Benito Juárez, an indigenous Zapotec and President of Mexico from 1858 to 1872. He was the first president with indigenous roots in the Americas.
The territory of modern-day Mexico was home to numerous indigenous civilizations prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores: the Olmecs, who flourished from between 1200 BC to about 400 BC in the coastal regions of the Gulf of Mexico; the Zapotecs and the Mixtecs, who held sway in the mountains of Oaxaca and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec; the Maya in the Yucatán (and into neighbouring areas of contemporary Central America); the Purepecha or Tarascan in present day Michoacán and surrounding areas, and the Aztecs, who, from their central capital at Tenochtitlan, dominated much of the centre and south of the country (and the non-Aztec inhabitants of those areas) when Hernán Cortés first landed at Veracruz.
In contrast to what was the general rule in the rest of North America, the history of the colony of New Spain was one of racial intermingling (mestizaje). Mestizos quickly came to account for a majority of the colony’s population; however, significant numbers and communities of indígenas (as the native peoples are now known) survive to the present day. The CDI identifies 62 indigenous groups in Mexico, each with a unique language.
In the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca and in the interior of the Yucatán peninsula the majority of the population is indigenous. Large indigenous minorities, including Aztecs, P’urhépechas, and Mixtecs are also present in the central regions of Mexico. In Northern Mexico indigenous people are a small minority.