A Week in Mexico City (part 4)

Day 4

Templo Mayor (Main Temple)

Many things about Mexican culture are difficult for Americans to wrap our heads around. There are deep cultural differences in the way we think about time, the way we think about love, family, and honor. You see it in the holidays, the language, art, music, and food.

One difference I puzzle over is our views toward death. Americans are light-hearted children, unaware that death is lurking around the corner and shocked when it comes. “How could this happen?” He or she was so strong, so vital.

Mexicans are dark and calm, they live with death; they “sit” with it. To them it’s a given. Not just inevitable but necessary. They know death is there, always has been, always will be. There’s actually a term for it – Mexican Fatalism.

While United States culture has developed out of theĀ beliefs and philosophies of European immigrants, “forgetful” of its deeper roots, and so uniquely modern, Mexican culture is permeated with remnants of its pre-hispanic past.

Mexico City itself is located where the Aztec capitol city once stood. The ruins of Templo Mayor, one of the main temples of the Aztecs, is smack dab in the middle of Centro, a 20 minute walk from the hotel. While walking through the ruins and the Museum a piece of the cultural puzzle falls into place.

The Aztecs were big on human sacrifice. Horrific by modern standards, yes, but to the Aztecs, necessary for human survival. It all starts with the God of War and Sun, and the God of Rain (I’ll spare you the unpronounceable names). Again, by modern standards, belief in a pantheon of gods that control the natural world is anachronistic, silly. But for the Aztecs this was a literal thing. They had to make human sacrifices to the gods to protect man from infinite night. The success of their crops and the ability to defend themselves from invaders depended on it.

They weren’t killing people as part of a genocidal pogrom or because they lacked respect for human life but because it was essential to preserving it. There were many gods and if the Aztecs wanted to eat, drink, have children, and protect themselves they had to be appeased.

While we don’t like to acknowledge the existence of human sacrifice, it’s clear the ancient ancestors of the Mexicans believed that without it there would be no life. And for me, the ruins and artifacts show very clearly where Mexican culture came by its acceptance of death as part everyday life.