The history of Mexico is fascinating and one that I have to admit I knew nothing about until I started visiting here. While it is a new world colony, its story is utterly different from other places in the Americas, especially from that of its northern neighbors, the United States and Canada.

Articles about History

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    I highly recommend reading at least a short history that covers the major movements since it will give you a lot of context for today’s modern Mexican culture. You can get the Wikipedia article overview and if you are interested in understanding more about it, here are a few books and resources that I’ve found interesting. (They all have their pros and cons and annoyances, but it’s what I’ve found so far.)

    Straight-up history books, from shortest to longest:

    Other books for historical context:


    The state of Oaxaca has incredible cultural diversity today based on its long history and the many indigenous groups that still live here—almost 50% of the population. The two most prominent peoples historically and today are the Zapotec and Mixtec, and there are 14 other official groups in modern Oaxaca. The name is from the Nahuatl (Aztec) word huaxyacac, which referred to the many guaje trees in the valley. Nestled in a valley between several mountain ranges, Oaxaca was more isolated than many other areas of the country and so the regional history and cultural preservation held better here.

    The Zapotecs were the first group to dominate this region, founding their political center at Monte Albán, which is just on the edge of Oaxaca City, and their religious center at Mitla, about 45 kilometers to the east. As the Aztecs expanded and exerted pressure from the north, the Mixtec overran the Zapotecs. They were soon controlled by the Aztecs though as that empire extended its reach through most of Mexico at its height. When the Aztec empire fell, Oaxaca was awarded to its conqueror, Hernán Cortés, who became the Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca.

    The most well-known Oaxacans from history are Benito Juárez and Porfirio Díaz. Juárez was a full-blooded Zapotec and the first indigenous president of Mexico in 1857. He is a still a strong source of pride for the state and you will see his name everywhere, including the official name of the city, Oaxaca de Juárez. Díaz was an ally of Juárez while he was president and the French were invading and occupying Mexico. After the fighting though, Díaz became an opponent of Juárez. Díaz eventually became president himself and created a dictatorship for 30 years, called the Porfiriato. He modernized much of Mexico and increased foreign trade, but he also contolled the press and would not reliniquish control of the government through democratic elections. His suppression of dissent was swift. This led the country to revolution in 1910. He is still a celebrated son of Oaxaca, but there are more mixed feelings about his role in history.

    You can find more details about Oaxaca’s history in the Wikipedia article. I haven’t found any good overview books just about Oaxacan history, though there are quite a few about different periods, especially for time periods from the Porfiriate and later.

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