7 Famous People in Mexico’s History
Mexico is filled with stories of culture, bravery, humanity, and cruelty, all of which come together to form the tapestry that is modern Mexico. In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the key figures, both good and bad, that make Mexico what it is today.
Hernán Cortés, 1485-1547
Hernán Cortés was a Spanish Conquistador known for causing the fall of the Aztec empire. He’s credited as the leader that colonized the area we now know as Mexico.
Cortés led a Spanish expedition that conquered the native populations of the Caribbean and the Aztec Empire. Forging alliances with Aztec vassal states as he marched towards the center of the empire, Cortés easily took the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, and thus the whole of the Aztec empire.
While the local Aztecs revolted initially, Cortés took the city back and served as the first governor of Mexico.
Best known for leading the expedition that lead to a Spanish foothold in the region.
Juan de Zumarraga, 1468-1548
The first ever Catholic Bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zumarraga was known as the “protector of the indians.”
Born in Spain to a noble family, he left Spain for Mexico, or New Spain, in 1528 after being named to the bishopship. He butted heads with the audiencia, which was a court with executive functions of running mexico after Hernán Cortés left his governorship of the territory.
Zumarraga regularly preached sermons criticizing the audiencia and their treatment of native populations. This was dangerous and put his life at risk. While he took his official title of protector of the indians seriously and fought for their rights, he did believe in the encomienda, which had native people assigned to serve Spanish colonist.
Best known as Mexico’s first Bishop who had a complicated, if not progressive for the time, view of native relations.
Miguel Hidalgo, 1753-1811
Hidalgo is credited for leading the war against Spanish rule and starting the revolution.
Perhaps best known for his chant of “Viva Mexico!” to start the revolution, Miguel Hidalgo was actually a respected parish priest before gaining his revolutionary credentials. In 1810, Hidalgo went to the town of Dolores and informed his followers that he was going to take up arms and fight the Spanish for Mexican independence.
While Hidalgo was captured and executed in 1811 prior to Mexico gaining independence, his leadership allowed the revolutionary army to bring the Spanish rulers to their knees. He is today known as the father of Mexico. Mexican Independence Day, on September 16th, is often looked at as a celebration of his efforts.
Best known as the godfather of an independent and free Mexico.
Benito Juárez, 1806-1872
A true national hero, Benito Juarez was the first indigenous President in Mexican history. Juárez served as president from 1857-1872.
Born into incredible poverty with Spanish as his second language, Juárez attended seminary school before entering politics. Juárez’s first term started in 1858, but he was eventually removed as President by the French, who invaded in 1861. Juárez fought bravely against the French occupation, restoring the Mexican Republic in 1867 and returning to the presidency until his death in 1872.
While President, Juárez fought for the rights of indigenous people, reduced the Catholic church’s political influence in the country, and brought many social and political reforms.
Best known for modernizing Mexico and fighting off French occupation of Mexico.
Porfirio Diaz, 1830-1915
A war hero who cut his teeth during the French invasion of 1861, Porfirio Diaz ruled Mexico for 35 years starting in 1862.
After following the rising star of Juárez (the two men did not get along), Diaz led his army into Mexico City, taking the Presidential Palace undemocratically. While he ruled unopposed for the duration of his rule, he did modernize Mexico for the better throughout his tenure, including:
- The development of industry and commerce
- Infrastructure and railroad construction
- Joining the international community
Despite these positive developments, his 35 years of rule was possible through sham elections, despite his prior rebellions against leaders who ran multiple terms. During his time in the presidential palace, inequality was rampant and life was hard for most Mexicans.
The result of Diaz’s rule was the Mexican revolution in 1910, which led to his ouster in 1911 before his death in exile in 1915.
Best known for undemocratic rule that led to inequality and political abuses. Also helped Mexico join the modern international community.
Pancho Villa, 1878-1923
A bandito who helped topple Diaz’s rule through the Mexican Revolution. Known as a skilled horseman and fearless thug, Villa had an idealistic mentality that was inspired by Francisco I. Madero’s (the godfather of the revolution) call for a revolution in 1910.
Through the 10 years of the revolution, Villa fought a number of different people vying to rule Mexico, including:
- Porfirio Diaz, who was ruler at the time
- Victoriano Huerta
- Venustiano Carranza
- Alvaro Obregón
- American leaders
While thought to be ruthless and a skilled horseman, he fought in the revolution for nationalistic reasons. He wanted land reform and a more equal education system.
Once the revolution calmed down and order was established, Villa retired to his ranch. He was assassinated by former enemies in 1923.
Best known for helping restore Mexico and defeating Porfirio Diaz through the Mexican Revolution.
Frida Kahlo, 1907-1954
Perhaps the most well-known and revered artist in Mexican history, the painter Frida Kahlo is a Mexican treasure. Though not prolific (she only produced less than 150 works in her 47 years), her work has left a large imprint on Mexican culture.
Married to the famed (though not as influential) Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, her work often referenced their turbulent marriage. Frida also suffered an accident in her childhood that caused her pain for the rest of her life, which was also reflected in her work. Many paintings incorporated traditional Mexican imagery, using vivid colors and distinct imagery.
Frida Kahlo is best known for being Mexico’s great painter, setting the tone for the artists of modern Mexico.
Own a piece of Mexico’s artistic culture today
When you buy a piece of authentic Mexican silver jewelry from Taxco, you are not only buying a piece of jewelry to add to your collection. You are interacting with Mexican culture.