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Wabash in Mexico

Ben Gonzalez '07

“¡No te quedas en las calles tan noche!”  Those words were repeated over and over by my mother over the phone when I informed her that I would be in Mexico City over Thanksgiving Break for our history 350 level class.  Even though she was not from Mexico City she was from the Western city of Guadalajara.  Her conception of Mexico City was that it was the center of crime and street violence, hence that became my notion of Mexico City since I grew up with one foot in North America and the second foot along the serene beaches of Mexico’s west coast.  Yet after a few days of immersion I have been able to look past my prejudices of Mexico City and truly appreciate the historical memories that the city possesses around every corner, but this would have been unattainable if it had not been for the interaction with the professors at Wabash, which have played a crucial role in my Wabash experience.

One of the first places we visited as a class was the Zócalo, the center plaza of the Mexico City.  Immediately Dr. Warner tested our knowledge of the historic location.  Within seconds the bare facts were thrown out by all of us: “Center of the Aztec capitol,” “Built on top of a lake,” “Largest Aztec temple was built here,” and “The presidential palace is to our right.”  But within moments our Wabash education took form: “Spaniards built the cathedrals on top of the Aztec temples in efforts to erase the historical memories that celebrated the Aztecs,” “The city is literally sinking, just look at the cathedral,” “This past election’s loser, Obrador (AMLO) will inaugurate himself as president here on Monday,” and “Curious, Mexicans revived their indigenous roots, but have still held on to the Catholic faith.”  That same day we explored the ruins of the main Aztec temple, which was just a stone’s throw away from plaza.  While there explored the ruins and noticed one thing, the temple had layers.  This asserted our classroom discussions on how the Aztecs built on top of past pyramids.  To add, along the walls of the museum we read the words written by the conquistadors, “The pyramids are built with such detail that it is as if they were carved from wood, the craftsmanship cannot be replicated any where else in the world, they are done with such detail because they are the temples that house their (Aztecs) idols” (Cortes).  One of our next stops ended up being the pyramid ruins in Teotihuacan. 

I wandered ahead of the group toward the temple of the sun.  Right then I over heard a couple discussing how amazed they were how the Aztecs managed to construct the pyramids of Teotihuacan.  Being a Wabash Man drove me to educate the couple with the actual fact of the pyramids.  After informing them that the Toltecs were the original builders of the pyramids I then proceeded with an explanation of the avenue of the dead.  They thanked me and then moved on, I stood there though and wondered, “Why do Mexicans take such pride in the Aztec empire?”  I then brainstormed all the indigenous components of modern-day Mexico.  The symbol on the flag was the answer to the ancient prophecy according to the Aztecs, that their promised land was the spot were they would see an eagle with a serpent in its mouth, on a cactus.  The spot was then conveniently located on an island in lake Texcoco. The name itself Mexico was changed in efforts to maintain some indigenous influence, Mexico was originally Mejico on Spanish maps.  The answer is still something that I am working on, but being here has helped tremendously because I can communicate directly with Mexican students and professors, Wabash has granted me this to complement my hours and hours of work with secondary and primary sources.

Teotihuacan was the sight of mass human sacrifices and two great empires.  Yet that day it became many more to all of us on the trip.  After twenty grueling minutes of having every muscle and sinew in our legs and knees over worked, we made it to the top of the temple of the sun.  Once to the top we exchanged photographs among ourselves and other tourists.  The pinnacle of the ascent became the sing of Old Wabash on top of the temple were countless were sacrificed.  We sang the song, accompanied with Wabash game chants as well, people took notice and that was our goal.  As Wabash Men we made sure that the song was heard “… Loud and long shall it be heard till hill and valley are ringing . . .” Of course, people asked and with my Spanish I explained and made sure that “. . . And spread the fame of her honored name where ever the breezes blow. . .”  Believe me; the wind was blowing that day since Teotihuacan is located outside of the cities.  The winds were not Chicago, but all I had on was a polo shirt and jeans, so by the time we made it to the top I was frozen.  Standing up there with my classmates triggered an arsenal of thoughts, but one stood out.  I was there up top because of Wabash and my colleagues. 

There are very few colleges where I would know all of my classmates and we all supported one another in and outside of class.  Up top we all represented different components of campus: athletes, environmentalists, majors, non-majors, those with Hispanic backgrounds, those without, Greeks, liberals, Independents, conservatives,  sophomores, juniors, seniors, academia, and administration.  We all stood up there as Wabash Men and sang the song.  In addition it made me realize that Wabash (Not Purdue, IU, Ball State, UCLA, or Stanford) is the only college that I know of, that sends its undergraduate students abroad to owe up to its mission statement, all at the expense of the college.  People can express their opinions of Wabash, positive or negative, but they will be unable to sway from my loyalty to Wabash College.  The only part that disappoints about Wabash is that I am constantly reminded by our Alma Mater about the inevitable, “. . . These fleeting years we tarry here beneath the scarlet sway/ Beguiles us with its subtle charms then quickly steal away . . . .” The disappointment is that the undergraduate Wabash experience ends.  I will have to find a new place to challenge me the way Dr. Aden did with history 497 and the way Dr. Rhoades will challenge me next semester, as a second semester senior, in history 300. 

One of our other group stops has been the Chapultepec Castle which has helped me answer my question of “Why Mexican history is shaped the way it is now?”  The castle once housed the passed presidents of Mexican and other leaders such as Diaz and Maximilian.  Yet as I walked the ornate hallways and exhibitions, I could only keep the story of the Boy Heroes that my uncle once told me.  The castle became a military fort during the War of Northern Aggression/ Mexican-American War, while under siege the only survivors were a handful of pre-teenage boys.  These boys fought off North American soldiers until they ran out of ammunition.  Out of ammunition all of the boys agreed that it was heroic to die rather than become prisoners of the invading North Americans, hence one of the boys draped himself in the Mexican flag and they all threw themselves from the castle and to their deaths.  I pondered on the story and realized that these boys had more monuments in the castle than Porfirio Diaz did.  Diaz controlled Mexico for decades while these boys had a brief moment of heroism in the eyes of Mexicans then and now.  Mexicans have chosen to remember those that became martyrs to the masses such as the boy heroes, Zapata, Villa, and the last Aztec king Cuauhtémoc.  They have limited their historical memory to those that represented a violation of the rights of the masses, Diaz and Cortes.  I am actually so immersed with Mexican society and cultural right now, that I have forgotten that it is Thanksgiving today, this all I can produce right now since I would like to call my family. 


Happy Thanksgiving.


In Photos: Top Left: Mexican National Flag flying high at Zocolo. Top Right: Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. Bottom Left: Dean of Admissions Steve Klein, Professor Rick Warner, Jesse James, Jon Miller, Don Feeney. Bottom Left: Adrian Mendoza and Ben Gonzalez in front of one of the many Siqueiros murals