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The Southern Indigenous State

Written in part using materials from other sources.

Oaxaca state is in southern Mexico. Oaxaca has the largest indigenous population in the country. It is also one of the largest and poorest states in the nation. The state borders the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Tehuantepec along its southern boundary, and the states of Chiapas to the east, Veracruz to the north, and Guerrero and Puebla to the west.

Oaxaca accounts for nearly 5 percent of Mexico's territory and has more municipalities than any other state in the republic. The eastern part of the state encompasses about half of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a narrow neck of land that connects central Mexico with the Yucatn Peninsula and Central America. Much of the state is covered by mountainous terrain-including the Sierra de Oaxaca and the Sierra Madre del Sur ranges-and is characterized by moderate temperatures and a mild climate. The mountains drop down to hot and arid lowlands on the isthmus, and hot and humid lowlands on the northern side of the state, bordering the Atlantic state of Veracruz. The country's only tropical national park, Lagunas de Chacahua, is located along the Pacific Ocean in the southwestern corner of the state. Benito Jurez National Park, named for revered 19th-century Mexican president Benito Pablo Jurez, is on a hill overlooking the city of Oaxaca. The state covers an area of 95,364 sq km (36,820 sq mi).

Indigenous people make up more than one-third of Oaxaca's population. The two most prominent groups, the Zapotecs and the Mixtecs, are descendants of major Mesoamerican civilizations. The capital city, also named Oaxaca, is an important cultural and economic center in southern Mexico. The city's cathedral, state museum, and public university are prominent cultural attractions. The capital has important representative examples of ornate religious art from the colonial period. Other important cities include Juchitn de Zaragoza, a farming and ranching center in the Pacific lowlands of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec; and Santo Domingo Tehuantepec, a commercial and tourist center 25 km (16 mi) west of Juchitn de Zaragoza. The state is also home to a number of important archeological sites. These include spectacular Monte Albn, the ruined center of Zapotec civilization located on several hilltops just west of the city of Oaxaca, and Mitla, the remains of a prominent Zapotec religious center40 km (25 mi) southeast of Oaxaca. The state's estimated population in 1995 was 3,224,270.

Zapotec culture reached its height in the Oaxaca region from the 3rd through the 10th centuries, while Mixtec culture was most prominent from about AD 1000 until the Spanish conquest in 1521. During Mexico's struggle for independence in the early 1800s, a Catholic priest and independence movement leader, Jos Mara Morelos y Pavn, briefly ruled from Oaxaca. The region became a state in 1824. Oaxaca also produced two of the most prominent leaders in Mexican history: Benito Jurez and Porfirio Daz. Jurez was the nation's first and only Native American president and served two terms in the 1860s and 1870s. He led the nation's liberal reform movement, which sought to weaken the power of the Catholic Church and the military, and attempted to protect freedom of religion, speech, and the press. Daz was a key general in battles to end the French occupation of Mexico during the 1860s. He led a revolt against the Mexican government in 1876 and convened elections in 1877 in which he won the presidency. Daz stepped down in 1880 and was then reelected in 1884. Back in office, he helped amend the constitution so that he could serve successive terms and remained in power until 1911. His rule brought a railway to Oaxaca that connected it to Mexico City and prompted a mining and agricultural boom in the state. It also fueled the mounting political and social discontent that led to the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). After the revolution, Oaxaca received little attention from the national government, resulting in virtually no industrialization and minimal economic growth. The state benefited little from Mexico's rapid economic growth after World War II (1939-1945). By the 1980s and 1990s, Oaxaca was one of Mexico's poorest states, having some of the nation's highest rates of illiteracy, malnutrition, and infant mortality, especially among its Native American population.


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