If there is
one thing that Mexico has experienced more than just about any
other country in the Western hemisphere, it is conquest. Starting
with the Spanish under Cortés, the French under Maximilian,
the US Army under General Winfield Scott, and finally at their own
hands, under several bloody revolutions. I think that this history
of conquest has left a legacy of fatalism and resignation to accept
the status quo in today's Mexican population. It all started, as
far as "European" history is concerned, with the arrival of
Hernán Cortés in 1519. It is hard to believe that Cortés,
starting with 400 men and a few horses
While this is technically true, it is certainly not the whole story.
Cortes had a lot of help from local peoples who hated the Aztec
rule. Also, the Aztec empire, while generally situated in what we now
call Mexico, certainly did not extend to the current borders of
Mexico. In particular, Mazatlán was not part of the Aztec
managed to conquer an empire of millions, but it
happened. Even harder to believe is that the final battle, in which
Cortés captured the Aztec capital, which is today the site of
Mexico City, was essentially a naval battle. In the middle of
Mexico, hundreds of miles from the ocean, Cortés built a bunch
of boats to cut off the island city of Tenochititlan, and once cut
off eventually starved and slaughtered the residents into
Spanish rule was a nightmare for the indigenous peoples of Mexico.
Even though in theory they were "free men," practically they were
forced to work for either nothing or next to nothing. You see, the
problem was that the Spanish nobles and priests were granted huge
tracts of land and jurisdiction over all Indian residents. Bad news
for the Indians. The Roman Catholic church was an enthusiastic
supporter of this system. It too had been granted huge tracts of
land and exploited the Indians mercilessly. In 1859, when the
holdings of the church was nationalized, they owned approximately
one third of all the property and land of Mexico. This helps
explain why even today, Rome is considered with great suspicion my
Mexicans in general.
an American, for me the most surprising and I guess shocking
discovery about Mexican history was the role that the United States
played in conquering her southern neighbor. During the period from
1835 to 1853, Mexico wound up losing half of her territory to the
US. It started when Mexico decided to outlaw slavery in a place
called Texas, then part of Mexico. Well the folks in Texas wanted
their slaves, and declared independence and in 1845 became a state
in the Union. Fighting began in 1846, and in 1848 Mexico
surrendered after General Winfield Scott occupied Mexico City.
Believe me, Mexicans remember the Alamo a lot more vividly than we
do. As a result of the war, Mexico lost what we today call
California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. Not a
small chunk, if I say so myself.
After the American conquest, and Indian named Benito
Juarez emerged to become the biggest influence in Mexican politics.
He was liberal, which upset the very conservative church and high
Spanish officials. As provisional president Juarez began reforming.
He took away the Roman Catholic church's property, created a
separation between church and state, promoted freedom of speech,
and other civil liberties. Then, after being elected president in
1861, he decided to suspend interest payments on the foreign loans
incurred by previous governments.
(Sound familiar?) Well, ripping off the church and
letting a bunch of peasants speak up is one thing, but welshing on
your debts is quite another. A coalition of France, Great Britain,
and Spain decided to jump in and "protect" their investments. The
main force behind this was Napoleon III of France, who sent
Maximilian, the archduke of Austria, to take over Mexico.
Maximilian was installed by the French army, and some conservative
Mexicans who had had enough of Juarez's reforms. Here another
stranger than fiction event takes place. Maximilian insisted that
he would only accept the crown if he was approved by the Mexican
people. Puzzled by this request, the conservative Mexicans indulged
him and promptly organized a plebiscite. With the French army
watching, and the native population ignorant and apathetic, the
election was held. Maximilian was pleased when the generals told
him that his emperorship had been overwhelmingly approved.
(Sound familiar?) We'll fast forward a few years
later and find our emperor Maximilian at the wrong end of a firing
squad. C'est la vie.
From here we will fast
forward to today. Once again Mexico finds herself in the midst of a
crisis. This time it is mainly economic, even though there is some
military action going on in the state of Chiapas. My personal view
is that Mexico will emerge a stronger and better country. The
economic crisis is real, but is getting under control as we speak.
I assure you that should you decide to visit Mexico, you will find
a country not in turmoil, but a land of friendly, hard working
people, doing the best they can with the resources they have
available. The pace is slower, the selection of products is more
limited, and people don't always show up when they promise, but the
Mexico that I have seen is basically modern, hard working,
gracious, and friendly.
Mazatlán was originally settled by the Spaniards in
1531, and was a major port and village on the Pacific coast. Before
the Spanish, it was settled by the native Indians, called the
Totorames. They were hunters and fisherman, and adept at making
clay vases and figures. The Spanish put an and to all of that. A
crazy Spaniard named Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán, driven by an intense
jealousy of Cortés, slaughtered the innocent natives of
the greater glory of Spain. Next the conquistador
Francisco de Ibarra discovered gold and sliver in the hills above
Mazatlán. In 1603 pirates began dominating the waters around
Mazatlán. There was hardly a better prize for the likes of Drake
and Cavendish than a Spanish galleon filled with gold and silver
from the mines of Copala, just outside Mazatlán. The city was
incorporated in 1806, and a few years later, in the 1830s, the
municipal government was established and Mazatlán began to grow as
a seaport. A German immigration led to the growth of the port, and
international trade blossomed. Even today there are many German
names here in Mazatlán, and it is not uncommon to find Mazatlán
residents whose second language is German. In 1847, during the
Mexican, American war, the US army marched down the coast and
closed the port. The French also bombarded the port in 1864, during
their conquest. Since then it has become the home of one of the
largest tuna and shrimp fishing fleets in the world. It is also a
world class tourist resort, with nice hotels and restaurants
opening all the time.
For a different slant on some Mexican history, you may wish
to learn about the people who appear
on the current crop of peso notes. They range from revolutionaries
to nuns, and provide an interesting glimpse into the national
heroes of Mexico.