Mas o Menos: Revisiting American History Through A Mexican Lens (S1 EP4)

Mustafa Shaikh
3 min read

If you're a history nerd, this episode is for you. If you're not a history nerd, it's still for you.

This post wasn't sent out on Saturday because I was lazy. Rather as a test. Oddly enough a few weeks back when I sent an email out on Saturday, it had a 20% increase in its open rate, which goes against conventional thinking. Let's see if history repeats itself.

Without further ado.

One of the things I appreciated most about my time in Mexico City was being able to learn about Mexico's history. As someone who was a history stud in high school, I had a self-realization that I knew very little about Mexico's history outside of say NAFTA, Vicente Fox, and the drug war.

Visiting sites like Templo Mayor, you get a nice history lesson on the progression of the Mexican civilization, and specifically Tenochtitlan, the city we now know as Mexico City. You first learn about the pre-Hispanic era when different tribes settled on Lake Texcoco (Mexico City used to be a giant lake). Over time the city of Tenochtitlan grew and its military might allowed it to became the seat of the Aztec empire.

Then in the early 1500s, the Spanish came and blew things up. Cortes set up shop in Mexico City and went to work on conquering the other surrounding territories to create New Spain. 300 some odd years later, the Mexican people won their independence over a series of disparate regional battles—New Spain becomes the Mexican Empire with Mexico City as the capital of the country.

During my days spent meandering and thinking about Mexican history, what I found to be most interesting was how the telling of the history of Mexico starts in Mexico. In the U.S., when you learn our country's history, it doesn't actually start on mainland America—it starts in Europe.

You learn about Christopher Colombus and his expeditions. You move on to other European explorers like Magellan and Cortes. Eventually, you make your way onto the Jamestown settlers, and everyone's favorite, the very well-branded Pilgrims. (Sidenote, I've been to Plymouth Rock, and yeah, it's underwhelming.)

At some point in the mix, the Native Americans pop up. You actually go back in time to study some of the more prominent tribes before learning about the interactions they had with European settlers. Once that's handled, you jump back to the European colonies and keep sailing towards the American Revolution.

There's a key difference between these two very abridged histories: the spot at which Native Americans come into the picture is in the middle of the story, while Mexico's story begins with its indigenous people.

Now obviously there's another big difference. The Native American tribes didn't kick European settlers out and unite together as a singular country. If there's one thing that's true across global societies, history is written by the victors.

With that being said, I find it interesting that learning about the history of the land we reside in doesn't start with the first people that are known to reside here. We view Native Americans as being discovered by European explorers. In Mexico, it's a different story: life was fine in Mexico when the Spanish came along and brought a whole lot of death with them.

By learning history the way we do in the U.S., it colors our perception of Native Americans. It feels fine for Native Americans and their culture to be at the fringes of today's society because they were a detour, to begin with. There's not a real line drawn in the story of our country that ties Native Americans to today's society.

In Mexico, they've gone as far as to weave the stories of indigenous and Spanish cultures together under the team "mestizo." It's a bit of an abstract concept, but essentially it's the idea of a shared cultural identity that serves as the foundation for the country of Mexico. (And to be fair, there are plenty of critics of this concept.)

There's an opportunity to change the way we learn America's history. We don't need to kick things off with Christopher Colombus, who as a reminder, didn't make landfall in present-day America. (That'd be like me telling my story and starting with "Well there was this Pakistani guy that proposed to my mom, and she was like, 'Nah, you live in Norway. That's too cold for me.'" True story.)

Before we give Colombus his roses, let's acknowledge the people that were first holding it down in New York and Kansas. Maybe the Native Americans didn't win the war, but that doesn't mean we can't give them their rightful place in history.

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Next week on Mas o Menos ... I'm still in the process of thinking about what to write next week. Maybe something about Colombia?

This essay was edited by Mustafa Shaikh. Blame all grammatical errors on him.

You can catch up on past writings here.