Mexican culture reflects the complexity of the country's history through the blending of pre-Hispanic civilisations and the culture of Spain, imparted during Spain's 300-year colonisation of Mexico. Exogenous cultural elements mainly from the United States have been incorporated into Mexican culture. As was the case in most Latin American countries, when Mexico became an independent nation, it had to slowly create a national identity, being an ethnically diverse country in which, for the most part, the only connecting element amongst the newly independent inhabitants was Catholicism.
The Porfirian era (el Porfiriato), in the last quarter of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century, was marked by economic progress and peace. After four decades of civil unrest and war, Mexico saw the development of philosophy and the arts, promoted by President Díaz himself. Since that time, though accentuated during the Mexican Revolution, cultural identity had its foundation in the mestizaje, of which the indigenous (ie Amerindian) element was the core. In light of the various ethnicities that formed the Mexican people, José Vasconcelos in his publication La Raza Cósmica (The Cosmic Race) in 1925, defined Mexico to be the melting pot of all races (thus extending the definition of the mestizo) not only biologically but culturally as well This exalting of mestizaje was a revolutionary idea that sharply contrasted with the idea of a superior pure race prevalent in Europe at the time.
Mexico is known worldwide for its folk art traditions, mostly derived from a combination of the indigenous and Spanish crafts. Particularly notable among handicrafts are the clay pottery made in the valley of Oaxaca and the bird and animal figures made in the village of Tonalá. Colourfully embroidered cotton garments, cotton or wool shawls and outer garments, and colorful baskets and rugs are seen everywhere. Between the Spanish conquest and the early 20th century, Mexican fine arts were largely in imitation of European traditions. After the Mexican Revolution, a new generation of Mexican artists led a vibrant national movement that incorporated political, historic and folk themes in their work. The painters Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros became world famous for their grand scale murals, often displaying clear social messages. Rufino Tamayo and Frida Kahlo produced more personal works with abstract elements. Mexican art photography was largely fostered by the work of Manuel Álvarez Bravo.
The literature of Mexico has its antecedents in the literatures of the indigenous settlements of Mesoamerica. The mestizaje of the literature of the colonial period is evident in the incorporation of numerous local terms and in some of the themes that are touched upon in works of the period. During this period, New Spain spawned baroque writers such as Bernardo de Balbuena, Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora, Juan Ruiz de Alarcón and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.
Toward the end of the colonial period there emerged figures such as José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi, whose work is considered emblematic of Mexican picaresque. Due to the political instability of the 19th century, Mexico – already an independent nation – saw a decline not only in its literature but in the other arts as well. During the second half of the 19th century Mexican literature became revitalised with works such as Los Mexicanos Pintados Por Si Mismos, a book that gives us an approximate idea of how intellectuals of the period saw their contemporaries. Toward the end of the century Mexican writers adopted the common tendencies of the period. Two modernist poets that stand out are Amado Nervo and Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera.
The inception of the Mexican Revolution favored the growth of the journalistic genre. Once the civil conflict ended, the theme of the Revolution appeared as a theme in novels, stories and plays by Mariano Azuela and Rodolfo Usigli. This tendency would anticipate the flowering of a nationalist literature, which took shape in the works of writers such as Rosario Castellanos and Juan Rulfo. There also appeared on the scene an 'indigenous literature', which purported to depict the life and thought of the indigeneous people's of Mexico, although, ironically, none of the authors of this movement were indigeneous. Among them Ricardo Pozas and Francisco Rojas Gonzalez stand out.
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