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The Changing Face of Mexico

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

Aztecs n.
The Aztecs, or Mexica, were a powerful empire in central Mexico. [more]
banda n.
Northern-style Mexican "country music," now popular throughout North America. [more]
Bracero Program n.
A program during World War II that brought Mexican workers to the United states. [more]
calavera n.
The skeleton or skull, artistically rendered as an icon in Mexican art, especially the folk traditions of the Days of the Dead. [more]
Carranza, Venustiano n.
Leader of the conservative faction or Constitutionalists during the Mexican Revolution. [more]
cathedral n.
A church that contains the seat of a bishop. [more]
Cárdenas, Lázaro n.
President of Mexico from 1934 to 1940. [more]
cempasuchil n.
A gorgeous yellow marigold associated with the Day of the Dead ceremony. (Nahuatl word; pronounced sem-pah-soo-cheel)
cenote n.
A limestone sinkhole containing water. [more]
Chichén Itzá n.
Maya city in the Yucatán, founded 432 A.D. [more]
chichihuacuauhco n.
The Aztecs believed that children who died in childbirth or before their naming ceremony went to an afterlife in which they were fed milk from the “wet-nurse tree,” or chichihuacuauhco. (Nahuatl word; pronounced hee-chee-wok-oo-ow-koh) [more]
Cinco de Mayo n.
Mexican national holiday commemorating the defeat of an invading French army. [more]
codex n.
The ancient painted books of the pre-contact Indian civilizations. In the case of the Maya, very few of these books survived the conquest and colonial period.
Conquest n.
"The Conquest" refers to the conquest of Mexico by the Spanish army led by Hernán Cortés in the early sixteenth century. [more]
conquistadores n.
The Spanish name of the numerous European soldiers-of-fortune and captains in the employ of the Spanish crown. Later, they were rewarded with large land-grants, and a workforce of Indians obliged to work for them.
corridos n.
Traditional Mexican folk-songs, based on the Spanish décima verse and guitar. [more]
Cortés, Hernán n.
The sixteenth-century conqueror of Mexico. [more]
Criollo n.
A person of Spanish ancestry born in Mexico. [more]
Cuauhtémoc n.
“Eagle that descends,” last king of the Aztecs. [more]
Día de los Muertos n.
The Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday held November 1 and 2. [more]
Díaz, Porfirio n.
Ruler of Mexico from 1876 to 1910. [more]
flag of Mexico n.
La Bandera Mexicana consists of three vertical bands of green, white and red representing the three guarantees of Iguala: Independence from Spain, the Unity of the nation, and Religion. [more]
Fuentes, Carlos n.
Leading novelist of Mexico and former ambassador to France. [more]
futból n.
Soccer, or English football. [more]
Hidalgo, Miguel n.
Hidalgo (1753-1811), a criollo priest, raised the standard of revolt against Spanish control in 1810. After issuing the Grito de Dolores, he led a large peasant army on Mexico City, but was captured and executed in 1811.
Huichol n.
An indigenous ethnic group in Mexico’s arid states of Nayarit, Durango, and Zacatecas. Known for their ritual visions and incredible artwork. They make “paintings” by pressing brightly colored yarn into wax covered boards, and are renowned for their beadwork.
Huitzilopochtli n.
A fierce Aztec war god. His name means "hummingbird on the left." (Nahuatl word, pronounced wee-tzeel-oh-pok-tlee) [more]
Iberia n.
Europe's southwestern peninsula, including the nations of Spain and Portugal. [more]
Inés de la Cruz, Sor Juana n.
Poet and writer (1651–1695), considered the greatest literary figure of the age in which she lived and of Baroque Mexico. [more]
indígena n.
The indigenous people of Mexico, often called Indians or Native Americans. [more]
Independence Day (Mexico) n.
September 16, the anniversary of the day the Grito de Dolores was issued and the war for independence from Spain was inaugurated. [more]
Iturbide, Agustín de n.
Criollo royalist general who proclaimed himself emperor of Mexico in 1822. [more]
Juárez, Benito n.
Nineteenth-century president of Mexico and architect of the 1857 Liberal Constitution. [more]
Kahlo, Frida n.
Mexico’s most famous painter, a surrealist renowned for her self-portraits. [more]
La Malinche n.
A Nahua slave who became the interpreter, intelligence chief, and mistress of Cortés. [more]
La Raza n.
Term used by Mexicans to distinguish themselves from other Hispanic groups. [more]
Maximiliano I and Carlota n.
Emperor and empress of Mexico crowned by the invading French army in 1864 and deposed in 1867. [more]
Maya n.
A large ethno-linguistic group in southern Mexico and Central America whose ancestors ruled much of that region in the first millenium A.D. [more]
mestizo adj.
Referring to a person of mixed descent. [more]
Mexican Revolution n.
Social and political revolution in Mexico, fought between 1911 and the 1920s. [more]
Mexican-American War n.
War between the United States and Mexico (1846–1848) that resulted in Mexico losing nearly half its national territory. [more]
Mexico City n.
Capital city of Mexico; the largest city in the world. [more]
Mictlan n.
The Aztec underworld, where the bulk of people were thought to arrive after a passage through nine-levels. The realm of a male and female death god, Mictlantecuhtli and Mictlancihuatl. (Nahuatl word; pronounced meek-tlan) [more]
Moctezuma II n.
Aztec ruler at the time of the Spanish conquest. [more]
Monsiváis, Carlos n.
Mexican writer, critic, journalist, and analyst. [more]
Morelos, José María n.
A mestizo parish priest who became the leader of the Mexican Independence forces after Hidalgo’s execution. [more]
Nahuatl n.
The indigenous language of the valley of Mexico including the Aztecs, and still widely spoken in the mountains and towns of Central Mexico. Part of the larger Uto-Aztecan language family.
New World food crops n.
Imagine a world without chocolate or vanilla, Italian food without tomatoes, Ireland without the potato, Hungary without paprika, and the world’s cuisines with no corn, peanuts, chile peppers, true beans, avocados, squash, and a host of fruits including pineapple, and much more. [more]
North American Free Trade Agreement n.
Treaty that went into effect in 1994 and creates an economic bloc between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. [more]
ofrenda n.
The altar constructed in Mexican homes during the Days of the Dead. [more]
pan de muerto n.
Bread traditionally prepared in Mexico for the Days of the Dead. [more]
pavo n.
A turkey. [more]
Paz, Octavio n.
The first Mexican author and intellectual honored with a Nobel Prize. [more]
peninsular n.
In colonial times, a Spaniard born in Spain itself. Peninsulares had access to higher position than anyone born in the Americas.
pok-a-tok n.
A ritual ball game of the Maya, versions of which are found throughout Mesoamerica. [more]
Posada, José Guadalupe n.
The best-known print and engraving artist in Mexico. [more]
Quetzalcoatl n.
The plumed serpent god of the Toltecs and Aztecs, called Kukulkán by the Maya. (Nahuatl word; pronounced keh-tzal-koh-ahtel) [more]
Quinceañera n.
In Mexico, a young woman’s fifteenth birthday, and a major event for her and her family signifying her coming of age.
Rivera, Diego n.
Mexican painter and muralist known for his bold sense of aesthetics and the political messages in his work. [more]
Santa Ana, General Antonio López de n.
Mexican general during the Mexican-American War and President of Mexico during the nineteenth century. [more]
Tarahumaras n.
An Indian ethnic group in Northern Mexico, concentrated in the states of Sinaloa and Chihuahua.
Tenochtitlán n.
The Aztec capital at the time of the Spanish conquest. (Nahuatl word; pronounced Ten-ohk-teet-LAN) [more]
Tlaloc n.
The Aztec rain god. (Nahuatl word; prounounced Tlah-lok) [more]
Tlatelolco n.
A district of Tenochtitlan and home of the Plaza de Tres Culturas (Plaza of Three Cultures). (Nahuatl word; pronounced Tlah-teh-lohl-koh) [more]
Villa, Pancho n.
Leader of the Mexican Revolution in the North and of the only invasion of U.S. territory in the twentieth century. [more]
Virgen de Guadalupe n.
Mexico’s patron saint and a central nationalist and religious icon. [more]
Yaquis n.
An Indian group from the deserts of Northern Sonora, the Yaqui resisted government authority in much the same way as the Apaches. Many of them were enslaved during the time of Porfirio Díaz, and forced to work on henequén plantations in the Yucatán.
Yucatán n.
A peninsula jutting out into the Caribbean sea; the southernmost region of Mexico along with Chiapas. [more]
Zapata, Emiliano n.
The most famous figure of the Mexican Revolution, its conscience and icon. [more]
Zapatistas n.
Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), which launched an uprising in Mexico in 1994. [more]
Zócalo n.
Most Mexican cities have a central plaza flanked by the church and government buildings. Variously named, the plaza is usually referred to as the “zócalo.” The most famous is the huge zócalo in Mexico City, which sits exactly over the main plaza of Tenochtitlan. (Hispanicized Nahuatl word; pronounced SOH-kah-loh)