Cultural Notes 2: About Mexico City

I have a penchant for Mexico, because it was where I went for my YOLO trip when I was in my early twenties. I spent three months studying Spanish at San Miguel De Allende (SMA), and prefer that place to Mexico City. For comparison sake, they’re like Malacca and Kuala Lumpur. I wouldn’t be talking about SMA here but rather, this post is about Mexico City and its culture, especially good to know if you are travelling there!

p.s This is part of my series of ‘Cultural Notes‘. So if you are like me, and would like to find out more about the history and culture of the destination before going, read these Cultural Notes. Have a greater understanding and appreciation of the place you’re visiting! :) 

About Mexico City

El DF as Mexico city is often called, stands for Mexico, Distrito Federal. The city was built on el lago de Texcoco, a lake in the Valley of Mexico. As the population grew, reaching heights of over 20 million, the lake was drained, leaving a soft clay base. Because of groundwater over-extraction, this clay base is now collapsing, causing buildings to seem like they are tipping forward or backward, à la Tower of Pisa! When you visit La Catedral, make sure to notice how the main entryway seems to lean back.

About Mexico City

And if you are ever in Mexico and hear someone say Mañana me voy a México (Tomorrow I’m going to Mexico), don’t be confused! In Mexico people refer to Mexico City either as el DF, or simply Mexico. It is much less common to hear someone say La Ciudad de México (City of Mexico).

And when you hear the words chilango and chilanga, know that they are common nicknames respectively for men and women from Mexico City. This is due to the fact that a lot of chile (chili pepper) is eaten in the city. The nicknames used to have a very negative connotation, but many people from Mexico City now say it with pride. ¡Soy chilango! (I’m from Mexico City!) or even ¡Soy de Chilangolandia! (I’m from Chilango land!)

El Zócalo

Located at the heart of El DF is La Plaza de la Constitución, or commonly known as El Zócalo, is Mexico’s biggest square and one of its most important historical sites. With its 57,600 sq m (or 188,976 sq ft), the square is one of the largest in the world!

El Zócalo was once the center of the Aztec Empire and till this day, it is still the heart of Mexico’s vibrant and complex history and culture. It can hold more than 100,000 people and thus is a popular place for artistic and cultural events, political rallies, and even an ice-skating rink during winter!

Places of Interest around El Zócalo

If you are going to El Zocalo, be sure to walk around. There are many places of interests for you to explore. You can start at El Templo Mayor, a gigantic structure that dates before the Spanish conquest. The Aztecs built El Templo Mayor as a sacred place of worship for ritual sacrifices and other religious offerings. It was at the center of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Great Aztec Empire. And just under the modern Mexico City lie the ruins of this ancient empire. The Spanish Conquerors had destroyed the temples and built over the Aztec empire and this temple.

This archaeological site was discovered in the mid-1900s and excavated in the 1970s. Now you can visit the historic complex of the temple and its museum that are part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.  Visitors can view sections of the two main religious temples (dedicated to the god of war and rain god).

Continue your journey through El Zócalo with a visit to La Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de María, or simply La Catedral. This is the oldest and largest Roman Catholic cathedral in the Americas. As a graphic metaphor of the Spanish Conquest, the monumental church was built upon the surrounding ruins of El Templo Mayor.

Don’t forget to stop by the striking Palacio Nacional. Its red façade fills the entire east side of El Zócalo, and its interior houses Mexico City’s federal government. Make sure to step inside and check out the murals depicting Mexico’s history by the famous Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera (otherwise known as Frida Kahlo’s husband).

Language – Spanish in Mexico

Español Mexicano

Mexico boasts the largest number of Spanish speakers in the world. There are more than 110 million people in Mexico that speak Spanish as a native language, that’s around a quarter of all the native Spanish speakers in the world. ¡Órale! (Wow!)

Español mexicano, Mexican Spanish is also spoken in parts of the U.S. and Canada where Mexicans have migrated. Some Mexicans who were born or grew up in the United States refer to themselves as chicano or chicana. While others refer to themselves as Hispanic or Mexican-American.

Mexican Spanish is heard around the Spanish-speaking world because many TV series, films, and game shows produced in the U.S. are dubbed into Spanish by Mexicans born in el DF (Mexico City). Hence, as the Mexican culture penetrates the Latin American market, many Spanish speakers can easily identify the Mexican accent.

The language of the Aztecs, Náhuatl, has strongly influenced Mexican Spanish, especially in its spelling and intonation. However, do note that there are different accents in different regions of Mexico. The type of slang used in México can also change as you move from south to north. For example, it is very common to hear güey (dude) in Central Mexico. On the other hand, in Northern Mexico many people say vato! Moreover, Mexicans from the north and center of Mexico tend to say that speakers from Mexico’s southern states of Yucatán, Tabasco, Oaxaca and Chiapas speak slower.

Español yucateco

There’s another type of Spanish spoken in Mexico, known as the Yucateco style of Spanish. It is spoken in the Yucatan Peninsula, which until a few decades ago was relatively cut off from the rest of Mexico. In the state of Yucatán, more than 40% of the population speaks Maya, and this has heavily influenced the Spanish spoken in the area.

Art in Latin America

Latin American art is as complex as its history is rich. For centuries, African and European cultures have influenced the art in Latin America. This particular combination has produced a wide variety of artistic expressions that reflect upon the unique history of the region.

There’s one famous artist who was born in Coyoacán, México, in July 1907 and died in México City in July 1954. Her name is Frida Kahlo. She met with a traffic accident in her teens and that left her bedridden for long periods of time. As a result, Kahlo turned to painting as a way to deal with the loneliness of recovery. She became famous for her self-portraits in which she expressed the indigenous and national traditions of Mexico.

Her physical and emotional suffering due to ongoing health problems and her turbulent marriage to the famous muralist Diego Rivera (as mentioned above) are also frequent subjects. Check out her introspective paintings and see what you can tell about her life from them!

Do you have other interesting facts to share about Mexico City? :) Tell us below or on our Facebook Page or Instagram

The content is provided by, used with permission and amended by Christina Siew. Fluencia is an online platform for learning Spanish through interactive lessons, an intuitive interface, and personalized feedback. The team of Spanish experts behind developed this platform.

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