Mexico is one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented countries in the world. From the stereotype of the lazy panzón taking a siesta under a nopal to big misconceptions about our traditional food (repeat after me: we-do-not-really-eat-burritos) to racist representations in popular media (see Speedy Gonzalez above!), Mexico just doesn’t get a fair shake.
In order to set the record straight and to help you look super smart at fiestas, here’s 21 cool historical facts about the land South of the Rio Bravo.
1. The ancient Mayans were among the only three ancient cultures that had a notion of zero.
This might seem not like a big deal, but it actually is. Alongside the Mesopotamians and Indians, the Mayans reached such a level of mathematical abstraction that they could conceptualize non-existence. Smart cookies, the Mayans! They represented the zero as a shell that sort of looks like a football.
2. The war for independence was started by a priest!
Talk about feisty men of the Church. Miguel Hidalgo, known as the father of the Independence, was a criollo priest who rebelled against the rule of the Spanish Crown. Now, even though the independence was a turning point in the formation of modern Mexico, it didn’t really translate into a better situation for the disadvantaged, among them the indigenous population that had been colonized.
3. 5 de Mayo is not a big deal in Mexico
Seriously: all those fiesta inspired outfits and festive drinks are fun, but the big Mexican day in the US is sort of whatever in Mexico. The date commemorates the Battle of Puebla during the Mexican-French war. The actual Independence Day is September 15. Cinco de Mayo seems to be just a pretext for some to get wasted and insultingly dress up as Mexicans (cue the poncho, sombrero and maracas).
4. Mexico used to own most of what is currently the Southern United States
That’s right: Trump would have had to build his wall much farther up if General Santa Anna hadn’t sold a big portion of the Mexican territory back in 1848. Just look at this map… history would be so different if things had remained like that, eh? Texas and California, two states with vast natural resources, would have been the drivers of the Mexican economy in a parallel universe.
5. A Mexican engineer invented color TV (thank him for your sessions of Netflix and chill…)
That’s right, a Mexican engineer is responsible for one of the greatest inventions of all time: color TV! Guillermo González Camarena invented the “Chromoscopic a for television equipment” when he was only 23! Talk about an over achiever. Bien, compa!
6. A Mayan carving seems to show an ancient astronaut!
This archeological artifact has puzzled researchers and conspiracy theorists for years. It was found in Palenque and seems to depict king Pakal. It does look like he is driving some sort of rocket, right? We don’t know for sure, but it is really puzzling! It does look like Pakal is holding some sort of steering wheel and the bottom of the image sure looks like rocket engines ready to fire up.
7. Chocolate comes from Mexico: you are welcome.
Various indigenous civilizations from today’s Mexico ate chocolate (the word comes from the Aztec chokolatl) and considered it to be a source of vigor, sexual and otherwise. Chili and corn also come from Mexico.
8. What does the Mexican flag mean?
Aztec legend has it that in 1323 they saw a vision of an eagle perched on a cactus eating a snake. This meant that if they found this they were to make their home at that spot. Recent research points out that the animals are symbolic: the snake is a comet, the eagle is the Sun and the cactus is a mountain.
9. Talking about the Aztecs: they buried their dead under their houses.
Death has a different meaning in Mexican culture. The departed have a strong presence in everyday life, as evidenced by Day of the Death celebrations even today. The Aztecs used to keep their loved ones close by, literally under the house. Pictures is the great Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztex empire.
10. During colonial times society was divided by a caste system
It was as horrible as it sounds. Society in colonial New Spain was divided racially, with pure Spaniards at the top and mixed races at the bottom. Horrible.
11. Kites were prohibited in New Spain in 1774
This simple and amazing toy caused too many accidents, so the viceroy decided to ban them to avoid kids falling from roofs.
12. Pancho Villa hated alcohol
The Mexican revolutionary leader really despised booze. He thought that it was the source of all evil and destroyed many cantinas in his lifetime.
13. Women had a crucial role in the battlefield during the Mexican Revolution
Known as soldaderas, female revolutionary fighters not only cured and fed the men, but also fought and worked as spies, often arranging arms trafficking with the United States.
14. Mexico’s official name is not actually Mexico
According to the 1917 Constitution, the country’s official name is Estados Unidos Mexicanos. Go figure!
15. Mexico’s National University is the oldest in America
It was founded in 1551, which makes it the oldest higher education institution in the continent and one of the oldest in the world.
16. Mexico has 37,266 registered archeological sites!
What is now Mexico was populated with numerous indigenous civilizations that left behind amazing ruins that little by little reveal the richness of their culture.
17. Smallpox defeated the Aztecs
Sure, the Spanish conquistadores had superior weaponry but the Aztec Empire put up a good fight. However, the Aztecs were not prepared for their toughest enemy: smallpox. This virus killed hundreds of thousands as the Aztecs did not have the antibodies to fight it.
18. During the US-Mexico war in the 19th century an Irish-American battalion switched sides and joined the Mexicans!
Known as Saint Patrick’s Battalion, a group of Irishmen soldiers realized that they identified with the Mexicans and joined the fight against the US. Something similar happened in Haiti, where Polish soldiers rebelled against the French Army and fought oppression alongside the Haitians.
19. The first printing press in North America was brought to Mexico
That’s right, printed world culture in North America wasn’t born in the United States, but in 1539 New Spain. The printing press became a key component for evangelization in the new continent.
20. Hollywood actor Anthony Quinn was Mexican!
Even though most think that the epitome of Hollywood rough masculinity was American, he was in fact born in Chihuahua and his full name was Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca.
21. And so is absolute bombshell Lupita Nyong’o
The amazing Oscar winner has dual Kenyan-Mexican nationality. She was born in Mexico City during her father’s tenure at a Mexican university. She proudly wears her double nationality wherever she goes. Lupita, hermana, eres mexicana!
The Mazatlan Post
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- How Mexican actress Kate del Castillo was investigated over ‘El Chapo’