What is Cortes' reputation in modern Mexico?
August 29, 2005 6:07 PM   Subscribe

Hernando Cortez- what's his reputation in modern Mexico?

I read that there is only one monument to him in Mexico, which given his importance and the distance in time came as a mild surprise.

So how do modern Mexicans take him? How, for example, would a standard television documentary or middle of the road fathers' day biography portray the fellow? Devil incarnate for whom the one statue is already one too many? Embarrassing historical figure but too important to ignore? Brave if tragic founder of the nation who lived in a time of different standards and perceptions? Something in between? Is he written about, talked about much at all? And how has his reputation changed, if it has changed, in the past, say, two hundred years? (Is he perhaps being hijacked from history for political usage, as happens in the US and elsewhere?)

NB lest we get too derailed - I'm interested in Mexican, or at most Latin American opinions. Popular and academic. North of the Rio Grande need not apply.

Bonus points by the way for the same question, only substituting Peru for Mexico and Pizarro for Cortes.

Thank you in advance.
posted by IndigoJones to Media & Arts (11 answers total)
Best answer: If he is thought about at all, he is considered a vaguely sinister figure.

No way, no how is he in any way considered a founder of Mexico. He is seen as a conqueror but in the darkest sense of the term, as an outsider, an invader. If you want to know more about how he is thought of then you also need to know about La Malinche, the Indian women who acted as his translator. If you want to know what Mexican people think of her, then this article might give you some insight:

La Malinche, who took part in the Spanish conquest and gave birth to one of Cortes' children, has become a symbol of a nation that is still not entirely comfortable with either its European or its Indian roots.
But even though Mexican and Mexican-American intellectuals have begun to rethink her meaning, La Malinche is for the most part portrayed as the perpetrator of Mexico's original sin and as a cultural metaphor for all that is wrong with Mexico.

And in that last phrase there is something else. Mexican intellectuals and academics love to expound on Cortes and La Malinche. Cortes is our father, but he is also the man who raped our Indian mother. We Mexicans are his bastard children and we'd rather not be reminded of that.

The "founders" of Mexico, by the way, are the men who broke independence from Spain and France or who led revolutions and there are a billion monuments to them - Hidalgo, Juarez, Zapata etc. Men who embody the revolutionary spirit, the will to fight and to establish what is uniquely Mexican.
posted by vacapinta at 8:09 PM on August 29, 2005

He's talked about, but mostly as a hostile invader. Most Mexicans are very proud of the Aztec empire, and the Spanish destroyed it. Also, they took all the treasure they could get their hands on, and México was immensely rich in silver.

One thing that always comes up in conversations about Cortez is how he wouldn't have won so easiliy, if at all, if it wasn't for Moctezuma's belief that the Spanish were descendants of the gods, more specifically Qutzalcóatl. He was invited to Tenochtitlán, he was amazed by it, and decided to take it.

While this might not all be historically accurate, that conveys the sentiment here towards him.

Slight derail: If you like Aztec history, I recommend you read "Aztec" by Gary Jennings.
posted by Penks at 8:29 PM on August 29, 2005

Vacapinta nails it: If he is thought about at all, he is considered a vaguely sinister figure.

A few years ago I was at the the University of Veracruz in Xalapa. Afterwards I wanted to visit the beach where Cortes came ashore. When I asked the history faculty where that might be, they really had to think about it, they seemed to think it a trivial question. Eventually I got directions, which brought us to a broad, almost deserted beach some miles north of Veracruz.

There was no monument there, no park, no signs or anything. It is just not considered a significant historical site. I bought a beer at the lone tienda and asked the girl if this was where Cortes had come ashore. She wasn't sure and had to ask the owner, who said yes it was.

Compare this to the way Americans fetishize Jamestown and Plymouth Rock! There is a topic for an essay...
posted by LarryC at 8:30 PM on August 29, 2005 [1 favorite]

Or, what vacapinta said.

Damn, I need to learn to type faster.
posted by Penks at 8:32 PM on August 29, 2005

Great comment Vacapinta.

LarryC: there is a big difference in the way the English conquered Virginia and the Spanish Conquered the southern half of the New World. For example, with very few exceptions (the marriage of Pocahantos, a daughter of the Indian King, to Englishman John Rolfe, being the most important), the English didn't mix with the indigenous people. They just stole their corn and slaughtered them. Therefore, Jamestown and Plymouth rock is seen as the "founding"of America in many ways.

Mexico was born, as vacapinta points out, much later when the Spanish rule was thrown off in the 19th Century (I believe). You see, the Spanish conquistadors slaughtered and stole like their English counterparts, but they also mixed with the indigenous peoples relatively freely creating a mestizo race that was neither European nor wholly Indian (the "bastard chidren of Cortéz" as vacapinta puts it). It was the descencdents of this original race mixing that "founded" Mexico. Same is true in most Latin American countries (perhaps Argentina is an exception).

BTW, most modern day Latin Americans really don't like the Spanish at all because they find them arrogant and obnoxious. And they certainly don't consider Spain the "madre patria".

If you want an interesting take on the first European contact with indigenous peoples in North America, I suggest reading Argall and Fathers and Crows, both by William T. Vollman. They are fiction, but well-researched and amazingly literary historical fiction. They both spend a lot of time myth-bustin.
posted by sic at 3:48 AM on August 30, 2005

Response by poster: The very model of a metaquestion answer page! Strong start, interesting and pointed follow ups, and suggestions for further reading. Many thanks to all, esp. Vacapinta, these are exactly what I was looking for.

BTW, most modern day Latin Americans really don't like the Spanish at all because they find them arrogant and obnoxious. And they certainly don't consider Spain the "madre patria".

(This is interesting. I read someplace that Spain is actually trying to woo Latin Americans to Spain to make up for the population decline, a decline they would sooner not have corrected by Muslims.)

Again, many thanks.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:27 AM on August 30, 2005

(This is interesting. I read someplace that Spain is actually trying to woo Latin Americans to Spain to make up for the population decline, a decline they would sooner not have corrected by Muslims.)

I hadn't heard that there was a concerted effort to do this and I've been living in Spain for 7 years now, but it does have a certain logic given the current state of the world. I'll have to look into it. The relatively new socialist government here in Spain is definitely better received in Latin America than the Conservative government it replaced. But regardless of the party in power, there is a lot of immigration from Latin America to Spain because economic need trumps cultural bias any day and also because many Latin Americans have Spanish ancestry, therefore it is easier for them to enter the fold of the EU via Spain.
posted by sic at 8:04 AM on August 30, 2005

I don't know if you read Spanish, but here is the history page from the city of La Antigua, one of LarryC's disputed landing spots.

Note the town seal on the left, depicting Cortez's arrival.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:18 AM on August 30, 2005

Response by poster: sic- It was some time ago and my memory may be reading more into the article than was justified by the text, or the author might have been attributing more than he ought to the facts, and of course I can't remember where I read it. In doing a quick search, however, I did find this, which is a start. Check this space later, in case I can find anything. Let us know if you find anything.

Pollomacho - Also interesting! I notice it's only the ships, not the men. One would love to see the minutes of the design team's meeting.

PS- Anyone know about Pizarro?
posted by IndigoJones at 11:53 AM on August 30, 2005

It occurs to me that you may have been referring to the very recent "regularización" of illegal but working immigrants in Spain. I think around 800,000 illegal workers who were able to convince their bosses to give them legit contracts (no easy task) were given legal residency. The Zapatero government is trying to crack down on illegal workers, but not by criminalizing the workers, but rather the scumbag businessmen who hire them without contracts and pay them shite. They claim that from now on they are going to send many job inspectors out to lay very heavy fines on infractors.

I hope so.
posted by sic at 5:59 AM on September 2, 2005

Response by poster: sic- I wasn't, but that's interesting, I must look into it. Thank you for mentioning it. Wonky and pathetic as it sounds, I find current demographic changes in Europe worth following.

(Tenerife. Very nice.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:59 PM on September 2, 2005

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