In the Spanish-speaking world, Mexico is the most populous country, and ranks second only to Brazil in Latin America for population. Contrary to popular belief, almost three-quarters of the population lives in urban areas. For most of the people of Mexico, Spanish is the official language, but the indigenous Indian languages that far predate the conquistadors are still spoken by a third of the population. The Nahuatl of the Aztec or the tongue of the Mayans, as well as others such as Mixtec, Otomi, Trascan and Zapotec remain, an echo of Mexico's rich past.
Mexican Spanish is different in significant ways from the Castilian Spanish of the mother country. You will recognize many commonly used words either through their similarity to English or because the words themselves, such as rodeo, canyon and corral, have been absorbed into the American speech. Most of the five million Mexican Indians retain their own ancient tongue while still speaking Spanish.
If your command of Spanish is limited, don't worry! In the tourist areas, English is very common, and even a small "tourist" Spanish vocabulary will help you greatly. If you venture into the country or off the beaten path, a tour guide or translator is advisable.There are at least 50 different dialects spoken in Mexico, and some of them vary widely from the average American Spanish education.Curious about the Mexican Indian culture? It is alive and well, primarily in the interior regions of the Yucatan and in rugged areas of central and southern Mexico. The Mexican government has introduced some modern improvements, but the old ways are still very much alive.
In spite of the urbanization of the populace, small-town life as it existed for centuries is still easy to find. In many villages, one will most likely find a Catholic church in the plaza or central square, surrounded by a few stores and government buildings and, of course, an open-air marketplace. Nearly 75 percent of all Mexicans now live in cities or towns. In Mexico, there are now eight cities with population over 500,000. Mexico City presently boasts over ten million people.
Education is currently mandatory for ages 5 through 15, and that age will lower to 3 by 2008. As of 2005, Mexican children had almost an 80% enrollment rate. There are roughly 19 million primary and 6 million secondary school students in the Mexican system, and higher education boasts 2.4 million students as of 2005.
This young population (half of all Mexicans are under 20) will face many challenges in the coming years, as the gap between rich and poor is still vast, and the traditionally high birth rate is set against a sharply reduced death rate due to improved health care and sanitation.
Numerous cities and towns in Mexico began as Indian communities. Once the Spaniards arrived, the cities became more like towns with plazas and homes with patios. In modern day the cities are so largely populated that life in many ways mirrors life in the United States. Families live in rows of homes built in the Spanish colonial style and suburbanites live in apartment buildings and houses.
Most Mexicans are Roman Catholic, with minority populations of Jews, Protestants, Muslims and others.
Mexico’s people way of life includes many old customs from their Indian past and the Spanish colonial period. Mexico changed quite rapidly during the 1900’s. Life in the cities became quite similar to that of the U.S., however many Mexican villagers still follow the older way of life. Today, many households consist of an average of five or six people. In many homes, several generations of the same family still live together. Women now have jobs outside the home and the girls living on farms will work the fields as will the boys, whereas the city boys will have part-time jobs while in school.
The people of Mexico, maybe more so than any other Latin American culture countries, are very sensitive to people from the Unites States calling themselves “Americans”. Mexicans consider themselves Americans, “Estados Unidos Mexicanos” therefore, it is important that Americans refer to themselves as Americans from the United States or “Estados Unidos Americanos”.