By and large, Oaxaca is the most ethnically diverse of Mexico’s 31 states. The largest groups are Zapotec (347,000 people) and the Mixtec (241,000 people), but these Oaxaca people only make up two parts of one big complex puzzle.

With 16 different native communities formally registered as indigenous groups, about half of the Oaxaca population still speaks a native language. These indigenous groups are well defined through language and dialect, rituals, customs, cosmogony, food habits, etc. But researchers and historians suggest that this linguistic categorization is misleading largely because most Oaxaca people identify closely more with their community or their village than with their ethnolinguistic affiliation.

The roots of the the Zapotecs and the Mixtecs stretch deeply into Oaxaca’s early Mesoamerican period. They live in their fertile valleys and mountain enclaves, and a lot of the early settlers harvested beans, chocolate, corn, tomatoes, squash, chili, gourds, and pumpkin. They also got their food from the rivers with a wide range of fish.

In addition to the Zapotec and Mixtec Indians, the following indigenous groups have also lived and thrived throughout the present-day Oaxaca: Amuzgos, Chatinos, Chinantecos, Chocho, Chontales, Cuicateco, Huave, Ixcatecos, Mazatecos,  Mixes, Popoloco, Tacuates, Trique, Zoque.