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Topic 1: Social, Political, and Cultural Influences—– Mexico

Many people within a country may recognize how social, political, and cultural influences have an impact upon them. At the same time, social, political, and cultural influences may be such a part of daily life that they seem merely “the way things are.” For example, when reading that America is an individualistic culture, you may not understand how life could be any different. Exposure to ideas from other ways of living can broaden your perspective and open your imagination to different philosophies of life.

1. Identify one social, political, or cultural influence from the assigned reading that you believe would be difficult to identify if you were a part of that culture. 2. Why do you believe this influence would be difficult to notice? 3. What is its impact upon the people?

Next, 4. introduce one artistic expression that may help one to express individuality, independence, and creativity. 5. What can the act of artistic expression do to open up the experience of the individual? 6. How can it expand the perspective of the artist and possibly the whole country or culture?

Book on mexico Fesita for this discussion is below!

Chapter 21 The Mexican Fiesta

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The solitary Mexican loves fiestas and public gatherings. Any occasion for getting together will serve, any pretext to stop the flow of time and commemorate men and events with festivals and ceremonies. We are a ritual people, and this characteristic enriches both our understanding and our sensibilities, which are equally soft and alert. The art of the fiesta has been debased almost everywhere else, but not in Mexico. There are a few places in the world where it is possible to take part in a spectacle like our great religious fiestas with their violent primary colors, their bizarre costumes and dances, their fireworks and ceremonies, and their inexhaustible welter of surprises: the fruit, candy, toys, and other objects sold on these days in the plazas and open-air markets.

—Octavio Paz (1961, p. 47)

Mexico celebrated the 200th anniversary of the beginning of its struggle from Spanish domination in 2010, but the mood was far from festive (Thomson, 2010a). Its government had been openly fighting the powerful drug cartels since 2006, and over 60,000 citizens and perhaps as many as 90,000 have been killed in this violence. Although the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) lost in the 2000 national election and was turned out by the voters after 71 years of continuous rule, subsequent governments have not performed well until recently. To compound matters, the global economic recession has been particularly difficult for Mexicans. It is little wonder that most Mexicans greeted the delay of two celebratory projects (an independence park and a monument) to mark the anniversary with a stoic shrug.

Today, however, the picture is much brighter. While the drug cartels still operate, they are muted in their efforts, and the government of Mexico has taken steps to ensure that economic growth, benefitting as many Mexicans as possible, have been put into place. Mexico over three or four decades has made the transition from a commodity- and agricultural-based economy to one dominated by manufacturing and services; its middle class, depending on the measurement used, numbers between 40 and 60 million out of a population of 114.8 million; since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) among Mexico, Canada, and the United States went into effect in 1993, Mexico’s intraregional trade has multiplied from around $290 billion to well over a trillion today, and about half of this involves Mexico and the United States; and about 40% of the content of the products imported by the United States from Mexico actually come from the United States. The last point relates directly to maquiladores, a 50-year experiment designed to jumpstart the Mexican economy, which is still hampered by cartels or a large group of related and sometimes unrelated companies that obtain special favors from governmental laws and policies that decrease competition. Originally, companies from the United States and elsewhere sent unfinished inventory to be assembled and returned to the originating country, whose companies would benefit much more financially than the maquiladores because the U.S. American firms branded and sold the finished goods at a hefty profit margin. Today, however, some of the maquiladores are doing the high-end work themselves, and thus enjoying higher profit margins.

In addition, many U.S. companies are now shortening their supply chains since the Great Recession of 2008, because they find it is much easier to work with a supplier such as a maquiladora in Mexico rather than one in China, Bangladesh, and elsewhere. In fact, there is a movement in the San Diego region of California to expand formally and operationally into the San Diego–Tijuana region, because many U.S. business executives cross the border, sometimes daily, to handle the relationships between their home offices based in San Diego and their maquiladores partners in Mexico. To compound Mexico’s good luck, not only is it part of NAFTA but also, as of 2012 when it was created, a member of the Pacific Alliance, a group of nations with a total population of 470 million, even larger than the 400 million in the euro zone. According to various economic measures, Mexico is one of the most open economies in the world, which is fostering not only competition but also economic growth. And while there are supposedly 6 million illegal immigrants from Mexico in the United States, Mexico itself has become the new land of opportunity for immigrants, many from the United States (see Cave, 2013. For other references for the generalizations in this and the preceding paragraph, see Wainwright, 2012; O’Neil, 2013; “Mexico’s maquiladores,” 2013; and O’Neill, 2014).

Still, there are huge problems to overcome. The drug cartels represent a major issue, in part because their products are viewed very positively by some American consumers. In addition, the Mexican educational system is a laggard when compared to the systems of many other nations; the infrastructure such as transportation systems, water systems, and even housing is poor; and the demographic advantage that Mexico currently enjoys because of its younger-aged population will disappear in the near future due to the fact that the fertility rate has decreased dramatically from 6 children per female just a few decades ago to 2.2, and is likely to go lower, even to the point where Mexico no longer meets the equilibrium point of a stable population (2.1 children per female). However, given the actions that the federal government and state governments have taken in recent years, most probably these problems will be overcome.

Mexico represents a classic torn culture, that is, one torn from its roots by invaders and disasters such as widespread famine (Huntington, 1996). In Mexico’s case, this process has occurred several times, most recently beginning about 1990, when this nation’s leaders began to make it a major player in the global economy. There are three distinctive cultures in Mexico: the Indian culture, the Spanish culture, and the mestizo culture of mixed Indian and Spanish ancestry. About 60% of the population is mestizo and 30% pure Indian (Amerindian) or predominantly Indian. The Indians are descendants of the Mayan and Aztec empires. Finally, about 9% are of Spanish ancestry. As might be expected, there is implicit but imperfect ordering of these three groups regarding status: Spanish, mestizo, and Indian.

Sometimes this ordering leads to conflicts. For example, some business firms have fallen on hard times because Spanish and mestizo owners and managers have found it difficult to work together, and Indians have experienced many forms of discrimination. In more recent years, there have been attempts to alleviate the plight of impoverished Indian groups.

Still, the threefold distinction is a critical part of Mexican culture and is celebrated at the well-known Plaza of Three Cultures in Mexico City where Hernando Cortés, the conqueror of the Indians, built a Spanish church in 1521. The church was built on and around the site of an ancient pyramid structure constructed by the Indians. A marker at the church succinctly describes the three-partition culture: “On August 13, 1521, heroically defended by Cuanhtemoc, Tlateloko fell into the hands of Hernando Cortés. It was neither a triumph nor a defeat; it was the painful birth of the mestizo nation that is Mexico today.”

When talking about Mexico, it is important to distinguish between the northern states bordering the United States and the nine states of the south and southeast, which account for nearly a quarter of the population. These nine states tend to be more rural and poorer than the rest of the country. Over time, however, all of Mexico has advanced in many measures. For example, since 1960, the number of years that the average Mexican child spends in school increased from 2.6 to a compulsory 9 years.

Mexico, like its fiestas, is a complex blend of reality, tradition, art, and people. Mexico City, the capital, has a population of 23.2 million and is the fifth-largest city in the world. Most Mexicans identify with their Indian or Spanish heritage. Spanish is the official language of Mexico, although many in large urban areas understand English. As many as 100 Indian languages are still spoken in parts of Mexico. Mexico is about three times the size of Texas or one fifth the size of the United States.

Mexico is several thousand years old and still influenced significantly by its past. For example, plans to build a subway line under the capital’s main plaza were canceled when it was discovered that construction would destroy hidden remains of the Aztec empire. The past is celebrated in numerous statues, in streets named after past—including pre-Hispanic—heroes and historic dates, and in the calendar. For example, the entire month of September is devoted to ceremonies commemorating Mexico’s independence from Spain. However, as noted, the 200th anniversary of independence from Spain was muted because of preoccupation with current problems, particularly the drug wars involving major gangs that the federal government tried to destroy. As indicated above, the drug gangs still exist but in a more muted manner. This devotion to the past is also revealed in the fact that the Mexican government spends more of its budget on anthropological research than does any other country.

Even the official past remains of current interest. Interviews and newspaper columns highlight news a half century old. Symbols are sometimes taken from prehistoric times. A 1978 monument to police officers and firefighters who died in the line of duty was a statue of Coatlicue, goddess of the earth and fertility, with a fallen Aztec warrior at her feet. Important figures of Mexican history have been divided into good and evil and personify concepts such as heroism, nationalism, and revolutionary ideals or cowardice, treason, greed, and repression.

Thus, the past is important for understanding Mexican thought and action. As such, a brief review of Mexican history is essential to a comprehensive understanding of the Mexicans and their culture.

Historical Background

When Cortés arrived in 1519, Mexico was populated by hundreds of indigenous tribes, including the Aztecs, the Incas, and the Mayas. It took only 2 years for Cortés to conquer the indigenous people in the name of Spain. He was aided in this endeavor by several tribes that chafed under the dominating rule of the Aztecs and Incas. Although most of the indigenous people were wiped out by the conquest and European diseases, those remaining were instructed by the Spanish in the Catholic faith during the colonial era. The silver mines and the people of Mexico were exploited and the riches sent back to Spain.

After victory over Spain in the War of Independence (1810–1820), Mexico began a period of independence and turmoil that lasted another 100 years. By 1853, half of Mexico’s territory had been acquired by the United States, mostly in the Mexican war. This period featured unstable leadership and exploitation of the poor peons by the elite landholders, who made the peons virtual slaves on the hacienda farms. One leader during this time was Benito Juárez, notable in part because he was pure Zapotec Indian.

When the Mexican revolution ended in 1920, after 10 years of intense fighting between various factions representing the large landholders and the poor, presidential elections began. The government attempted to break up the Catholic Church, which was a large conservative landholder, and a constitution was drawn up separating church and state. The church was not allowed to hold land, and priests could not vote, although religion remained inseparably woven throughout the lives of most Mexicans. Land holdings of the church and large landholders were taken away and given to the peasants and indigenous people under land reform measures.

Catholicism in recent years has decreased in popularity, with nearly 100% of the population identifying as Catholic in 1960 and about 80% doing so today. Protestantism, particularly of the evangelical variety, has correspondingly risen from nearly zero to at least 6%. Some reasons for its appeal to the poor include its firm stance against alcohol and its more open and less hierarchical approach. Anti-Catholic films highlighting the faults of the clergy have become popular. El crimen del Padre Amaro has become one of the most popular films in Mexican history; it relates the true tale of a 19th-century priest who violated his vows of celibacy and paid for an abortion that resulted in the death of a poor young woman.

In spite of the beneficial outcomes of the Mexican revolution ending in 1920, many problems remain today, including poverty, unemployment, an inadequate educational system, inefficient industry due to the operations of business cartels, drug gangs or cartels, and an inefficient agriculture. In some ways the economic situation has improved markedly over the last 90 years, in large part because of the discovery of oil and the other factors discussed previously. Still, given all its problems, Mexico received a relatively high rating among nations on the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom: 50 out of 179.

One political party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), dominated politics for 72 years. In 1988, a near-loss by the PRI marked a turning point in Mexican politics, and viable opposition parties became a reality, culminating in the PRI’s defeat in the national elections in 2000. The PRI had experienced several scandals, and it no longer has unquestioned authority to operate as it wishes. Its leaders had attempted to maintain an aura of gravitas and imperial mystery, but now they must compete against one another and members of opposition parties in U.S.-style elections.

Although this chapter generalizes about the culture of Mexico, in reality the culture is not uniform. There are five more or less distinct regions (Kras, 1989). The northern border region has been influenced by its proximity to the United States and the presence of many foreign-owned businesses under the maquiladora program.

The central region is characterized by more traditional, conservative, autocratic, family-owned businesses. In the southeast region, people are more relaxed. There are more plantations and less industry. Business tends to be paternalistic and autocratic. A large indigenous population lives in this region.

The capital, Mexico City, comprises the fourth region, and it boasts about 40% of Mexico’s gross national product. Although it is very overcrowded, it is very much a modern, cosmopolitan city.

The fifth region consists of the areas along the Gulf of Mexico, which are rich in oil.

The mixture of the indigenous population and the Spanish population is nearly complete, resulting in what Mexicans call mestizos. Despite the tragedy inflicted by the conquistadors, the Catholic faith helped the indigenous population assimilate into the Spanish culture. Traditional indigenous religions have blended with Catholicism, resulting in a uniquely Mexican culture that is reflected in the people’s religious beliefs and practices. The mixing of these two cultures (Indian and Spanish) can also be seen in distinctive architecture, the language, and many other aspects of people’s lives.

For example, during the fiesta of the Day of the Dead, people flock to the graveyards to put flowers and food on the tombs of their relatives. These symbolic gestures combine the Catholic concept and the ancient Indian concept of the afterlife. One day each year, people dress up like peasants and take their children to the cathedral to be blessed. In front of the church are booths where children get their pictures taken. In the backdrop of these booths and in the children’s costumes are visible signs of the indigenous backgrounds of Mexicans.

The Mexican Fiesta

Although there is much more to life in Mexico than the fiesta, many aspects of the fiesta can be related to Mexico to more fully understand its culture. According to the Mexican Department of Tourism, the number of official fiestas varies yearly between 500 and 600. Fiestas are held for a variety of reasons, including celebrating historical events such as Mexican Independence Day; reinforcing the traditions of individual towns, cities, and states; honoring Catholic saints and practices; paying homage to special foods and crops found in a particular region; and recognizing birthdays, baptisms, weddings, and graduations. As such, the fiesta is an appropriate metaphor through which to view Mexico.

One broad-based and partially inaccurate stereotype is represented by the popular tourist ads having the tagline “Come to the land of the fiesta.” Such ads feature seductive girls dressed in sequins and ribbons dancing with beautiful boys to romantic guitar music. This fiesta represents that of the movies, tourists, and perhaps a big town project. In reality, the real Mexican fiesta is the country fiesta—the more remote and difficult it is to get to the fiesta, the more attractive the celebration.

The pure pleasures of the simple life can be experienced at a fiesta: indigenous, native dances in beautiful costumes and people dancing happily about. The fiesta gives Mexicans the opportunity to enliven and enhance their existence: They can see people from their neighboring towns, sell a few ornaments, party, and enjoy the camaraderie of friends and family members. Even the most modest fiesta produces a particular mood, full of humor and energy. The fiestas are a blend of beautiful costumes, language, bustling activity, and aimless walking around.

In the tropical coastal towns, rural fiestas are especially festive. Although fiestas have humor, they are not good-humored or consciously funny. If they are dramatic, it is unplanned. The participants may not understand fully the ceremonies and rituals, even when they have been involved with the fiesta for years. A fiesta cannot be likened to a big block party. It is irrational, mysterious, and moving.

Generally, the state of Oaxaca in the south has wonderful fiestas with beautiful regional costumes, flower arrangements, and tall castillos (towers) of native fireworks. The people of Oaxaca are predominantly Indians who share grace, calm, and worldliness. They are quite interested in new people and new ways. The state of Chiapas, the scene of revolutionary activities in recent years, has pagan ceremonies that may be alluring and frightening to outsiders. Other regions only eat, sing, dance, and drink, leaving religious meanings behind. This is especially true of the tropics, which are devoted to the present. Given the diversity of fiestas, each of them must be experienced, not simply observed.

However, in more recent years at least some fiesta traditions have faded. Even the Fiesta of the Dead on November 1 is changing. This fiesta highlights death as transformation rather than as the end of life. In this way it stresses the importance of family history. But the U.S. celebration of Halloween is being grafted onto the Day of the Dead, and in the process many traditions have been discarded (“Mexico, Haunted,” 1999).

Four important aspects of Mexican culture are revealed in the fiesta. First, the primary focus of the Mexicans is on people, and the fiesta offers them a chance to be with and enjoy the company of family, friends, and community. Second, religion is a pervasive influence in the Mexican’s life, and the abundant religious fiestas are a chance for Mexicans to communicate with God. Third, experiencing the present is important to Mexicans, and the fiesta is an opportunity to do this. Last, within the social order Mexicans find freedom, and within the social order of the fiestas Mexicans exhibit this freedom.

Primary Focus on People

People are of paramount importance in Mexican culture. A fiesta is a time to enjoy the company of family and friends. It also forms a bond among all Mexicans, uniting them into a common people. Mexico is collectivist, and within a tight social framework members of the in-group, particularly those in positions of authority, are expected to look after everyone else in exchange for loyalty. Gabrielidis and his research team (Gabrielidis, Stephan, Ybarra, Dos Santos-Pearson, & Villareal, 1997) found that the collectivistic Mexicans display concern for others and use accommodation and collaboration more than the individualistic U.S. Americans do. As a whole, Mexico is an authority-ranking or vertical collectivistic but paternalistic culture in which a good amount of social distance exists between superiors and subordinates. Paternalism is manifested in various ways, such as the aguinaldo or Christmas bonus, which can be as much as 3 months of the recipient’s salary. But in some areas, such as those bordering the United States, individualism is becoming stronger.

The basic building block of society is the immediate family. In more rural areas, several generations live together in the same house. Children are encouraged to stay dependent on the family and not leave home. The family spends most of its nonworking hours together, and the children go everywhere with the parents. Babysitters are rarely if ever used, except by the minority of the population that is rich enough to afford servants. The family is an informal welfare system in Mexico. If a cousin cannot afford to feed the children, the rest of the family will provide the groceries. Mexican families tend to regard homelessness among relatives very negatively and will do as much as possible to give family members a roof to sleep under.

The fiesta is a chance to enjoy the company of the family. Some fiestas even extend the family. Godparents (madrina or padrino) are selected for baptisms and other important festive ceremonies in a child’s life. To be chosen as a godparent is an honor and responsibility. A child can have different godparents for each ceremony, with new ones added to existing ones rather than replacing them. Because these godparents will be present for every important occasion in the child’s life, this practice actually extends the family to include the godparents and their families. Compradazco connotes coparenthood shared by the parents and the godparents. A Mexican friend likened compradazco to a network of invisible lines linking many houses or families into one big family.

Friends are also important in Mexico. Once a person becomes a friend, he or she becomes one of the trusted members of the in-group. Friends almost become a part of the family, as in the case of compradazco. Friends of friends also become part of this network. Friends are often called by familial titles such as brother, sister, and cousin.

Relationships Rule

Mexicans are ruled much more by relationships than by abstract concepts. Mexicans will interrupt whatever they are doing at the sight of a friend or a relative. Diminutive endings such as -ito or -ita, which mean small, are often tacked on to the ends of names or words to suggest affection, for example, Silvita instead of Silvia. These endings are also used to minimize problems and save face.

Mexicans tend to hire relatives and friends over strangers, no matter what the qualifications or achievements of each, although this is less true in the more modern businesses. In Hofstede’s (2001) study of 53 nations, Mexicans were found to have a high need for uncertainty avoidance, indicating that they feel threatened by uncertain situations and strangers and try to avoid them. Therefore, knowing someone before hiring or doing business with him or her is important. The old adage “It’s not what you know, but whom you know” is taken literally. If business must be done with strangers, much time is spent getting to know them before any deals are made. Mexicans are not loyal to an organization, but they are committed to the people in the organization.

Considering the central role the family plays in Mexican life, foreign executives must take the concerns of the employee’s family seriously. For example, they might show interest and concern when an employee is absent due to illness in the family. Understanding family ties is an excellent way for foreign managers to comprehend subordinates’ behavior and to develop good relations with them.

Mexicans tend to view success in terms not of achievement but of affiliation. It is important to be someone who is important to other people. Achievement is, however, more important in larger, more modern companies. The uniqueness of each person as an individual is highly valued, even though these individuals are an integral part of a collectivist culture. Mexicans refer to alma (the soul) or espiritu (the spirit) to describe this inner individual.

It is important to protect this soul or dignity or honor. Managers should rarely, if ever, criticize subordinates in front of their friends or family. Praise is important to Mexicans. Mexicans tend to be consensus seekers and will lie to avoid hurt feelings and confrontation. Avoiding the placement of blame on anyone is important. In Spanish, people do not break things; instead things just break—se lo rompió. Lies and truth are not absolute. Mexicans will frequently say what you want to hear to avoid confrontation and the loss of someone’s dignity, even if what is said is not the complete truth. When asked directions, Mexicans will sometimes give a false answer rather than say they do not know. When they beg one’s pardon, they say, “Pretend it never happened, señor.”

Michael Agar, a cross-cultural anthropologist who was asked to facilitate relations between U.S. Americans and Mexicans involved in a joint venture, recalls vividly how the Mexicans perceived the U.S. Americans. After working with U.S. businesspeople all day, the Mexican executives went out for a drink, and one of them said el capo as he waved an imaginary torero’s cape before the bull or, metaphorically, the U.S. Americans, and the other Mexicans laughed uproariously. The Mexicans perceived themselves to be too polite and sophisticated to tell the U.S. Americans to their face that their behavior was boorish. However, this politeness was a major reason that the joint venture eventually failed, because the U.S. Americans became exasperated when the Mexicans indicated that meeting a deadline was “no problem,” only to fail to do so repeatedly. The U.S. Americans bluntly told the Mexicans that they had lied, and the Mexicans were insulted. Given the communication and negotiation styles of U.S. Americans and Mexicans, such outcomes are frequent.

Mexicans tend to view humans as a mixture of good and evil. Possibly because of this perspective and the gray area between truth and lies, one can encounter occasional obstacles where someone may need to be rewarded to gain cooperation. Analogously, in the fiesta one often dons a costume and a mask. The mask allows an escape from reality without the loss of dignity. Octavio Paz (1961) even argues that the Mexican is “a person who shuts himself away to protect himself; his face is a mask and so is his smile” (p. 29). From Paz’s perspective, Mexicans tend to mask painful realities, hiding more than they reveal.

Communication Style

Nonverbal communication is important in most, if not all, cultures. In Mexico, gestures, facial expressions, glances, posture, and clothing all reveal important facets of the culture. Greetings and salutations take a long time and are often full of handshakes, hugs, kisses, and pats on the back. There is more physical contact between members of the same sex in Mexico than is common in the United States. Men greet each other with an abrazo (embrace), whereas women may kiss on the cheek. Overall, Mexicans employ more physical closeness and smaller interpersonal distances than their counterparts in the United States.

Thus U.S. Americans may withdraw from Mexicans during interactions, communicating emotional or social distance. Mexicans may seem overbearing to U.S. Americans. Body language is also different between the two cultures. Mexicans tend to use more of the trunk of the body while North Americans use the head and neck. Mexicans use their hands extensively to illustrate and emphasize what they are saying.

Neat clothing and appearance are also important because they show respect. In Mexico, clothing and jewelry are representative of the country’s great ethnic diversity. The type of attire indicates a person’s region or ethnic background. In hats alone, the diversity is wonderful. Upper-class Mexicans distinguish their status by wearing fine clothes, expensive jewelry, and fancy hairstyles. The concern with being respectable or decente is revealed in clothing.

Conversation is an art in Mexico, and the manner in which things are said is as important as what is said. The speaker beats around the bush in a dramatic and flowery style and often repeats things. Allusions and double meanings are a delight to Mexicans. Cultures differ in the importance they place on words to convey information (Hall & Hall, 1990). U.S. Americans and Northern Europeans place great emphasis on words. In Mexico, context is more important, and Mexicans may view a statement as honest in one situation but rude i

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