Aztec Iconography in the Modern World

Lecture transcript

Dr Gerhard Wiesenfeldt, 19 June 2014

Adrienne: A very good evening to everyone and welcome to this evening's lecture, which is co‑hosted by the University of Melbourne and Museum Victoria as part of the Aztec's exhibition which features over 200 cultural treasure's from Mexico's major museums.

Before we begin, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet tonight. These are the people of the Kulin nation and we pay respect to their elders, past and present.

In this series of special lectures, showcasing both here at Melbourne Museum and the University of Melbourne until the end of July, two of our most iconic and important education and cultural institutions have combined their expertise, (as well as with other institutes as we'll see tonight), and experience to provide a background and depth to the Aztec's exhibition.

Tonight's lecture, Aztec Iconography in the Modern World, will be presented by guest speaker, Dr. Ralph Newmark. Dr. Newmark is an historian and well‑known in Melbourne for his dynamic and exciting lectures in which he combines scholarship with presentation on Latin American popular culture.

He is the current director of the Institute of Latin American Studies at La Trobe University, otherwise known as ILAS. He is also the Victorian regional representative of the association of Iberian and Latin American studies of Australasia.

Dr. Newmark is the coordinator of the institute's summer and winter intensive subjects. If you're interested, have a look out for those. Dr. Newmark's teaching and research reflect his interest in the links between popular culture, especially music and political and economic history.

Without further ado, please join me in welcoming Dr. Ralph Newmark to the stage.

Dr. Ralph Newmark: Thank you very much, Adrienne, and welcome everybody. First, I'd like to say I'd like to thank the Melbourne Museum. I'm really thrilled that this exhibition's come to Australia. That's a really once in a lifetime opportunity. I'm assuming everyone in the room has seen the exhibition because it really is a wonderful chance to see a culture that of course is very distant, seemingly, from Australia.

Indigenous cultures are extremely important. Indeed, this is one of many Mexican indigenous cultures, and I hope you have seen it. Tonight I'm going to divide it basically in three.

The idea of iconography, or images, or symbols is really what I want to talk about, and the idea that the Aztec culture of course was indeed thriving, well over 500 years ago. Does it live on, and how does it live on, and particularly, how is the idea of the Aztec's used in a number of contexts in Mexico? I particularly want to explore beyond Mexico.

I'm going to actually look at that area of Mexico that is no longer Mexico, the Mexico that was taken by the United States in the 19th century because we're going to see as we get down to number three there that Mexican American identify is quite linked to an idealized Aztec past. First, we're also going to look at this very interesting, relatively seemingly new cult of Santa Muerte. Now, this is something that has some extraordinary images with it, and we'll explore that in the middle part of the lecture.

First of all, in a way the idea of the Mexican flag, I mean Mexico itself, the image of the country itself. Mexico, as we know, received its independence, or gained it from Spain, ultimately in 1821, and the flag that was chosen in the end did actually reflect much aspects of Mexican history, and particularly the idea of the Aztecs. Now this flag, which you can see here, of course everyone knows the Mexican flag, that image in the middle is something that we're going to explore now, and this is an idea of current iconography of the Aztecs being very much part of today.

As a historian, I know of course that the past and the present are in continual dialog. History is about today, and everything that exists today is conditioned by history. This is a great example that the idea of Mexico is summed up not necessarily just by modern Mexico, but by having right smack, bang in the middle of the flag a major image of the Aztecs about the foundation myth of the Aztecs, so that's what we're going to look at.

The map here that you see is Mexico as it was conceived, well certainly in the distant past, but also in many ways how the Aztecs saw Mexico because that land at the top, which is called here, as you can see, Aztlan, was indeed said to be the distant, and original home of this nomadic tribe, the so called Mexicas, or Aztecs as we called them, who wondered from the north somewhere in a mysterious north through Mexico down South until they came to an area where they saw a special symbol which was to be the place where they would build their great city of Tenochtitlan.

This image here is a map that was drawn after the conquest but, in a way, retraces the journey and the foundation of the great city. The idea was...By the way, this Atzlan is going to come back a bit later in the lecture when we go to the more modern day in what's now called the United States.

The idea was that a symbol would be seen by this roaming tribe from the North. The symbol would be an eagle on a cactus with a serpent or a snake in its mouth in the middle of a lake. Indeed, this is the story of what happened. This was seen, and you can see in the top image an idea that this image appeared and this was the place for the great city of Tenochtitlan that the Aztecs would create and the city that became the center of their empire that for 200 odd years ruled certainly Central Mexico and in many ways was the greatest empire of its time in the region.

We must always remember, of course, that the Aztec empire is built upon many other civilizations that went before them, the Maya, the Toltecs, of course, the Zapotecs, the Mixtecs, many groups. The Aztecs, in many ways, were the culmination of thousands of years of development of all sorts of civilized cultures and ideas of how to do things. They really, in a sense, come at the end of this long period of time and then very rudely were interrupted by the Spanish, to say the least.

You can see that symbol. The symbol of the eagle on the cactus is taken as the Aztec foundation myth, certainly, of the great city. That's slap‑bang in today's Mexican flag. Here, we see the Mexican flag since independence. They're rather interesting. Obviously, there it is right in the middle, various forms of the eagle. I think it's rather interesting to note into the iconographic terms of the...If you look closely at the eagle, you can see aspects of history.

For example, notice 1821 to '23, it's got a crown on its head. This was because it was the ruler of independent Mexico, Iturbide, was man who crowned himself emperor. The other emperor in the Americas was of course Pedro down in Brazil, a bit Napoleonic wasn't it?

Basically, again, one thing was removed. You can see that it returns to the most traditional Aztec symbol between the, I think, 1823, '64, and again rudely interrupted by the French invasion in the 1860s when an out‑of‑work Austrian aristocrat was put on the throne by the French due to debts Mexico had accrued.

He of course makes it a very regal royal imperial flag with lots of crowns between that three‑year period before the Mexicans managed to get rid of him. Again, the most recent manifestation, of course, was set up in 1968, as you can see. Again, there it is, present day iconography of the Aztecs living in the present day in Mexico.

The second idea I want to look at in terms of this on‑going presence of the Aztecs in iconographic terms is the extraordinary cult that's really growing up...Burst out of Mexico's border is a very, very young ‑ popular also in the United States. The cult of Santa Muerte, Muerte, sorry, I'm a Portuguese speaker by first. My first second language is Portuguese.

What we're looking at here is extraordinary. First of all, this image in the center the Virgin of Guadalupe is the traditional image in Mexico of the post‑conquest idea that Christianity, brought by the Spanish, that it becomes a nationalistic and iconic image of what Mexico represents in a way a Mestizo, a mixed, a brown, virgin but very much obviously in the Christian mode.

But her importance pre‑dates in many ways, she becomes something over at a continuum of the religion that dominated the Aztec empire and Aztec life prior to the conquest. In terms of Santa Muerte, what we're looking at is that you can see quite distinctly that some of the images of her today, the one on the far end, are very much based on a Guadalupe style. It fits in quite well there.

But where does this all come from? In many ways, the idea of what I'm trying to link here is that the presence of Aztec iconography in today's world, and it's right there particularly in this cult of St. Death, or Holy Death you might want to translate it as.

Now, I'm not here to teach you Nahuatl, the indigenous language. It's not an easy language to speak actually. We know that this was the Aztec language. I want to introduce you to a couple of concepts.

Bear with my pronunciation but I've put up there, in fact I think we should all do it together, so that in a way this can be a class in learning how to say that.

The first concept at the top was the Aztec underworld. This was a place that people went to when they died. Not everyone. It depended on how you died. It tended to be people who died of natural causes.

But if you like, it was a sort of underworld. This is pronounced, this is what we call Mictlan, Mictlan. Everybody? OK, Mictlan. They're sort of close.

The key issue here is that in this world, this underworld, is inhabited by a number of gods. But the two key ones and these are the ones in many ways where this skull image and skeletal image comes from.

The god of the male. Husband and wife team, actually. You should meet them one day, go for dinner.

This husband and wife team are the two gods of the Aztec underworld. And the male one, which you can see, has a skeletal face. The image of him is very much of the skeleton and death. And his name, everyone ready? I'll say it first. Mictlantecuhtli. Mictlantecuhtli.

And his dear wife, who you can see eating someone there at the bottom, is Mictecacihuatl.

Now these two very pleasant people are in a sense the start if you like in representing a relationship that the Aztecs had to life and death. It's very different to ours.

I think one has to be very careful when we look at Aztec culture in particular two things that, certainly when the Spanish turned up, were very difficult to cope with. That's human sacrifice and cannibalism.

This may not appeal to you at all, but the point is that we have to put it within the context of their cosmology and world view. Of course this was used very much by the Spanish as a way of condemning these people, that they were absolutely completely unholy. Given that they had the arrogant Christian perspective.

Now, whatever your morals may be, the context of people's actions are important. And where the Aztecs used issues of sacrifice, and by the way, cannibalism was a very minor matter. It wasn't as though you could get a person down at their McDonalds or something like that.

It was an issue where in a highly ritualistic way there was very minimal amount of cannibalism. I'm not advocating it. I'm simply saying that one has to understand it within the context of their belief system.

In fact, almost a rather interesting healthy relationship between life and death. Most of us fear death quite morbidly. But in many ways, it was a continuum for these people, not necessarily the end of the world so to speak.

Now here's our two couple. The point basically that these two people are, if you like, where the skull image comes through. I think what we're getting in terms of modern iconography that dominates so much in quite a number of Mexican festivals and Mexican ideas, come from these two gods of the underworld.

Again, this is the sort of image I was talking about of some of the aspects that absolutely shocked the Spaniards and felt gave them, what they thought was a license to completely take over and completely persecute these people for their beliefs.

This is the arrogance of conquest and imperialism and something that we have to see repeated in history many, many times over. The skull image, as you've seen in the exhibition, is in many of the artifacts and productions by the Aztecs. And again, this is not the scary death. It is a death as part of life.

Now here he is again. This is this wonderful Mictlantecuhtli, the wall of skulls. This is in the Templo Mayor, you've seen there out there and you've seen the exhibition.

This extraordinary figure of the skeleton, he's showing his liver. Again, looks rather scary to us. This is part, if you like, of the religious cosmology. This is where the iconography forms that we will see shortly in some very interesting places in the contemporary world.

After all, I'm not here to talk about the full Aztec religion. I'm here to look at certain iconic images that have moved through to the present time. Again, this is a really interesting point and we'll see as this goes on.

When the images enter popular culture, which is something I'm very interested in, they quite often move into the world of commerce, corporatization and commodification of culture for profit and sale.

It's a very interesting dynamic and tension between popular culture and commodification and sales and money and economic matters. But if you want to take that bus to the underworld, I think it leaves the Zucolo, how often every 20 minutes. I like the drive. And of course, you can even drink beer these days. Extraordinary.

Now, the evolution of this image, in many ways, when conquering occurs and people get imposed with a religion, you get what we call syncretic religions or hybrid religions developing.

You never do remove totally people's beliefs. Whenever you get conquest, wherever you get people brought from Africa and try and turn them into Christians, well, maybe you do. Maybe you don't. But you don't really 100 percent.

This is really fascinating, that all through the Americas where people were subjugated, where people were brought from Africa, whether they look like they're being Christians, they aren't necessarily.

There's quite a lot, if you like, of syncretic issues where they have their own mixtures of Christianity and their pre‑Christian beliefs. So in a way it lives on, even after the conquest, the ideas of the Aztec gods. But we come to the 19th and early 20th century. This is fascinating.

A very extraordinary graphic artist in Mexico City, a man whose name is Jose Guadalupe Posada. Now he was a satirist and a brilliant drawer. At the time, he'd make newspaper cartoons and other images which was designed in a way to satirize the elite of the time.

He created this wonderful calavera, meaning skull, Katrina, who was really an iconic image in Mexico and beyond. He did all sorts of creating skeletons and skulls. At first, the idea was in sort of pompous, dressed up in European clothes. Because the elites of Latin America, really until the 20th century, worshiped European culture.

They were very shy about and in fact rather ashamed of their own culture, because basically it was a mixture of indigenous and in other countries, particularly Cuba and Brazil, a lot of African cultures.

They were sort of pretentious pseudo‑Europeans, and I think he was trying to have a go here with some of the iconography he produced. But of course, this was taken up, and it really gave something that was already there, but the use of the calavera as an icon.

The Santa Muerte is probably a rather late‑comer to this. There's lots of evidence that it probably starts in Mexico City in a poor area. But it is in a sense turning the Guadalupe, that very important Mexican icon of the Virgin Mary, into something that really is a calavera; that in a way, what you're getting here is a syncretic mixture of pre‑ and post‑conquest ideas.

So going back very much, it's a very, very strong link, if you like, to the Aztecs, some of these...these are more modern pictures. Over on this side you can see that people have done...idea of putting Santa Merte as almost an Aztec image, and on the other side are more traditional pictures of her. You've got to realize that we're talking here about a popular folk saint. When...again, we've got to get out of our heads about death being something necessarily bad or something to fear.

It can often be something that actually you pray to, to give you joy and give you good luck ‑‑ a venerated saint. By the way, it would come as no surprise to you that the Vatican aren't that keen on it. In fact, I think they...well, I picture that every pope who's become aware of her is certainly not very happy.

The point being that it's very interesting that here is a saint that's canonized by the people, but rejected by the Church. It's a very interesting tension. They've got other problems to deal with, though, haven't they?

What Santa Meurte has become, she has become associated with people struggling, people who are not the winners of the project of the Mexican state. This makes it so interesting. The original appeal were for people who were, if you like, the people who at the bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum.

And she is venerated as a saint that can bring good luck, can fill a myriad of different complex processes. The image of holding the scythe with the globe ‑ there were all sorts of ideas that this is to get souls. In a sense, it's a Grim Reaper‑ish type of image. But it is not one not necessarily that is one of revulsion or fear, as such.

You can see here that she's moved into ‑ and I think this is really interesting; I find this so wonderful ‑ these images of popular culture. Of course now she's probably trendy with the middle classes, I would imagine, as you'll see in a minute.

There's many Katrinas. These are Katrinas and Santa Muertes. In a way, there is this linkage. I'm trying to get this idea that everything is linked in together. What's happened is that it has I said, she's a lot of things to a lot of people.

She has become particularly associated with what you might call the cartels, the narcotraficantes, the drug traffickers, which I'm going to talk about briefly at the end, but you can see that she is a very important part of their lives, and again, something that gives a lot of solace, a lot of meaning, and a lot of understanding.

So I'm getting here trying to see there's obviously something that's definitely coming from the Aztecs, but in a modern context is really fulfilling many roles for many people. As I said, they're not necessarily only the poor people. It tends to be, I suppose, be, I suppose, certain people who are middle‑class friends who perhaps get trendy. These things often cross over.

Even in many of these syncretic religions, I know, in Brazil, I assume in Mexico, that the middle class have embraced them now. In the old days they'd think they were disgusting. But even Elvis, as you see, is a member.

Now, for those who want to follow this up, some scholarship is really stark on this, because it is quite a recent phenomenon. It sort of started, as I said, in Mexico City, maybe sometime in the '40s or '50s, but it's always been there. But in a way it's come into a more public domain probably since the 1940s.

The historian of Latin American religion, Andrew Chestnut, he's recently published the Santa Muerte..."Devoted to Death," if you want to follow that up. It's quite a good book to look at all aspects of this, and he certainly sees it in many ways in terms of class struggle, in terms of some link back to the real Mexico identity. It's a multifaceted, fascinating concept.

Now, it is linked in some ways to something which is a much bigger topic in many ways, the Day of the Dead. I think you'd all...this is now becoming to some extent universal or global.

The ofrendas, or what we see down in the bottom there, which are these altars you construct to past loved ones...there's some work being done at our Institute of Latin American Studies at La Trobe University may well towards the end of the year be having a symposium around the time of the Day of the Dead looking at particularly issues of palliative care, and how we deal with death in our society. Maybe we can learn a lot.

Because these are not sessions of despair. They're sessions of joy and celebration. It's a very interesting way to look at death. As I said, just stand by and you might want to come to that symposium ‑ probably October, November, if we can finalize the arrangements. But all the sugar skulls and everything ‑ you're probably very aware of that. But this is really quite another linkage in terms of the iconography to the skull image that goes back to our happy couple in the underworld back in the Aztec period.

Now, I want to finish about what is made of the Aztecs in terms of a particular group of people, a group of people who...many of them in many ways live in what was Mexico but now is of course the United States, but have a very close relationship to Aztec iconography. These are the Mexican‑Americans.

Now, the United States, if you hadn't noticed, is changing rather dramatically in terms of demography. I'm told that California now is about 51 or 52 percent Spanish as first language people. It's what is known as the Latinization of the United States. Some people like to call it the reconquest. But the idea here...look at this picture; it's an extraordinary picture.

This is related to a phenomenon I'll talk about shortly called low-riding, which is the use of the great iconic symbol of modernity, the motor car, the automobile, as they call it. But it's using it as a canvas to express something. That is issues of identity and images of self. This is a classic piece of art of what we call low-rider arte.

Now, look at it. You've got the car, first of all ‑ the automobile, very jazzy. "Aztec Pride," notice "Pride" is in English. The loving couple...this is a couple who represent in Aztec again, direct Aztec mythology of the two volcanoes that sit over Mexico City, and these were two lovers in a particular legend, a bit Romeo and Juliet story in many ways.

Then, of course, what we have behind them ‑ the great eagle with the serpent, and behind that the Aztec sunstone calendar. I just want to remind everyone here that the light green area at the top of this map was part of Mexico until 1848.

I think some people don't realize that many people who are seen, perhaps in many people's eyes, as illegales or illegal people or people that are wetbacks who have crossed over or have moved to the United States...many people were there before even it was the United States, many families ‑ not the actual people, but the families.

You can see here that this whole swathe of the Southwest of the United States was part of Mexico until fairly recently. I feel the mid‑1840s, mid‑19th century is pretty recent. So the states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, parts of Colorado, parts of New Mexico; Texas is a complex example, but that was certainly part of Mexico as well. Let's not forget that.

I just want to have a little footnote here while I'm talking about the Mexican‑American war of the 1840s, because it was extraordinary that a number of Irish US soldiers defected to the Mexican Army because of the problem, in a sense, that Catholics and Irish people in the 19th century in the United States were treated...well, I could use a strong word, but treated badly, and were seen, actually, as non‑white. These guys crossed over, actually, to the Mexican Army. They actually thought, why are they fighting for a country that treated them so badly?

Of course, we know Mexico lost the war and I can assure you their fate was very unpleasant. But they were called the San Patricios Brigade, the St. Patrick's. Just thought I'd mention it because we're in the war.

But look, life for the people within the Southwest of the United States who were of Mexican heritage was not too sweet, I can assure you. In fact, even though there wasn't legal segregation like you had in the Southern states of the United States against African‑Americans, where the statutes of these states said that people couldn't go into certain restaurants, toilets, you couldn't sit at the front of the bus ‑ this wasn't in California and these places in law, but it was in practice. You can see this was on a restaurant ‑ probably 1920s. This is what Mexican‑Americans had to put up with.

How do you react? For one, many of the people who were in these areas tried to live the American Dream, the US dream, which was, if you work hard, you will get somewhere. Put your head down, work hard. But I think they found ultimately they hit a concrete slab, ceiling. A glass ceiling, a concrete ceiling. No matter how hard they worked, and believe me, they worked hard, it was only a certain place you could get to socioeconomically.

They thought, "Well, let's maybe not pretend to be Americans. Let's maybe look back at who we are and maybe show some pride in who we are and our identity, instead of, if you like, try to be mock Americans, as such. They felt part of America as such, but in a way they were being held back because of their obvious Mexican identity.

Now, in the 1930s and '40s, clothing became a vehicle for identity. This was the era of the great zoot suits. I don't know if any of you have zoot suits. I didn't wear mine tonight, but I was tempted. This was a was actually borrowed from African‑Americans on the East Coast.

This was the West Coast, where it was taken up by Chicanos, or Mexican‑Americans. They called themselves Pachucos. It was a slang name for these young, assertive Mexican‑Americans, who were sick, if you like, of putting their head down and being invisible. These were teenagers, mainly, and they were what you might call the opposite to invisible. They wore these amazing clothes.

But I'll tell you what. They paid a heavy price, because in the 1940s, the famous zoot suit riots in California, where sailors from the Long Beach Navy base would wander around the barrios of East Los Angeles, find these children, and they were really children. Beat the hell out of them, strip off their zoot suit and burn them.

Of course, the police would arrive and arrest, you guessed it, the victims. Now, this was quite a repressive reaction from the mainstream US to these young, assertive Mexican Americans. So, after World War II, they changed to some extent. I think there were no Zoot suiters around by then. They started to choose cars. What better than the car?

Now in postwar United States, there was a new species of person invented called the "teenager", if you've heard of these people. These were actually a new, within the great American economic boom, were people who had disposable income and were able to drive at 16, etc. So what they did was that the Anglo kids created hot rods, which you can see as a very minimal manifestation of a motor vehicle. Very big engine, minimal trimming.

Now the Chicanos, or the Mexican Americans, in their way of asserting an identity, they actually went the opposite. They got cars, they didn't soup up the engine, but they decorated them highly and cruised slowly. So instead of speed, they just cruised.

And also the shape of the car. They'd have, as the Anglo hot rod would have the front of the hot rod was down and the back up. You can see it like that. Whereas deliberately, the Chicano's low rider was, they put sandbags in the boot and it went like the opposite. You can imagine the petrol in a V8 car full of sandbags in the boot, but of course in those days petrol was almost free.

But again, a very distinctive way of asserting identity. Again, using popular culture. Now, something really important happens in the '60s. The Chicanos get a political charge. And this comes in very much in a period when the black power movement is getting going, and they start a brown power movement.

Led by this wonderful fellow, Cesar Chavez, who was a leader of the fruit picker's union in Southern California. Strikes, I mean they were paid a pittance. There becomes a momentum within the community of asserting economic rights, political rights. And as you can see, look carefully, you see Aztec iconography in this rediscovery, if you like, of the Mexican American identity.

They're looking, not at Mexico in a sense of the conquered Spanish Mexico. They're looking at the pre‑Colombian Mexico in some of this imagery. And it goes on, this flows back into the popular culture. This is interior, again the complete opposite of the Anglo cars. I don't know if you remember the materials.

Some of the older folk might remember the velour, I don't know if you got that at home. And here's an image. As you can see, that's got every cliche in the book, and that's what it's about. It's meant to cover just about everything. But let's move on. This is what's fascinating about the low rider culture, in terms of the Aztecs. This is the living Aztec idea.

Can I say, many of these people who drive cars like this or paint these haven't probably been to Mexico in any sense beyond Tijuana for a weekend. They are people living north of the border. But look what they see in Mexico. You see? What they're getting is that they're drawing upon, not the current Mexico, but an idealized Aztec Mexico prior to the conquest. Look at this one here, in the black and white one.

First of all, it's representing Aztlan. Now, this is a real key here. Because if you remember from the beginning, Aztlan is the mythical home in the north of the Aztecs, before they started their great nomadic trip down to Tenochtitlan. You have the Aztec calendar in the middle, and around it you have an array, an amazing array of imagery and iconography that covers just about everything in Mexican history.

Down there, you've got Emiliano Zapata. Given he wasn't an Aztec, of course, but he was the great revolutionary of the Mexican revolution, the heroic period 1910 to 1920. But look further. You've got, of course, Guadalupe, but then you have a couple representing the volcanoes in the Aztec mythology. And here you have Cuauhtémoc, the last of the Aztec emperors.

Basically Cuauhtémoc, this is the last of the great Aztec emperors. And so, here is this imagery we keep seeing which is an idealized pride. And you can see the word "pride" everywhere. Let's go back and keep going with the art. By the way, again, just in terms of another Aztec idea that comes into the contemporary world is that these were rather romaticized. I mean, they don't even look like Mexicans.

But, these romantic mid 20th century ideas of the legend of the two volcanoes. Here's a wonderful ‑ I just love this one. This is the side of a car. Now the iconography on this one, of course, is sort of historically completely wrong. I mean, besides the babes there.

But some of these pyramids are in fact found down in Yucatan, not necessarily around the lake. So you know, it's an idea that is just in the mind of an imagined, proud, strong Mexico. This one, I think speaks for itself. This is all sub cultures allocated for here. Here is, again, Mexican pride. We have Cuauhtémoc, we have again always that imagery of the Aztec sun stone. And these are all part of the low rider pride.

Now music. We haven't got time to really play you a lot of music, but it's very interesting history of Mexican American music. Particularly in California before the 1960s, and particularly that's Cesar Chavez's brown revolution, if you want to call it.

Most Mexican American popular cultural bands didn't play younger music, this is for younger people. They played rock music. And the rock music they played is whatever was popular at the time. Many bands had names like "The Midnighters", "Cannonball and the Headhunters", "The Eastsiders", all these sort of names.

Until a very important event in 1969, in the late 60s, and that was something you'll remember very well because most of you were there, was Woodstock. And at Woodstock, a guy came out and played by the name of Carlos Santana, he's still around. Carlos Santana played Soul Sacrifice, and I'd love to play it for you now. I haven't got time. It wasn't Mexican rock, it was actually Afro‑Cuban rock, but it was Latin rock. And this changed the landscape.

For the first time ever, in a major space around the globe, in a sense that everyone knew about it of that culture, there was a Latin musician playing. He was born in Mexico, but he lived in San Francisco, and suddenly the soundscape changed. And bands that had been called "The Midnighters" and "The Eastsiders" and "Johnny and his Mates" or whatever changed their names to things like this. The Aztecas, El Chicano, Malo, they were celebrating.

The music was very influenced, it wasn't Mexican. It was still that Afro‑Cuban soul influenced music, but it was Latin. You could feel, in fact more Cuban than Mexican, to be honest. But you could feel the Latino feel. And this was a celebration. Out of the shadows, a pride.

But it really linked back to this Aztec past, where they saw it as glorious heritage. So, very important. And here they are. This is an album cover of a Malo, down there Azteca. El Chicano, you couldn't get anything more straightforward than that. Then a little later in the 80s, late 70s, early 80s, a wonderful band called Los Lobos come along, the wolves.

And they, of course, rock guys, rockify it, whatever you want to call it. They turn rock, instead of Afro‑Cuban Latin rock, they make it Mexican rock. So they're using all sorts of rhythms. Many of you would have heard Los Lobos, I hope. They're sensational, they're still around.

And they are, in a way, really defined, if you like, Chicano popular music on the West Coast. And they even played sort of straightforward northern Mex Tex type songs as well, so very Mexican. And the Rancheras, all sorts. And then you get a band even more recently, Ozomatli. This is a very interesting band, this is not all Chicanos or Latinos, but basically you can see the iconography that they use. They are very much connecting with that pride, and that Aztec past, which of course now becomes a symbol of people who had been subjugated and are now proud.

Now, this picture was taken at my barbecue last Sunday. You were invited, I don't know why you didn't come, but these chaps. Chicano rap, of course, being a more recent musical form. And of course there's the wonderful Kid Frost. But you look at the tattoos. Again, I mean I don't know tattoos mean much for you, but a tattoo is a pretty main statement.

I mean if you're going to get a tattoo, you've got it for a long time. So the choice of the iconography of the tattoo is apparent here, also. These are not Mexicans, these are Chicanos. Remember, we're not talking about Mexicans, we're talking about Mexican Americans.

And Cypress Hill, a band that many of you know about in a more contemporary era, and one of my favorites who play sort of Latin ska music, the Voodoo Glow Skulls. I recommend them to you all. Again, look at the use here of Zapata. Again, the iconography, particularly the top one. A rather sort of crazy type of Aztec stone.

Indeed, Aztlan lives on in many ways. Chicano power, Aztec warriors, it's here and now. It's not dead. It's not dead. It's here. This is a wonderful idea, this idea here. Look at this. I love this creation of Aztlan here at this map on the bottom, because even though the old Mexico didn't really directly include the states of Washington and Oregon directly, they're sort of grabbing it anyway.

Let's take it, we'll take a little bit more when we get back, why not? But the point is more interesting. In a way, you can see the red dots in terms of Latin, Latino people moving into the United States and Barry tells me you've been over there quite recently. It's moving right across to the Northeast.

This is not the phenomenon of the Southwest. That is, in fact, we are getting. And of course it's not just Mexican Americans moving. Obviously, we are talking about people from a large Central Americans, El Salvador, people from Brazil, of course. A wide range of people from what we would call Latin America.

There's really change going on, and not all US people are happy about it, I can assure you. And here are the representations of a radical view of Aztlan. Here, I might refer you to this book by now the late Samuel Huntingdon, who in many ways writes a conservative academic. There are some, there's a lot, basically arguing that the greatest threat to the United States is not the Al Qaeda or the Islamic terrorists, but in fact the enemy within as he sees it, the growth of Hispanic or Latino culture. And that's a very interesting and highly racist perspective.

In fact, so bad that it has become a political issue in many ways. I won't play you this, but the top two gentlemen stood for election to Congress in North Carolina, and the advertisement which is unbearably offensive to Mexicans, and somehow ends up talking about gay marriage as well. It wasn't clear to me whether all the Mexicans were gay or not or whatever, but it just seemed like he hated everyone, it seemed. And unfortunately, it was the African American guy who made the ad. And it points to an interesting breakdown, where one would have hoped for some camaraderie of repressed people.

But often this does happen, sadly, that the people who were repressed turn on another group. History is actually full of that, such a shame. The darling woman on the bottom is a country singer who has a song that I haven't got time to play you which is "I don't want to press one for English in my country." She's a big favorite at Tea Party gigs, apparently. And as for that dog, you can see some very virulent racism.

Some states on the border are now passing laws that you can be rounded up because of the way you look. Arizona, particularly has led the way in that. Ladies and gentlemen, the next President of the United States, maybe. Now look, there's something very serious going on at the border. You need to know, of course, that something up between 50, 70,000 people have been killed on the border in the so‑called Drug Wars.

And this is extraordinary. We think of Iraq and Afghanistan, but just on the border of the US and Mexico, there is complete mayhem. Well, what's it about? It's about poverty, that's what it's about. It's about drugs, yes, but drugs are about money. And there would be no drug war if there wasn't a market for this stuff north of the border.

In fact, I would argue that this border is a membrane between the less developed, developing and developed world. And I would argue also, which you can get me if you want to, that it's probably the only land border between these two phenomena. We experience it in Australia because people come by boats, because we're an island. You've got to cross the sea.

But there's very few examples where there is a land border between this developmental difference, and that's why it's so, so much mayhem. Because there is a product, or products, that you can sell north of the border. You can make more money in one run than your ancestors did going back to the Aztecs, your father or grandfather or great grandfather.

It's big money, but it's a very dangerous job. And it's an appalling situation that needs to be handled, not by the army, not by punitive means, but maybe either pulling Mexico and giving a more even distribution of development for poor Mexicans so they don't do this, and maybe treating the issue north of the border as a social issue rather than a criminal issue. But this is an interesting point.

Of course we know there are ranges of cartels. Dynamics change a little bit at times. You can kill the head of the cartel, but his uncle will take over tomorrow. It's an insoluble problem, because it's not being attacked in the right way. And it's a try if you like, depending on who the cartels are at the time, people are caught in the middle and people are sucked into it by wealth. I mean, the idea of getting rich.

What's interesting is there are a whole series of songs called narcocorridos that actually eulogize the traffickers, because these people are seen as heroes in many communities. After all, they bring a lot of money into small towns down in Sinaloa or Guerrero, those states that are very poor. But it's also seen that they are sticking it up, not only the Mexican government but the US government.

They're seen as folk heroes, and what's followed them are these folk songs about what great guys they are. But it's a tragic situation. Now, we talk about folk saints. We talked about Santa Muerte. There's another folk saint who has been created by the people, not by the Vatican. This gentleman is certainly not an authorized saint. It's Jesús Malverde, who is the patron saint of the traffickers, now being challenged by Santa Muerte.

And he has a shrine in Sinaloa, and they pray. He was this sort of Ned Kelly, if he actually existed, at the turn of the 19th, 20th century. So he was again, the rebel, the bandito type. We're not quite sure, exactly, I think, if he may have even existed. But he's certainly folk mythology. What do you think of Ned Kelly? Well you haven't got time to answer me, but think of it.

These folk heroes are very interesting people that tease out our ideas of the relationship to authority. And of course, the wonderful Santa Muerte, they can even go to a festival of songs about her. She has become, again, a song very much tied into the mythology. She does have, obviously, somewhat of a bad image. The government's not overly happy with her. Again, being her follower is an act of rebellion, resistance, and she is very appealing.

I want to end by reading you this letter. This was written, this is an interesting letter. It was written by a chap in a prison in Texas. He's a low-rider guy.

"Greetings to all staff members currently incarcerated here at the so called de Tejas..." Texas, that actually is . "...My name at birth, Samuel Escabado, which I refuse to be called such a name with no significance. A name that doesn't stand for who I am. Also, the name labels me as a slave of the slave owner by the name of Escabado, who gave me and my ancestors this Spanish last name to label his property hundreds of years ago, and passed on through generations by generation. I'm Mexican, not Spanish. The word Mexican derives from the Nahuatl or native tongue word Mejita, meaning the people of Mejitila, Mejitila Zapatche."

Love this stuff. Make Nahuatl your third language, OK? "As a warrior priest who gathered eight nations now known today as Azteca, from Aztlan." Again, we talked about that. "Today, we now migrated south into Mexico City. Brown and proud, my native name now stands for the person that I am."

Now, it's a point that's really interesting. Here is a Mexican, or probably a Mexican American, basically rejecting, going back. He's recreated himself as an Aztec. So, I don't see dead Aztecs. Aztecs are alive. To finish and add, I don't know how many of you are into this stuff and enjoy it.

Obviously, you wouldn't be here if you weren't interested in it, but the Institute of Latin American Studies, it was said before, has for years been running the summer and winter schools. And next summer, in January we're re‑running our wonderful subject on the conquest of the Americas which features the Aztecs, but also the Maya and the Incas.

This is a subject that goes back a long way, La Trobe is the first university to have Latin American studies. And our long time director of the institute, Barry Carr, is sitting down here. Barry actually started this course many years ago. Get in touch with us on the website, if you were interested in taking it another stage further than an hour's lecture or two. And we'd love to see you, and there you are.

Adrienne: Thank you very much for coming out to see us tonight, and for joining us. And just join me once more in thanking Dr. Ralph Newmark.

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