After a brutal siege, Cortes destroyed Tenochtitlan and conquered Mexico.
When silver was found in central Mexico, around the mid 1500s, more soldiers came and atrocities between the natives and the invaders were rampant. Right behind the soldiers came the priests, and a universal campaign to convert the Indians to Catholics began. Today Mexico is one of the most devout Catholic nations on earth.
The silver ran out, Napoleon kicked Spain’s butt back home, and Spanish influence waned. As the Stones sang ‘the time was right for fightin’ in the streets,’ and the Mexican War for Independence began right here in San Miguel de Allende. Get that story here.
Independence was rocky and it was a full century before Mexico could find its political legs. Lopez de Santa Anna – pretty boy, nouveau riche wannabe, selfish demagogue, forced his way to the presidency on four different occasions. Americans know him as the guy that crushed the Alamo. Mexicans know him as the guy that lost his leg in a battle – so it, the leg, got a military funeral.
The United States was the next aggressor to lust after Mexican stuff, and stole Texas. Allowing thousands of non-Hispanic families to secretly cross the border into Mexican Texas, the American government moved swiftly to have these new residents vote themselves into a republic. This is why Santa Anna was at the Alamo in the first place, Mexico wanted its land back. Eventually, the nation of Texas got itself admitted to the United States as a state. The whole thing took about fifteen years. The War of American Intervention lasted only two years, but it defined today’s Texas-Mexico border, it is referenced in the Marines’ Hymn where they misspell Moctezuma, and it introduced Ulysses S. Grant to Robert E. Lee.
Finally rid of the Gringos, a relentless civil war followed. Miraculously, the great Benito Juarez was elected president following the tenets of the Mexican Constitution he helped create. Similar to Abraham Lincoln, Juarez came from a humble background and is a national symbol today for visionary ideas. Juarez was a liberal and fought for an open democracy, rights for downtrodden groups, economic reform, and stripping the Church of its political influence.
Then another annoying greedhead showed up – France. They sought to collect debts owed to itself, England and, of course, Spain. Juarez basically told them ‘Y’all took enough from us, we ain’t paying a centavo.’ So, aggressive Napoleon III dispatched French troops, under the guise of repo-men. At first it looked good, the underdog Mexican army won at the Battle of Puebla! This took place on May 5, 1862. Today Cinco de Mayo is a minor holiday in Mexico, but is heartily celebrated at college campuses and sports bars across the United States.
The tide turned against Mexico, and France finally wedged in deluded Maximilian and his loopy wife Carlota as emperor and empress of Mexico. This, predictably, did not go well. The Americans didn’t want any Frenchies on their borders, and they interfered as much as they could. In an attempt to remove resistance, Maximilian executed thousands of Juarez supporters. Finally it all fell apart for the interlopers: his wife – monomaniacal, paranoid, depressed – went back to Europe never to return, and Maximilian faced a firing squad.
Juarez went back to power. (We told you this stuff was impossible.) But after his death the government came under the control of Porfirio Diaz … for the next 35 years. There is still a raging discussion in Mexico about the Diaz era – on the one hand he pushed Mexico into the modern age, wanting his country .to be seen on a par with European countries. He built schools, hospitals, bridges and encouraged a European-style art architecture scene, One of the side effects was he brought beer to Mexico with modern-sounding names like XX (as in Twentieth Century), or old Europe sounding like Bohemia or Corona (a king’s crown).
On the other hand, Diaz was in the back pockets of many American and other big businesses, he allowed child labor, and he could be a vicious despot to combat those who spoke against him.
Sick of Diaz’s caca de vaca
, Francisco I. Madero called for an armed uprising against the government, and in 1910, the Mexican Revolution raged. Pancho Villa in the north and Emiliano Zapata in the south, along with dozens of other local and national clashes, fueled the uprising. United States business interests threw a tantrum cuz they lost their puppet Diaz, and had Madero assassinated. The Revolution was ugly. It had infighting, betrayals, a couple of civil wars, mass confusion, to this day scholars ponder if it was a good or bad thing; but finally, after the dust settled – around 1940 – Mexico had a solid constitution, was a free nation, and stood as one of the first great social successes of the Twentieth Century.
With a few hiccups, some extremely ugly, Mexico, as a nation has progressed into one of the great world nations. In 1938 President Lazaro Cardenas nationalized all the oil in Mexico, creating Pemex, the national oil company. The world went ballistic, but Mexico secured a stable income stream from its own resources. The economic news has been mixed, but it seems to be more good than bad for the nation because of it.
In 1968 Mexico City, at the time the largest city in the world, hosted the Summer Olympics. It signalled Mexico as a nation that could sit at the table with the big boys. It must be noted that ten days before the Olympics opened, Mexico City police opened fire on 10,000 student protesters, killing hundreds. Yet another occasion where Mexican history mixes social change and blood.
Today, Mexico suffers internationally from bad press because of the insidious drug cartel wars. The reality on the ground, however, is that these incursions are very localized, and despite the vicious stories, day-to-day life in virtually all of la Republica is safe and quiet. Additionally the atrocities don’t often occur near where travelers would go. In the tourist-y areas, security is a premium. In revered places like San Miguel de Allende there is a relaxed, comfortable vibe that makes it a dreamland for the visitor.
The Mexican struggle for, and commitment to, freedom has been a bloody, passionate trail for centuries. With such community-wide life lessons, the citizens here possess an inner peace, a mystical satisfaction in their hearts that is obvious to any visitor. Viva Mexico!