Mexico has so much flair in its customs that even some mental immersion into the country’s traditions will bring some rhythm and spice to your life. Add some culture to your screen time, order the food and drinks mentioned below, grab some popcorn (with hot sauce if you want to be really authentic), pull up these movies and virtual tours, and settle in to a night in Mexico.
It won the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film of 2018 (in addition to being nominated for a handful of other categories), but the accolades alone aren’t what make Roma an excellent representation of Mexico. The film demonstrates a long-standing dynamic of race in Mexican society, where a light-skinned family has far more advantages than their indigenous maid (who speaks Mixtec) – a relationship established back when white Spaniards first colonized the indigenous land in the 16th century. Viewers watch the moving story of this maid, named Cleo, who is played by the first Mexican indigenous woman to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. Cleo becomes pregnant and faces many struggles involving class disparity and feminist issues in Mexico City in the 1970s, many of which are still relevant topics in the capital today. Immerse yourself in the atmosphere of daily life in Mexico as portrayed in the film, imagine walking through the hip and lush neighborhood for which the movie is named after, and keep some tissues near you for the ending.
This is a two-for-one, as you can hardly talk about one artist without mentioning the other half of this emblematic Mexican couple – though the work of each is distinct and stands on its own. Rivera was a muralist whose scenes often depicted Mexican society or scenes from the Mexican Revolution in bold colors and using Aztec designs. Kahlo worked with oil and canvas and did many self portraits, often involving controversial personal topics like dealing with polio and miscarriages. The two had a tumultuous relationship, with many affairs and reconciliations, but they ultimately stayed together till death. They were also strongly politically united in their ties to Communism during the early 20th century. Throughout Mexico today, you’re more likely to see images of Kahlo, with her distinct unibrow, on mugs, wallets, purses and nearly anything you can think of. But both of their works are prominently displayed in art institutions in Mexico, and visitors can go to their gorgeous houses, which have been turned into museums. Some of Rivera’s works can be seen in the virtual tour of Palacio de Bellas Artes, and Kahlo’s paintings are viewable through a virtual tour of the Frida Kahlo Museum, both in Mexico City.
Big sombreros, suits embellished with buckles and elaborate thread designs down the leg, prominent neck handkerchiefs – the appearance of mariachi bands is as immediately distinguishable as the music itself. Dressed in the style of charro (Mexican horsemen or cowboys), these talented musicians harmonize, laugh melodically and warble their voices in beautiful lamentation. Guitar and trumpet are prominent features of the music, and the bands can be found in restaurants, plazas, parties and even on riverboats. Listen closely and you’ll likely catch the patriotic song ‘Cielito Lindo’, with the recognizable chorus “Ay, ay, ay, ay, canta y no llores” (“sing and don’t cry”) while listeners sway in the audience – or on your screen.
The world can’t say thank you enough to Mexico for this amazing and versatile food. While it’s true that most Mexican cuisine is full of spice and flavorful peppers (and the list of star dishes continues with burritos, enchiladas, nachos, mole, etc.), tacos probably take the crown of popularity, both in and out of the country. In addition to traditional tacos such as tinga, carnitas and al pastor, we now also have Korean tacos, Indian tacos, vegan tacos and more. Whether making your own at home, taking an online cooking class or ordering takeout, Mexico has shown us that almost anything can go in a corn tortilla, especially when topped with lime, cilantro and hot sauce.
If you don’t drink alcohol, horchata might become your best friend. Made of sweetened rice water with cinnamon, this creamy but thin liquid is surprisingly refreshing and particularly addicting. It pairs well with most any food or can be guzzled on its own, so try adding some to your order if possible. And if you do imbibe, you’ve probably already heard of tequila, though you may be less familiar with the term pulque. Pulque is the general word for any drink distilled from the sap of agave cactus and includes tequila and other mezcals. Indigenous peoples have been distilling and drinking pulque for at least two millennia, so you can thank Mesoamerica for those wild nights out – or any wild night inside your apartment with fellow quarantine mates.
It seems that autumn is a time when many countries contemplate the nuances of death, and – similarly to Halloween – Mexico’s fall celebration unabashedly embraces the afterlife. Every November 1st and 2nd, the spectacularly visual Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations involve painting skulls on faces and making offerings to the dead at altars built on graves of loved ones. The festivities are full of candles, flowers, bright colors, skeletons, bread and lots of food. Becoming more well known in media, partly thanks to movies like Coco, this ritual is distinct to Mexico and an experience to partake in if you ever get the chance. Till then, try making your own pan de muerto, learn how to paint some calavera makeup on your face, have a spooky night in with the movie and say thanks to your ancestors afterward.
Translating to “freestyle fighting,” this sport is a wrestling match done in colorful Mexican style. You may have seen the masks of lucha libre before, which are made intentionally garish to intimidate the opponent and are intended to keep the identity of the luchador secret, even in public after matches are over, superhero-style. Many fighters have spandex and capes, too. And each show pits a good guy against a bad guy. With roots tracing back to 1863, the event is almost more of a spectacle, with impressive and stylized aerial demonstrations, and there are categories for men, women, the LBGTQ community and little people, many of which you can find on Youtube and elsewhere.