Home Community and Culture The Response to the Tenochtitlan Fall

The Response to the Tenochtitlan Fall

Mural depicting Tenochtitlan, painted by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. In the background, the original Templo Mayor can be seen. “The Great City of Tenochtitlan” By Diego Rivera.

In July 2021, Mexico City celebrated the establishment of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire. Two weeks later, it commemorated the 500 year anniversary of its fall.

For the event, Mexico City created a replica of the Templo Mayor, the main temple of the Mexica which was destroyed by Spaniard colonizers in 1521. The temporary replica was accompanied by lights, images, and a speech by Mexican President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, where he apologized to the Indigenous communities. 

That very day, Indigenous communities protested about several issues: the lack of water in several of their communities, the assassination of their leaders, and the Tren Maya, a project that is currently building an intercity railway in the Southeast of Mexico.

Mexica, is an indigenous group who settled in the city of Tenochtitlan when Spanish colonizers first arrived on the continent. After Mexico’s independence, the country was named after them and after their city.

Also known as Mexico-Tenochtitlan, Tenochtitlan was the capital city of the Mexica, located on a lake island. It is estimated that 200,000 people inhabited the city alone. Today, the area is the historic center of Mexico City.

“Today August 13…we remember the fall of the Great Tenochtitlan and offer forgiveness to the victims of the catastrophe caused by the Spanish military occupation of Mesoamerica and the rest of the territory of the current Mexican Republic,” Lopez Obrador said.

The fall of Tenochtitlan, at the hands of Spaniard Hernan Cortes, was only possible with a combination of weaponry, alliances, and the highly contagious smallpox.

“The conquest, as such, was a war and it was a very violent war,” said Josefina Hitsuri Flores, a professor of Mexican history at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). “It ended up with a very important part of the Indigenous population.” 

 In the century following the arrival of Christopher Columbus, 90% of the Indigenous population was killed in the Americas.

“That cannot be celebrated,” said Hitsuri Flores.

Much like Columbus Day, Mexico does not celebrate August 13, as such.

I don’t think it should be celebrated, but rather be a day of remembrance,” said Nahua and Otomi TikToker Zane Achak Ashkii. He uses his platform to educate on Indigenous issues and culture.

Ruins of Templo Mayor, the main temple of the Mexica people. Located in historic Mexico City, the temple was buried by Spaniards, and a Catholic Cathedral was built in its place, a common practice during the colonial period. “Templo Mayor” by Öskr Rck licensed under the Creative Commons Atribution

Previously, Lopez Obrador asked the King of Spain and the Catholic church to apologize for crimes during the colonization.

“Was it worth so many deaths, so many people razed, looted and burned; so many raped women, so many atrocities ordered by Cortés himself and by him related in his letters to the king?” said Lopez Obrador.

Though Achak Ashkii enjoyed the commemoration, he said “the damage has already been done” with regards to Lopez Obrador’s apology.

Indigenous people are still a marginalized group in spite of the speeches and the commemoration.

“At the same time that this whole celebration is going on, there are Indigenous communities that are very abandoned, very impoverished, that have problems such as that they kill their leaders because they ask for respect for the Earth,” said Hitsuri Flores. “A government that, paradoxically, asks Spain to say sorry.” 

About the commemoration, Hitsuri Flores says: “Do it, no problem, but at the same time why do you not go and attend to the Mayan communities who are saying [protesting] about the train?  “Or the group who is defending a forest,” Hitsuri Flores said.

Of Mexicans who declared themselves as indigenous, 26.4% did not complete elementary school. Only 31.4% made it as far as middle school. Of those who speak an Indigenous language, 43.2% did not complete elementary school, according to Oxfam Mexico. In 2014, 73.2% of the Indigenous population in Mexico was living in poverty, and 31.8% of the total of the Indigenous population was living in extreme poverty, according to the Mexican Senate.

We commemorate “the fallen (of) 500 years ago, (but) what happens to those who are here right now?” said Hitsuri Flores.

María del Carmen de Luna Moreno, who is also a Mexican history professor at UNAM, agreed with the sentiment. She highlighted how acutely aware Indigenous people are of not only their history but also of their current situation during the conquest. “If we see the testimonies of the Indigenous people, in the codices that (they) elaborate, already with the Spanish presence here…something that they show very clearly, is the awareness they have that things have changed,” said Luna Moreno. “They are people who have a clear historical conscience and that did not prevent them from remembering their past.”

Luna Moreno explains the importance of treating Indigenous people with respect in the present day.

“We don’t treat them the way they should be treated and not see them only as a curiosity, like (an) artisan, who almost has to give us their crafts because they are so expensive and things like that,” Luna Morena said.  She continued: “We have them typecast as good artisans, and that’s it.”

“We are always looking for responsibilities in others, but we never ask ourselves, what is my responsibility and what do I have to do to solve this that I see is wrong?” she said. 

Hitsuri Flores agrees.

“Why would you commemorate if you do not respect the descendants of those who survived?” Hitsuri Flores asked.

To support Indigenous people, Achak Ashkii said “First, acknowledge the land they are on belongs to Indigenous people; support local Indigenous businesses, Indigenous TikTokers, Indigenous social media personalities, etc.” He also shared the importance of learning an Indigenous language and getting connected to Indigenous roots.  “Speak on Indigenous issues; donate to programs that help out Indigenous people; learn about the history,” Achak Ashkii said.

Melisa Cabello Cuahutle
Melisa Cabello Cuahutlehttps://melisacabelloc.wordpress.com
Melisa Cabello Cuahutle grew up in Mexico City and Baja California. She is currently based in Los Angeles where she is pursuing a double major in Political Science and Journalism. She mostly writes about international and social issues, as well as social media.
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