Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds: Mexican Immigration and the Future of Race in Americaby Gregory Rodriguez
An unprecedented account of the long-term cultural and political influences that Mexican-Americans will have on the collective character of our nation.In considering the largest immigrant group in American history, Gregory Rodriguez examines the complexities of its heritage and of the racial and cultural synthesis--mestizaje--that has defined the Mexican people since the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. He persuasively argues that the rapidly expanding Mexican American integration into the mainstream is changing not only how Americans think about race but also how we envision our nation. Brilliantly reasoned, highly thought provoking, and as historically sound as it is anecdotally rich, Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds is a major contribution to the discussion of the cultural and political future of the United States.
The Washington Post
Despite its title, this volume from L.A. Timescolumnist Rodriguez is a thorough and accessible history of Mexico that emphasizes the legacy of mestizaje, mixed races, among Mexico's inhabitants. Beginning with Cortes's arrival in 1519, an elaborate system of racial classification was put into place to keep separate Spanish and native peoples. The failure of this system, Rodriguez argues, allowed for a more progressive and open-minded approach to race in Mexico compared with, for example, the U.S.: "In colonial New Mexico, mestizajewas the rule rather than the exception." Black/white racial lines were nonexistent, as African natives merged effortlessly into Mexican society (which abolished slavery nearly 40 years before the States). Other developments include the Mexican American War and subsequent insurgencies in the huge swath of Mexican land ceded to the U.S.; the Mexican Revolution and the immigration wave it inspired; the backlash against Mexican-Americans during the depression years; and the Chicano movement of the 1960s and '70s. There's more at stake in Rodriguez's text than the latest immigration hullabaloo (he doesn't get around to addressing the past 30 years until the last chapter); aside from illuminating a complicated history and deeply contextualizing the present debate, the author takes on the concept of racial classification itself, calling for a change in attitude that more closely reflects the Mexican unifying idea of mestizaje, that we are all, to some extent, racially mixed "mongrels." (Oct.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Chapter One: The Birth of a PeopleOn February 10, 1519, Hernán Cortés, along with a crew of roughly five hundred men and a handful of women, sailed west from Cuba to explore the Mexican mainland. Two previous Spanish expeditions had already reached the eastern coast of Mexico where they had heard stories of a wealthy Indian kingdom in the interior of the country. Hoping to discover great riches, Governor Diego Velázquez of Cuba had commissioned Cortés to explore and conquer new territories.After weathering several days on stormy seas, Cortés and his eleven-ship squadron made landfall on the island of Cozumel. There a friendly band of Mayans informed Cortés that some years before two Christians had been taken captive in the neighboring land of Yucatán. The chief of Cozumel rejected the Spanish captain’s request that he send a search party to locate the captured Europeans. He feared that, “were he to do that, his messenger would be captured and eaten.” Undeterred, Cortés dispatched his own messengers to bargain for the captives’ release. The scouts took trinkets for ransom and a letter from Cortés that one man concealed in his hair.The messengers found the two men—Jerónimo de Aguilar and Gonzalo Guerrero—living in very different conditions. The two had been the only survivors of a group of men whose boat ran aground in 1511. They had taken to the boat when their ship, which was sailing from the coast of Panamá to Santo Domingo, struck shoals on some islands near Jamaica. Their boat eventually caught a westward current that cast them ashore in Yucatán. By that time, half the men were dead.The eighteen survivors were soon captured by Mayans. Five were sacrificed, their bodies eaten in a religious ceremony. The remaining thirteen were imprisoned to be fattened up for another day. Somehow they managed to escape their captors and took refuge with another Mayan chief, Xamanzana, who enslaved them. Before long, all died except for Aguilar and Guerrero.When Cortés’s messengers found Aguilar, he was still a slave desperately trying to hold on to Spanish ways. “He concentrated his mind by counting the days but, by the time he was liberated . . . he thought that it was a Wednesday, not a Sunday.” After he “read the letter and received the ransom, he carried the beads delightedly to his master . . . and begged leave to depart. The Cacique [local chief] gave him permission to go wherever he wished.” He then set out to find Guerrero, who lived some fifteen miles away. Guerrero not only was no longer being held captive, he had married the daughter of Na Chan Can, a Mayan nobleman. Guerrero’s response to Cortés’s letter and to Aguilar’s entreaties astounded his would-be liberator. Guerrero had assimilated so thoroughly into Mayan life that he no longer felt he would be accepted by his Spanish countrymen. His face was tattooed and his ears were pierced. “What would the Spaniards say if they saw me like this?” he asked.Guerrero’s Mayan wife angrily interrupted her husband’s conversation with Aguilar. She demanded to know why “this slave” had “come here to call my husband away?” Before Aguilar left, Guerrero explained to him the primary reason he could not leave. “Brother Aguilar,” he said. “I am married and have three children, and they look at me as Cacique here, and a captain in time of war.” He then pointed to his children and said, “Ya veis estos mis tres hijitos [que bonitos] son" (“Now look at my three children, how beautiful they are!”). Guerrero was describing Mexico’s first mestizos, its first mixed Indian/European people.News of Guerrero’s refusal to join his expedition angered Cortés. Like most Spaniards of the era, the captain could not fathom why a European would choose to live the life of a pagan. According to historian Hugh Thomas, at the time of the conquest of Mexico, “The Spanish had unbounded confidence in their own qualities, in the political wisdom of their imperial mission, and in the spiritual superiority of the Catholic Church.” The recently completed reconquista, the explusion of the Muslims and Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, had forged a militant Christianity that played an integral role in Spanish expansionism in the early sixteenth century. Indeed, religious conversion served as the legal justification for Spain’s overseas adventures.But this religious motive was not mere legal window dressing. Evangelization was a vital part of the sixteenth-century Spanish worldview. According to historian Lewis Hanke, “Between the two poles—the thirst for gold and the winning of souls . . . a variety of mixed motives appeared.” Some friars were as greedy as the most rapacious conquistadors, while some conquistadors were as sincere in their efforts to Christianize the Indians as the most devout priests. However, for many Spaniards, the spiritual and material motives were inextricably intertwined. As conquistador and chronicler Bernal Díaz del Castillo put it: “We came here to serve God, and also to get rich.” The early Spanish expeditions were “missions of discovery, conquest, settlement, and conversion,” all in one.The religious imperative of the conquest of Mexico, however imperfectly and unevenly applied, led the Spaniards to engage intimately in the social, cultural, material, and spiritual lives of the Indians they encountered. After a contentious debate over the nature of the Indian, in 1537, Pope Paul III issued a bull, Sublimus Dei, which declared that “Indians are truly men” and “capable of understanding the Catholic Faith.” While this in no way meant that Indians would not suffer abuse at the hands of Spaniards, it did mean that the Spanish, the only European empire that openly debated the “purposes of their expansion,” would ultimately seek to incorporate Indians into their Christian civilization. Through the centuries, Catholics had already borrowed and absorbed a huge number of rituals and symbols from the peoples they had converted. This willingness to accept blending in the theological realm presaged a relative tolerance of racial mixing. Indeed, the large-scale mixing that would occur in Mexico over the next several centuries was due, according to historian C. E. Marshall, “in no small degree to a humanitarian spirit which found its roots in the tenets of the Catholic religion.”The instructions that Governor Velázquez had drawn up for Cortés’s expedition prohibited blasphemy, the playing of cards, and sleeping with—and even teasing—native women. But from the very first landing at Cozumel, the rules were broken. There, Cortés reprimanded his incorrigible friend Pedro de Alvarado for seizing “turkeys, men, women, and ornaments from the temple.” Hoping to avoid confrontations with the Mayans in Yucatán, Cortés directed the expedition to proceed toward the coast of the present-day Mexican state of Tabasco, where they anchored at Potonchan. It was there (probably near the present-day town of Frontera) that Cortés and his men had their first major battles with the Indians. It was also there that it became evident that the subjugation of Mexico would involve an “amorous” as well as a military conquest.After a bloody struggle with Mayan warriors in Potonchan, Cortés sent 250 men to the village of Centla to seek food. There, for the first time in the Americas, the Spaniards used horses in battle. Though outnumbered by a significant margin, the Spaniards lost not a single man in either battle, although dozens were wounded. The Indians suffered hundreds of losses. After their warriors withdrew, thirty finely dressed emissaries approached the Spaniards with “fowls, fruit, and maize cakes.” Later, the lord of Potonchan came and offered more food and gifts, including objects of turquoise and gold. According to Bernal Díaz, however, those “gifts were nothing . . . compared to the twenty women whom they gave us.” Before Cortés distributed the women among his captains, one of the two priests on the expedition, Father Bartolomé de Olmedo, baptized them. They were the first women in New Spain, the name the Spaniards would later give conquered Mexico, to become Christians.The young woman whom Cortés presented initially to his good friend Alonso Hernández Puertocarrero was christened Doña Marina. Bernal Díaz described her as “good looking, intelligent, and self-assured.” Her original name was Malinali, which was also the word for the twelfth month in the Aztec calendar. She was born on the boundary between areas controlled by the Chontal Mayans and the Aztecs, and therefore spoke both Chontal Mayan and Nahuatl, the lingua franca of the Aztec empire, which stretched from central Mexico to present-day Guatemala and from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf coast. Her father had been tlatoani—leader in Nahuatl—of Painala, a village near the present-day city of Coatzacoalcos in the state of Veracruz. Her mother ruled Xaltipan, a small village nearby. But when her father died, Marina’s mother remarried another local leader and gave birth to a son whom they chose to be their heir. Marina was then sold to some merchants from Xicallanco, a nearby port, and declared dead. Her first owners then traded her to Mayan merchants, who, in turn, sold her to the people of Potonchan.Marina’s bilingualism and her talent for languages made her in- dispensable to the Spaniards from early on. Indeed, the expedition would first encounter the Nahuatl language not far from Potonchan on the coast of Veracruz. Up to that point, Cortés had depended on Jerónimo de Aguilar, the shipwrecked man whose freedom the Spaniards had bought in Yucatán. “Aguilar, who had served the party well in Yucatan and Tabasco, was suddenly faced with an unfamiliar language. It was then that Marina was observed speaking with the most recently encountered [Indians].” Once Cortés learned of her bilingualism, he appointed her his interpreter and gave Hernández Puertocarrero another Indian woman. Marina’s knowledge of Nahautl as well as Mayan enabled her to communicate first with Nahautl speakers and translate their words into Mayan for Aguilar, who could then speak them in Spanish to Cortés. But once Marina learned enough Spanish, Cortés was able to cut out the middleman. In any case, Aguilar’s knowledge of Yucatec Mayan became less useful to Cortés as the Spaniards marched westward away from the Mayan-speaking coastal regions and toward the Nahuatl-speaking Valley of Mexico. The Indians—both the friendly and the hostile—whom the Spaniards encountered “came to think of [Marina] as Cortés’s voice; indeed, they assimilated the two persons to such an extent that they would refer to don Hernán as ‘Malinche,’ ” or master of Marina. As the Spaniards descended upon Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital, Marina became both the go-between for all crucial communications with the Indians as well as Cortés’s mistress. In 1522, she gave birth to a son, Martín, whom Cortés legitimized in 1529 through a bull issued by Pope Clement VII. Also through the efforts of his father, Martín was later made a Knight of the Order of Santiago, one of the most prestigious military orders of Spain.The Aztecs and their Nahuatl-speaking tributaries referred to Doña Marina reverentially as Malintzin, there being no distinction between r and l in Nahuatl. The -tzin was an honorific, like doña in Spanish. Oddly enough, “La Malinche” is the name by which contemporary Mexicans remember her. For three centuries, both Spanish and indigenous sources portrayed Doña Marina as a powerful woman who was afforded great respect. The sixteenth-century mestizo historian Diego Muñoz Camargo, who was a child when Marina died, described her as being as beautiful as a goddess. But in the nineteenth century, after Mexico gained its independence from Spain, new depictions “condemned her role in the Conquest” of the Aztecs and gave rise to the peculiarly Mexican concept of malinchismo, a term used to describe the “rejection and betrayal of one’s own.” But though her people spoke Nahuatl, Marina was not Aztec. Nor at the time of the conquest did indigenous people even have a word for a large-group category such as Indians. “Self-definition and differentiation between indigenous groups was primarily in terms of the altepetl, [a] type of local kingdom.” As historian Frances Karttunen explained, as a slave being traded from place to place, Doña Marina “saw her best hope of survival in Cortés and served him unwaveringly.”It is somehow fitting then that Marina became instrumental in Cortés’s strategy of leveraging indigenous resentment of imperial Tenochtitlán. In the early sixteenth century, central Mexico was “not a homogenous state, but a conglomerate of populations, defeated by the Aztecs who [occupied] the top of the pyramid.” Cortés skillfully appealed to those groups whom the Aztecs had subjugated as the lesser of two evils, “as a liberator, so to speak, who [would permit] them to throw off the yoke of a tyranny especially detestable because so close at hand.”When the Spaniards reached Cempoala, the main city of the Totonac Indians, located in the present-day state of Veracruz, they were welcomed enthusiastically. According to Bernal Díaz, “they gave us food and brought us some baskets of plums, which were very plentiful at that season, also some of their maize-cakes.” The Totonac chief, a very obese man whom Díaz simply called the “fat Cacique,” unburdened himself to Cortés and complained bitterly of “the great Montezuma and his governors, saying that the [Aztec] prince had recently brought him into subjection, had taken away all his golden jewelry, and so grievously oppressed him and his people that they could do nothing except obey him.” The Aztecs had confiscated their arms and enslaved some of their people. Of the many indignities they suffered few were more humiliating than the tax-collectors’ practice of raping their most handsome women.The Aztecs, who called themselves the Mexica, the origin of the word “Mexico,” maintained several garrisons near the Veracruz coast. Sometimes the Totonacs sent their tribute—often the cotton clothing that was popular on that coast—to the local garrisons, which then delivered it to Tenochtitlán. At other times, Totonac porters carried the goods directly to the Mexican capital. The annual burden of their tribute payments made the Totonacs predisposed to welcome the Spaniards. In fact, they were among the Aztecs’ most resentful subjects. After explorer Juan de Grijalva visited their stretch of coastline the previous year, the Totonacs were sorry to see him go. They gave Grijalva a girl “so finely dressed that, had she been in brocade, she could not have looked better.”To cement their people’s relationship with the Spaniards, the Cempoalan caciques presented Cortés with eight girls of high rank. According to Bernal Díaz, they “were dressed in the rich shirts that they wear, and finely adorned as is their custom. Each one of them had a gold collar round her neck and golden earrings in her ears, and with them came other girls to be their maids.” As the fat chief presented the girls, he said to Cortés, “ ‘Tecle’ (which in their language means lord) ‘these seven women are for your captains, and this one, who is my niece, is for you.’ ” He explained that now that they were allies, “they would like to have us for brothers and to give us their daughters to bear us children.”Though Cortés accepted the girls “with a gracious smile,” he took advantage of the moment to preach the Christian gospel and condemn the Cempoalans’ faith. He told the caciques that before he “could accept the ladies and become their brothers, they would have to abandon their idols which they mistakenly believed in and worshipped, and sacrifice no more souls to them; and that when he saw those cursed things thrown down and the sacrifices at an end, our bonds of brotherhood would be very much firmer.” The Spaniards were particularly revolted by the Indians’ practice of offering human sacrifices to their gods. Each day of the Spaniards’ visit, the Cempoalans sacrificed “three, four, or five Indians, whose hearts were offered to those idols and whose blood was plastered on the walls.”Cortés promised the caciques new provinces to control if they became Christians. When they balked at destroying their gods themselves, insisting that the very act would lead to their demise, Cortés was infuriated. The Indians wept and prayed when fifty Spanish soldiers later smashed the stone images. According to Hugh Thomas, the Totonacs were “astonished at the Castilian insistence. They were accustomed to seeing the gods of the defeated being destroyed. But victors, as they thought that they were themselves, never made such a concession.” The Spaniards then had the temple whitewashed and a cross and picture of the Virgin placed within it.Before they departed Cempoala, the Spaniards celebrated a mass at which the caciques and others were present. The eight girls that were presented to the Spaniards were baptized and given Christian names. “The fat Cacique’s niece, who was very ugly, received the name Doña Catalina and was led up to Cortés, who received her with a show of pleasure.” The daughter of a nobleman named Cuesco was given the name Doña Francisca. According to Díaz, “she was very beautiful, for an Indian, and Cortés gave her to Alonso Hernández Puertocarrero,” who was evidently pleased.Two months later, peace was achieved in the same manner with Tlaxcala, an independent Indian nation that had resisted Aztec military incursions for many years. Despite their enmity for the Aztecs, the Tlaxcalans were also suspicious of the Spaniards and were determined to halt their forward march. Amassing a large number of warriors, they attempted to envelop Cortés’s men, only to be repelled and routed. It was in Tlaxcala that the Spaniards’ remarkable military prowess against a much larger Indian force was first demonstrated.When Cortés finally entered Tlaxcala on September 18, 1519, he was warmly received. His soldiers were lodged in beautiful houses near the main temple. They, along with their Totonac and other indigenous allies, were well fed and cared for. Gracious in defeat, the Tlaxcalan chiefs “presented Cortés with more than three hundred beautiful women, good-looking and well-attired,” who had been slaves destined to be sacrificed to the gods. According to historian Diego Muñoz Camargo, after seeing “how well off [the slave girls] were among the Spaniards, the same caciques and princes gave their own daughters” to the Spaniards. They hoped that they would become pregnant so that “there would remain among them offspring of men so brave and feared.” The Tlaxcalan chief, Xicotencatl, presented his daughter Tecuelhuatzin to Cortés, saying, “ ‘She is unmarried and a virgin. Take her for yourself’—he put the girl’s hand in his—‘and give the others to your captains.’ ” But after she was baptized, Cortés gave Tecuelhuatzin, christened Doña Luisa, to his friend Pedro de Alvarado, reassuring her father that “he must be glad, since she would receive good treatment.” Just as the Spaniards gave the converted daughters of Indian noblemen the honorific of doña, the Tlaxcalans also accorded them great respect. Doña Luisa was showered with presents, and considered as powerful as a ruler. She and Alvarado would have two children, a son, Pedro, and a daughter, Leonor, who would one day marry a Spanish nobleman with whom she had several sons.The beautiful daughter of another cacique, Maxixcatzin, was christened Doña Elvira, and given to Captain Juan Velásquez de León. Captains Gonzalo de Sandoval, Cristóbal de Olid, and Alonso de Avila were also given women. “From then on, all the senior commanders seem to have had indigenous girls attached to them. . . . Within a few weeks, many ordinary soldiers seem to have found girls too.”By then, Cortés was in regular contact with the emissaries of Montezuma, the Aztec emperor. When word got back to Tenochtitlán that the Tlaxcalans were “giving their daughters to Malinche,” Montezuma knew that “this alliance could do [the Aztecs] no good.” According to anthropologist Pedro Carrasco, “the donation of women as a way of establishing and maintaining political relations was customary in ancient Mexico.” Muñoz Camargo explains that among the Indians, “the rulers took absolutely whichever woman they wanted, and they were given to them as men of power.” But clearly sexual relations between the Spaniards and the Indians were not all governed by diplomatic protocol. As historian Asunción Lavrin observed, “From voluntary offer to open demand was only a short distance,” and “The degree of abuse of such sexual contacts will remain unmeasurable.” In his chronicles of the conquest, Bernal Díaz repeatedly makes mention of soldiers looking for “spoil, especially of good looking Indian women.” On one occasion, according to Díaz, Spaniards formed “groups of fifteen or twenty and went pillaging the villages, forcing the women and taking cloth and chickens as if they were in the Moorish country to rob what they found.” For the priests on the expedition, the incidents of sexual assaults were deeply disturbing. As they attempted to preach the Christian Gospel, “they seemed unable or unwilling to control the behavior of male Spaniards for some time.”In other words, while some women were “given” to the Spaniards, others were taken by force. Still, as their march progressed—and ultimately triumphed—other indigenous women “joined the conquerors by choice.” “The process of conquest resulted in a meeting of the sexes that broke—temporarily—the established rules of personal conduct in both Spanish and indigenous societies.” The women who accompanied the Spaniards “cooked for their men, nursed their wounds, carried their belongings, and shared their beds.” According to historian R. C. Padden, “However strenuous the fighting was at times, love-making was just as intense, certainly more frequent, and of infinitely greater consequence.”From their first contact in the New World, Spaniards responded to the Indians with either “attraction or repugnance.” In general, however, they had “an agreeable impression” of their physical appearance. Columbus described the first Indians he saw as “well put-together, with beautiful bodies and faces.” In 1519, a servant on Cortés’s expedition wrote a letter home in which he mentioned the beautiful women he saw in Yucatán. Particularly if their people had surrendered to the Spaniards and agreed to become vassals of the king of Spain, “association with the conquistadores offered many advantages” to Indian women.The Tlaxcalans not only gave Cortés women but also thousands of warriors to accompany the Spaniards on their descent into Tenochtitlán. They played a crucial role in the next great battle, which took place in Cholula, the most populous indigenous center the Spaniards had yet seen. Cholula was only sixty miles from Tenochtitlán and was an ally of the Aztecs, who were plotting to trap the Spaniards. When Cortés arrived, the Cholulan caciques were reluctant to greet him. But once they did make their appearance they pledged their friendship to the Spaniards and offered tribute. This peaceful accord did not last long. Doña Marina got wind of a plot to ambush Cortés’s contingent. Thirty thousand Aztec warriors had assembled just outside the city.Outraged by their deceit, Cortés signaled for the Spaniards’ Tlaxcalan and Cempoalan allies to join the Spaniards in a horrible massacre at Cholula. Approximately six thousand Cholulans were killed in a five-hour battle and the ancient city was sacked. Days later, even as Cortés gave his now routine sermon to the Indians on the evils of pagan religion, Tlaxcalan warriors returned home with prisoners in tow, destined to be sacrificed to the gods. After the massacre, local Indians began calling the Spaniards popolucas, or barbarians.Upon hearing of the slaughter at Cholula, Montezuma “began to suffer a crisis of confidence that found expression in his fateful decision to welcome the Spaniards into Tenochtitlán.” Hoping to assuage Cortés’s anger, Montezuma sent messengers bearing “ten plates of gold, fifteen hundred cloaks of cotton, and a good deal of food.” Through his emissaries, the Aztec emperor apologized for the unsuccessful ambush and blamed it on rogue subordinates. He also pledged to provide anything Cortés desired if he would turn around and not proceed to Tenochtitlán. When Cortés replied that he could not turn back because he had promised his own king a description of the city, Montezuma invited him to an audience. Cortés’s five hundred men and thousands of Tlaxcalan warriors were allowed to march peacefully into the Aztec capital.As they descended into the Valley of Mexico, Cortés’s men were a striking spectacle for the local Indians. According to one Nahuatl source, “they came in battle array, as conquerors, and the dust rose in whirlwinds. Their spears glinted in the sun, and their pennons fluttered like bats. They made a loud clamor as they marched, for their coats of mail and their weapons clashed and rattled. Some of them were dressed in glistening iron from head to foot; they terrified everyone who saw them.” Awaiting the arrival of the Spanish in Tenochtitlán, Montezuma was terrified. In the meantime, the Spaniards were being approached on their march by local Indians who complained of the emperor’s tax collectors robbing them of all their possessions and violating their wives and daughters. At Amecameca, local dignitaries gave Cortés food, gold, and forty slave girls, who, according to one of the Spanish priests, were “well dressed and well painted.”As the Spaniards approached the system of lakes that surrounded Tenochtitlán, they were “visibly impressed by the ordered landscape with its grid plan of towns and temple pyramids, and the regular pattern of raised fields bordered by lines of willows.” The Aztec capital was an island at the center of five shallow interconnected lakes. Three long causeways—twenty-five to thirty-five feet wide and with removable bridges—joined the city to the mainland. The first sight of the Aztec metropolis reminded Bernal Díaz of “an enchanted vision from the tale of Amadis. Indeed, some of our soldiers asked whether it was not all a dream. . . . It was all so wonderful that I do not know how to describe this first glimpse of things never heard of, seen or dreamed of before.” In his letter to the king of Spain, Cortés knew his words could not do justice to the wonders of Tenochtitlán. “I cannot describe one hundredth part of all the things which could be mentioned, but, as best I can, I will describe some of those I have seen which, although badly described, will, I well know, be so remarkable as not to be believed, for we who saw them with our own eyes could not grasp them with our understanding.”With 250,000 inhabitants, Tenochtitlán was one of the largest cities in the world. In the early sixteenth century, only four cities in Europe—Naples, Venice, Milan, and Paris—had populations larger than 100,000. Founded in 1325, it was less than two centuries old when the Spaniards arrived. Once a nomadic tribe, the Aztecs had arrived in the Valley of Mexico in the middle of the thirteenth century. In 1454, they began their quest for empire. Through warfare and intimidation, by the end of that century they dominated much of Mesoamerica.By the early sixteenth century, however, the Aztec empire had reached its limits. For all the advances their people had made in a matter of a few centuries, Aztec society was beset by a foreboding of catastrophe. One of the bases of the Aztec religion held that time on earth was divided into five eras. “The first of these, known as ‘4-Tiger,’ had been destroyed by wild animals; the second, ‘4-Wind,’ by wind; the third, ‘4-Rain,’ by fire; and the fourth, ‘4-Water,’ by floods. The last, the fifth age, that of the [Aztecs], known as ‘4-Motion,’ would, according to myth, one day culminate in a catastrophe brought on by terrifying earthquakes.” Astrology played a central role in Aztec society. “Unfavorable signs could paralyze rulers, delay battles, and perhaps even become self-fulfilling prophecies.”The Aztecs, according to Juan Bautista Pomar, a sixteenth-century Spanish historian, “had many idols, and so many that almost for each thing there was one.” As their empire expanded, the Aztecs incorporated the principal gods of conquered nations into their pantheon. In fact, the very act of conquest was understood as the capturing of an enemy’s principal deity. As for the Aztecs, their primary deity remained Huitzilopochtli, the god of the sun and of war. To ensure that the sun rose every day, the Aztecs nourished him with the blood of human sacrifices so that each night he could successfully battle the moon.Given the Spaniards’ “godlike technological capabilities (cannons, harquebusiers, sailing ships, horses, metal armor),” it seems certain that the Aztecs initially considered them of supernatural origin. That may explain Montezuma’s reluctance to engage them militarily. But by many accounts, Montezuma was also a fatalist and a “tragic figure” who “lived in the shadow of historical inevitability.” His efforts to employ diplomacy and magic to keep the Spaniards from the capital had failed. When Cortés and his men reached the gateway to Tenochtitlán, Montezuma was there to welcome them. He invited them to stay in the palace that had belonged to his father. It is possible that the emperor wanted the Spaniards inside the city in order to entrap them later. But if that was Montezuma’s plan, he did not betray it publicly. After a welcoming ceremony, he told Cortés, “Malinche, you and your brothers are in your own house. Rest awhile.”Not long after Cortés’s arrival in Tenochtitlán, the Aztecs attacked the Spaniards’ allies, the Totonacs, on the Gulf coast. “Whether in reaction or as a pretext,” Cortés seized Montezuma, and for the next six months ruled his empire through him. Before his capture, the Aztec emperor had offered Cortés some jewels and one of his daughters as “a delicious fruit.” He also wished to give several noblemen’s daughters to Cortés’s men. Cortés responded in the same way he had in earlier such instances, that he could not accept women as consorts unless they were baptized.Even while imprisoned, Montezuma “took pains to see that his visitors were plied with attractive women.” He provided three hundred women to act as servants to his jailers. Cortés enjoyed the sexual favors of Montezuma’s daughter, Doña Ana, and of his niece, Doña Elvira. Bernal Díaz himself asked Orteguilla, the Spaniard who acted as Montezuma’s warden, to beg the emperor “kindly to give me a very pretty Indian girl. When Montezuma received this message, he sent for me and said: ‘Bernal Díaz del Castillo, they say that you are short of clothes and gold. But today I will tell them to give you a fine girl. Treat her well, for she is the daughter of an important man, and they will give you gold and cloaks as well.’ ”Not all Aztec nobles were as compliant as Montezuma. To the contrary, there was growing resentment among them over the emperor’s obsequious posture toward the Spaniards. In the spring of 1520, while Cortés was absent from the city, he left Pedro de Alvarado in charge in Tenochtitlán. For some unknown reason, Alvarado instigated a massacre of thousands of Aztec nobles who had gathered in the courtyard of the Templo Mayor for a religious celebration. In response, Aztec commoners rose in revolt, killed seven Spaniards, and laid siege to their quarters. When Cortés returned, either the Spaniards or the insurgent Aztecs killed Montezuma. At that point, the Spaniards had little choice but to retreat from the city. They did so at night while under attack from all sides. When he reached Tlaxcala, Cortés had lost more than half his men and one thousand Tlaxcalan soldiers.Notes Hugh Thomas, Conquest: Montezuma, Cortés, and the Fall of Old Mexico (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993),162. Ibid.,164. Bernal Díaz, The Conquest of New Spain (New York: Penguin, 1963), 60. Ibid. Ibid.,61. Ibid. Díaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España (Barcelona: Editorial Planeta, 1992), 74. Thomas, Conquest, xiii. Lewis Hanke, The Spanish Struggle for Justice in the Conquest of America (Boston: Little, Brown, 1965), 7. Ibid. Sarah Cline, “The Spiritual Conquest Reexamined: Baptism and Christian Marriage in Early Sixteenth-Century Mexico,” Hispanic American Historical Review 73, no. 3 (1993), 455. Lewis Hanke, Aristotle and the American Indians (London: Hollis and Carter, 1959), 19. Thomas, Conquest, xii. C. E. Marshall, “The Birth of the Mestizo in New Spain,” Hispanic American Historical Review 19, no. 2 (May 1939): 162. Thomas, Conquest, 158. R. C. Padden, The Hummingbird and the Hawk: Conquest and Sovereignty in the Valley of Mexico, 1503—1541 (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1970), 229. Thomas, Conquest, 170. Díaz, The Conquest of New Spain, 80. Ibid., 82. Frances Karttunen, “Rethinking Malinche,” in Indian Women of Early Mexico, eds. Susan Schroeder, Stephanie Wood, and Robert Haskett (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), 302. Julia Tuñón Pablos, Women in Mexico: A Past Unveiled (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999), 17. Frances Karttunen, “La Malinche and Malinchismo,” in Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society and Culture, ed. Michael S. Werner (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997), 776. James Lockhart, Nahuas and Spaniards: Postconquest Central Mexican History and Philology (Stanford: Stanford University Press; and Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center, 1991), 9. Karttunen, “Rethinking Malinche,” 304. Tzvetan Todorov, The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999), 58. Ibid. Díaz, The Conquest of New Spain, 108. Ibid. Thomas, Conquest, 113. Díaz, The Conquest of New Spain, 121. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid., 122. Thomas, Conquest, 213. Díaz, The Conquest of New Spain, 125. Ibid. Diego Muñoz Camargo, Historia de Tlaxcala (Mexico City: Oficina Tipográfica de la Secretaría de Formento, 1892), 190 (passage translated by Manuel H. Rodríguez). Ibid., 191. Ibid. Díaz, The Conquest of New Spain, 176. Ibid., 178. Thomas, Conquest, 255. Díaz, The Conquest of New Spain, 186. Pedro Carrasco, “Indian Spanish Marriages in the First Century of the Colony,” in Indian Women of Early Mexico, eds. Susan Schroeder, Stephanie Wood, and Robert Haskett (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), 90. Muñoz Camargo, Historia de Tlaxcala, 192. Asunción Lavrin, “Women in Colonial Mexico,” in The Oxford History of Mexico, eds. Michael C. Meyer and William H. Beezly (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 250. Díaz, The Conquest of New Spain, 108. Magnus Mörner, Race Mixture in the History of Latin America (Boston: Little, Brown, 1967), 14. Lavrin, “Women in Colonial Mexico,” 250. Michael Meyer and William Sherman, The Course of Mexican History, 5th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 208. Lavrin, “Women in Colonial Mexico,” 249. Meyer and Sherman, The Course of Mexican History, 209. Padden, The Hummingbird and the Hawk, 230. Richard Konetzke, “El mestizaje y su importancia en el desarrollo de la población hispano-americana durante la época colonial,” Revista de Indias 7, no. 23 (1946): 27. Ibid., 28. Ibid. Mörner, Race Mixture in the History of Latin America, 27. Ramón Eduardo Ruíz, Triumphs and Tragedy: A History of the Mexican People (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992), 47. Richard F. Townsend, The Aztecs, rev. ed. (London: Thames & Hudson, 2001), 24. Thomas, Conquest, 264. Miguel León-Portilla, ed., The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico (Boston: Beacon, 1969), 41. Thomas, Conquest, 271. Townsend, The Aztecs, 28. Díaz, The Conquest of New Spain, 214. Hernán Cortés, Letters from Mexico, trans. and ed. Anthony Pagden (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), 101—2. León-Portilla, The Broken Spears, xix. Thomas, Conquest, 11. Colin M. MacLachlan and Jaime E. Rodríguez O., The Forging of the Cosmic Race: A Reinterpretation of Colonial Mexico (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 62. Townsend, The Aztecs, 116. Ross Hassig, “The Collision of Two Worlds,” in The Oxford History of Mexico, eds. Michael C. Meyer and William H. Beezley (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 80. Meyer and Sherman, The Course of Mexican History, 91. Díaz, The Conquest of New Spain, 219. Hassig, “The Collision of Two Worlds,” 94. Thomas, Conquest, 305. Padden, The Hummingbird and the Hawk, 229. Díaz, The Conquest of New Spain, 254.
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Meet the Author
Gregory Rodriguez studied the sociology of the Latinization of California at UCLA. He has been a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a non-partisan public policy institute in Washington, D.C., a contributing editor to The Los Angeles Times Opinion Section and a political analyst for MSNBC. His work has appeared in many of the nation's leading publications, including The New York Times, The Economist, The Washington Post, The Nation, and The New Republic.
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