Mexico City: The flight of the eagle
The ruins and remains are this city's history textbook, wide open for all to see, to read, to breathe.
Mexico City - Past and present collide right in front of the amazed eyes of the spectator who stands between the ruins of the Templo Mayor or Great Temple, and the Metropolitan Cathedral in downtown Mexico City. Two cultures, two spiritual beliefs, and two symbols are contiguous to each other, not only physically, but in an idiosyncratic coexistence that blends two tongues, two struggles, and two peoples into one single identity. An ambiguous identity fathered by one continent and bore by another, a dramatic and fierce fusion that gave birth to a great nation.
This is the land of the Mexicas (Me-shee-cas) or Aztecs –Tenochtitlan (te-noch-teet-lahn,) the territory where their god Huitzilopochtli (wee-tsee-loh-poch'-tlee) led them, the mythical region where they expected to see an eagle perched upon a nopal (prickly pear cactus) devouring a serpent, the indubitable sign to posses the land. Today, even in ruins, the Mexicas or Aztecs are majestic, imposing, frightening. What’s left of their grandeur hints of the sensation of thrill their war prisoners experienced in their last moments of life, before the sharp obsidian knife reached their beating hearts to accomplish its sacrificial end.
History is alive. History is breathing. History is an open wound. Downtown Mexico City resists leaving behind her past. In doing this, it reminds us through the cold stone of the ancient structures of the triumph and the tragedy that both built and destroyed an empire. “Don’t you dare forgive,” yells the fierce stone snake at you; “don’t you dare forget,” whispers the fearsome, fully-chromed Chacmool, laying in its everlasting posture. The remnants of a splendorous kingdom have a voice, a conscience, an eternal fate that vows not to let you forgive nor forget.
New generations walk by the ruins conscious and reverent, unaware and irreverent, amazed or indifferent. But the people, the Mexican people, the sons and daughters of the Aztecs, are still the proud people who despise the Spanish conquerors, and admire their past glory, their ancestors. To
know their history, all they need to do is walk on it. The ruins and remains are their history’s textbook, wide open for all to see, to read, to breathe. Unafraid of stepping on the large spines of the nopal, this cohort of new Mexicans are certain they are a contemporary eagle who will always
devour the serpent. Seeking to find new heights, Mexicans of the new Millennium, fly with their wings extended.
Yesterday is today in Mexico City. The echo of prehispanic times reverberates in the present-day Aztec dancers. With their splendorous and colorful featherworks, they make ancient times fresh as the morning’s dew. Their rhythmic movements, the sounds of their rattles and drums, and their physical appearance transport you to the past in the blink of an eye. The street vendors are here today as they were yesterday; their voices bouncing back from old walls attracting potential buyers. The medicine-men, amid the smoke of burning incense, invoke ancient gods, in spite of five centuries of Catholicism. Much has changed; much remains the same. Today is yesterday in Mexico City.
The city of the Aztecs is not an island anymore nor is it surrounded by a lake. Today, Mexico City is a megalopolis of 18 million people, one of the largest in the world. However, this city is passionate about its marvelous history, a passion reflected in the meticulous care the people have devoted to rescuing the past. Walking on its downtown streets, there is no need to travel through a time’s tunnel to go back in time; the past is right there, before our very eyes, so real that it is part of the present, and will be part of the future. Thus, Mexico City has become a three-dimensional metropolis where the past, present and future are one, and where layers of history are as visible and current as the news in today’s newspaper.