What Does 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance Look Like in Mexico?

An Unmistakable Feeling of Loss In Mexico City but a Beautiful Feeling of Pride

View from the fallen Aztec city Tenochtitlán, with the Spanish cathedral in the distance

I remember standing in the Aztec ruins of Templo Mayor. We could see the Metropolitan Cathedral in the distance, through the haze of the city’s heavy pollution. It looked ghostly.

The Spanish destroyed the Aztec city Tenochtitlán, replacing it with the Spanish cathedral and crowded, sprawling Mexico City.

After defeating the Aztecs, Cortés and his men took apart the Aztec city, stone by stone. They used these stones to build other buildings. The goal was to erase the indigenous past.

An indigenous woman knitting in Mexico City’s Zócalo with her daughter helping

It’s now 500 years later. Now we see that it wasn’t possible. Mexicans are still proud of their indigenous past.⁣ You see it in the culture and in the food. Over a million Mexicans still speak Spanish as a second language. It says something about the unconquerable human spirit.

All of us, no matter where we’re from, should feel proud. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t spin that way.

That’s Quetzalcoatl on the side of the building. Half quetzal bird and half snake, he was known as the feathered serpent. He was a deity worshipped by indigenous groups throughout Mesoamerica.

Mexico City Is Celebrating 500 Years of Indigenous Spirit

This past Friday, August 13, was the 500th anniversary of the defeat of the Aztecs.

Running inside the crescent moon is Coyolxauhqui, the goddess of the moon.

So what exactly is 500 years of indigenous resistance?

Many sell artisan goods on the street. Some are made by indigenous artisans and others are made in China and India.

Impoverished indigenous vendors in Oaxaca are very friendly and respectful, especially if you show them respect

In the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, I asked this artisan to add the colorful handle to this round wicker handbag. I saw something similar on a handbag from Taiwan. The artisan was happy to customize it for me.

These people treat you very well, especially if you treat them well, too. But they’re mostly all very poor. In our world, people don’t respect the poor.

All of the street vendors in Oaxaca City were from the surrounding areas of the state. They come to sell during the busy season. They rent rooms, often with their children.

Poverty among Mexico’s indigenous population

Look at the children in this photo. They’re wearing their sister’s hand-me-downs. One has different colors on each foot. We ended up buying shoes for these two, and also for their two sisters. Charity is not a great form of respect, but what else could we do.

The children would sit all day in the street. They spent some time doing their homework. Even though the schools were closed for the pandemic, teachers had homework every Friday for the following week.

Some of the artisans are very talented, like Rosario. She gave us a private lesson on how she dies the wool using crustaceans from the region. The Spaniards taught indigenous Zapotec people people how to spin the wool, but the Zapotecs taught the Spaniards how to die it different colors. Rosario and her husband Ernesto have a successful business.

Rosario gave us a one-hour private lesson without expecting us to buy anything. Of course, we did buy a few things.

Many indigenous people throughout Mexico speak Spanish as a second language.

Driving through the Yucatán peninsula during the pandemic, police roadblocks sealed off some towns. You have to remember that many indigenous people died of diseases that Cortés and his soldiers brought from Europe. Disease turned out to be Cortés’ best weapon, although it was unintended.

His other weapon was his skill at dividing the indigenous groups. In reality, the Spanish were only about 2% of the soldiers who defeated the Aztecs. In the long term, of course, siding with Cortés was a losing proposition for all indigenous people.

The story about the conquest gets more complicated, the more you read. This NatGeo article did a great job. However, the writer, who is from Mexico City, didn’t think the celebration would be popular in Mexico. I think he’s been proven wrong after just two days. The celebration continues until September.

Something Special About Sharing A Moment With Others

A few days before the 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance celebration, we ate at the rooftop terrace restaurant called El Mayor. The restaurant has a view of the Aztec ruins of Templo Mayor with the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Zócalo in the distance. It’s here that we could feel the destruction of a civilization.

When you’re physically present in a place, you feel its energy. We were losing ourselves in the emotion of the celebration.

A crowd creates excitement. There’s something so special about sharing a moment with others.

We saw Mexicans of all social classes. Although Mexican society is very unequal, this was a celebration for all Mexicans.

We were privileged to have the opportunity to view the show in the Zócalo from another rooftop terrace restaurant called El Balcón del Zócalo.

The Mexican government with private funding built a replica Aztec pyramid.

We learned that they replica pyramid would be the screen for the movie, a brief history of Indigenous Mexico. The show ended with faces of people today, telling Mexicans that their indigenous factions are beautiful, and to be proud of their roots.

It’s an important message that some Mexicans have been sending for 100 years. In 1921, a newspaper called El Universal Ilustrado held a beauty contest, looking for the most beautiful indigenous woman. Years later, Frida made a worldwide fashion statement with her indigenous clothing.

This is an important celebration for all the indigenous people of Mexico, but I think it’s pretty special for the rest of us, too.

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