Race and Classification: The Case of Mexican America

By Ilona Katzew; Susan Deans-Smith | Go to book overview

4 Moctezuma Through the Centuries

Jaime Cuadriello

I WAS BROUGHT UP WITH THE IDEA that colonial societies had existed in perpetual tension, the result of a dichotomy between imposition and resistance. The possibilities of alternative responses by different social groups involved either minor transgressions of order and political stability or a challenge to the statutes of the Catholic king. The latter inevitably led transgressors to the legendary dungeons of San Juan de Ulúa in Veracruz, to the cells of the Inquisition, or to a fugitive and thus silenced life in the Maroon forest. Such was the legacy of a free and obligatory textbook that was still under the spell of liberal and post-revolutionary nationalist thought. This official pedagogy posited a polarizing vision of history that contrasted the evil religious fanaticism of the Spaniards with an idyllic vision of ancient Mexico and the cosmovision of its indigenous peoples. As schoolchildren, we celebrated October 12 not to commemorate the arrival of Columbus's ships but to honor the “Día de la Raza,” albeit without knowing for sure, as mestizos, on which side of the racial equation between Indian and Spaniard we would fall. In keeping with this euphemism, in the 1940s the Mexican state went so far as to erect an improbable Monumento a la Raza, a massive pyramidal structure crowned by an eagle and decorated with reliefs of the indigenous leaders who resisted the Spanish invasion. To be sure, the “coward” Moctezuma was altogether absent from the decorative scheme. It is important to understand that post-World War II Mexico, a refuge for so many, was not immune to the passions and phobias awakened by the totalitarianism politics of Europe, which manifested themselves with considerable belligerence in the domestic political arena, even if only through journalistic anathemas that were more

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