On May 10, 1520, the people of Tenochtitlan were honoring the festival of Toxcatl –the time when things dry in May. Despite the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, peace was agreed upon in order to commence the festival, which was celebrated with dances and offerings to Tezcatlipoca –the Smoky Mirror. Often confused for a war god, Tezcatlipoca is the power of our unconscious, the shadow parts of us. In honoring Tezcatlipoca we honor the spiritual warrior within, to no longer look for external enemies but begin to fight the enemies within ourselves so that we may be of better service to our communities.
In hearing the warring drum beats and the agile movements that was inspired in the dancers, the Spanish saw that the most prepared and strongest warriors were central to the dances as conch blowers, singers, musicians, speakers and keepers of the ceremony. Pedro de Alvarado and the rest of the outnumbered conquistadores decided then to attack the Tenochcas in the absence of Hernan Cortez, who was returning with more men and ammunition. The Spanish came in the temple with their swords and shields and secured all entrances:
Immediately, they surrounded those who danced, then rushed to the place where the drums were played. They attacked the man who was drumming and cut off both his arms. Then they cut off his head [with such a force] that it flew off, falling far away.
At that moment, they then attacked all the people, stabbing them, spearing them, wounding them with their swords. They struck some from behind, who fell instantly to the ground with their entrails hanging out [of their bodies]. They cut off the heads of some and smashed the heads of others into little pieces.
They struck others in the shoulders and tore their arms from their bodies. They struck some in the thighs and some in the calves. They slashed others in the abdomen and their entrails fell to the earth.
Some tried to escape, but the Spaniards murdered them at the gates while they laughed.
The blood of the warriors ran like water as they fled, forming pools, which widened, as the smell of blood and entrails fouled the air.
Then a roar was heard, screams, people wailed, as they beat their palms against their lips. Quickly the captains assembled, as if planned in advance, and carried their spears and shields. Then the battle began. [Broken Spears, Miguel Leon Portilla]
This was one of the first acts of genocide by the western hemisphere that birthed white supremacy through cultural violence. They literally began by attacking and slaying our cultural practices, akin to other experiences of peoples that have resisted conquest and colonization. The celebration of people’s culture is a threat to white supremacy and in order to maintain the guise of white supremacy through patriotism, these perceived threats of cultural expressions and traditions become the target of annihilation. In attempting to erase the story telling of cultural histories, the construction of white supremacy then creates conditions that justify the civilizing of the perceived “uncivil” as today politicians debate about legalizing the perceived “illegal”. Borders did not exist then as we know today because these constructions are recent to these lands. Today in Arizona and every else in the US, cultural violence is practiced by the laws that legalize such hateful supremacy. Less than two days after Jan Brewer [the governor of Arizona] passed SB 1070, HB 2281 passed to prohibit ethnic studies, making the firing of teachers with “accents” legal and prohibiting curriculum that “advocates ethnic solidarity.” And just as laws and bans against our traditions were resisted by our ancestors, we will continue to come together in solidarity with all peoples who fight to create another reality possible by following our dreams.
SM, occupied aztlan, 2007
[Toxcatl Massacre was originally recited over danza mexicayotl at a community town hall in response to the state repression of undocumented peoples in Arizona in 2010]