Broken Spears: The Aztec Account Term Paper

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[. . .] Moreover, Broken Spears as a text does not stand alone as mere pieces of paper isolated from historical context. History has changed and affected the context of the book. For example, while the indigenous Indian people respected Dona Marina, she became a maligned national figure after the Mexican Revolution and after the Mexican people found a new national identity. As such, Marina came to symbolize those who betray their own people for a foreign enemy.

In her case, the situation was viewed by such observers as even worse, because she also bed the enemy, bore his child, and quite directly led to the destruction of her own clan and its replacement with a new nation.

Yet this is to ignore and devalue the Aztec's own accounts given at the time of the conquest, accounts which respected Marina and her decisions (or lack of ability to decide, due to her status as a slave and as a woman).

More importantly, it is to ignore the entire exercise of viewing both sides of a story. In this case, examining both sides of the conquest and both sides of the tale shows us deeper issues. First, Dona Marina, known know as La Malinche, was a woman of complicated motives in a complex situation. She was an Aztec princess who became a slave and was once again forced into captivity at the hands of the Spaniards. Throughout her life she had had little or no control over her own destiny. Once she became the trusted advisor of Cortes, however, she at last had a measure of authority and some control over her own life. She had been born an Aztec, but her own people had given her over into slavery, and now at the hands of a Spaniard, she was exerting power and control over her own life for the first time. Second, she was by all accounts deeply in love with Cortes. One commentator notes the effect that this dynamic would have had on the actions of Marina.

We spent an afternoon at the ruins of Quiahuiztlan with a young musician from Jalapa. Sitting on the spot where I imagine Cortes sat, staring out at the sea and plotting the conquest of Mexico, I asked him what he thought of La Malinche. "Was she a traitor or a heroine? Didn't she have reason to oppose the tyranny and oppression gripping Mexico, and to hope for relief from the powerful strangers?"

It is a story of love," he told me. "Love is more important than politics."

Domination through Manipulation of Internal Division

The Aztecs were the most powerful tribe in Mexico, and they were by all accounts cruel and violent leaders. Therefore, Cortes had little trouble playing off the poor situation of the indigenous Indians and offering a potentially better future in a new ruler, even if that ruler came from a strange and distant land.

Cortes had established a town in Veracruz called La Villa Rica de la Veracruz. Here he met with representatives from the Aztecs. The Indians in the Veracruz area, the Cempoalans, and just been defeated by the Aztecs and had been treated very badly. They were more than eager to form an alliance with the Spaniards, and did so. In fact, Cortes and his men were received at the Cempoalan's capital city, Xoxotlan, with a celebration-like atmosphere by the Cempoalan people. They quickly and eagerly told Cortes everything he needed to know about the Aztecs, including their great population, advanced city, and domineering leadership. Most shocking of all was the great number of subjugated peoples the Aztecs sacrificed to their gods.

Cortes and his army set off for the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, joined by the Cempoalans.

After jointly fighting the Indian Tlaxclalans, they eventually made peace with the Tlaxclalans and gained even more ally soldiers from the Tlaxclalan army. They then set out for the city of the Cholulans, where a vicious attack took place. Because the Tlaxcalans despised the Cholulans, the battle turned into a massacre and most of the Cholulans were killed.

Thus, by the time Cortes reached the city of Tenochtitlan - the Aztec capital - he had been able to play on the internal divisiveness of the Indians. Ultimately, this divisiveness was what helped him win the Aztec battle. With various Indian tribes running to his aid and fighting against each other, eager to topple the Aztecs, it was only a matter of time before the Aztec empire would be crushed.

This account would be missed if we only read the Aztec side of the conquest, because we would not understand that the cruelty that the Aztecs imposed throughout the Indian empire ultimately led to their own demise.

Uniting the two perspectives

August 13, 1521

Heroically defended by Cuauhtemoc, Tlatelolco fell to the power of Hernan Cortes. It was neither a triumph nor a defeat. It was the painful birth of the mestizo nation that is the Mexico of today.

Text of monument at Tlatelolco

Finally, the point that has been made throughout this essay will end this essay.

Broken Spears was a breakthrough text largely because it presented the viewpoint of the Aztec people - the conquered - for the first time. Before that, the viewpoint of the Spaniards -- the colonialists -- had always been presented. History, it is said, has been written by the victors.

For a balanced perspective of history, it is necessary to understood both viewpoints. For example, if we were presented only with the Aztec account, we would never know that the Aztecs themselves were vicious rulers who sacrificed thousands of human subjects in the name of their gods. Victimhood can be very one-sided, as can victory.

Similarly, rather than viewing Broken Spears as an emotional launching pad with which to demonize European colonizers or, similarly, deify the Indian indigenous people and proscribe them as saintly victims, it is a more useful exercise to use Broken Spears as a comparison against the European-based accounts we have of the conquest and then attempt to construct our own balanced view of the birth of the Mexican nation.

The year 1519 was the year that Cortes arrived in Mexico. It was also the year that coincided directly with the Aztec year 1 Reed on the Aztec calendar. Aztec legend provided that the god Quetzalcoatl would return and destroy the Aztecs during this year; therefore, Moctezuma believed that Cortes was Quetzalcoatl. He believed that he could somehow persuade Cortes not to destroy the Aztecs

See, e.g, "The Conquest of Mexico," by Peter Rashkin, located at http://www.thedagger.com/archive/conquest/conquest1.html.

Hernan Cortes, Letters from Mexico, Translated by Anthony Pagden (Yale University Press, 1986).

The Myth of La Malinche: From the Chronicles to Modern Mexican

Theater," thesis submitted to the Faculty of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Rosario Perez-Lagunes (2001), located online at http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-05/unrestricted/Malinche.pdf.

The Conquest of Mexico," by Peter Rashkin, located at http://www.thedagger.com/archive/conquest/conquest1.html. [END OF PREVIEW]

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