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Mexicans Confronting Racism: Aztec myths to modern stereotypes

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A man in a straw hat and glasses and a black Tshirt leans against a railing. An archaeological site is visible in the background.

Ismael Rivera, historian and cultural guide, in front of ancient Aztec ruins in Mexico City. (Photo by Anthony Wallace)

There’s an idea in Mexico that racism doesn’t exist, that all Mexicans are “mestizo” – a homogenous blend of Spanish and indigenous. But cultural worker José Antonio Aguilar says racism is lived by Black and brown Mexicans in many ways.  He founded Racismo MX, an organization which seeks to dismantle racism, after coming to terms with his own racial reality as a “prieto” – a brown man.  We also hear from anthropologist Ismael Rivera and Aztec expert Camilla Townsend as they unravel lies the Spanish colonizers told about ancient Aztecs that still feed racist tropes today.  

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  • José Antonio Aguilar – Racismo MX, Founder and Director
  • Ismael Rivera – Anthropologist, Historian, Cultural Guide
  • Dr. Camilla Townsend, P.h.D. – Rutgers University, Professor 


  • Nahuales Negros – Chinampa, Cempasúchil, Barcos A Lo Lejos, Mixquic, Teponaztli, Danza A Pakal


  • Host: Amy Gastelum
  • Freelance Producer: Anthony Wallace
  • Producers: Anita Johnson, Salima Hamirani, Amy Gastelum, and Lucy Kang
  • Executive Director: Jina Chung
  • Interim Senior Producer: Jessica Partnow
  • Engineer: Jeff Emtman



Making, making, making contact, making contact.

[00:00:13] Amy: Today on Making Contact we’re going to Mexico where one organization is tackling racism.

[00:00:20] Jose Antonio Aguilar Contreras: We have a saying in the Mexican society that goes “marry a white person to improve the race.” In Mexico it’s so normal to say that the grandmothers say that to the granddaughters and it’s like, you know, you have to find someone whiter.

[00:00:35] Amy: And, our producer Anthony Wallace takes us back in time to talk about how lies the Spanish conquistadors told about the Aztecs have led to racists tropes that still affect brown Mexicans today. 

[00:00:47] Camilla Townsend: Once things like this start to get repeated over and over again, even by scholars, it becomes absolute fact almost impossible to dislodge.

Amy: That’s next time, on Making Contact

[00:01:01] Anthony Wallace (NAR):  Calle Madero is a street that cuts through the heart of the historic center of Mexico City. The road starts at an Art Nouveau-style palace topped with a massive yellow and orange dome. As you walk east, the road narrows. Old brick Spanish-colonial-style buildings with skinny porches lean in on you as you move through the crowd.  Finally, the claustrophobic street opens up to a massive plaza –This is El Zócalo, Centro Historico in Mexico City—and today, at least architecturally, it looks a lot like Europe. But if you look closely you’ll see signs that this place was once something much different. Here’s what I mean: In one corner of the plaza, there’s this huge gothic cathedral. But black and red volcanic rocks bulge out from the church’s walls, something you’d never see in Europe. And in the shadow of that cathedral, I spot the man I’m here to see. 

[00:01:54] Anthony Wallace: Hey, how’s it going, ? Good to see you again. 

Ismael Rivera: Good to see you again. Yeah.

[00:02:01] Anthony Wallace (NAR): I met Ismael Rivera a few months ago on my first trip to Mexico City. He was my tour guide, introducing me to the city’s hidden past. Today he’s going to do it again. 

[00:02:11] Ismael Rivera: I am from, Mexico City, Tenochtitlán. And I’m an historian, an anthropologist, and nowadays I’m a cultural guide also. 

[00:02:22] Anthony Wallace (NAR): Those volcanic rocks in the church above us used to be a part of an entirely different monument, an entirely different city.

[00:02:29] Ismael Rivera: You see the rock, the Red, red Rock? Yeah. This is tezontle rock, this is our volcanic rock. The Aztec or Mexica they used this rock to build the temples, palaces, and houses.

[00:02:41] Anthony Wallace (NAR): In 1978 — a few years before Ismael was born — workers here were digging to install an underground power transformer. They happened to strike a piece of the buried city of Tenochtitlan — the capital of the mighty Aztec empire.

That accident triggered a major archeological dig right here in the city center that would finally uncover a sliver of the grand old city. 

For centuries before that discovery, the mainstream history of this area was written by the Spanish conquistadors who colonized Mexico. That story has not always been kind to the people that originally inhabited this lost world — the Aztecs. And it’s not just inaccurate. It feeds present day prejudices. Ismael wants to undo that story, one tour at a time.

[00:03:22] Ismael Rivera: There’s a lot of mistakes and misunderstandings about Aztec culture.   And it’s my responsibility to, to explain to Mexican people and other visitors from other countries, the other version about our history.

Anthony Wallace (NAR) We walk up to the edge of the excavated hole just steps from the cathedral. We lean on the metal railing and look down at a portal to another world, the exposed ruins of Tenochtitlan. It’s an archeological site roughly the size of two football fields.

Ismael Rivera: Nowadays underneath is, there’s the remains. Ancient city, Aztec city.

[00:03:42] Anthony Wallace: We are also, right now we’re standing on like against railing.

Ismael Rivera: Yes. Because the, the remains at the temple are below us. Yes, exactly. 

Anthony Wallace: And five meters? 

Ismael Rivera: At least five meter, 

Anthony Wallace: 15 feet, 20 feet

[00:04:13] Anthony Wallace (NAR): The Spanish arrived in Mexico City 500 years ago. And they did the same thing they did all across the Americas. They plopped their new colonial city right on top of the old indigenous one. 

[00:04:23] Anthony Wallace (NAR): We’re looking down at Tenochtitlan’s central monument — the crumbling outline of the Aztec’s Templo Mayor. In 1520, it was a 200 foot tall pyramid. The center of the empire. If you look closely, you can still see elaborate stone carvings of mighty snake heads. In its day, this place was the height of power and culture in North America. 

This central plaza hummed with the sounds of conch shell trumpets, people exchanging cocoa bean currency for tamales and insect egg delicacies. There were floating gardens and two-story buildings painted and covered in flags and flowers. People glowed in cloaks made of neon-colored feathers. The Spanish that got to see this place in its former glory, said it was like being in a dream. 

But we don’t normally get all this color from mainstream Western history.

Unlike Ancient Rome or Greece, the Aztecs are often portrayed as merely violent — without any important redeeming qualities. And those lessons linger.

Standing just beside the pyramid ruins and cathedral, Ismael and I ask a bunch of tourists walking by, people from the U.S., Mexico, and beyond: What do you think of the Aztecs?

[00:05:21] David: Oh, interesting. Uh, I don’t really think about them, uh, if I’m being frank.

[00:05:25] Sam: I mean, before, like today, I, there’s a brand in America called Azteca, like tortillas. That’s basically all I knew.

[00:05:33] Sam: so, I think it’s, I think it’s very obvious. I’m from the US.

[00:05:37] Michael: Oh man. I guess like, I didn’t know too much about the Aztecs before, um, but I do know like that the temples were used for religious purposes for human sacrifice, which is also pretty dark. Mm-hmm. . . Yeah. I mean, that’s like one. Like, I guess the memes that people know of the Aztecs, I’d say, right? Yeah.

[00:05:55] Anna: Qué querían hacer sacrificios por todo.

[00:05:58] Glen: I guess if there’s one good thing that Catholicism brought, it was that to, to end human sacrifices,

Anthony Wallace: Mm-hmm. 

[00:06:05] Anthony Wallace (NAR): Over the past 500 years, an image of the Aztecs and other Native people of Mexico has solidified in popular culture. The story is that they were brutal, devoutly dedicated to bloodthirsty gods that demanded they murder lots of people on a regular basis. So they’d cut the beating hearts out of their victims’ chest with a razor sharp obsidian blade, as the crowd of onlookers cheers wildly. Like in the gory Mel Gibson movie “Apocalypto”….

And when the conquistadors came, these violent and bizarrely spiritual Aztecs confused the Spanish newcomers for gods, paving the way to total defeat. Like in the animated kids movie, “The Road to El Dorado”…

When the Aztecs show up in fiction, they’re very often the bad guys.

[00:06:41] Anthony Wallace (NAR): A lot of times, the main character is an innocent outsider, from another land or even a time traveler, and they’re suddenly subject to sacrifice.

[00:06:48] Anthony Wallace (NAR): Today, Historians that have studied the physical evidence and the actual records left by the Aztecs know that while they did practice human sacrifice on a smaller scale, it was nothing like you see in the movies. They did not slay tens of thousands of people at a time and pile their bodies up so that the sun would rise the next day. And there’s no good reason to think they mistook the Spanish for gods. In fact, the Aztecs built an empire not so different from Ancient Rome or Greece. They made art and science and fought for their own survival and power — they were human. The caricatured version of them comes from the Spanish conquerors who had a clear reason to paint the Aztecs as barbaric.

[00:07:25] Ismael Rivera: This story is just to, to refuse and deny, deny the greatness of the culture. So that’s the point. 

[00:07:36] Anthony Wallace (NAR): Ismael and others want to tell the story right, because those misconceptions about the past feed racism in the present.

[00:07:43] Jose Antonio Aguilar Contreras: when I was a kid, some of my friends called me Negro, no? But back then I was like, I associated Negro with bad because everyone thought back then that Negro is bad, no?

[00:07:54] Anthony Wallace (NAR): I met Jose Antonio Aguilar Contreras in the quiet Juarez neighborhood, lucious with purple blooming Jacaranda trees. We made our way to the top of the building, where Jose’s organization has its small office. On the wall is a neon pink sign with their name: RacismoMX. They monitor, research, and raise awareness of racism in Mexico. 

[00:08:14] Jose Antonio Aguilar Contreras: I hope that, uh, children and young people, when they look at themselves in the mirror, they see beauty and they see potential and they see, they see success, no?  I, I, I, I want that because probably, when I was a kid, I didn’t see that in the mirror, no?

Because I, I didn’t see myself in the media. I didn’t see myself in the narratives And you saw all the artists and they were all white. And I, I, I, I wondered what if I want to be like them? I couldn’t be there. I don’t see myself, no? Or if I want to be on television, I should play the role of the thief or, or the drug dealer or the, you know, the employee, you know, that everyone hates, et, etc.

[00:09:04] Anthony Wallace (NAR): RacismoMX is making a documentary, they do workshops, conferences, consulting with big companies on inclusivity — and their podcast… 

From podcast: “el elefante en la sala….”

[00:09:09] Anthony Wallace (NAR): …is called “el elefante en la sala” or the elephant in the room. Because, in its modern history, Jose says Mexico has denied racism and embraced the myth of the mestizo. That’s the idea that all Mexicans are the same, homogenous descendants of both Europeans and Indigenous ancestors. 

[00:09:25] Jose Antonio Aguilar Contreras: We live in this, uh, fantasy of being mestizo, okay? And uh, therefore it doesn’t make sense to talk about racism, right? It’s like, why are you talking about racism? If we are all the same, we are all mestizos, no? We are all this kind of combination. But it’s not true because if you look at the data, if you look not only at the quantitative data, but also the qualitative stories, uh, it’s a systematic problem, no? Afro-descendant people, Black people, uh, indigenous people mestizo people, with brown skin and indigenous features – they live racism in many ways.

[00:10:02] Anthony Wallace (NAR): Today, Mexico’s poorest states, Chiapas, Guerrero, and Oaxaca, are among those with the highest portions of indigenous people. On average, dark-skinned Mexicans earn 40% less and complete 3.5 fewer years of school than light-skinned Mexicans. And in Jose’s own life, moments of discrimination have added up.

[00:10:21] Jose Antonio Aguilar Contreras: We arrived to this nightclub and they said, everyone can can get in except you. And I was like, why? Because if you go in, the quality of my place falls. And, uh, for example, if you open an app here in, in Mexico—Grindr or Tinder—and gay men usually say, no Asians, no fats, no brown skin. And it’s really, Yeah. In a, in a, in a racialized country like Mexico, you find that, no? Surprisingly enough, accepting my homosexuality was easier than accepting my, my, racial reality, you know? That, that was an issue. And then finally when I was around 30, I’m in my forties, but when I was 30, I accepted I, I’m a prieto, I’m a brown skin, you know, I come from indigenous, no? And I don’t deserve that, that kind of treatment. So that’s why I started all this movement.

[00:11:18] Anthony Wallace (NAR): Jose says this kind of discrimination fits right into the old Spanish story that the indigenous people of Mexico, like the Aztecs, were uncivilized and dangerous. 

[00:11:28] Jose Antonio Aguilar Contreras: Many people, regardless of their identity or tone of their skin, whatever, they can agree with that narrative, no? Like they were barbarians, this is a slaughterhouse and this was bad. Mm-hmm. I didn’t grow up looking at the Aztecs the same as the Greeks, because of course we have this universal history, no? And we saw those great advancements. I was once in Italy and I went just behind the church in Rome, and you find a lot of skulls like in walls, right? And I remembered a lot of the tzompantli, which is kind of the same here in the Aztec world, where they, you know, piled up all the skulls in sticks, right? So I’m not trying to justify the Aztecs. I, I believe those kind of things happened, but it happened because we were humans 

[00:12:28] Anthony Wallace (NAR): Back in Mexico City, Ismael takes me to a museum of Aztec artifacts recovered from Templo Mayor. He shows me massive carved stone monoliths, sculptures, and hundreds of obsidian knives. 

[00:12:39] Anthony Wallace:  So these are like little offering, ofrenda?

[00:12:42] Ismael Rivera: Yes. Ofrenda. 

[00:12:43] Anthony Wallace: So these were found inside the temple? 

[00:12:46] Ismael Rivera: Yes. Inside the, in different areas and different chambers and things. 

[00:12:49] Anthony Wallace (NAR): There are these little neatly made displays with sand, sea shells, little figurines, corral 

 [00:12:55] Ismael Rivera: From the sea, because underworld is representing in our aquatic environment. 

[00:12:58] Anthony Wallace (NAR): And, centerstage in the display are skulls. They’re the most noticeable part. 

[00:13:00] Anthony Wallace:There’s like three human skulls in here? 

[00:13:02] Ismael Rivera: Yes. Oh, because they belong to the families of the same clan or they got the highest priest.

[00:13:07] Anthony Wallace: So the skulls that you see in the offerings, they’re Aztec people, they were not sacrificed?

[00:13:15] Ismael Rivera: No, no, no. They weren’t sacrificed when it’s like a tomb. Yes, it’s a grave Aun. 

 Anthony Wallace: Okay. Okay. Okay. 

[00:13:23] Jose Antonio Aguilar Contreras: But when we reviewed the Aztecs, we look at them in the context of the conquest process, right?

[00:13:30] Anthony Wallace: Do you think that plays a role in this internalized racism, that historical narrative? 

[00:13:35] Jose Antonio Aguilar Contreras:Yes, of course. I believe that. I believe that, especially for people in Mexico City which is, uh, the most populated city in, in the country, of course we have that sentiment, that feeling kind of, of, of defeat. Defeat, right? Mm-hmm. So yes, I believe that. 

[00:13:53] Anthony Wallace (NAR): Jose thinks undoing that Eurocentric story could be part of the solution to the problems his group’s working on. 

[00:13:59] Anthony Wallace: You say part of the, the process is providing a more nuanced history. Yeah. How do you go about that?

[00:14:06] Jose Antonio Aguilar Contreras: One of them is not creating this, uh, narrative of good and bad, no? And, and this kind of dichotomic narrative. Like they were the goods, we were the bads or, or the opposite. Because the opposite also happens, no? I have found people that say, well, the Aztecs were like the top of the world. And actually, no, of course they weren’t perfect and I don’t like to romanticize, you know, this, this kind of empires, they were what they were.

I think that, uh, the more we see the human with all their nuances and their contexts, uh, the better we have, uh, an understanding of the past. And of the future. And of course, the present.

[00:14:47] Anthony Wallace (NAR): And in the present, RacismoMX is busting the myths of the barbaric Aztecs and the Mestizo with a program nicknamed YARL – Y – A – R – L. 

[00:14:55] Jose Antonio Aguilar Contreras: -The Young Anti-Racist Leadership Project, and we picked 10, uh, young people around Mexico to come to Mexico City. And they have top-notch classes with, with, uh, historians, uh, economists, um, and people that lead, lead the anti-racist movement in Mexico. We are creating leaders that I, I think, um, the anti-racist movement in Mexico need now. 

[00:15:19] Ismael Rivera: So this area where we are now used to be the ceremonial center. 

[00:15:22] Anthony Wallace: So that was that big thing was uh, one of the schools. Which one?

[00:15:27] Ismael Rivera: This is where they learn science and arts. 

Anthony Wallace: Science and, okay. 

Ismael Rivera: Well, medicine, philosophy, history, laws. 

[00:15:37] Anthony Wallace: Do you think it’s getting better? Like do you think that more people are starting to understand the truth and the, how advanced the Aztecs were and not just this…

[00:15:46] Ismael Rivera: More people, more, most Mexican people, they start to feel more proud.

Anthony Wallace: The general population? 

Ismael Rivera: Yes, I think so, yes. 

[00:15:58] Anthony Wallace (NAR): In those conversations with people by Templo Mayor — we could tell that after seeing the ruins, a fuller picture of the Aztecs was hitting some of them. 

[00:16:13] Man: But to me, it just amazes me that this whole thing was canals before. Pyramids. Yeah. You know, it’s just like mind-boggling. Giant lake. Yeah. Yeah. City, giant. 

[00:16:22] Michael: I was really Blown away.

Yeah. Um, by just, and I just hadn’t given it much thought. Like, I’m like, okay. There are some folks here that used to sacrifice people, but that’s, this gives me a much deeper appreciation for things. Yeah. 

[00:16:33] Anthony Wallace: Do you feel like proud?

[00:16:34] Carlos: Yes. Okay. Yes. I, every time I come to Mexico City, I feel like those, those, those chills are on my skin, cuz I know I’m, I’m back to a place where everything started. Yeah, yeah. I never felt like I’m home in Los Angeles. But here. Yes. As soon as I land here, I’m like, I’m back. I’m back home. You know where, where I belong. 


You’re listening to Making Contact. In the second half of the show Anthony is going to sit down with Aztec expert Camila Townsend. Settle in, you history buffs, Townsend is going to unravel some of the biggest lies about the Aztecs, and let us in on what was actually going down in Tenochtitlan. Stay with us. 

[00:17:18] Anthony Wallace (NAR): When I saw Camilla Townsend’s TED Talk about the Aztecs, I knew I had to talk to her. It’s called “We Should Change Our Minds About The World’s Villains.” She’s a history professor at Rutgers University and her recent book is called Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs. It’s a “new history” because it’s not based on the Spanish stories. She’s studied the Aztec’s language, Nahuatl and read their own accounts. And when you do that, a much different picture of the Aztecs emerges. Especially when it comes to human sacrifice… 

[00:17:49] Camilla Townsend: Right. I mean, I, I think probably the most important thing that needs to be said is that although it did happen, it didn’t happen in the way, or to the extent that we tend to understand, there’s a sort of mythical understanding that hundreds or even thousands of people would be killed at a time. You know, heads are supposed to have been just rolling down the pyramids. 

[00:18:10] Anthony Wallace (NAR): One Spanish source, from the 1500s, said the Aztecs sacrificed over 80,000 people in a four day period for the inauguration of Templo Mayor. This is almost certainly not true. But folks are still citing this source! Including a 2011, nonfiction book titled, The Great Big Book of Horrible Things. It claims the Aztecs sacrificed over a million people. Again, not likely. But the book was accepted and celebrated by the public and some academics. The New York Times wrote a review. 

The thing is, figuring out just how many people the Aztecs killed in this way is very difficult, like solving a 500 year old crime. But there are clues, like the physical evidence: actual skulls in the ground. 

[00:18:38] Camilla Townsend: For a long time, people had been surprised that in the, the temple precinct there in, in central Mexico city, only about 400 skulls had been found. This did not make sense given what we thought.

[00:18:51] Camilla Townsend: But then in 2015, uh, the tzompantli or the, the skull rack, the great, the Huey Tzompantli, the great skull rack was found and everybody said, okay, now we’re gonna find the thousands and thousands of skulls. 

[00:19:05] Anthony Wallace (NAR): But the fabled skull rack turned out to have a just a few hundred skulls. If the Aztecs were butchering 80,000 people in a weekend, where were all their bones? And there’s more evidence: in an original Nahuatl manuscript at a library in Paris, Townsend found an Aztec-written record of the events of a huge, once-in-a-lifetime-type sacrifice ceremony. 

[00:19:21] Camilla Townsend: That was a big celebration for them, kind of like the end of a century. And they went to the three most powerful kings. And two of the three agreed to come up with 20 captives to mark this great celebration, these captives would then be sacrificed. So here they weren’t bragging. This was just sort of a factual account of the events. And so I suspect this is actually what happened. Now, I feel very badly again for those 40 people but it’s not the thousands and thousands that the Spaniards are telling us. It’s just a completely different sort of thing.

[00:19:53] Anthony Wallace (NAR): Based on that and the number of skulls discovered by Mexican archeologists in the area, Townsend estimates the Aztecs killed 2,000 people in human sacrifice ceremonies in Tenochtitlan in about a hundred years. It’s impossible to know for sure, but that is nowhere near the estimate of 1 million that you find in the The Great Big Book of Horrible Things. 

[00:20:09] Camilla Townsend:  Of course it’s tragic that those people died, but we should keep straight what did happen and what didn’t happen, not assume that this was sort of an industrial killing machine, uh, when it does not seem to have been. 

[00:20:21] Anthony Wallace (NAR): Townsend also points out that in the Náhuatl sources, sacrifice seems less like a twisted religious practice and more like a political move to intimidate enemies. Classic empire behavior really. The victims were often prisoners of war, killed ceremonially instead of on the battlefield.

I asked Townsend about another legend of the conquest. The idea that the Aztecs thought that Hernán Cortés, the leader of the Spanish conquest, was one of their gods in the flesh.

[00:20:44] Camilla Townsend: It was something that seemed to be deeply pleasurable, I think, to European men to imagine that they were worshiping us. 

[00:20:49] Anthony Wallace (NAR): This idea isn’t just in fiction, but in serious sources — like textbooks and BBC documentaries… 

[00:20:55] Camilla Townsend: But when you look at the actual Náhuatl sources, they did not expect their God kek to walk on earth again in 1519. Nor did any of the Nawa say anything about believing that Cortez was a God? Nor did Cortez himself at that time in what he, in the records he wrote and sent back to Spain at that time, say this. This was something that was developed later. 

 I think that these indigenous sons and grandsons in the late 1500s kind of leapt at this cuz they were looking for an explanation. You know, how had their dads and granddads lost so badly? They needed to understand it, and it made sense to them to think, oh, my forebears were just too devout for their own good.

[00:21:37] Anthony Wallace: I found that to be enlightening to kind of understand the origin of this idea and it it, this is an interesting case of how. Myth can become fact really because it’s not just like this a rumor or something. This is something that’s taught in school, in official history books 

[00:21:58] Camilla Townsend: Exactly. Once things like this start to get repeated over and over again, even by scholars, as you say, it becomes absolute fact, almost impossible to dislodge. And um, unfortunately, scholars have started to cite each other rather than cite the original Náhuatl sources. And I think that’s what we have to get, get down to business in doing more.

[00:22:18] Anthony Wallace (NAR): The Náhuatl sources don’t just refute old Spanish myths, they bring the Aztec world to life. They were proud of their culture, technology, and city — one of the most spectacular in the world at the time. 

[00:22:29] Camilla Townsend: Mexico City, or Tenochtitlan as it was called then, was known really far and wide for being particularly beautiful. 

[00:22:36] Anthony Wallace (NAR): The city was carefully planned, built in the middle of a great, now-dried lake. There were wide central roads and artificial islands constructed to be floating gardens.

[00:22:45] Camilla Townsend: You could hear music whenever it was time for the prayers, the call to prayer, so to speak, was done through con shells, which were used. Trumpets is kind of very haunting. Um, music, they all had birds. beautiful cage songbird

[00:23:03] Anthony Wallace (NAR): There were colorful flags everywhere, there were libraries and schools and even a zoo with jaguars and exotic reptiles. 

[00:23:09] Camilla Townsend: There was a huge market, uh, that actually, I believe this is true put to shame most of the markets of Europe. There was even a section where you could get lunch. I mean, in effect fast food 

[00:23:21] Anthony Wallace (NAR): It had everything from obsidian mirrors, to rubber balls, to barbers cutting hair. The Aztecs drank hot chocolate with honey, and rose. They ate lobster, spicy tomato sauces, and lots of tortillas. Of course, all of that’s lost when the Aztecs are reduced to brutes in the Eurocentric version of their history. In that skewed version of the story, the Aztecs seem so strange and violent, that they really don’t seem human anymore. That idea has consequences in Mexico as we heard from Jose. But it’s also worked as powerful propaganda in the US. 

[00:23:51] Camilla Townsend: it started in a big way in this country a long time ago during the Mexican American War. They actually distributed to soldiers a book called, uh, history of the Conquest of Mexico by, uh, a man named William Prescott. And the soldiers in their diaries, some of them compared themselves, you know, just as.

It had been necessary for Cortes and his men to bring down the evil Aztecs. It was now necessary for them to bring down the evil Mexican general Santa Ana. Um, and this may seem like it’s a long time ago, but this story got repeated for generations. This book by William Prescott was well loved for a long time.

It’s still in print. Um, so I partly for that reason, the story has remained strong

[00:24:35] Anthony Wallace (NAR): These ideas are also recognizable in more recent political rhetoric, about the character of immigrants from Mexico. 

[00:26:14] Anthony Wallace (NAR): In reality, the Aztecs were vibrant people — flawed in familiar ways — with aspects both awesome and disturbing. Camila’s and Ismael’s work shows that the “history” that we learn in school can have strange roots and cut out whole chapters in the story of humanity. In her book, Townsend describes how Aztec historians worked. They would stand before crowds and recount tales of the past dramatically, reciting lines of dialogue like actors. And then a different speaker would step up and do the same story but from another person’s perspective. It was exciting, complete, and human. Going beyond the Eurocentric story to include the Aztec perspective isn’t just more accurate and inclusive. It’s more relatable and more interesting. It’s a better story — in every way.

I’m Amy Gastelum.Thanks for listening to Making Contact. Until next week. 

Author: Jessica Partnow

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