History Of The Mexican Family
The pre-Hispanic families in Mexico were Aztec. Aztec families were typically monogamous in character, except in the noble caste, where polygamy was permitted. Marriage for the Aztecs was considered a family affair. Individuals did not have any say in the selection process, and the parents would normally consult a fortuneteller, who could, based on birth dates, predict the future of the marriage. Normally, a pair of older women, called cihuatlanque, would negotiate between the families. The tradition called then for a meeting of the girl's family to assess the proposal and obtain permission of all the family members.
After this, the marriage ritual would be celebrated next to the home, with the bride and groom sitting next to each other while they received gifts. The old women would tie a knot in the shirt of the groom and the blouse of the bride. From that moment on, they were married, and their first activity would be to share a plate of tamales (corn-based food). Later, singing and dancing expressed the happiness of the moment, after which the couple would spend four days of prayer in the nuptial room. On the fifth day they would take a bath together in a temazcal (traditional bathroom), and a priest would shower them with holy water. A man would follow this ritual only with his first wife, although he could take other wives. Tradition also stressed that a woman should always worry about her appearance and that the male should be the undisputed head of the family (González Gamio 1997).
Clearly, during this period, Aztecs of high caste used polygamy to ensure a steady and growing reproductive rate. However, after the conquest, the Spanish imposed monogamy. By the middle of the eighteenth century, one-fourth of the population was mestizo (offspring of one Spanish and one indigenous parent).
The structure of the family in New Spain followed the Spanish tradition of an extended family, which assigned uncles and cousins on both sides of the family the same degree of closeness as parents and siblings. In fact, family identity prescribed, more than any other factor, the position of an individual within a social group, and family loyalty was held as the highest value of that society.
Marriage and family life were governed by the Catholic Church, which allowed individuals to choose their spouses, but required that the couple live together till death. According to the Christian faith, marriage sanctified the family, whose principal objective was to have children and care for them both morally and economically. Within the scheme that prevailed, the father had the divine right and obligation to guide his children toward Catholicism. The mother helped with this task by inculcating the values of love, honesty, and loyalty to the family. Children were expected to honor, love, obey, and respect their parents (González Gamio 1997).
Although the values, norms, and ways of the indigenous groups were never fully destroyed and have always permeated the country's culture, three centuries of Spanish colonization and the political and religious acculturation process imposed during this period carved deeply into the structure and character of the Hispanic-indigenous family (Ramos 1951).