Mexico enjoys a cultural
blend that is wholly unique: among the fastest growing industrial powers in
the world, its vast cities boast modern architecture to rival any in the
world, yet it can still feel, in places, like a half-forgotten Spanish
colony, while the all-pervading influence of native American culture, five
hundred years on from the Conquest, is extraordinary.
Each aspect can be found in isolation, but far more often, throughout the
Republic, the three co-exist - indigenous markets, little changed in form
since the arrival of the Spanish, thrive alongside elaborate colonial
churches in the shadow of the skyscrapers of the Mexican miracle.
Occasionally, the marriage is an uneasy one, but for the most part it works
unbelievably well. The people of Mexico reflect it, too; there are
communities of full-blooded indígenas , and there are a few - a very few -
Mexicans of pure Spanish descent. The great majority of the population,
though, is mestizo , combining both traditions and, to a greater or lesser
extent, a veneer of urban sophistication.
Despite encroaching Americanism, a tide accelerated by the NAFTA free trade
agreement, and close links with the rest of the Spanish-speaking world (an
avid audience for Mexican soap operas), the country remains resolutely
individual. Its music, its look, its sound, its smell rarely leave you in
any doubt about where you are, and the thought "only in Mexico" - sometimes
in awe, sometimes in exasperation, most often in simple bemusement - is
rarely far from a traveller's mind. The strength of Mexican identity perhaps
hits most clearly if you travel overland across the border with the United
States: this is the only place on earth where a single step will take you
from the "First" world to the "Third". It's a small step that really is a
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