woman in traditional dress in oaxaca mexico

15 Famous People From Oaxaca Mexico [Updated 2022]


Want to discover some Famous People From Oaxaca?

Oaxaca is known for its beautiful capital city (Oaxaca City), UNESCO world heritage sites, gorgeous beaches, ancient pre-hispanic ruins, epic surf towns, stunning natural landscapes, and some of the best food in Mexico.

However, Oaxaca also has quite a few famous people and celebrities, including ex-presidents, writers and actors. In this article, you’ll discover the most famous people from Oaxaca Mexico, and a bit about what makes them unique.

Famous People From Oaxaca Mexico

1. Benito Juarez: Former Mexican President

painting of Benito Juarez, former Mexican president and one of the most famous people from oaxaca mexico
A portrait of Benito Juárez that hangs in the Palacio Nacional (National Palace) in Downtown Mexico City. (Photo: J Mndz, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Benito Juarez: Early Life

Benito Pablo Juárez García was born on March 21, 1806 in the town of San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca. He came from a poor, rural family with Zapotec origins and was orphaned as a young child.

Taken in by his uncle, he left his hometown in his early teens to move in with his sister. At the time, she was living in Oaxaca City.

Juárez originally wanted to join the priesthood but decided to study law and science at the Oaxaca Institute of Arts and Science. 🎓 Fun Fact: This university was later renamed Benito Juárez Autonomous University of Oaxaca!

After he graduated from school, politics became his whole life. He started in the municipal council, then became a judge and a governor of his state.

Revolution & the Presidency

Benito Juarez Hemicycle in Mexico City (large white marble monument)
A national hero, you’ll see monuments to Juárez all over Mexico — like the Benito Juárez Hemicycle in Mexico City.

In 1857, a civil war began between the conservatives and the liberals. Named the War of the Reform, Juárez led the liberal forces to victory.

In March 1961, elections were held, and Benito Juárez was elected president of Mexico. He was then re-elected in 1867 and 1871. At the time, he was also the first indigenous president of Mexico.

Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.

—Benito Juárez (see more famous Mexican quotes)

During this presidency, Benito Juárez dedicated himself to bringing reforms to help Mexico establish itself as a democratic federal republic.

Juárez is also remembered for his fight against foreign occupation in defense of national sovereignty, his belief in equal rights for the Mexican indigenous population, and his influence in separating Church and State through the implementation of the Reform Laws of 1859.

Juárez died in November of 1872. His impact was so influential that the city of Oaxaca later added de Juárez (of Juárez) to the end of the name, transforming itself into Oaxaca de Juárez in honor of Benito Juárez.

Famous People From Oaxaca Mexico

2. María Sabina: Poet and Shaman

black and white photo of María Sabina, mexican shaman and healer, and one of the most famous people from oaxaca mexico
María Sabina was a Mazatec curandera (shaman) and poet from Huautla, Oaxaca. (Photo: Juan Carlos Rangel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

María Sabina Magdalena García was a shaman, curandera (medicine woman) and Maztec sabia (one who knows all).

She lived in Huautla de Jiménez, a town in the Sierra Mazateca area. This is one of the Oaxaca pueblos mágicos, which means “magic towns.”

🍄 Priestess of Mushrooms

She was known as the Priestess of the Mushrooms, as she used hallucinogenic mushrooms in her veladas (rituals). Used for thousands of years, the psilocybin mushroom creates a connection with the spirit world.

She is also known as the shaman who introduced psychedelic mushrooms to western civilization, solidifying her spot as one of the most famous people from Oaxaca.

María Sabina is not only a sacred figure in the pueblo of Huautla de Jiménez, Oaxaca, but she’s also considered one of the best Mexican poets.

Famous People From Oaxaca Mexico

3. Porfirio Diaz: Former Mexican President

porfirio diaz, former mexican president, in military dress uniform
Former Mexican president Porfírio Díaz in military dress. (Photo: Unidentified photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Mexican President (1877-1880 & 1884-1911)

Born in 1830 in Oaxaca, José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori​ (usually just called Porfírio Díaz) was a soldier and statesman. He became president of Mexico from 1877-1880, and again from 1884-1911.

During his military career, Díaz fought in three different wars, including the War of the Reform, where he supported the liberal cause of Benito Juárez.

However, after Benito Juárez was reelected in 1871, Díaz led a revolution in protest of what he deemed an unconstitutional election, demanding that presidents should only serve one term.

The rebellion was unsuccessful, and Juárez died in 1872. However, Díaz revolted again in 1876 against the next president, Lerdo de Tejada, calling for no re-elections. Díaz took formal control of the presidency in 1877.

One of his first acts as president was to amend the liberal constitution to prevent re-election, something he would later go against. 

After he stepped down in 1880, Díaz hand-picked his successor, General Manuel González. However, he grew unhappy with the general, ran for presidency again in 1884, and won. He would continue as president of Mexico until 1911.

The Porfiriato Years

Díaz’s prolonged control over Mexico eventually earned him the title of dictator. 

His rule is known as the Porfiriato, and he ruled with an iron first. During his presidency, he abandoned liberalism and searched for foreigners who wanted better access to investment opportunities in Mexico.

What ensued was an influx of foreigners that dug mines, built railroads and constructed bridges — but it all came at a cost.

The money wasn’t distributed properly, and the average person paid the price, while the rich got richer. By 1910, the economy and a large proportion of the Mexican population was suffering.

Exile & Death

During the 1910 election, Díaz named himself the victor. This led to outcries of electoral fraud and widespread anger, ultimately lighting the match for the Mexican Revolution.

Díaz was forced to resign in 1911, and he was exiled. He later died in Paris.

Díaz is undoubtedly one of the most famous people from Oaxaca — but not in a good way. To this day, he remains one of Mexico’s most despised political figures, and for many, the most hated Mexican president of all time.

Famous People From Oaxaca Mexico

4. Lila Downs: Singer

mexican singer lila downs at a concert
Lila Downs performing at Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. (Photo: Jennifer Pochat, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Born in 1968 in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, Ana Lila Downs Sánchez is a Mexican singer, songwriter and actress. Professionally, she goes by Lila Downs.

Downs is of Mixtec origins; she is the daughter of a Mixtec mother and an American-Scottish father.

During her career, she has recorded nine studio albums and won multiple awards — including a Grammy Awards and five Latin Grammy Awards. Some of her biggest hits are “Cariñito” and “La Cumbia del Mole.”

🎶 Want to hear music by some other famous singers from Oaxaca? There’s Susana Harp, Nadia Yvonne Lopez Ayuso, Ana Diaz and Alejandra Robles.

Famous People From Oaxaca Mexico

5. Rufino Tamayo: Painter

black and white photo of Rufino Tamayo, mexican painter, playing the guitar
Rufino Tamayo was not only one of the best Mexican artists, but also a musician as well. (Photo: Steve Eifert on en.wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Rufino Tamayo: Early Life

Rufino Tamayo was born on August 26, 1988 in Oaxaca. Orphaned at a young age, he moved to Mexico City to live with his aunt.

In 1915, he started drawing lessons because he had a clear talent for art. Tamayo eventually left school in 1917, and devoted himself entirely to perfecting his craft.

In 1921, he became the head of the Department of Ethnographic Drawing at the Museo Nacional de Arqueología (National Museum of Archeology) in Mexico City. This would heavily influence his late art.

🎨 Rufino Tamayo: The Artist

colorful painting by Mexican artist Rufio Tamayo called Dualidad (Duality)
Dualidad (Duality) by Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo. (Photo: Nicolás Boullosa from Fontainebleau, France, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Tamayo, also known as the “International Mexican,” is one of the more famous people from Oaxaca. He is best known for combining modern European painting styles with Mexican folk themes and pre-columbian ceramics.

His specialty was large-scale murals, and he favored the use of vivid colors in his pieces. Tamayo also created a technique called Mixografia, which combines prints with 3D textures.

Rufino Tamayo died in Mexico City in 1991.

Today, his art can be seen in museums worldwide, and he’s considered one of the best Mexican artists of the 20th Century. His namesake Tamayo Contemporary Art Museum is among the best museums in Mexico City.

Famous People From Oaxaca Mexico

6. José Vasconcelos: Writer

black and white photo of jose vasconcelos, mexican author
José Vasconcelos Calderón: Mexican writer, philosopher and politician. (Photo: Harris & Ewing, Photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Born in 1882, José Vasconcelos was an educator, politician, writer, and philosopher. He was also known as a pioneer of education. He is referred to as the father of Indigenismo philosophy.

One of the reasons he’s considered among the most famous people from Oaxaca is due to La raza cosmica (The Cosmic Race), published in 1925. This is one of the most important Mexican books of all time.

In La raza cosmica, Vasconcelos explains the ideology of a future fifth race.

He writes that a mixing of races will give way to a new civilization called the Universópolis. In this fifth race civilization, traditional ideas of nationality and race wouldn’t be as important as common human destiny.

Today, his raza cosmica ideology has been contemporized and used in Chicano and Mexican-American Reconquista (Reconquest) movements since the 1970s.

Famous People From Oaxaca Mexico

7. Yalitza Aparicio Martínez: Actress

mexican actress Yalitza Aparicio Martínez, one of the most famous people from oaxaca mexico
Yalitza Aparicio Martínez doing press for the Alfonso Cuarón film, Roma. (Photo: Milton Martínez, Secretaría de Cultura de la Ciudad de México, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Born on December 11, 1993 in Tlaxiaco, Yalitza Aparicio Martínez is a Mixtec actress. Martínez made her acting debut in the 2018 film Roma, and she was nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards.

In 2019, Time Magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world. She is also a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for indigenous peoples.

Famous People From Oaxaca Mexico

8. Manuel Jimenez: Creator of Oaxaca Alebrijes

oaxaca arrtist miguel jimenez holding an alebrije
Manuel Jimenez with one of his alebrijes in Arrazola, Oaxaca. (Photo: Friends of Oaxacan Folk Art, CC BY-SA 3.0, via WikiMedia Commons)

Manuel Jiménez Ramírez was born in the pueblo of San Antonio Arrazola, Oaxaca. This small town is located six miles (10 m) from Oaxaca City, in central Oaxaca state.

A Mexican woodcarver, sculptor and painter, he is credited with the invention of the Oaxacan alebrijes we know today. However, he didn’t invent Mexican alebrijes, that was Pedro Linares — but he did adapt them.

Father of Oaxacan Alebrijes

Originally, Mexican alebrijes were made with papier-mâché (paper mache). Jiménez decided to use wood from the copal tree to create these whimsical creatures, as wood art was common in central Oaxaca.

Alebrijes are Mexican folk art sculptures depicting different types of animals, both mythical and real. They are often painted in bright colors and have intricately beautiful designs.

These wooden alebrijes have become a popular Mexican souvenir, made by several artists in and around Oaxaca. You can buy them in Oaxaca directly from the artisans, in stores worldwide, and of course, on Amazon.

Famous People From Oaxaca Mexico

9. Lupita Tovar: Actress

black and white photo of Lupita Tovar, mexican author and one of the most famous people from oaxaca mexico
Lupita Tovar was one of the first Mexican actresses to work in Hollywood. (Photo: Alexander Kahle, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Guadalupe Natalia Tovar, known professionally as Lupita Tovar, was born in the town of Matías Romero, Oaxaca, in 1910. She spent her younger years living through the Mexican Revolution.

In 1919, her family moved to Mexico City, where an American filmmaker discovered her.

In 1926, Lupita participated in a contest run by the Fox Film Corporation. Fox was looking for Latin stars, and the contest winners were offered a contract with Fox Studios.

Lupita won the contest in Mexico, and moved to Hollywood in November 1928.

During her career, Lupita starred in many Spanish adaptations of popularized films, including the Spanish-language version of Dracula. She also starred in the 1932 film Santa, one of the first Mexican films with sound.

Tovar was in more than 30 films in Mexico and the United States, starring alongside names like Henry Fonda. Lupita died in 2016 at the age of 106.

Famous People From Oaxaca Mexico

10. Patricia Reyes Spíndola: Actress

mexican actress patricia reyes spindola at a premier
Mexican actress Patricia Reyes Spíndola. (Photo: Antonio Nava, Secretaria de Cultura, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Born on July 11, 1953, Patricia Reyes Spíndola is a Mexican actress, director, and producer. In 1972, Spíndola made her movie debut in the Mexican film, El señor de Osanto.

Since then, she has acted in several Mexican telenovelas and some popular American movies and television shows, including the movie Frida and the popular television show Fear the Walking Dead.

With a career that has spanned more than four decades, Spíndola has also won several awards, including four Ariel Awards.

Famous People From Oaxaca Mexico

11. Tadeo Ferra: TikTok Star

@tadeoferra Ese anda de chismoso #tadeoferra ♬ sonido original – ⭐️🌸🍰Lenita🍒🌸⭐️

Tadeo Ferra is a TikTok star with more than five million followers — and counting! Tadeo is the youngest person on this list of most famous people from Oaxaca.

He often posts comedic videos about daily life. Fans can find him on TikTok, as well as on Instagram and Youtube.

🤳 Want to follow other TikTokers from Oaxaca? Check out Dabiez and Miguel Aquino.

Famous People From Oaxaca Mexico

12. Xabiani Ponce de Leon: Actor

mexican actor Xabiani Ponce de Leon sitting in a park and playing the guitar
Mexican actor Xabiani Ponce de León. (Photo: Instagram)

Born November 6, 1993 in Oaxaca City, Xabiani Ponce de León is a Mexican actor and singer.

He is known for his roles as Omar in the reality series Bienvenida; Marco Tavelli in Violetta, a Disney Channel Latin America series; and Carlos in the Mexican film, This is Not Berlin.

🎥 Want to discover a few more famous actors from Oaxaca? There’s Teresa Ruiz López, Miguel Ángel Fuentes, Mónica Del Carmen, Mayra Sérbulo, Manuel “Flaco” Ibáñez, Aurora Clavel, Claudia Martín and Martin Barba.

Famous People From Oaxaca Mexico

13. Macedonio Alcala: Composer

black and white photo of Macedonio Alcala, mexican composer and one of the most famous people from oaxaca mexico
Macedonio Alcalá is one of the most famous Mexican musicians in the country’s history. (Photo: Unknown, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Macedonio Alcalá Prieto, born in the City of Oaxaca in 1831, was a violinist, songwriter, and pianist. He is most remembered for his waltz, Dios Nunca Muere (God Never Dies).

Although the reasons for why he wrote the waltz in the first place are still debated. However, the waltz is seen as the de facto anthem of the state of Oaxaca. when played, locals will stand in reverence of Macedonio Alcalá.

Famous People From Oaxaca Mexico

14. Vinny Castilla: Major League Baseball Player

mexican baseball player Vinny Castilla in baseball uniform
Vinny Castilla is one of the most famous athletes from Oaxaca Mexico. (Photo: Instagram)

Vinicio “Vinny” Castilla Soria, born in Oaxaca on July 4, 1967, is a former Major League Baseball third baseman.

During his career, he has played with the Colorado Rockies, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Houston Astros, Washington Nationals and San Diego Padres.

He was inducted into the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.

⚾️ ⚽️ other famous athletes from Oaxaca

There’s Geronimo Gil, another famous baseball player, Javier “Pito Chico” Aquino, Elio Castro and Ricardo Osorio, three famous soccer players from Oaxaca, and Espectrito, a famous luchador, or Lucha Libre wrestler.

Famous People From Oaxaca Mexico

15. Francisco Toledo: Zapotec Painter

black and white photo of Francisco Toledo, mexican artist and one of the most famous people from oaxaca mexico
Zapotec artist Francisco Toledo. (Photo: Right Livelihood via Wikimedia Commons)

Francisco Toledo was born in 1940 in the town of Juchitán. The son of a shoemaker, Francisco’s family was Zapotec, a pre-Hispanic culture that heavily influenced his artistic work.

Toledo is known as El Maestro (The Teacher). He was a painter, sculptor, and graphic artist whose career spanned several decades and produced thousands of works of art.

However, he is one of the most famous Oaxaca people because he was more than just an artist. Toledo was also an activist, philanthropist, and champion for the arts.

He founded artist and cultural institutions, created children’s libraries in indigenous communities, and even protested McDonald’s expansion into Mexico. Today, he is seen as one of the most important Mexican artists.

People From Oaxaca Mexico: Frequently Asked Questions

oaxaca festival

What do you call a person from Oaxaca?

A person from Oaxaca can be called a Oaxacan (pronounced wa-ha-ken) or Oaxaqueño (pronounced wa-ha-ken-yo).

How many ethnicities are in Oaxaca?

Oaxaca is home to about 19 ethnic groups, making it one of the most ethnically diverse Mexico states. It is often called one of the most culturally-rich states in Mexico.

Is Oaxaca a Mayan or Aztec?

Aztec — The first Aztecs arrived in the region of Oaxaca in 1250, and started to expand their influence in the area beginning in the 15th Century.

In 1486, the Aztecs erected a fort on the hill, which is now called El Fortín. The fort overlooks the present city of Oaxaca, and can still be visited today. 

Are Mixtec and Zapotec the same?

Before the Aztecs, there were the Mixtecs (pronounced meesh-tecks) and Zapotecs. The Mixtec and Zapotec people were different ethnic groups who inhabited Oaxaca for varying periods.

Archeological evidence shows that the Zapotecs were one of the earliest ethnic groups present in the region.

two women in traditional dress in oaxaca city, mexico
(Photo: Marisol Benitez via Unsplash)

Why is Oaxaca so diverse?

One of the reasons for Oaxaca’s cultural and ethnic diversity is the varied terrain — which includes mountains, valleys, deserts, forests and the many beaches of Oaxaca.

This has allowed many indigenous groups to live out their lives in isolation, cut off from Mexican society. 

What language do Oaxacans speak?

Mexico Fun Fact: There’s no official language of Mexico, as there are 68 languages spoken in the country. (Note: Some sources say there are 67 languages in Mexico, and some say there are 69 languages in Mexico.)

However, the most-used and main language in Mexico and Oaxaca is Spanish. There are many languages spoken throughout the state because there are so many different indigenous communities.

Some Oaxaca languages include Zapotec, Mixtec, Mazatec, Chinantec and Mixé.

Final Thoughts: Famous People From Oaxaca Mexico

We’ve reached the end of the list of famous Oaxaca people — but it’s by no means exhaustive! If this list wasn’t enough, here are a few more famous people from Oaxaca that you might find interesting:

Businessman Alfredo Harp Helú, cousin of Carlos Slim (the richest man in Mexico), Jose M. Lopez, a Mexican World War II Medal of Honor recipient, and Gabino Cué Monteagudo, Former Governor of Oaxaca.

Oaxaca Travel Planning Guide

🚑 Should I buy Mexico travel insurance for Oaxaca?

100% YES! — With basic coverage averaging just $5-10USD per day, enjoy peace of mind with a plan from World Nomads, the biggest name in travel insurance. (Read more)

💧Can you drink the water in Oaxaca?

No — You’ll want to buy a Water-To-Go Bottle, which filters your drinking water so you don’t get sick from drinking water in Mexico, and helps keep you hydrated while traveling to Oaxaca. (Read more)

🚙💨 Is it safe to rent a car in Oaxaca?

Yes — Renting a car in Oaxaca is one of the best ways to see the state. I always rent with Discover Cars, which checks both international companies and local Oaxacan companies, so you get the best rates. (Read more)

📲 Will my phone work in Oaxaca?

Maybe — It depends on your company, so check with your provider. If you don’t have free Mexico service, buy a Telcel SIM Card. As Mexico’s largest carrier, Telcel has the best coverage of any Mexico SIM Cards. (Read more)

🏩 What’s the best way to book places to stay in Oaxaca?

For Oaxaca hotels, Booking is the best site. If you’re considering a Oaxaca Airbnb, also check VRBO, which is often cheaper than Airbnb. For the best Oaxaca hostels, use HostelWorld.

🧳 What do I pack for Oaxaca? Head to the Ultimate Mexico Packing List + FREE Checklist Download to get all the info you need on packing for Mexico.

✈️ What’s the best site to buy Oaxaca flights? For finding cheap Oaxaca flights, I recommend Skyscanner.

🎫 Do I need a visa for Oaxaca?

Likely Not — U.S., Canadian and most European Passport holders don’t need a visa for Mexico; but check here to see if you do need a Mexico travel visa. The majority of travelers will receive a 180-Day FMM Tourist Visa upon arrival.