Monday, October 29, 2012

Week 15: Mexico

Buenos Dias from Mexico!!

I let my father, who is visiting from Wisconsin, choose the country this week.  I told him whatever country he chooses we have to eat some of the native food, and since good Mexican food is scarce in WI, well, here we are.  But the more I thought about it I got excited!  It's almost Halloween so there are some scary things to learn about, like the Chupacabre (and Montezuma's Revenge if you drink the untreated water from Mexico).  Also the day after Halloween is what's known in Mexico as Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.  It sounds scary but it is really a day to celebrate all the people and ancestors who have died before you.  It's a day of celebration with altars honoring the ancestors and skeleton masks and figures.  Too cool.
San Francisco has a big procession on Friday and I am debating whether or not it would be too much for the kids - we'll see.  But first, on to Mexico!  There is a lot to do in Mexico - beaches, the culturally-rich capital of Mexico City, and the ancient ruins of the Aztecs, Mayans and other civilizations that lived here long ago.  Let's start with a little history first.

Around 1000 BC, around the areas of Veracruz and Tabasco (yes, the sauce comes from there), a tribe called the Olmecs lived in large cities worshipping their Jaguar god and carving huge stone heads. No one really knows what happened but sometime around 400 BC they all disappeared!! Wow, creepy huh?  Later came a few other groups, the most well-known were the Mayans and the Aztecs.  These groups were very advanced in mathematics, astronomy, architecture and art, but also very brutal.  They ritually sacrificed humans to make their gods happy - sooooo glad I didn't live in that era!  The Aztecs were the most successful civilization with a huge capital city named Tenochtitlan that was in a lake.  It had pyramids and floating roads, aquaducts and great marketplaces.  The emperor ruled a strong government and life was good (unless you got sacrificed)- until the Europeans came that is.

In 1519, Cortez landed in Mexico with the dream of gold and riches.  He found it.  With only 400 men, 16 horses, guns, ammunition and a lot of luck he defeated the most successful empire in Mexico.  It was all a misunderstanding on the Aztecs side.  They thought that the light-skinned Spaniards were the messengers of their god Quetzacuatl and so they welcomed them into the area.  Their hospitality got the Emperor Moctezuma II, taken hostage but still he told his warriors to stand down.  They did stand down for awhile until they figured out their error, but by then it was too late.  The area of Mexico became a rich treasure for Spain and the native Indians were turned into slaves for the wealthy settlers.  Many of the indigenous people died from the new diseases brought from Europe, but those who survived waited for their chance at independence.  In 1810, while Spain was under Napolean's rule, they started a rebellion, and eventually a war, that led to their freedom from Spain in 1821.

Mexico had a few wars left to fight - with the U.S. over land, with themselves over reforms and leadership.  Unfortunately, to this day, real peace has never lasted very long.  It's a tribute to the people that they have remained the friendly, inviting people they are.