Modern day Mexico was created by the blending of Spanish and indigenous cultures, traditions and blood. Yet Mexico, like the United States, has also attracted a wide variety of immigrants from other cultures as well. From Italian immigrants in Puebla to Mennonite communities in Chihuahua, here’s a guide to the settlers who call Mexico home.
Mexico’s Jewish community has its origins in late 19th and early 20th century immigration, mostly from Hungary, Lithuania, Poland and Russia. An estimated 50,000 Mexicans define themselves as practicing Jews, with three-quarters of this population based in Mexico City. The Synagogue Nidjei Israel is a prominent focal point for the Jewish community in the capital. There are also a dozen Jewish schools. Famous Mexicans of Jewish descent include intellectual Enrique Krauze and the journalist Adela Micha. The flamboyant muralist Diego Rivera was also said to have “converso” heritage (ancestors who were forced to convert to Catholicism).
The tiny town of Chipilo outside of the city of Puebla is home to a community descended from Venetians who migrated to Mexico more than 130 years ago. Today, most of their ancestors still speak a Venetian dialect and identify strongly with the traditions and culture of rural Italy. The town was founded in 1882, after 38 families had been driven from their northern Italian hometown of Segusino after a burst riverbank had flooded their farmlands. The migrants made the arduous journey to Mexico and set to work in agriculture and dairy production, soon becoming famous throughout the region for producing delicious cheese.
Middle Eastern Immigrants
A Middle Eastern influence on Mexican culture began when immigrants from the Ottoman Empire started arriving in the 1890s. The majority originated from the Levant, or modern-day Lebanon and Syria. A number of famous Mexican celebrities have Arabic heritage, including Carlos Slim, one of the world’s richest men, and actor Salma Hayek, who has a Lebanese father. Even one of Mexico’s most iconic dishes has Middle Eastern roots. Arab migrants were the first to introduce the shawarma, or spit cooking, to Mexican cuisine. This led to the development of tacos al pastor (spit-grilled meat tacos), which are now a favorite across the country.
Mexicans of Romani heritage number more than a million, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography. Romani travelers began migrating to the country in the 19th century, when persecution in Europe forced them to seek a new start elsewhere.
The Romani community played a significant role in the development of cinema in Mexico. In the early 20th century, Romani caravans were known for traveling to rural towns and projecting films for captivated audiences. Today, Vlax Romani – a dialect of the Romani language – is still spoken in the state of Oaxaca and La Lagunilla Market in Mexico City is regarded as a traditional refuge of Romani culture.
About 100,000 Mennonites live in dozens of villages in northern Mexico, especially in the state of Chihuahua. The group speaks Low German and eschews modern technology in favor of a traditional, agricultural way of life. A group of around 800 Mennonites arrived in the country in 1921, under an agreement with the Mexican government, which gave them permission to practice their religion in return for cultivating the inhospitable desert terrain around Ciudad Cuauhtémoc.
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