Mexico Trek!   Trekkers DISPATCH: September 3 Monica's Log

Tlatelolco, the death of the Aztec Empire & the Birth of Mexico

Can you find Silvia? Boarding the Metro to go to TlatelolcoAs you walk away from Tlatelolco metro station, you cross under the street through a tunnel, and as you approach the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, or Plaza of Three Cultures, you automatically slow down. The park is quiet and clean, and you only hear the soft pitter-patter of rain mixed with the footsteps of other visitors to this historic site. Grass grows thickly around the ruins of the Aztec pyramids of Tlatelolco, and a guard marches slowly near the plaque that commemorates this peaceful spot.

Aztec Pyramids, a Spanish Church, a Modern BuildingGray stone pyramids stand as silent sentinels to the cries of anguish and starvation that must have pierced the air as the Aztecs, resisting the Spaniards, were defeated by Cortes' men. A large white sign on the left explains the story of Cuauhtemoc, Moctezuma's 18-year-old nephew, who assumed control after Moctezuma's other nephew and successor, Cuitlahuac, died of smallpox. Cortes' army, having cut off supplies and food to Tenochtitlan from the mainland, had slowly but steadily advanced, finally trapping Cuauhtemoc and his men in Tlatelolco, where they were defeated.

500 years ago this was a popular Aztec market and the site of the 
Aztecs' last stand against the SpanishGraffiti in the form of police outlines of fallen bodies marks the ground, and a monument to student protestors killed in 1968 by army troops rises near the Catholic Templo de Santiago. As you walk around the monument, a large plaque to the right catches your attention. It says:

"On August 13, 1521, heroically defended by Cuauhtemoc, Tlatelolco fell into the hands of Hernan Cortes. It was neither a triumph nor a defeat: it was the painful birth of the mestizo nation that is Mexico today."
The Aztec Tlatelolco pyramids, the Spanish Santiago church, and the modern Foreign Ministry building, on the south side of the plaza, together make up the three cultures of Mexico: Aztec, Spanish, and modern mestizo. Most Mexicans are mestizo, mixed blood, but, as Liliana, a student we met said, "Cuauhtemoc was very brave 300 student protestors were shot down here 30 years ago by the governmentand the Spanish were not very good. They tortured him but he still wouldn't tell them where his other men were." Most Mexicans have similar feelings of pride and heroism for their Aztec heritage, but mistrust of Cortes and the Spaniards.

Tlatelolco not only echoes the pain of the past, but also seems to speak to modern troubles. Liliana told us of the death and destuction caused by an earthquake in 1985. (You can read more about Liliana in Siliva’s update "Meet Liliana.")

The monument to the slain 1968 protestors tells a tale of sadness. Mexico City was to host the 1968 Olympic Games, but as the start of the games got closer, Interor Minister Gustavo Diaz Ordaz became stricter and stricter, cracking down on strikers protesting the huge amounts of money being spent to build the Olympic Stadium as well as the current state of authoritarianism. In August 13, in Lilianathe Zocalo, 150,000 people gathered to march, and on September 13, even more crowds organized down the Paseo de la Reforma. An October 2 meeting was set here in the Plaza de Tlatelolco, but around 10,000 people came, including students and youngsters. Helicopters and soldiers shot into the crowd, and as many as 300 students were killed.

Rain had stopped falling and the ground was moist and new. But if you thought back on the history of this place, you could only think of sadness.



Related Dispatches: 
Monica - Tlatelolco, the death of the Aztec Empire & the Birth of Mexico
Silvia - Meet Liliana, soccer player, Aztec expert, 14 years old!
Shawn - A Report from the Battlefield
Team - Three Conquest Stories - You decide how they end!

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