History Summarized: Mexico

Mexico has got a lot going on in its history, from ancient civilizations building temples to the Sun and sowing panic about the year 2012, to a great Empire with a city in the middle of a lake and a habit of hucking people off of pyramids, to its less-than-willing participation in New World globalization and its development into an independent nation-state. To put that into proper historical terminology, that’s a lot of stuff going on. So to organize this and find out how Mexico became Mexico, let’s do some history. This video is brought to you by Nord VPN, more on that later. While civilization along this stretch of land dates back thousands of years to players like the Olmecs, the Zapotecs and the Maya, our story begins in the power vacuum left by the collapse of the Toltec Empire in 1122AD. In the absence of any one dominant power, a series of small city-states carved out their own little corners of influence. 200 years later, the Mexica tribe settled right in the middle of Lake Texcoco to fulfill… A Prophecy™ * airhorn * They were told that the apparition of an eagle perched atop a cactus and eating a snake would mark their new home, so upon seeing it, rather than look a gift eagle in the beak, they camped out right in the lake and began building the city of Tenochtitlan. The Mexica then allied with two of their neighbors to form the Aztec Empire. Through a combination of military skills, some fetching outfits, and a trusty obsidian macuahuitl, the Aztec Empire grew to dominate the land from coast to coast. Meanwhile, the capital of Tenochtitlan became a fabulously huge and beautiful city of canals, palaces, markets, aqueducts, and more… * door breaks down * ¿Donde esta el Dorado?
Where is el Dorado? And… then the conquistadors showed up. Some 30 years after Columbus accidentally wandered into the Caribbean, Spain was in full-on empire mode, though there wasn’t a great deal to be found in the Antilles, some scouts brought word that there was a shiny big civilization to sack on the mainland to the west. So one enterprising gentleman by the name of Hernán Cortés defied the Crown’s orders and hopped over to the mainland in 1519 with some 500 fellow conquistadors, the absolute greediest and nastiest brutes that Renaissance Spain had to offer. While the numbers game wasn’t strictly in Spain’s favour, they had steel swords and armor that made the obsidian blades and wooden shields look like paper mâché. Now the Aztecs, being a conquering Empire, had made a series of enemies, like their neighbors the Tlaxcalans, who were all too thrilled to offer thousands of warriors for Cortés’ army, but perhaps the most deadly ally that Spain had in this fight was smallpox, which, among other European diseases, killed anywhere from half to 90% of the native Mesoamerican population. After Cortés kidnapped King Moctezuma, dodged an arrest attempt from his commanding officer, and ordered his ships to be burns to ensure there was no possibility of retreat, the conquistadors captured Tenochtitlan in 1521 after several battles and a long siege, and fully eradicated the Aztec Empire. And now with all that icky Pagan nonsense out of the way, Spain’s got itself a brand new Spain! Step one was to stop Cortés from acting like a de facto monarch, because why would he exercise restraint now? Back in Spain, King Charles V created a series of advisory boards to attempt to rein in Cortés, but when that didn’t work, Charles just stripped him of his powers and established the Viceroyalty of New Spain in 1535. Step two was building up a new capital on the site of Tenochtitlan, which was newly renamed after the old tenants of the Aztec Mexica tribe, which is where we get the name, Mexico. Step three was governing the place. In addition to the power of the monarchy, Spain formalized their superiority over the native peoples through a casta system, which classified everyone from Iberian-born Spaniards down to indigenous peoples with Mexican-born Criollos and mixed-blood Mestizos in the middle. Step three-and-a-half was adopting an old Aztec law mandating public labor and transforming that into the Spanish encomienda system, which wasn’t technically slavery, but it was pretty dang close. Step four was Christianity. In New Spain, the Catholic Church had land, power, and an undying determination to convert everybody. Polytheism is usually pretty open to new gods, so getting Jesus in was fairly easy, but getting Quetzalcoatl, Tezcatlipoca, and the rest of the gang out was far trickier. So missionaries got a bit torch happy and burned countless texts. A few did attempts to limit the harmful effects of colonization, but they got pushback for suggesting that non-Spaniards had- * gasp * basic human dignity. And others used Aztec human sacrifice as justification that hippity-hoppity, your soul is my property, so, it was a rocky process. The Aztec heartland quickly became the new urban core, with spots like Mexico City and Guadalajara inland and Veracruz and Acapulco on the coasts, but cities were soon going up all over New Spain. Though as this is colonialism we’re talking about, the real aim was to bring resources and wealth back to Iberia, and that came in the form of food and silver. While some Spaniards were still hunting for El Dorado, and surprising nobody but themselves, failing horribly, silver became the dominant metal export. And the Old World soon got to taste cocoa, chiles, corn and tomatoes, which boosted and also stabilized the European food supply. The problem for Spain was that they didn’t really have all that great a grasp on macroeconomics, so they over-inflated their economy and squandered their money on losing wars. Spanish powers swiftly dimmed and France and Britain soon got to flexing their might in the New World. And at the end of the 18th century, Mexico fought alongside America during their war of independence, and the Mexican soldiers who were there took some notes to bring home. At the turn of the 1800s, Mexicans were fed up with the casta system and its favoritism of Spanish-born Peninsulares, and with the success of recent American and Haitian revolutions, Mexico was willing to give it a go at themselves. On September 16th of 1810, a Carrillo Priest named Miguel Hidalgo took advantage of Spain’s current kingless-ness to give the cry of Dolores and begin the war of independence, which… he… lost… but his idea lasted. The revolution went on in fits and starts for the next decade with some constitutions, but not a lot of independence. The problem was that nobody could agree on what they wanted out of the revolution – independence, a republic, equal rights? All three? Depends on who you asked. But the turning point came in 1820, when Spain, now
re-kinged after the Napoleonic nonsense, got a newly-liberalised constitution. The higher classes feared that an exportation of those liberal ideas to Mexico would mean the end of their extremely cushy socio-economic status, so a general in the Spanish army by the name of Agustín de Iturbide flipped and teamed up with the revolutionary leader Vicente Guerrero to hash out some compromises for a new independent government. These three guarantees of monarchy, egalitarianism, and Catholicism, became the goals of the revolution, and when their combined armies marched on Mexico City, they had no trouble yeeting the Spanish loyalists right on out of there and forming an independent Mexican Empire with Iturbide as Emperor. So now Mexico’s got independence, but what about that carefully crafted political compromise that kind of held this whole operation together? … It went pretty quickly at the window. Nobody seemed to be happy with the new government, and most aristocrats carried on not giving rights to the Mestizos and natives. Iturbide was ousted and later executed, and Central America seceded from the Mexican Empire. Not a great start. As time went on, the economy was stagnant because no government was strong or consistent enough to create an enforced rule, so the local economy shriveled as corruption soared. The biggest figure to emerge in the half-century after Mexican independence was Antonio López de Santa Anna. A former general turned politician who served as president and/or dictator for most of the next two decades. Watch out, this becomes a trend. Santa Anna had the galaxy-brain idea of encouraging American immigrants to settle in the state of Coahuila y Tejas to shield from raids by the Comanche nation and also boost the northern economy. This failed spectacularly, as he essentially imported an entire population that was bound to agitate for more rights. When they did, Santa Anna effectively told them to shove it and then was surprised when they immediately revolted. Things got real at the Siege of the Alamo, but despite early Mexican victories, the Texan revolutionaries won the decisive Battle of San Jacinto in 18 minutes and personally captured Santa Anna to add insult to injury. They let him go but his problems got worse when Texas joined the ever-growing United States. Then Mexico had a mix-up over some soldiers killed on disputed land, which led to a second and even more disastrous war for Santa Anna. The U.S. invaded along the Pacific coast of California and the eastern Gulf Coast and routed Santa Anna to capture Mexico City and force a surrender. The resulting Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo saw Mexico cede all of its northern territories to the United States, from Colorado all the way to California. This was rough, as Mexico now languished in military failure, bad governance, and a deflated economy for another decade before Santa Anna was ousted for good in 1855. Two years later, a new constitution took power from the church to help prop the lower classes but this didn’t sit super well with the church elite, so a civil war between conservative Catholics and liberal Democrats swiftly broke out. Yay… In the course of the four-year war, both sides borrowed huge sums of money from Spain, France, and England to finance their militaries, and when the Liberals won the war in 1861, Europe came to collect for both tabs, which goes to show that war profiteering is great, because no matter who wins, you still get rich. Easy! Obviously Mexico couldn’t pay all of this, so they defaulted on their debts. In response, the French Emperor Napoleon the Third decided to take matters into his own Empire and invaded Mexico to place a Habsburg puppet on the throne. France landed on the Bay of Campeche and pushed towards Mexico City, but was spectacularly halted in its tracks by the Mexican army at the Battle of Puebla. This is what Cinco de Mayo is about – it’s not so much an Independence Day as an Anti-Re-Colonialism Day, which is different, but has the same core energy to it. Unfortunately, the war wasn’t over, and France regrouped to capture Mexico City and install their puppet Maximilian on the throne. Three years later, the Mexican Republican Army recaptured the north and America shot some nasty eyes at France, so they decided, uh, better off not fighting a war on two fronts, and then they withdrew. The new Mexican government set about some much-needed reforms, because oh man, Mexico has been having a rough century here. The next four decades saw the country secularized, reform the central government to be stronger and more efficient, build infrastructure and modernize the army. That last one is relevant because the 1880s through 1910s had another military strong man turned politician who rigged elections and manipulated the army to stay in power. After ‘winning’ an especially controversial election in 1910, widespread revolts forced him to flee. But this revolution ran into trouble when the leaders failed to agree on new government, so Mexico descended into a decade of open rebellion. The revolutionaries were defeated and a couple more military strongmen held the country, but things started looking up in the second half of the century, as Mexico’s involvement in World War Two kick-started decades of economic progress that continues to this day. I wasn’t lying when I said that Mexican history is busy, but it’s also extremely complex, and the Mexican identity is one of the most fascinating and trickiest artifacts of this history. For instance, in the 80s, there was a new statue of Cortés, his Nahua wife Malintzin, and their Mestizo son Martín, which intended to celebrate the convergence of cultures. But instead it was met by fierce student protests, who saw Cortés as a predator, and Malintzin, or La Malinche, as a traitor to her Nahua people. The debate over the statue is a very recent microcosm of the beautiful harmonies and the stark contrasts that make up Mexico’s history. A story that’s deep, inspiring, and sometimes dismaying, but above all else, very much alive. As we’ve seen, it can be hard to protect your Empire from conquistadors, but it’s easy to protect your online data from hackers and thieves with today’s sponsor, Nord VPN. The digital world is vast and speedy, but it can also be extremely shady. With a virtual private network or VPN, you can keep your data safe from hackers and spyware and also hop around to different corners of the net. While the conquistadors took entire months to cross the Atlantic like a bunch of slow losers, Nord VPN’s military-grade security and servers in over 60 countries let you hop from Spain to Mexico with a click! And Nord VPN is offering you 70% off a three year plan and a free bonus month if you go to NordVPN.com/OverlySarcastic and use code “OVERLYSARCASTIC”. Whether you’re punching a hole in online government censorship or hopping across the Atlantic to see what’s going on with Netflix en español, it’s important to be secure, and Nord VPN is consistently among the highest rated VPNs around. Whenever I’m browsing on public Wi-Fi in a library or café, I always feel safe with Nord VPN. Again, head over to NordVPN.com/OverlySarcastic and use the code “OVERLYSARCASTIC” to get 70% off three years of secure internet and one bonus month free. Thanks so much for watching. This one was a big research undertaking for me, but I loved digging into the history of my national neighbor. One thing I learned while making this is that there’s a sea shanty all about General Santa Anna, and though it’s not strictly accurate to Santa Anna’s actual history, it is a banger of a track, so I linked it down in the description. Give it a listen, and I’ll see you in the next one. Subtitler: I think I did nearly as much research as Blue while making these subtitles. The auto-generated ones were appalling. Hope you enjoyed!

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