Dear Mexican: Why do so many Chicanos claim to be Aztec?
Chicano Stuck in Leavenworth
Dear Gabacho: You're right. The beaner love for everything Aztec mostly stems from the Chicano Movement, which appropriated various Mexica iconography (the stylized United Farm Workers black eagle, the concept of Aztlán, the airbrushed paintings of warriors and scantily clad heinas on car trunks and blankets) to make a long-vanquished culture their own during an era when they were searching for an ethnic heritage. They, in turn, got the idea from indigenismo, the Mexican intellectual movement from the 1920s that took pride in Mexico's Indian past. And the indigenistas, in turn, went with the Aztecs, because they're the Lost Cause of Mexico.
There is more known about the Aztec empire than other Mexican indigenous groups, because the Conquest—the foundation myth of Mexico—involved battles between the Aztecs and Spaniards that featured copious documentation, both in the codices that survived and the Spanish chronicles. The ultimate symbol of Mexico—the golden eagle perched on a cactus, with a snake in its beak—references the Aztec legend of the foundation of Tenochtitlan. And Nahuatl words are muchos in Mexican Spanish—for the gabachos at home, any word that ends with the suffix -te (chocolate, tomate, cacahuate, aguacate) came from the Nahuatl suffix -tl.
But the Mexican must admit that he cringes at Aztec worship. For one, all that obsession comes at the expense of other tribes, tribes that the Aztecs probably would've killed or subjugated if they were still around—they were the Romans of Mexico, and I don't mean that as a compliment. In addition, that romanticizing has problematic roots: Indigenismo was part of bigger project of justifying modernity at the expense of the past. "Indigenismo was ... a means to an end rather than an enduring mission," wrote David A. Brading in his 1998 paper "Manuel Gamio and Official Indigenismo in Mexico." "If incorporation was its aim, then essentially, it sought to destroy rather than fortify the peasant culture of native communities. Modernizing nationalism of the brand advocated by (Mexican intellectuals) found consolation in past glories, but its inner vision was based in the liberal resolve to transform a backward country into a modern nation able to defend itself from foreign hegemony."
But, hey: If you want to change your name from Jose Gonzalez to Nezahualcoyotl Moctezuma, and go to sweat lodges on weekends, even though you're lighter-skinned than a Southern belle, be my guest! I'm sure your ancestors who fought the Aztecs—both indigenous and Hispanic—would've approved!
Why do Mexicans in Mexico refer to each other by certain traits when they are from different towns? For example, I heard people from Monterrey are codos (stingy)? And I heard people from Guadalajara are usually blond. What about Mexicans from Durango, Michoacán and Sonora?
Dear Wab: It's not a Mexican trait—look at how Americans stereotype Midwesterners, Southerners, New Yorkers and even people from pinche Maine. But I'll answer your pregunta, because this is a teaching column for gabas, so let me bust out a bunch of otros Mexican regional stereotypes: People from Durango have a cowboy mentality; michoacanos are trashy; and those from Sonora are rugged individualists. Sinaloans are nuts; folks from Jalisco are stuck up; and gente de Veracruz are talkative. Los de Oaxaca are stubborn; Chihuahua residents are tall and light-skinned; and people from Guerrero are born outlaws. Finally, people from the mighty state of Zacatecas are the greatest people on God's green Earth.