Mexico: Background

  • Grades: 6–8

One of the pyramids in the Maya city of Chichén Itzá.

People have been living in Mexico for a very long time — for about
25,000 years. Among the greatest of the early civilizations were the Maya,
builders of the city of Chichén Itzá, founded in A.D 455.
Chichén Itzá had many pyramids, temples, and ball courts
where ceremonies were held. The Maya were famous for their skilled astronomers
and created a calendar that is more accurate than the calendars we use
The Aztecs were another highly developed, rich Mexican civilization.
Their elegant capital city, Tenochtitlán, may have been the largest
city in the world in the early 1500s. In 1519, the Spanish explorer Hernando
Cortes landed in Mexico. He was amazed by the Aztec civilization and its
gold. The Aztecs welcomed these pale visitors as gods, but the Spanish
were more interested in the Aztecs' wealth. After two years of struggles,
Spanish fighters captured Tenochtitlán and burned it to the ground.
Then they built Mexico City on its ruins. Today, Mexico City is one of
the largest cities in the world. Mexico remained under Spanish control
until a long struggle ended in Mexico's declaration of independence in
Most of Mexico's people today are mestizos — people who have both
Indian and Spanish ancestors. About 90 percent of Mexicans are Roman Catholic.
Mexico has many beautiful churches and shrines, and people mark special
days with colorful religious festivals. Mexico has a strong culture and
traditions, and its people have worked to make its democracy stronger.
The country has rich reserves of oil, discovered in 1972. There are a
lot of poor people in Mexico as well as middle-class citizens. Many people
have left the harsh poverty of Mexico's countryside to move into its crowded
Mexico is the nearest southern neighbor of the United States, sharing
a 2,000-mile long border. One quarter of what is now the United States was
once part of Mexico, including states such as Texas, Arizona, and California.
In modern times, many impoverished Mexicans have been drawn to the U.S.
to find work, and there has been a lot of debate about limiting immigration
from Mexico. Whether their families have been here for generations or
arrived as recent immigrants, Mexican Americans have helped to shape the
United States and probably will do so even more in the years to come.

History Highlights

25,000 B.C.: Nomadic bands of Indians arrive from the north.
1800 B.C.: Early civilizations begin to develop, including the
A.D. 400–900: The Maya empire is at its height.
1325: Aztecs settle in Lake Texcoco, under their chief Tenoch,
and they establish the new city of Tenochtitlán.
1519–21: Hernando Cortes, a Spanish conquistador, destroys
the Aztec civilization and establishes Spanish rule.
1810: Father Miguel Hidalgo rings the bell of his church, signaling
the beginning of Mexico's War of Independence.
1821: Mexico declares its independence.
1839: Mexico defeats Texan forces at the Alamo.
1846–1848: The U.S. and Mexico fight over territory claimed
by Mexico north of the Rio Grande. Mexico loses.
1953: Mexican women gain the right to vote in all Mexican elections.

1994: The North American Free Trade Agreement takes effect. This
agreement makes trade easier and cheaper among Mexico, the U.S., and Canada.

And Did You Know That...

  • there is cactus in Mexico that grows to be as tall as 60 feet high?
  • a popular trip that people take from Mexico City is a visit to the
    "floating gardens" of Xochimilco? People rent flowered-covered
    boats and travel through canals while bands play. Vendors on other boats
    sell delicious treats to eat.
  • when you blow a bubble in your bubble gum, you can think of Mexico?
    The sapodilla tree, which is one of Mexico's crops, produces a rubbery
    substance called "chickle." Chickle is the chewy stuff in
    bubble gum.
  • many words in the English language are adapted from the Spanish language
    used in Mexico? They include: canyon, corral, lariat, patio, and stampede.
  • Mexico is part of the "ring of fire" — a huge area
    of geological instability that extends from Asia in the east to the
    west coast of the Americas? This makes Mexico prone to a number of volcanoes
    and earthquakes.

Write about it:
In what ways has Mexico influenced America and American

Learn more about Mexico
in these selected Web sites:
This page includes links
outside of
Every Web site we link to was visited by our team at one point in time
to make sure it's appropriate for children. But we do not monitor or control
these sites and these sites can change. In addition, many of these sites
may have links to other sites that we have not reviewed. Be sure to get
permission from your parents or teacher before leaving this site, and
remember to read the Privacy Policy and Terms of Use of any site you visit.

Journey to Mexico
Follow a photographer on trips to different regions of Mexico. Read his
daily dispatches and see the photos he took each day.

Cinco de Mayo

Learn about this festive holiday, play games, and even learn the words
to a Cinco de Mayo rap song.
Ancient Mexico
This site takes you to the world of ancient Mexico. Learn about the Maya
gods, the conquest of the Aztecs and read timelines and primary documents
from the period.

  • Subjects:
    Countries, Continents, Regions