November 25, 2012 9:33 pm

Mexico is the southern neighbor of the United States. Its full name in Spanish is Estados Unidos Mexicanos, which means the United Mexican States. Spanish is the language of Mexico because Spain ruled Mexico for 300 years.
Facts About Mexico
Official name
United Mexican States
Mexico City
Official language
110,000,000 people
Rank among countries in population
Major cities
Mexico City, Guadalajara, Ecatepec de Morelos
758,000 square miles
1,960,000 square kilometers
Rank among countries in area
Highest point
Pico de Orizaba
18,406 feet/5,610 meters
Mexican peso
Most of Mexico’s people have both Spanish and Native American ancestry. Although most Mexicans speak Spanish, some still speak the Native American languages of their ancestors.
Spanish conquistadors—explorers and conquerors—came to Mexico in the 1500s. The conquistadors destroyed an empire built by Aztec Indians in Mexico. Spain ruled Mexico until 1821, when Mexico won its independence.
Under Spanish rule, Mexicans became Roman Catholics. They created a version of the Catholic religion that’s their own. For example, Mexicans worship the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe. A three-day festival honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe starts on December 12 each year. During the festival, people dance in the streets wearing Aztec headdresses and costumes.
Mexico City is the capital and largest city in Mexico. More than 19 million people call this city home. That’s nearly one-fifth of the entire country’s population. Many Mexicans call their capital simply Mexico, because it dominates the country so completely.
Mexico City is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. In 2000, it was the second largest city in the world. Only Tokyo, the capital of Japan, had more people.
Mexico City is built on the site of the capital of the Aztec Empire. Many stones from the Aztec capital were used in its first buildings. Today, it’s a modern city with many tall buildings and wide, tree-lined streets.
A large public square, or plaza, lies at the center of most towns and cities in Mexico. Mexicans like to relax in the plaza on their time off. There’s usually a church on the plaza and a marketplace nearby.
A large number of Mexicans are poor. Some families live without electricity or running water in their homes. Some communities have no sewers. Some children leave school early to earn money and help support their families.
Many Mexicans have moved to Mexico City or other cities in Mexico to find jobs. The cities also offer more schools and better health care than rural areas. But the cities have become extremely crowded.
Mexico offers dramatic scenery. North central Mexico looks like the set for a cowboy movie. The bone-dry desert is filled with sagebrush and crossed by deep canyons. Southern Mexico has lush tropical forests. Central Mexico is a high plateau with snowcapped mountains on either side. Active volcanoes such as Popocatépetl sometimes belch smoke into the sky.
Visitors marvel at Mexico’s white, sandy beaches and clear, turquoise waters. Acapulco, Mazatlán, and Puerto Vallarta are famous vacation spots on Mexico’s western coast. Well-known resorts also flourish on the Yucatán Peninsula in southeastern Mexico. Mexico is one of the world’s top tourist spots.
Would you like to have chocolate sauce for dinner? How about chocolate sauce on turkey? A popular sauce in Mexico contains chocolate, cinnamon, chili peppers, and other ingredients. It’s called mole. Mexicans consider pavo en mole—turkey with mole sauce—their national dish.
Many tourists also come to Mexico to see the remains of ancient civilizations. Native Americans—including the Olmec, Zapotec, Maya, Toltec, and Aztec—developed civilizations in Mexico long before Europeans arrived. They built great cities with huge stone pyramids and other religious structures.
The Maya had an advanced culture. They were skillful in mathematics. They knew a great deal about the stars. They created a complex and accurate calendar. They wrote books in a system of writing that people can no longer read.
The Aztecs ruled the last great Native American empire. They built a grand city called Tenochtitlán. The Aztecs followed a religion based on human sacrifice. They had a belief that a pale god would come from the east and destroy them.
In 1520, someone did come from the east, but he was not a god. He was Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés. Cortés and his small army destroyed the Aztec Empire and started a Spanish empire in Mexico.
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