500th anniversary of Aztec conquest exposes cultural wounds in Mexico

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500th anniversary of Aztec conquest exposes cultural wounds in Mexico

Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztecs 500 years ago this week when he, and his native allies, toppled their capital of Tenochtitlán, today in the heart of Mexico City.

Now that anniversary is turning Mexican against Mexican in a heated debate that has ripped open ethnic, cultural and political wounds within the nation.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Friday asked the country’s indigenous Mexica people, the descendants of the Aztecs, to forgive the nation for the abuses they suffered during the 1521 conquest

But not everyone in Mexico sees it that way, including residents of the state of Tlaxcala. Their ancestors, also indigenous Mesoamericans, allied with the Spanish by the tens of thousands to topple the Aztecs, who committed their own abuses against neighboring tribes, in what Tlaxcalans see as a war of liberation.

 A man wearing traditional indigenous clothing of native peoples plays music prior prior a ceremony to commemorate the 500 years of indigenous resistance in Mexico.
A man wearing traditional indigenous clothing of native peoples plays music prior to a ceremony to commemorate the 500 years of indigenous resistance in Mexico.
Hector Vivas/Getty Images
A man wearing traditional indigenous clothing of native peoples poses prior a ceremony to commemorate the 500 years of indigenous resistance in Mexico.
A man wearing traditional indigenous clothing of native peoples poses prior to a ceremony to commemorate the 500 years of indigenous resistance in Mexico.
Hector Vivas/Getty Images

“[Cortés] is not seen exactly as a villain [in Tlaxcala], unlike in other places, but as someone who played a complicated role in history,” documentary filmmaker Yassir Zárate Méndez told The Guardian.

“It wasn’t 600 to 800 Spaniards who conquered [Tenochtitlán]. It was thousands and thousands of Tlaxcalans, Huejotzingas or other peoples, who were under the Mexica yoke and wanted to liberate themselves,” archaeologist Eduardo Matos Moctezuma told Radio Formula.

Tlaxcalans have often been treated as traitors within their own nation because of the role their ancestors played in toppling the Aztecs.

Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes (1485 - 1547), who conquered the Aztec capital of Mexico in 1521.
Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes (1485 – 1547), who conquered the Aztec capital of Mexico in 1521.
Stock Montage/Getty Images

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