Category Archives: Mexican territory

An Eagle Perched on a Cactus

In the year 1325, a tribe of people, known as the Mexicas, were wandering Central Mexico, looking for a place to settle. Legend has it that they were awaiting a sign from Huitzilopochtli, the God of war, sun and human sacrifice, to guide them home. They were directed to look for an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus. (A variation on the legend includes the idea that the eagle has a snake in its mouth.) The prophecy was fulfilled when the symbolic sight appeared on a small island in the middle of Lake Texcoco. The Mexica people, who would later become part of the mighty Aztec empire, believed that their God had directed them to the location where they should build a great city.

Mexico warriors in full dress

It defies logic to imagine how an ancient civilization, with none of the technology, equipment and tools we use in construction today, was able to accomplish such a feat. To build a giant city in the middle of a lake and make it accessible to the mainland required a huge amount of resourcefulness and creativity.

The Mexicas began by building a series of causeways for foot traffic,  and canals, called chinampas, for canoes and other water vessels. They extended from the north, south and west, and connected the island to the mainland. Bridges were placed strategically on the causeways to allow water traffic to pass, and they could also be lifted to block entrance to the city for protection. Thus the city of Tenochtitlan was founded.

Initially, there was just a tiny island surrounded by swampland that wouldn’t have been sufficient to house and feed the population. Using the chinampas system, the Mexicas began building small, farm islands in the surrounding area, which would eventually help to dry out the land and increase the size of Tenochtitlan. If you were to look at it from above, you would see a large, complex expanse of interconnected “neighborhoods” with the main city in the middle. It housed the city center where up to 60,000 people would come to shop at the open air markets.

Spanish colonization

Today, Tenochtitlan has become Mexico City, sitting squarely in the middle of the long-ago dried out bed of Lake Texcoco. There are still chinampas in and around the city that serve as both tourist attractions and working farms. Ecologists have studied this ancient civilization’s model of farming, because it successfully operated without destroying any of the area’s natural ecosystem. And if you’ll notice, in the middle of the Mexican flag there’s an eagle sitting on a cactus holding a snake, a nod to one of the greatest civilizations in its history.

Mexico flag

The Upside of Immigration

There is a growing effort in many of the developed countries around the world to stem immigration; to close ranks and try to protect one’s territory from the flow of newcomers. From an evolutionary standpoint, human beings are genetically programmed to establish groups. And the ability to do so is vital to our survival as a species. Organizing together is how we do everything from forming governments to building cities.

Unfortunately, this tendency toward tribalism can also lead to an “us” and “them” mentality, which is what I see happening in the U.S. and other developed countries today. The truly sad part about that attitude is that it cuts a society off from the richness of sharing traditions from other cultures. In the United States, countless contributions by the Hispanic immigrants from South America, Central America and Mexico are interwoven into our everyday life.

In fact, what many folks aren’t aware of is that a good portion of the U.S. was actually considered part of Mexico. In 1846, as a result of the Mexican-American war, the border between the U.S. and Mexico was moved nearly 1,000 miles to the south. Land that now constitutes the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Arkansas and Oklahoma was all part of the Mexican territory less than 200 years ago.

In addition to this shared history, Hispanic immigrants have made many wonderful contributions to the American culture. For example, Spanish has become a second language to many in this country, which is an improvement. Unlike most European countries, the United States is not known for prioritizing bilingual education. However, simply having many Spanish-speaking individuals around us provides the introduction to another language that we’re not getting in school.

Other Hispanic influences include major contributions to the performing arts. Through famous singers like Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez to salsa music and Latin dance, we have come to embrace the Latino culture. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention food! Every city in America seems to have at least one Mexican restaurant, and the style of cooking is so beloved that major Mexican restaurant chains like Chili’s, On the Border and Chipotle, are springing up everywhere you go.

I could go on to list the Hispanic politicians that have helped shape our government and the countless others who have helped to improve the culture of the United States. The point is that between the historical ties and what immigrants from the South bring to our culture, it is in our interest as a country to continue to work toward an immigration system that welcomes people from all backgrounds. Instead of shutting down our borders, let’s agree on a fair and equitable path to citizenship.

Dia de la Independencia: Mexican Independence Day

Before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1519 with the goal of colonizing the territory that would later become Mexico, the country was populated by a large number of Indian tribes that were quite different from one another in every aspect. Each group had its own unique identity that varied widely on everything from religious practices to language to economics to their governing structure. Under Spanish rule, the country became more cohesive in these respects. Ultimately, it was the desire to oust the Spanish occupiers that united the people of Mexico in a common cause . After nearly a century of being under Spanish rule, the Mexican people joined together to fight for an independent nation.

On September 16, 1810, in the town of Dolores, Miguel Hidalgo, famously called for a revolt against the Spanish occupation of Mexico. The speech took place in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, and is often referred to as the cry of independence, El Grito de la Independencia. Hidalgo was a catholic priest who had gone against the tradition of celibacy by getting married and fathering children. His army fought against Spanish soldiers, leading to his capture and execution in 1811. The cause was carried on by survivors, waging on for ten more years after Hidalgo’s demise.

The Mexican people finally won their hard-fought freedom from the Spaniards on September 28, 1821. However, September 16th is still considered the official national day of independance, Dia de la Indepencia, and is celebrated across the country with parades, fireworks, parties, and patriotic displays in the colors of the Mexican flag, red, green and white.

Though there is a deep and abiding national pride, however, centuries after becoming an independent, united country, the Mexican people are still dedicated to paying homage to their ancestors. Never forgetting their roots, they continue to honor their heritage through local art, festivals, and other cultural practices.

Guest blogger, Jacqui Keady, is a freelance writer and lifelong reader of mystery and romance novels. She lives in Folsom, California with her husband of nearly 30 years and two beloved dogs.

Cinco de Mayo

How did you celebrate the 5th of May, or as it’s more commonly known, Cinco de Mayo? Did you attend a party, go out to a Mexican restaurant or perhaps fill a pinata full of candy for the kids? As it becomes increasingly popular to celebrate this holiday throughout the U.S. regardless of one’s ethnic background, many people mistakenly believe May 5th is Mexican Independence day. In actuality, Mexican Independence day falls on September 16th. So what is the significance of Cinco de Mayo?

Cinco de Mayo Banner

In 1861, Mexico was invaded by several foreign powers, including England, France and Spain, all looking to establish dominance. By 1862, the Spanish and English had withdrawn, but the French remained. Though poorly armed, Mexican troops defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Even though the French were not fully driven out for five more years, that battle became a representation of Mexican resistance to foreign domination. Despite the symbolic significance of the victory, however, for many years it was only observed locally in the state of Puebla rather than country-wide. To this day, Cinco de Mayo is not recognized as a national holiday in Mexico.

Float during Cinco de Mayo parade

Interestingly enough, it was Mexican immigrants living in the United States who elevated the status of the Cinco de Mayo observance. To Mexican-Americans, Cinco de Mayo has come to represent a day in which they celebrate and take pride in their heritage. Because Latinos are the largest minority in the United States, accounting for more than 57 million residents, their influence on and contributions to American culture can be felt in almost every part of the country.

Mexican dance

Guest blogger, Jacqui Keady, is a freelance writer and lifelong reader of mystery and romance novels. She lives in Folsom, California with her husband of nearly 30 years and two beloved dogs.

Los Inmigrantes: What It Looks Like From Their Perspective

los-angelesIn my last blog, I talked about how I was writing a series of novels set in different regions of Mexico—the Yucatan, the west coast, the D.F., and you know what? I should have included another region of Mexico—California. I don’t mean that in a snide way, at all. It’s simply a fact. We were once, and are now, a part of the lives, economy and history of our southern neighbor. In fact, the great Mexican writer Octavio Paz once wrote that Los Angeles looked more like a Mexican city than a North American one—the way it floated haphazardly under the shimmering blue sky.

rooftop-bars-AD-Luna-Tapa-Bar-San-Miguel-de-Allende-Mexico-2Last year in San Miguel de Allende, I was talking to a waiter on the rooftop bar of the Rosewood who had just returned from the States. “At least,” I said, “you’re back in your own country.” He gave a dismissive shrug. “Pues, hay mas Mexicanos in Los Angeles que aqui in San Miguel.” There are more Mexicans in Los Angeles than here in San Miguel. He was probably right.

With all the name-calling, the sick sadism of Sheriff Joe down in Arizona and, finally, the Border Security Act, which was more of a financial security act for Bell helicopters since they got to unload moth-balled choppers on the American taxpayers with the help of Sen. Lindsay Graham, we really have no idea who these people are, what their lives are like.

7556862That problem is easily solved by reading. As far as I’m concerned, there is no better place to start than with California writer David Corbett’s book Do They Know I’m Running.

Quick synopsis: Roque Montalvo, a musically talented, eighteen year old Salvadoran immigrant is enlisted by his family in Richmond, California to go to El Salvador to bring back his uncle Faustino , who has been rounded up at the Port of Oakland in a raid and deported. Faustino’s son ‘Happy’ has entered into an unholy alliance with Central America’s worst gang, the MS-13 in order to accomplish this. Once in El Salvador, a land of violence, corruption and grueling poverty for the poor like Faustino, Roque begins a harrowing journey through Mexico, the country he must traverse to save himself and the ones he loves. After you finish this book, you will never be able to look at illegal immigrants the same way. It should be required reading for those in Congress who vote on immigration issues.

Not only that, this novel is a fabulous read. Here’s the NYT bestselling thriller writer John Lescroart’s blurb of the book. Couldn’t say it better.

“With lyrical yet muscular prose, an ahead-of-the-headlines plot, and utterly believable characters David Corbett’s Do They Know I’m Running? is nothing short of superb. This is not just a thriller, but an elegant novel, full of heart, soul, music, food, cruelty, betrayal, poverty and love. The line runs through Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene, straight on to David Corbett. I’m not kidding. He’s just that good.”