Figure of Cuauhtémoc as an Indigenista Symbol in Post-Revolutionary Mexico

Cuauhtémoc's image as an indigenousist emblem in post-revolutionary Mexico Indigenismo is a political philosophy that originated in Latin America in the late 19th century and had a significant impact throughout the entire 20th century, especially in Mexico. It influenced the interactions between the state and the indigenous people in Mexico and was incorporated into the Constitution in 1917. It is clear that Indeginistas' viewpoints have evolved over time. This Mexican ideology is distinguished by its celebration of indigenous culture as an important part of the country's history and its efforts to include the populace in the authority of the nation state. The enactment of this ideology took many perspectives including state policies, governmental programs, use of various institutions and artistic expressions. The use of art in advancing this ideology took a long and divided opinion from the leaders and the citizens (Gillingham, 562). This short essay will make reference to Siquerios’s 1946 painting of one the figures that became to be accepted as the last emperor of Aztec; Cuauhtemoc, and the influence of this painting in the post-revolutionary period.

The awakening of Cuauhtemoc as a nationalist figure began in the late 19th century with some artists carving and painting depictions of the emperor. Over the ages, nationalism has been embodied in the fetishisation of the bodies of dead leaders and it is on this basis that a ranging number of depictions of the King was being displayed and used by the entrepreneurs (Gillingham, 565). One such figure that reawakened the significance of the emperor was painter Siquerio who depicted the folklore of the king being tied and his feet and hands being burnt as an interrogation method to give up information by Herman Cortes. The story goes further to suggest that his cousin, being tortured alongside him, pleaded with the king to give the information and his response does capture the imagination of many Indigenous populations. He asked the cousin whether he thought he was enjoying his bath (Fulton, 82). This resistance to surrender information that could rob the country of the treasures like gold and silver is seen as a powerful symbol of nationalism and inspiration to the Indeginismo movements.

The rising significance of King Cuauhtemoc in the late 19th century evoked the mind of an entrepreneur named Juarez who saw the opportunity and planted a body beneath his church and claimed it to have been that of the king (Gillingham, 572). The lengths that went into fabricating this story by the priest just saw how significant this ruler may have been or would be to the nation. Despite this blatant issue of forgery, it cannot take away the immense significance of the king towards shaping the inspirations and aspiration of Indeginistas (Gillingham, 578). Even when the accuracy of the entire episode of burning the feet is being questioned, the image does send out strong messages of standing firm to ones’ convictions for the sake of the nationalism.

While from the reading it is clear that some people have disregarded Cuauhtemoc as even being the last emperor and not being famous, the depiction by Sequiros does seem to ignore those facts and represent the lengths to which individuals can go to resist what can be perceived to be non-nationalistic. Indeed, the government has distanced itself from the whole story, but the opposition and many others in the 1990s took up the story and saw it as a piece of inspiration for nationalistic values (Gillingham, 579). In my opinion, the painting is a successful historical piece of evidence that inspires the imaginations of the Indigenous masses in the post-revolutionary era.

Works Cited

Gillingham, Paul. "The emperor of Ixcateopan: fraud, nationalism and memory in modern Mexico." Journal of Latin American Studies 37.3 (2005): 561-584.

Fulton, Christopher. "Siqueiros against the myth: Paeans to Cuauhtemoc, last of the Aztec emperors." Oxford art journal 32.1 (2009): 67-93.

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