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 today.

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 1821.

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 cities.

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 Maya.

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 culture?


Web Resources:

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.

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.