People, Ethnic Groups
Maya civilization, mestizos, Native American language, New Spain, Chiapas
Mexico’s population is composed primarily of mestizos, who are approximately 60 percent of the population. Indigenous peoples make up approximately 30 percent of the population, and people of European ancestry, primarily Spanish, make up about nine percent of the population. About two percent of all Mexicans are immigrants from abroad. Africans contributed to the original racial mixture when approximately 120,000 slaves were brought to the region between 1519 and 1650. By the end of the colonial period, as many as 200,000 Africans may have entered New Spain. Blacks intermarried with Native Americans and mestizos and live on both the west and east coasts. Their primary influence is centered around the Gulf Coast port of Veracruz.
A variety of factors are used to identify an individual as indigenous in Mexico, including customs, language, dress, food, and residence. The Mexican government prefers to use language as its primary determinant when counting the number of Native Americans in the population. About eight percent of all Mexicans speak an indigenous language. Among these citizens, census data demonstrate a significant decline in the percentage who speak only an indigenous language, from 28 percent in 1970 to 16 percent in 1990.
Native Americans are concentrated in the regions of Mexico where indigenous civilizations were located at the time of the conquest. These regions are mainly in central, southern, and southeastern Mexico. For example, the state of Yucatan, where the Maya civilization was important, has the highest concentration of Mexicans who speak a Native American language (44 percent). The state of Oaxaca is second with 39 percent, followed by Yucatan’s neighboring states of Quintana Roo and Chiapas, with 32 percent and 26 percent respectively. The central states of Hidalgo and Puebla also have significant proportions of Native Americans.
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