New Mexico is a state in the southwestern region of the United States of America. It was admitted to the Union as the 47th state on January 6, 1912. It is usually considered one of the Mountain States. New Mexico is fifth largest by area, the 36th-most populous, and the sixth-least densely populated of the 50 United States.
Contrary to popular belief, the present-day state of New Mexico was not named for the present-day nation of Mexico.
New Mexico, or Nuevo México in Spanish, was named by the conquistadors long before the present-day nation of Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821. Spanish explorers recorded this region as New Mexico in 1563, and again in 1581, hoping to find there wealthy Mexican Indian cultures similar to those of the Aztec (Mexica) Empire of the Valley of Mexico. The indigenous cultures of New Mexico, however, proved to be unrelated to the Aztecs and were not wealthy. Before statehood, the name "New Mexico" was applied to various configurations of the U.S. Territory, to a Mexican state, and to a province of New Spain, all in the same general area but of varying extensions.
Inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years before European exploration, Nuevo México was colonized by the Spanish in 1598 as part of the Imperial Spanish viceroyalty of New Spain. Later, it was part of independent Mexico for a short period before becoming a U.S. territory and eventually a U.S. state as a result of the Mexican–American War. Among U.S. states, New Mexico has the highest percentage of Hispanics, including mostly descendants of the original Spanish colonists who have lived in the area for more than 400 years beginning in 1598. It has the second-highest percentage of Native Americans as a proportion of the population after Alaska, and the fourth-highest number of Native Americans after California, Oklahoma, and Arizona. The major Native American nations in the state are Navajo, Pueblo, and Apache peoples. The state's demography and culture are shaped by these strong Hispanic and Native American influences and expressed in the state flag. Its scarlet and gold colors come from the royal standards of Spain, along with the ancient sun symbol of the Zia, a Pueblo-related tribe.