Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Metro Station History of Mexico

Forget the big fat textbooks. You can get the down-low on Mexican history simply by cruising the metro.
As you might imagine, dictators, full-blooded Spaniards and traitors are not overwhelmingly honored – there is no Metro Porfirio Díaz, nor Metro Cortés nor Metro Malinche (the famous Indian woman who was Cortés´s translator and lover and is generally considered the ultimate traitor of all time). More of the historically-oriented stops honor the heroes of the Mexican Revolution, although the topsy-turvyness of that time ensures that you’ve got in some cases both the former Mexican presidents and the leaders who overthrew them. Here’s a run-down of some major stops winding generally from pre-conquest to post-revolution.

The “poet-king,” Nezahualcoyotl ruled the city-state of Texcoco, creating the “Athens” of the New World, his court full of philosophers, artists, musicians and sculptors. There’s some doubt whether he actually wrote all the poems attributed to him. One of them appears in tiny print on the face of the 100 peso note:
Amo el canto de zenzontle
Pájaro de cuatrocientas voces,
Amo el color del jade
Y el enervante perfume de las flores,
Pero más amo a mi hermano: el hombre.
I love the song of the mockingbird,
Bird of four hundred voices,
I love the color of the jadestone
And the enervating perfume of flowers,
But more than all I love my brother: man.


Moctezuma II Xocoyotzin was the second-to-last Aztec emperor and the unfortunate one who welcomed Hernán Cortés into his sumptuous palace in Tenochtitlán where he and his men stayed for several months. It’s not entirely clear what went down, but Cortés screwed over Moctezuma, who ended up a prisoner in his own home and died not all that long after.

Cultlahuanctzin (whose name was later changed into Spanish language as "Cuitláhuac" which is SO much easier to say) was the tenth Aztec emperor and the one who defeated Hernán Cortés in the Battle of La Noche Triste ("Sad Night") in 1519. Cortés and his native allies tried to escape from the castle in Tenochtitlán (now Mexico City) and basically got slaughtered.

Besides a metro station, the Aztec Emperor Cuauhtémoc, whose name means "descending eagle" in Nahuatl, also has a statue just down Reforma from Colombus. He took power in 1520 as successor of Cuitláhuac, not the happiest time to be an Aztec ruler. As Wikipedia has it: “He ascended to the throne when he was 18 years of age, as his city was being besieged by the Spanish and devastated by an epidemic of smallpox. Probably after the killings in the main temple, there were few Aztec captains available to take the position.” Cuauhtémoc is still a somewhat popular name for baby boys.

Isabel la Católica
Queen Isabel of Castile helped Columbus finance his journeys to the Americas in between politically unifying Spain with her husband Fernando II of Aragón and spearheading the Inquisition which expelled the Jews from Spain.

La Raza
Literally “the race,” the term comes from the book La Raza Cósmica, by José Vasconcelos in which he proposed that eventually all of the people within the Spanish Empire would completely mixed into a new race that had the best attributes of all the cultures. Here, Columbus Day on Oct. 12 is called "Día de la Raza."

Benito Juárez (1806-1872), a Zapotec, was Mexico´s first and only Indian president. He served an impressive 5 terms (considering many successors only lasted months and years), overseeing such major programs as the expropriation of church lands, bringing the army under civilian control, liquidation of peasant communal land holdings, and adoption of a constitution.

General Ignacio Zaragoza was a hero of the Battle of Puebla – that´s right, the very one we’re supposedly celebrating every Cinco de Mayo. On May 5, 1862, the Mexican army kicked butt against the way better-equipped and experienced French army which took advantage of America´s distracting Civil War to invade Mexico and set up a short-lived monarchy.

The station logo depicts the church bell of Dolores Hidalgo, a symbol of the Mexican War of Independence (1810) against Spain and the eleven-year-long insurgency that followed. (Metros Allende and Hidalgo are named for notable insurgentes).

Emiliano Zapata raised a peasant army in Morelos in southern Mexico, supporting Madero in the overthrow of Porfirio Díaz. However Madero didn´t address his and his followers’ demands for “Tierra and Libertad,” so the fight continued until Zapata was killed in 1919.

Barranca de los Muertos (Gully of the Dead)
A barranca is like a ravine. During the Mexican Revolution (1910 – 1921) this was a place where revolutionary soldiers dropped many corpses. Just delightful. The Mexican revolution lasted from 1910-1917 and killed as many as 1 million of the population of 15 million. The war overthrew Porfirio Díaz, who ruled from 1876 to 1911 (minus 4 years when he put a hand-picked successor in charge). After he was overthrown, Francisco Madero took over, but was soon overthrown, as were 8 others between 1913 and 1920.

Niños Héroes

The Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848 was the one that ended up in the cession of the Mexican territories that are now California, Arizona and New Mexico. The “Boy heroes” were six teenage military cadets who died defending Mexico at Chapultepec Castle in the heart of Mexico City from invading U.S. forces in Battle of Chapultepec on Sept. 13, 1847.
Scenario 1: They were ordered to fall back, but they instead fought to the death, the last survivor wrapping himself in the Mexican flag and leaping from the castle to prevent it from being taken by the enemy.
Scenario 2: Five commited suicide by stabbing himself and the sixth jumped off the wall, all saying they would rather kill themselves than be killed by the Americans.

Either way, the Niños Héroes are right up there as far as martyrs go.

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