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.