Monday, November 2, 2009


What do we think of when we think of the "Aztecs?"

Before I came here, I honestly didn't think much of them. Even in Guatemala, I imagined them as the more gruesome tribe somewhere in Central America that was didn't stand up to the Spaniards when they came and took over. Well... here's a brief and simplified history lesson for those who share my old indifference.

Central America was divided into lots of tribes before the Europeans came over. One small tribe was looking for their homeland they would recognize from a vision: an eagle sitting on a cactus. The vision supposedly manifested itself at an island in the middle of a large lake. Though that doesn't seem ideal, they settled "Tenochtitlan" on the island and flourished, forming the Aztec empire.

*Please don't get angry if you know this history and I'm over-simplifying it.

When the Spaniards came over, the Aztecs were at the peak of their empire, doing very well for themselves. They had the organization and power to fight back and could effectively kick the Spaniards back to Europe. However, smallpox has a funny way of destroying civilizations that aren't prepared for it. The Spaniards were able to take over Tenochtitlan, thereby destroying the heart of the Aztec empire.

A representation of Tenochtitlan in lake Texcoco. It looks a little different today.

Yes, we've all heard this story before, be it the Native Americans, Hawaiians, Maya, Aborigines, etc. It's not pleasant, but it happened all over the world. The difference is what happened after the European empires fell.

Take a look at the coat of arms. Does it ring any bells?

Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire is now known as Mexico City, the capital of Mexico. The eagle on the cactus, the vision that supposedly spawned the Aztec empire is now the center piece of the Mexican flag. Even the word "Mexica" is roughly another word for "Aztec." I imagined the Aztec Empire had shared a similar fate as the Native Americans in the states and the Aborigines in Australia, and the dominance of the Spanish language instead of the native language really threw me off, but the people are still very much alive. Mexicans are Aztecs, one of the few native tribal empires to keep their land and traditions as their own. Isn't that cool?

1 comment:

Book Look Column Author said...

yes - very cool. It has been a lot of years since I made it to the capital but great museums. The fruit ice cream was great too.