("sentimiento indigenista") of the country, including Frida Kahlo, Farida Mathers and Diego Rivera. Throughout the twentieth century, the government established bilingual education in certain indigenous communities and published free bilingual textbooks. [ [ Programa Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas 2001-2006] ] Some states of the federation appropriated an indigenous inheritance in order to reinforce their identity. [Hamnett, Brian (1999) "A Concise History of Mexico", Cambridge University Press, UK, p. 3, "... the Maya inheritance has been appropriated by the national states to reinforce their historical identity and legitimacy."]

In spite of the official recognition of the indigenous peoples, the economic underdevelopment of the communities, accentuated by the crises of the 1980s and 1990s, has not allowed for the social and cultural development of most indigenous communities. [ [ Pobreza y patrones de exclusión social en México] ] Thousands of indigenous Mexicans have emigrated to urban centers in Mexico as well as in the United States. In Los Angeles, for example, the Mexican government has established electronic access to some of the consular services provided in Spanish as well as Zapotec and Mixe. [ [ Oaxaca se moderniza] , p. 56, "Se trata de una terminal de cómputo, parecida a un cajero automático, que en español, mixe y zapoteco ofrece el servicio de..."] Some of the Maya peoples of Chiapas have revolted, demanding better social and economic opportunities, requests voiced by the EZLNFact|date=April 2007.

The government has made certain legislative changes to promote the development of the rural and indigenous communities and the preservation and promotion of their languages. The second article of the Constitution was modified to grant them the right of self-determination and requires state governments to promote and ensure the economic development of the indigenous communities as well as the preservation of their languages and traditions.


The CDI identifies 62 indigenous groups in Mexico, each with a unique language, although certain languages have multiple dialects which may be mutually unintelligible. In 2005, the indigenous population was estimated at 12 million, some 11% or 12% of the national population. The majority of the indigenous population is concentrated in the central and south-eastern states. According to the CDI, the states with the greatest percentage of indigenous population are: [ Diversidad etnolingüística] ] [Tables with population composition for each individual state and the percentage of indigenous population can be downloaded at: [] ]
* Yucatán, 59%
* Oaxaca, 48%
* Quintana Roo, 39%
* Chiapas, 28%
* Campeche, 27%
* Hidalgo, 24%
* Puebla, 19%
* Guerrero, 17%
* San Luis Potosí, 15%
* Veracruz, 15%

Indigenous groups with a population of more than 100,000

1Number of indigenous peoples that still speak their Indigenous language


External links

* [ CDI] es icon
* [ Former National Indigenous Institute] es icon
* [ CONAPO] es icon
* [ INEGI] es icon
* [ Internet Radio Show on Pre-Columbian Indigenous Music of Mexico]

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