Exploring Mexico’s Cultural Diversity in the Northern and Central Area

An activity that can be enjoyed by the traveler who is exploring Mexico is to meet the people from different regions and ethnic backgrounds. Mexico’s cultural diversity is huge, with over 62 different languages spoken across the country; it counts with countless varieties of different traditions and customs. In this article, I will try to give a brief overview of some of the most relevant ethnicities in the country, particularly in the Northern and central part.

The human environment in North Mexico is extremely rich and distinctive. The creole and mestizo population are dedicated to cattle-ranching, mining and agriculture. In Sonora, a visit to the ancient mines of Cananea can be an interesting cultural experience. Cananea occupies a crucial point in Mexican history, due to the fact that its copper mines gave rise the events that set the motion for the 1910 revolution.

Among the noteworthy ethnic groups of the Northwest are the Seri Indians. These groups of nomadic fishermen move up and down the coast from Guaymas to Desemboque. Their beliefs about marine beings are immortalized in their famous wooden sculptures. Another ethnic group found in this region are the Cucapás, who inhabit the desert of San Felipe in Baja California, and the Opatas, who are found in the mountain region of Oputo, very close to the border of Sonora and Chihuahua. The Yaquis, inhabitants of the region of Ciudad Obregón, are famous for their Deer Dance, a preparatory ritual for the deer hunt.

The center of Mexico has been, from prehispanic times, the most densely inhabited and dynamic region in terms of the florescence of cultures and human activities. Creole and Mestizo culture is particularly rich and its ethnic manifestations are astonishing. Towards the western part of the country, in the states of Nayarit, Jalisco and Colima, activities are highly varied, but what stands out is the culture of ranchers and the production of Mezcal made from the blue agave, which is internationally known as tequila.

In the highlands of Michoacán, the syncretism of the colorful Purépecha culture predominates and culminates in the ceremony of the day of the dead on the island of Janitzio. Towards the basin of the Balsas river, in the states of Mexico, Morelos and Guerrero, different indigenous groups live side by side, including the Malinalcas, Tlahuicas and Cohuixcas, who are mixed with mestizo an creole groups. These cultures are expressed in dances such as “The Chinelos” or the Holy week rites in the mining city of Taxco.

The eastern-central part of the country is extraordinarily rich in cultural diversity. In the eastern State of Guanajuato, Querétaro, Hidalgo and San Luis Potosí the last remains of the Chichimec nation, Otomí culture, the nahuas of Meztitilán, the Rio Verde Area and the Huastec region, are included in a rich syncretic collection of creole and mestizo cultures. Most of the cities and towns are beautiful colonial jewels of the XVI, XVII and XVIII centuries. Agricultural communities such as San Miguel de Allende, Dolores Hidalgo, Jalpan, Meztitlán and many others are dispersed in the region, as well as mining towns such as Xichú, Cadereyta, Pozos, San Miguel Regla, Huasca and Pachuca.

The ethnic groups of the central part of the country are countless. Among those that stand out for their rich tradition are the Purepechas of the Tarascan Plateau, the Nahuas of Meztitlan, and the Huastecs, whi preserve a very ancient kinship with the Mayas. The totonacs of Veracruz and Puebla preserve the ritual performance tradition known as the flyers of Papantla. Other ethnic groups found in this region are the Tlahuicas of Morelos, the Matlazincas and Malinalcas of the state of Mexico and the Cohuixcas of Taxco who do some fabulous stone work.

The music of the central part of the country preserves a complex evolutionary process. From the pre-hispanic period survive syncretic dances such as that of the “Concheros”, who use the percusive wealth of the huéhuetl and the teponaztle (A pre-hispanic percussion instrument), along with curious guitars made with armadillo shells as resonance boxes. A similar dance, the “Chinelos” uses a band of wind instruments of European origin. Some other different dances that persist are “The flyers of Papantla” and the “Quetzals”, preserved in the Totonac zone of Veracruz and Puebla.

If We Are Going to Change Culture – Then What to What?

There is much discussion concerning how to change a safety culture providing ideas on what you can done to begin and sustain a “safe” work environment. Many people have their own idea and agenda. Who is to say who is right or wrong with their analysis? However, to move towards this culture, it might be a good idea to know more about the current culture you are in. How do “things get done around here?” This is a core question to ask. If you know the culture you are in, you can better assess where the obstacles are hidden, the personalities you will encounter and the resistance to change that might be present.

In the book Corporate Cultures, written by Deal and Kennedy they address several questions, such as: Does the Company have one or more visible beliefs? What are they? Do people know these beliefs? How do these beliefs affect the day to day business? Are the beliefs reinforced, by formal personnel processes, recognition, rewards?

Other things to consider or understand include the following: What is the business environment? What are the values? Is safety a priority, where things change all of the time, or a value where that will remain the same. Who are the Heroes? What are the rites and rituals day to day? What is the primary/informal means of communication? “A strong culture is a system of informal rules that spells out how people are to behave most of the time?” This not a trivial pursuit.

If the heroes (and senior managers) are from the sales staff and they get most of the rewards, presenting your safety presentation in the form of an engineering study may not fly, how do you translate the message into their language – They speak sales and commissions, client attainment, not rules and regulations!

How are meeting held? Formal, informal, complex or brief, bullets or in depth text, graphs? How and what is communicated. Read the newsletters as if you were tracking some great beast, you are!

Deal and Kennedy discuss several corporate “tribes”. The “tough-guy, macho” – where high risk are taken expecting quick feedback; The “work hard/play hard” where one seeks fun and action having few risks with quick feedback. It expects a high level of low risk activity. Next is the “bet-your-company’ with big stakes, very high risk, slow feedback; Finally the “process” culture that provides little or no feedback, people show up do their job and go home – bureaucracy!

The authors suggest a number of areas to look for clues about the organization: Study the physical settings, spiffy corporate office, dumpy outlying sites, and class differences? Contrast between what is said to be a value and clues as to what is really held as a belief. How does the organization greet strangers? Service cultures may ask if you need anything; Macho may ignore you. Short term focus? Long term focus? Inward focus? Inconsistency, different standards of dress, work habits, rituals? Guess the culture. Has the safety coordinator set up a successful process that reduced losses. If his/his GM walked by and threw a gift card on the desk with no comment. I’d go with tough-guy/macho. Each of these cultures requires a different approach- asking for feedback in the process culture, yawn! Setting up a multi-year process in a rah-rah sales driven culture, become the perceived anchor to their success. Your strategy and tactics must vary, maybe at each level of the organization. This is not to say a safety environment cannot be achieved in any culture but knowing what drives the organization may increase the potential acceptance of the process you want to implement.