Back in college, I remember taking a Spanish class in my senior year that mostly focused on different Hispanic literature.
One of the books that we discussed as "Los de Abajo" by Mariano Azuela.
It's a pretty good book on the Mexican Revolution.
At any rate, each student had to do a presentation in Spanish on a specific book that the class was going to read.
For "Los de Abajo," there was some Latina chick who was, if I had to guess, of Mexican heritage.
I only guess that because, during her presentation on the book, she somehow tried to make it personal to her own life.
The presentations didn't have to be personal.
Just basic analysis of the book.
Anyway, she decided to make it more personal in which, at some point, she went into the discussion of heritage and "who Mexicans are as a people."
I forgot how she tied that in with the book analysis because it's been almost 5 years but she, at one point, made the statement about how "in Mexico, we are mestizo. We have roots in Aztec and Spanish blood."
Now that was probably one of the earliest times -- if not the earliest? -- that I had someone say that "Mexicans are mestizos."
I honestly don't know when was the first time I heard that statement but this likely was one of the first times given that my only time in Mexico by this point was a brief trip to Chiapas a few years before the presentation.
In the years that followed, I obviously moved to Mexico and have heard the phrase many times over.
"In Mexico, we are mestizos."
As of recently, I came across something on Twitter here that reminded me of the topic again.
For those who don't understand Spanish, the basics of the chat Tweets above are the following.
The "Mexico en imagenes" account calls for knowing your roots and asks what colors in an indigenous language called Nahuatl?
Then this dude responds back saying basically that "those are not his roots and he is Mexican."
To which the "Mexico en imagenes" account responds basically with "they are your roots. This myth that, because the Aztecs were not Mexicans, they are not part of our history, needs to end."
It's a conversation anyway that got me thinking about the topic and all the times Mexicans have referenced their indigenous roots.
Like the chick who said that "Mexicans are of the Aztec and Spanish roots."
But is she right?
Is the "Mexico en imagenes" account right in saying that person's roots are based in the Aztecs?
Not All the Indigenous Were Aztec
First, it's very misleading to say that "Mexicans are of the Aztecs."
Mexico has a shit ton more indigenous groups that were not part of the Aztecs in anyway.
They might have indigenous blood but not related to the Aztecs.
A better phrasing of this would be "Mexicans are of indigenous and Spanish blood."
But is that true either?
Erasing the Existence of Other Roots
Another issue I find with this is how, if we're being honest, plenty of Mexicans don't have indigenous roots really.
While most do, there's plenty that don't.
Or, if they do have some indigenous person in their background, it's irrelevant because the DNA test would show such little contribution that it doesn't matter.
For example, you got plenty of white, black and some Asian Mexicans that just don't have much indigenous heritage.
Their lineage is different.
In my first year in Mexico City, I noticed a handful of Asians around Reforma area from time to time.
Plenty were tourists and others were locals.
They looked very Asian.
Did they have any Aztec person in their lineage? Doubt it.
Or, for example, I once to a house party in Pachuca and met a white, blonde hair Mexican dude whose dad was German and he had a white mom.
The dad likely doesn't have any Aztec or indigenous heritage at all.
The mom? Well, she was supposedly white and I'd believe that given how white this dude was.
Did she have any indigenous people in her past? Maybe but how much of her roots are really based in that?
And you got plenty of foreigners who have kids down here with locals who may or may not have had a whole lot (if any) indigenous roots.
Outside of that, you got black folks in Veracruz. Many of them had slave ancestors if I had to guess.
And it's not hard to imagine how many of them don't have indigenous roots.
People tend to marry and procreate within their own group historically.
While that's changing, it makes it easier to see how plenty of black folks in Mexico don't have indigenous heritage really.
By trying to claim that "every Mexican is of Aztec roots" just seems ignorant to me.
Because, as I said, there were plenty of indigenous groups that were not Aztec related.
And also because how does "Mexico en imagenes" really know the roots of the dude who responded to them?
He could be much more white, black or Asian with absolutely no indigenous heritage to speak of or just a tiny bit.
In cases like this, I think to myself as an American -- "would it be appropriate for me to go around claiming everyone is Cherokee?"
For example, my mom says we have a tiny bit of Cherokee in us.
Am I of Cherokee roots then?
No DNA test has proven these roots and, even if they did exist, it'd be like any stereotypical white dude who claims to be Cherokee when he only is like 0.256 percent Cherokee.
If the number is so minuscule for how "Aztec" or how "Cherokee" you are, then are those really your roots?
Granted, if someone with only 5% Aztac heritage wanted to claim those are his roots, then sure.
Or whatever the number is.
I'm not in the business of telling people what they are because I don't really give a shit what you identify as.
In my mind, I won't see you as Aztec or Cherokee but I'm not going to be a dick about it because it's not my life to worry about.
But let's say that Mexican who is 5% Aztec really does identify with the culture...
Do You Even Identify?
Back in the US, I once knew a white guy named Mike who lives by Massachusetts.
He helps run some family store that sells artisan crafts and other touristy items related to indigenous culture.
While he is very white looking, he also very strongly identifies with his indigenous roots.
He even has a son that he's shown me videos of at some indigenous reservation partaking in whatever indigenous activity he was dancing to.
I had no idea what the activity was but I guess it was cultural?
Either way, the kid, who is also very white looking, is obviously being raised in an indigenous culture to some degree.
I have no idea if that's what Mike's childhood was like but that would make sense to me given he does truly care about his roots.
And, to be fair, I have no idea how "indigenous" Mike really is.
Never seen a DNA test since I never asked for one obviously.
If Mike's test came back at 2% indigenous and he told me he was never raised in indigenous culture but simply wanted to identify with it...
Honestly, if I was forced to give my opinion, I would tell him that he's faking it.
If you don't have any significant heritage to it and weren't raised in the culture,are you really indigenous then?
That'd be like if I had 2% African heritage but was not raised black in anyway whatsoever.
Then, at the age of 25, I decided to "reconnect" with my African roots and go to whatever country in Africa those roots are from.
Seems strange to me.
But, as I said, I truly don't know what his DNA test would show nor what Mike's childhood was like. I'm not saying the above is true of him.
In the example of Mike anyway, much could be said of the Mexican who fits that description.
Let's call that Mexican "Miguel."
If Miguel was 2% Aztec and the rest of his DNA showed roots to anything but indigenous people...
And assuming Miguel was completely raised in other cultural roots (being a white, black, Asian, Middle Eastern descent or whatever type of Mexican)...
Then is that 2% Aztec contribution really "his roots?"
There's literally nothing "Aztec" or "indigenous" about him.
And what are you trying to achieve by telling him what he is?
You hoping that, by telling him that he has Aztec roots, that the motherfucker is going to start learning Nahuatl or do cultural things that the Aztecs did?
He ain't changing.
That'd be like if I went to a random black person in the US who happened to be 2% Cherokee and be like "oh yeah, you totally Cherokee" when that black person absolutely does not identify with those roots.
That's socially retarded to go around forcing labels on people that they don't fit with.
And you don't achieve anything.
So what are they trying to achieve?
I got four theories at the very least as I write this.
The Desire to Generalize
Before we go into some of the bigger topics, let's discuss a simple truth about people first.
Something basic that could explain why some Mexicans would say something like "Mexicans are mestizos."
While there are plenty of Mexicans with very weak or no ties to indigenous ancestry, most do have indigenous ancestry if we're being fair.
Which, as a side point, does make me get why they generalize all Mexicans as "being mestizo."
Some people simply like to generalize and it makes sense why they would for Mexicans given that most Mexicans are mestizo.
The Mexican in Denial
Next, let's discuss a real possibility that I've pondered.
It's a theory of mine.
I'm not Mexican and I'm only trying to get into the head of people like those who run the "Mexico en imagenes" account.
But there's a part of me that wonders if said Mexican perceives other Mexicans of wanting to deny their indigenous roots because they perceive having indigenous roots to be bad?
Basically, a type of Mexican who wishes to see himself as being white or not as non-white as he actually is.
You see this in other Latinos also.
Like Dominicans who deny having any African heritage.
I'm sure there's Mexicans out there with significant "indigenous" heritage (not necessarily Aztec) who deny it completely.
Granted, I could still understand why they don't identify as indigenous if they were truly not raised in that culture.
Like an ex-girlfriend of mine who was Mexican that, despite having indigenous heritage, didn't identify as such due to the lack of upbringing.
But this type of Mexican, if I had to guess, might even straight up deny having any heritage to begin with.
Defining the National Tribe
Next, it's a topic I wrote about before in this article here months ago on race and nationality in Latin America.
In many countries around the world, it's not uncommon for folks to try to construct a "national identity" of what it means to be American, Mexican, Argentine, etc.
For example, in the US, you have many people who don't care so much about this topic.
Then you have others with wildly different ideas on what America should look like.
Some who want a black ethno state (black nationalists), others who want a white ethno state (white nationalists), others who see America as a land of immigrants and want a very diversified country of people of many backgrounds, etc.
In Mexico, I see this narrative of "somos mestizos" to be an effort to contribute to the national idea of what it means to be Mexican.
"Mexicans are mestizos."
Though I don't know when efforts began to construct the idea of what it means to be Mexican, I do know the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution had its influence as you can read this article here titled "Mexican Mestizo Identity in the Twenty-first Century."
"When the PRI came to power after the revolution, the government revitalized representations of the mestizo and the notion of a dual European-Indian her- itage. With the mestizo the PRI sought to unify a Mexico that as a result of the revolution was deeply socially, culturally, and economically divided. As Karen Lehmann has noted, the mestizo “refers not only to the process of racial mixture, but rather to the process of cultural syncretism or acculturation, whereby the two great cultural traditions that clashed in the sixteenth century have become meshed in a single emerging global culture that . . . is now considered to be the national culture. At least so goes the argument wielded by those who see in the figure of the mestizo the kernel of nationalism and national unity.”3
This post-revolutionary mestizo ideology was promoted by successive PRI governments. According to historian Richard Morse, the mestizo held distinct political attractions for the PRI: “Whatever the new mythology may lack in sociological accuracy is compensated by the vigor of its political appeal.”4 The renowned anthropologist Bonfil Batalla has summarized post-revolutionary mestizo ideology: “The nation is rooted in its Indian past, a glorious period that ends with the conquest in 1519. Hereafter, the mestizo figure represents the true Mexican.”5
Or as you can read here as it relates to the efforts of Mexican artists on constructing a national identity after the Mexican Revolution.
"Diego Rivera, together with José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, became known as ‘Los Tres Grandes,’ or ‘The Big Three.’ Despite their differing political beliefs, the three artists played an instrumental role in building a national identity. Their murals found inspiration in the visual remains of the Catholic conquistadores and the wall paintings of Aztec cultures in an artistic vocabulary that united the complex histories of the Mexican people. The actualization of these scenes through art served a social purpose: to establish a public, unrestricted dialogue. The Big Three had grown up during the time of Diaz, within a highly socially and economically stratified society, and the proliferation of information fought against these inequalities."
While I don't think the average Mexican promotes this idea of "us being Mestizos" to unite the country from falling back into a conflict like the Mexican Revolution, I do think that many are invested into this idea of "Mexicans being mestizos" for whatever reason.
Be it a desire for anyone to want an intact and homogeneous tribe (as homogeneous as mestizo allows).
For that reason, you have folks in the US who equally have their own visions of what the US should be like demographically.
To other Mexicans not really giving enough of a shit to look past their ignorance and realize that not every Mexican is like them with considerable "Aztec" or indigenous roots.
Next, we should go back to that tweet way above in which the author of "Mexico en imagenes" asked if the Romans were not Italian?
Reading into that, I wonder how much of this "the Aztecs were part of our history" is at least somewhat based on a need to want national pride in your country's history.
Aztec pride and all that.
You see some Mexican-Americans really drive home much harder on the "Aztec pride" than any Mexican ever would.
When Mexicans talk about indigenous people though, they tend to talk positively of indigenous civilizations of the past with pride but yet many do treat current indigenous folks like shit or, at the very least, not give a fuck regarding any current abuses inflicted on their communities in the present.
Still, I imagine any Mexican saying that he "doesn't have Aztec roots" is seen, at least in part, as an attack on the historical pride on having a strong empire in your country's history.
Which is a little bit illogical because one could accept that the Aztecs were part of Mexican history, be a Mexican but yet not have any real roots of the Aztecs or any indigenous group.
But then what takes us to the question -- were the Aztecs part of Mexico? Were they Mexicans?
Just How Mexican were the Aztecs?
Well, there's two questions here as I just laid out.
Were the Aztecs part of Mexico and its history?
Were they Mexican?
I feel both questions are slightly different.
First, were they part of Mexico?
Well, they technically operated within some of the territory that is located on Mexican soil of today.
So I guess they were?
Then we have the second question: were they Mexican?
You see, in the first question we answered, it actually was slightly difficult for me to answer.
Because "part of Mexico" implies that Mexico existed as a country.
And, if they were part of Mexico, that naturally makes them Mexican.
They definitely operated within the territory that we call Mexico today.
But they didn't have a country called "Mexico."
However, the rulers of the Aztec Empire were known as the "Mexica" people as you can read here.
Still, Mexico was simply not founded as a country (gained independence) until September 16, 1810.
So it's tough for me to say?
To be fair, I'm obviously not an Historian.
There's so much I don't know so it's even harder to answer if "they were Mexican."
On top of that, the land we call Mexico changed so fundamentally from the point before the Spanish colonized it to after Mexico gained its independence.
It'd be like if I ran the US, conquered a very homogeneous society like Japan, decimated their population, made it less homogeneous and fundamentally changed the culture in many ways.
With actual Japanese people than becoming basically second class citizens afterwards.
Then I name the country of Japan "Mattlandia."
Was the great Japanese society part of "Mattlandia?"
While Japanese people still exist in such a society three hundred years later and their culture still has an influence in "Mattlandia," it is very much a different place than what it was before.
Still, as I said, I'm not an Historian and there's plenty I don't know about the history of the Aztecs.
I'm literally just giving this some thought now and answering what makes most sense to me based on the information I have.
If you have any other opinions on this or new information to suggest that they were Mexican, then I'll listen in the comments below.
So what's my final verdict anyway?
Were they part of Mexico? They did operate in the territory we call Mexico today but obviously were not part of any formal country called Mexico.
Were they Mexican? I'd say no for the reasons above (Mexico didn't exist yet, it was a very different society than now, etc) but I get why people would prefer to see them as Mexican or part of Mexican history.
After all, they did call themselves Mexica, they did operate in the territory of Mexico, numerous Mexicans today have indigenous roots tied to them, etc.
Among any other points in favor or against calling them "Mexican."
Anything to Add?
So that's all I got to say on the topic.
I might edit this later if other ideas worth mentioning should be brought up in the article.
If you have anything to add though, drop a comment below in the comment section.
And follow my Twitter here.
Thanks for reading.