Mexico covers most of the southern area of North America. It has a long history of economic and cultural exchange with Europe and its neighbors to the north and south, and as a newly industrialized country with the world’s 11th largest GDP PPP, it is expanding its roll in international politics and trade.
Pre-Columbian Mexico was home to a large number of indigenous cultures, among them the Aztecs and the Mayans. Relics of these ancient civilizations are major tourist attractions, and include Chichén-Itzá, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The Spanish conquistadors invaded in 1519, bringing what would become the predominant cultural influence in Mexico and unifying its current territory, as well as large areas of land currently held by the United States, under the authority of the Spanish Empire. New Spain, as the country was then called, declared its independence some 300 years later as the First Mexican Empire; it soon after became a republic, and with the exception of the brief period of the Second Empire under French political dominance, has remained so ever since.
Mexico has faced considerable economic and social challenges during the twentieth century, primarily in the form of unemployment, income distribution, and obstacles to multi-party governance. However, the country has made significant progress against these in the past few decades, showing several periods of high economic growth and a steadily decreasing poverty rate. Despite severe problems from the 1970s to the 1990s, the economy has taken a sharp turn for the better. It is expected to become one of the world’s five largest economies by 2050, aided by large oil reserves, free trade with its North American neighbors, and a developing industrial infrastructure. After electoral reforms in the 1970s, the long-reigning Institutional Revolutionary Party gradually began to lose its governmental monopoly, a process which culminated with the presidential election in 2000 of opposition leader Vicente Fox; opposition parties have continued to make inroads in Mexican politics ever since.
Although Mexico is a net country of emigrants, it still possesses a large number of immigrants, most notably from the Unites States. Mexico is home to the largest number of US citizens living abroad, at approximately 1 million; these typically settle in the northern Mexican states, and are mostly religious workers, retirees hoping to enjoy the warm climate, and students seeking to explore the local culture and practice their Spanish language skills. South and Central Americans constitute significant immigrant populations as well. The country has a long-standing policy of opening its borders to Latin American and European political refugees, whose descendants have formed cultural enclaves throughout Mexico.
Mexico is the world’s most populous Spanish-speaking country. The language is used by 97% of the population, and the local dialect is significantly influenced by the Aztec language, Nahuatl. English is spoken widely in border cities. Alongside Spanish, native Amerindian tongues, spoken by 7.1% of Mexicans, are legally recognized as national languages; of these, Nahuatl and Yucatec Maya have the most speakers.