Maize- Cultural Significance in Mexico

The significance of corn, called maize((Stock photo of maize courtesy of Wong Mei Teng, by Mexicans, dates back to prehispanic Mexico. At that time, maize was revered as “what the gods had chosen to create to feed mankind ((Petrich, P. (1987). Of maize and meat; culinary traditions and cultural identity in Mexico and Argentina. UNESCO Courier, May, 1987.)). Maize was grown almost exclusively for personal consumption, as it would have been considered almost sacrilegious to make a profit from its sale.

Even today, as attitudes toward maize are not quite so extreme, maize still plays an important role in Mexican culture. Farming maize has been for so long an activity so deeply woven into the lives of many Mexicans, that many still try to keep the tradition alive. This is particularly true for indigenous people, among many of whom “there is [still] a general feeling that maize is the only [truly] nourishing food” ((IBID)). Even as various political and economic issues (particularly NAFTA) have made it difficult for small farmers to be able to sell maize for profit ((Appendini, K. (2008). Tracing the maize-tortilla chain. UN Chronicle, June, 2008.)), it is still widely grown for personal consumption. One reason for this is that Mexicans consider the commercially available corn, yellow maize, to be “inferior in quality to white and native maize” ((IBID)).

However, even with this consideration, maize and tortilla production as we know it in Mexico today is being threatened.”Forces that prompt the peasant to till the land are changing, as youth, no longer interested in farming, have migrated” ((IBID)). With this, the quality and diversity of maize in Mexico will suffer. Moreover, the important cultural associations between maize and the Mexican people are being torn apart.

Click on the picture below to learn how to make corn tortillas((Stock photo of tortillas courtesy of Beata Swi,

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