Jose C. Salazar

Litr. S734

Dr. C. White

July 2S, 1996

            The Indigenous as the Malleable "Other" Doomed to Subjugation


            If human life is sacred, then the genocide that the Spaniards perpetrated against the Indians of Mexico (and the Caribbean) is the most heinous crime ever committed by a people. In 1492, Christopher Columbus opened the door for the conquistadors, and the slaughter began. There is no logic to explain the evil that would drive men to sport with human lives as these Spaniards did simply to test the sharpness of their swords:

Then the whole hundred drew theirs and began to rip open the bellies,

 to cut and kill those lambs‑‑men, women, children, and old folk The Spaniards entered the large house nearby and in the same way, with cuts and stabs, began to kill as many as they found there, so that a strew             of blood was running, as if a great number of cows had perished ‑‑Las Casas (Todorov 141).

Tzvetan Todorov, in his Conquest of America presents a history from a moralist's perspective and the results are such (as Todorov himself proclaims) that even normally strong superlatives are not enough to capture the immensity of the evil that was rampant in Mexico at the end of the fifteenth century. Like Todorov, Gary Jennings' novel Aztec seeks to repudiate, albeit belatedly, the crimes that European found so easy to commit against the natives of America. There seems to be a tacit agreement that language was a primary cause of the Aztecs' inability to fend off their attackers; (these two texts offer the language for the Indians in an attempt to share the circumstances of their civilization and their subsequent destruction)

            This paper examines the dialogue between these two texts to answer the questions about the thriving Indian culture and its subsequent conquest, destruction, and replacement. What forces dictated that the conquest of Mexico be genocidal versus simply domineering ) as it tended to be for the Asian countries? What was the moral obligation of the church toward the victims of the conquest? What would have become of the Aztec civilization had the Spaniards never conquered/kifled them? What primal differences are there between Indians and Caucasians that allow the latter to conquer and destroy the former? What is the criteria for "civilized" and "uncivilized" up to and including today's first world and third world countries? It is my contention that the Spaniards and Europeans in general engaged themselves in a systematic effort of de‑humanizing, or "othering," non‑Europeans, particularly black Africans and the Indians of the Americas. They did this by creating their own truth regarding almost every aspect of life (using Christianity as a means rather than an end),and by ignoring or losing all sense of morality or ethics in their pursuit of wealth and pleasure.


Todorov's dedication of his book to the memory of a Mayan woman who was devoured by dogs to whom the

Spaniards fed her for refusing their sexual advances is the first indication that Conquest of America is not an ordinary history book. He promises that his subject is almost solely "the Spaniards' perception of the Indians."

(4). He then proceeds to catalog the many records of the conquistadors and of Columbus as to their perceptions of America and its inhabitants, finally concluding that the genocide was a horror indeed. On the eve of the conquest there were 25 million Indians in Mexico alone; by 1600 there were one million left. The causes of so much destruction?‑‑ 1) murder; 2) ill treatment; 3) "microbe shock" (the majority) (13 3). But the numbers and catalogs alone do not tell the true evil that seemed rampant as the Spaniards abused every conceivable moral principle ) as when a child at suck was fed to hungry dogs for crying; or new‑borns were hurled against a rock or tossed into the jungle when they cried; or when the gold mine foremen cuckolded every Indian, then beat him and "he was bound hand and foot and flung under the bed like a dog before the foreman lay down, directly over him with his wife." (139). Jennings does not describe the horrors of the conquest so well because his book focuses on the marvelous civilization that existed before the conquest, but it is precisely the knowledge of that civilization that makes the conquest so much more tragic.


With the passage of time the truth seems to elude writers more and more. What really happened and, more importantly, why, can only be surmised today, but intelligent, thoughtful people can agree that verisimilitude is reliable enough. "The questions raised here refer less to a knowledge of the truth than to a knowledge of verisimilitude " (Todorov 54). Jennings expresses the same sentiment in his final chapter. Athough early on he promises that he is merely stating the facts. He states, speaking through his protagonist, Mixtli: "what I now state and affirm did all occur. I only narrate what happened, without invention and without falsehood. I kiss the earth. That is to say: I swear to this" (8). There is today a growing acceptance of what A Austrian‑born philosopher Feyerabend calls "the tyranny of truth." He challenges the scientists to acknowledge that much of what they do is mere guesswork, fodder for fantastic stories. Some scientist such as the late physicist Heinz R. Pagels have reluctantly validated Feyerabend by admitting that some of his "views of science are correct if we could but see our science from the perspective of a thousand years hence" (Hogan 36). If scientists can be challenged as to their veracity, then certainly fiction and narrative histories can be challenged, but challenging absolute truths does not preclude accepting verisimilitude. Conversely, the Spaniards used a manipulation of their own established "truths" to go about the destruction of the Indians.


It is perhaps human nature to ascribe negative qualities to one's enemies or otherwise undesirable neighbors for  although the Spaniards did a typically European dehumanizing of the Indians, it appears that the Aztecs too used that tactic with regards to their neighbors. Examples of this abound. Columbus is the first to dismiss the humanity of the natives by focusing more on the animals and other physical qualities than the people and their culture. The Indians are seen as no different from animals even when he acknowledges that they "seem" closer to men than animals. "The allusion to the dogs among the remarks on the women and the men indicates nicely the scale on which the latter will be assessed" (Todorov 34). The Aztecs being the feared nation of the continent hold a superior status and thus they too engage in depicting their enemies as dirty, lazy, and ugly. Mixtli had been telling of how much the Chichimeca stunk and how dirty they were, but when he first encounters the Spaniards, they repulse him even more than the Chichimecas: "The Chichimecas were garden flowers by comparison with the white men, who seemed to prefer their repulsiveness and to fear cleanliness as a mark of weakness or effeminacy" (Jennings 593).


Mixtli's feelings of superiority were short lived and his kind were never again to define either cleanliness, or attractiveness, or even themselves. For today "the indigene is a semiotic pawn on a chessboard under the control of the white signmaker" (Goldie 232). Goldie explains that today words like "war dance," "war whoop," "tomahawk," and "dusky" all conjure up universal symbols of Indian stereotypes that are applied to not only American Indians but also to the Aori and the Aborigine. This would indicate that the "othering" of the Indians was so successful that "terms misapplied in the Americas became re‑misapplied in a parody of imperialist discourse" (Goldie 232). Goldie goes on to explain other typical stereotypes that serve to dehumanize Indians: Sex‑‑the dusky maiden as free and open sexuality; Violence‑‑fiendish warrior with impassioned spirit of evil; Orality‑‑no writing equals different dimensions of consciousness; Mysticism‑‑can be good or evil oracular power; and Prehistoric‑‑a remnant, a historical artifact in the context of the white world.


These are, of course, modern and thus more "sensitive" stereotypes, but the older literature was much more direct in its negative descriptions of Indians. Francis Parkman, for example, repeatedly describes Indians as ugly, infantile savages: "They seemed like ungoverned children inflamed with the fiercest passions of men" (106); tione or two snake‑eyed children seated behind them ... girls whose native ugliness not all the charms of glass beads and scarlet cloth could disguise" (22). Parkman was not much kinder to the descendants of the Aztecs, now the half‑breed Mexicans called mestizos: "Two rowers, swarthy, ignoble Mexicans, turned their brutish faces upwards to look, as I reached the bank" (62). Parkman wrote almost four hundred years after the conquest of Mexico, so it appears that the Indians were under constant attack by one European group or another for four hundred years.


To be sure, the Spaniards were much kinder in assessing native beauty, but that did not stop them from destroying it. Todorov lists several instances of the Spaniards' appreciation of the native beauty: Columbus‑"They were all very well made, stout of body and very comely of countenance (11‑ 10‑ 149 2); All of splendid appearance. ‑filey are very handsome people (13 ‑10‑149 2); These were the handsomest men and the most beautiful women whom he had hitherto encountered" (16‑12‑1492) (36). Todorov only reconfirms what Jennings' Aztecs say for themselves. Their interactions are in every way like those of today's societies where people work, fall in love, study, raise children, etc. The Spaniards wasted no time in taking women and fathering children. Could that have been an act of bestiality (as it must be if the Indians are no better than animals) or was it real appreciation of the Aztec women and their beauty?


The immorality and hypocrisy of the Spaniards is evident in their relentless greed and hedonism. No amount of appreciation for the greatness and/or beauty of the civilization or its people, no amount of Catholicism or pleadings by chaplains like Bartholome de Las Casas could slow down their avaricious, destructive cavalcade. Lawrence Kohlberg describes six stages of moral development in which the highest stage, the sixth, describes human life as sacred, a universal human value of respect for the individual. That is the level on which most religions and "civilized" societies place the value of life. But the Spaniards, "civilized" and "Christian" as they were, seem to have operated at the lowest level which confuses the value of human life with the value of physical objects and is based on social status or physical attributes (Kohlberg 20). Perhaps they were even operating below that level. Either way, it is ironic that the so‑called civilized and Christian Europeans proved themselves to be immoral, like wild animals, and un‑Christian. Philosopher Feyerabend believes that the world is really abundant and that "all enterprises consist in cutting down this . . . abundance... the perceptual system cuts down this abundance or you couldn't survive" (Horgan 37). Perhaps that was natural, then, for the Spaniards to cut down the abundance of Indians in order to survive themselves. Underneath all these struggles is the need for superiority, for power. As Goldie quotes Abdul R. JanMohamed: "The dominant model of power‑‑and interest‑‑relations in all colonial societies is the manichean opposition between the putative superiority of the European and the supposed inferiority of the native" (233).


This idea of the power struggle between the European race and the Indigenous race is echoed by Aijaz Ahmed as he responds to a colleague who has condemned third world literature as necessarily non‑universal; "Jameson also suggests that the difference between first world and third world is itself primordial, rooted in things far older than capitalism as such" (77). Todorov expresses a similar sentiment: "the economic explanation is here proved inadequate" (143). Jennings acknowledges that the Aztec aggression against their neighbors was for economic reasons, and Mixtli might be compared to a high‑powered American businessman traveling the world over. He undertakes epic journeys and experiences the War of Flowers, The Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, the Dog People of the desert, the Cloud People of the mountains, the remnants of the Maya, grand sacrificial ceremonies, and love and sexual encounters in numerous varieties. His first sight of Tenochtitlan (at age seven) by night is described as a magical sight: "Then there came a point of light, and another and twenties upon twenties more. And thus I saw Tenochtitlan for the first time in my life" (35). As romanticized an account of Aztec life as Jennings might give, this description is modest compared to the description of the same city by the Spaniards: "'These great towns and cues (temples) and buildings rising from the water, all made of stone, seemed like an enchanted vision from the tale of Amadis. Indeed some of our soldiers asked whether it was not all a dream"' (Todorov 129).


The Spaniards were thrilled with the new sights, but they were compelled to destroy them, at least according to one Sepulveda's journal,for four reasons: 1) the Indians' natural condition demanded that they should obey others; 2) to banish the portentous crime of eating flesh; 3) to save the would‑be victims of human sacrifices; and 4) infidels should be killed (Todorov 154). Clearly numbers one and four are invalid reason. The other two are only relatively wrong. How can all the other overwhelming evidence of the Indians' civilized ways be ignored? P.,@n‑fhe question of cannibalism is dismissed by Jennings as merely a ceremonial ritual: "We paid the dead every funeral honor and devotion, including the ceremonial cooking and eating of their most intimate parts and organs" (590). But Jennings denies cannibalism, with his usual sense of humor, in the exchanges between Mixth and other characters. In one scene Mixth is offended that an old woman from a different tribe believes he would eat her dead son: "I ground my teeth and said, 'kindly inform her that we Mexica do no such thing             (283).


Aztec’s most successful response to the myth of the Aztecs' primitiveness is its detailed descriptions of those simple, every day things that modem societies take for granted as "civilization." Mixtli is followed as he grows up and experiences the wonders of childhood, getting an education at "The Houses of Manners and Strength" (62) and even going to a university, the Calmecatin; he describes their physicians and medicines including using powdered barbusco for birth contraceptives (79); He talks about the family who polishes quartz to make magnifying glass/ eyeglasses; He also mentions many other aspects of civilized society such as libraries, poetry readings, and the royal zoo (142, 734).


Mixtli is very proud of his city and describes the central plaza as being six hundred square man‑feet "paved with marble ... and it was polished as smooth and shiny as a tescatl mirror" (Jennings 42). Again, Aztec contains no exaggeration, for the Spaniards described the architecture in grander form: the fortified lodgings are larger and stronger than the Burgos Castle; like the silk market in Grenada except greater quantities; a tower higher than the cathedral of Seville; the market place of Tenochtitlan is larger than that of Salamanca; "the city was indeed the most beautiful thing in the world" (Todorov 128).


I t is puzzling how a great civilization could also be so barbaric in its religion and so stifling in its social rules. Those strict rules for public conduct and morality go hand in hand with the ritualized nature of their speech ‑‑"speech regulated in its forms and functions, memorized and hence always quoted" (79) ‑‑and general modus operendus. Consider the penalties for the elders responsible for youth who committed a wrong. "We have an additional proof of this preeminence of the social over the individual in the role taken by the family: parents are cherished, children adored, and the attention devoted to each absorbs much social energy... father and mother are held responsible for the misdeeds of the child... even the servants, tutors, nurses are killed" (Todorov 67). Jennings too expresses Mixtli's frustration at some of the strict rules: "My mother ferociously beat my sister's buttocks bright red with a bundle of nettles because the girl had been guilty of immodesty" (19). On the other hand, the Indians developed ingenious ways to deceive their elders and other rule keepers.


Aztec also includes some touches of magical reali sm in its inevitable treatment of some of the Aztec deities: "'You met him.‑ my father said huskily. "'You met the god and he let you go. The god Night Wind"' (56). As Jacques Stephen Alexis writes, it is only natural that people with such uniqueness as the Aztecs would experience a similar "marvellous realism" as the Haitians. This is another way in which the Jennings text speaks to the non‑Indian.


Ultimately the Aztec society was doomed to failure. It had too many enemies all around, it was too rigid to accomodate change, and its religion could not continue to expect human sacrifices forever. That the Spaniards precipitated its demise in a most cruel and bloody manner is not excusable, however, and that clash has raised the many questions that still trouble the student of history or literature. Todorov and Jennings in their respective books acknowledge these facts, and both attempt to raise and answer some of the tough questions on morality, civilization, and otherness. Whatever natural human weaknesses might have eventually doomed the Aztecs, their fate at the hands of the Spaniards could not have been more tragic. The Mayan woman ~o whom Todorov dedicates his book is only a symbol of the Other and his/her miserable fate: "She is not raped as a Spanish woman might have been in time of war; she is thrown to the dogs because she is both an unconsenting woman and an Indian woman" (247). He goes on to say that our dream of the noble savage win always be sterile because "the savage is dead or assimilated" (97). There was a primitiveness about the world in 1492, but it was not just in the human sacrifices of Mexico. It was just as pronounced in the heart of every European with designs on the new continent. Could they have been more moral to satisfy Kohlberg's definition? "The question 'why be moral' is a question about the meaningfulness of one's existence as a rational being" (Kohlberg 322). Are today's "powers that be" any more rational or moral than the conquistadors? Aijiz Ahmed used to think so until he discovered that his Anglo intellectual colleague considered him an Other, not universal, thus inferior. No amount of statistical data on his native India can convince a Jameson that India is not a third world country (Ahmad 78‑80). As Mixth wraps up his story in Aztec, he makes reference to Martin, the son of Cortes and Malintzin, Cortes's first translator and lover. Martin represents the new race of mestizos "the colored of cheap, watered‑down chocolate. That may be the future..." (7 5 6).




Ahmad, Aijaz. "Jameson's Rhetoric of Otherness and the National Allegory." The Post‑Colonial Studies Reader, B. Ashcroft, et al, eds. London: Routledge. (77). 1995.


Alexis, Jacques S.. "Of the Marvellous Realism of the Haitians." The Post­Colonial Studies Reader B. Ashcroft, et al, eds.. London: Routledge (194).1995.


Goldie, Terry. "The Representation of the Indigene." The Post­Colonial Snidies Render, B. Ashcroft, et al, eds.. London: Routledge. (232). 1995.


Horgan, John. "Profile: Paul Karl Feyerabend‑‑The Worst Enemy of Science." Scientific American 36‑7. May 1993.


Jennings, Gary. A7tec New York: Atheneum. 1980.


Kohlberg, Lawrence. The Philosophy of Moral Development San Francisco: Harper& Rowe. 1981.


Parkman, Francis. The Oregon Trail New York: Signet. 1978.


Todorov, Tzvetan. The Conquest of America New York: Harper & Rowe. 1984.


Jose C. Salazar

Litr. 5734

Dr. C. White

July 23, 1996



The Indigenous as the Malleable Other Doomed to Subjugation


My paper examines the dialogue of the texts Aztec by Gary Jennings, a historical novel; and The Conquest of America by Tzvetan Todorov, a history of the Spanish conquest of the Caribbean Islands and Mexico. Jennings' novel is the story of Mixtli, a lower‑middle class Mexica Indian who in his middle seventies is summoned by the Spanish Bishop of Mexico to narrate the history of his people in detail by request of King Carlos of Spain. The novel is an epic along the lines of James Clavell's Shogun While Aztec paints a detailed and intimate picture of what it must have been like to be a part of the great Aztec civilization just before and through the conquest, Todorov details the conquest itself from many of the same sources as Jennings' but does not offer much information on the civilization of the Mexica.

The questions that this paper hopes to answer are derived from the fact that both books agree in their condemnation of the genocide committed by the Spaniards. The books are complementary to each other in depicting the thriving Indian culture and its subsequent conquest, destruction, and replacement. What forces dictate that colonialism be genocidal versus simply domineering? What was the moral obligation of the church then and now toward the victims of the conquest? What would have become of the Aztec civilization had the Spaniards never conquered/killed them? What primal differences are there between the Indians and the Caucasians that allow the latter to conquer and destroy the former? What is the criteria for "civilized" and "uncivilized" up to and including today's first world and third world countries?

These questions are answered through analysis of the two texts and supporting texts and articles such as Francis Parkman's The Oregon Trail. Several of the articles in The Post‑Colonial Reader indicate that the "othering" of the indigenes was a way of dehumanizing them and thus subjugating them to perpetual inferiority. The Aztecs, sometimes compared to ancient Greece, stood the best chance to withstand the conquest, but they, too, were defeated and are a mere remnant in today's Mestizo who continues to be thrown into a daze even by today's benign racism.


Jose C. Salazar


The Quashing of the Duplication oKapanese Fortune;


This is definitely a tentative plan. I am interested in examining the phenomenon of the development of the European arrogance and the subsequent presumption by European explorers and colonialists that non­white cultures are inferior. It may be accepted that to Westernized peoples non‑Western cultures are undesirable (but for internalized racism, it would also be vice‑versa) for, indeed, apples and oranges cannot be compared. But the arrogance is in not having left the non‑European peoples undisturbed. The conquest and subsequent widespread propagation of dehumanizing misinformation about how "stupid" and "inferior" the people of color were (especially the natives of the "new world") robbed these people of their true evolutionary destiny. Had they been left undisturbed by the colonialists could they have become a world­class power much like the homogeneous and autonomous Japanese7

I propose to use Francis Parkman's The Oregon Trail and Jennings" and Aztec as the two texts in

dialogue. I consider Parkman's book a good example of how easy it became to popularize a

number of negative myths about the natives of North America by cavalierly dismissing them as

ugly and uncivilized, etc. ‑ comparing apples to oranges. Jennings, on the other hand, researched

extensively the Aztec culture and has it speaking eloquently as to its uniqueness and immense

value of its own, including implications of its great potential as a world‑class power. Other texts I

will use are Tocqueville's Democracy in America, Tzvqajj's conquest of America, and several other

books and articles.


QUESTIONS: What other, more effective, approach could I take to a dialogue between American natives like the Aztecs and the perpetrators of their near annihilation and subsequent (seemingly irreversible) bastardization?


Jose C. Salazar

July 11, 1996

Research Project Progress Report


The only progress I have made so f a r is to search the UH‑Central library catalog (computer?) for book titles that may contain information pertaining to my topic which is Aztec/Mexican Indians in dialogue with European settlers/conquerors. I found a large selection of titles under the subject heading of "Imperialism." I checked out several books, but I have not had time to really preview them. I am also rereading Gary Jennings' Aztec , extensively researched ("twelve years in the making") and published in 1980, 761 pages; and I am reexamining Francis Parkman's Ihe,_ Oregon ImiL originally published in 1849. 1 am beginning to consider replacing Parkman with Todorov'sThe Conquest of America


I am still comfortable with my thesis and my choice of texts. I will begin extensive note‑taking following my out‑of‑town trip this weekend, so by July 20 1 expect to have worked through a fairly thorough outline of the paper. I am not a fast reader, so the reading for this class has been more than I am comfortable with, b t I will be caught up by July 16 and


then will make faster progress.


I have settled on the thesis that was described in my original proposal) which is basically that the Aztec civilization is an example of a thriving Indian culture which could have evolved into a modern or future first‑world country"but for the destructiveness and greed of the European conquerors. I am looking through the selected texts and essays for information that might support this thesis, but I expect to have to infer and extrapolate much information due to the speculative nature of my thesis.


Of the several texts I have borrowed, I feel that The Spanish in America 1513‑197% edited by Arthur A. Natella Jr., could prove useful. Also, After Colonialism, edited by Gyan Pakash, seems to have some interesting essays that perhaps I can use. The following is a partial bibliography just to give you an idea of the direction I have taken so far:


Cultures‑‑Cultural Identity On Latin America UNESCO. 1985. Hertian,dez‑Gutierrez, Manuel de Jesus. El colonialismo Interno en la Narrativa Ch*canas El Barrio, el Anti‑Barrio y el Exterior, Bilingual Press: Tempe, AZ. 1994.


Jennings, Gary. Aztec Atheneum: New York. 1980. Kershner, Frederick, Jr., ed. Tocqueville's Americae The Great Quotations Ohio UP: Athens, OR 1983.


Jose C. Salazar

Dear Jose, Fine work, especially considering the duress you're working under, so thanks for staying the course and continuing to write as well as I expect you to. My only technical complaints can be found in the margins. Altogether the most impressive quality in the essay is how well you mediate between different critics and theorists (as well as Jennings the novelist). You show that you read and remember well when you cite the support of one voice, cite another to contest that first, then cite yet a third voice to back up the second. You do something like this two or three times in your paper, and it's fairly rare to see it. I know when I was in your shoes that my profs tended to be impressed when I could do this now and then, and now I'm in their shoes and feeling the same way.


Thanks for putting up with me and Jacky the other night. I felt bad that I ran down Catholic population practices‑‑I think it's true that they must be criticized, but whatever cannot be spoken with a gentle and generous spirit is not truth, I think the Buddha said.


I appreciated your sticking around to talk with me the other night, and you and your family have been on my mind. I was especially struck by your distinction between the attitudes Rodriguez noted in his father as Indian attitudes and the attitudes of your own father as Spanish. Suddenly I felt, I can't believe that I was teaching this guy about Latino literature last semester; such distinctions are so repressed in the United States (at least in the south, where the sexual interaction of the dominant and repressed culture are at least nominally different) that I couldn't have conceived of what you said until I heard it from you (not that it was outlandish, just unfamiliar). My first point was, thanks for putting up with what must be numerous blunders and insensitivities on my part. My second point would be, consider this division between Spanish and Indian traits as a possible topic for a thesis here. If I don't know about it, certainly many others don't. It's probably an accepted feature of discourse in Mexico, but how much does that discourse continue in the United States, where virtually all comers from Mexico are simply Mexicans instead of this or that side of the nation's genesis?


One more thing, though I won't go into it. The more I read Todorov, the less I think he really sees the Indians of Mexico and instead falls into typical European othering practices. That is, the way he describes the Indian of Mexico conforms so to the way Europeans see all others that I sometimes wonder if he was capable of actually perceiving what was unique about their cultures instead he seems to force them into his pre‑existing categories for oral/ritual peoples, as you intimated. I'm not sure how to resolve this. Well, we'll talk more, I hope. God bless you and your family in the coming months. project grade: