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Zapoteco, Mixteco, Tenochtitlan, Native American languages, Native American ancestry

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At the time of the Spanish conquest in the early 1500s, numerous advanced Native American civilizations existed in Mexico. Among the most important were the Maya, who resided in the southern and southeastern part of what is now Mexico, including the present states of Chiapas, Quintana Roo, and Yucatan. Central Mexico was dominated by the Aztecs, who had developed an extensive capital surrounded by a lake at Tenochtitlan, Mexico City’s present site.

The Spanish ultimately conquered the Native American civilizations and extended their control over the entire region, calling it New Spain. Unlike British settlers in North America, the Spaniards quickly intermarried with the indigenous people, producing a growing population of mestizos, or people of mixed European and Native American ancestry. By the end of the 19th century, mestizos had become the largest ethnic group in the population.

After World War II (1939-1945), which saw the beginning of a period of sustained industrial growth, Mexicans migrated rapidly from rural communities to large urban centers. Many of these people moved to the Federal District, which includes the capital of Mexico City and grew to contain almost one-fifth of Mexico’s population. During this postwar period the relatively unpopulated northern states also attracted numerous immigrants, as the economic base of frontier cities such as Ciudad Juarez and Monterrey grew rapidly.

Political Divisions

Mexico consists of 32 administrative divisions—31 states and the Federal District, which is the seat of the federal administration.


Spanish control of Mexico led to the dominance of Spanish, the official language. As many as 100 Native American languages are still spoken in Mexico, but no single alternative language prevails. About 80 percent of those Mexicans who speak an indigenous language also speak Spanish. The most important of the Native American languages is Nahuatl. It is the primary language of more than a million Mexicans and is spoken by nearly one-fourth of all Native Americans in the country. This is followed by Maya, used by 13 percent of Native Americans, and Mixteco and Zapoteco, each spoken by about 7 percent of Native Americans. No other indigenous language is spoken by more than 5 percent of Mexico’s Native Americans.

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