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Hofstra Professor Alvaro Enrigue lectures on the fall of Tenochtitlan

April 15, 2022

On Thursday, April 7, Alvaro Enrigue, associate professor in Romance Languages and Literatures at Hofstra University in New York, spoke to the College community about the fall of Tenochtitlan and the Aztec empire. The award-winning novelist and academic whose articles have appeared in multiple literary publications and newspapers began his lecture by highlighting the fall of Tetnotitchlan’s importance to the modern world.

“For the Pope to eat a spaghetti pomodoro in Rome, Tenochtitlan had to fall,” Enrigue said.

Enrigue set up this metaphor to lay the foundation of his main point throughout the lecture: the fall of Tenochtitlan and the Aztec empire made Mexico City the first globalized city in the world. He argued that Mexico City found itself both as a cosmopolitan destination of trade and as the central exporter of newly-globalized North and South American resources and goods. To highlight the city’s position, Enrigue continued with the use of food imagery.

“All chiles come from Mexico, except for green and black pepper,” Enrigue said. “[The word] ‘maiz’ (corn) finds its roots in Taino, ‘huarache’ (sandal) finds its roots in Japan, ‘chinga’ (an expletive) gets its roots in Africa.”

He further claimed that the words “Aztec” and “Moctezuma” were globalized terms themselves.

“If you told [an inhabitant of Mexico City or Tenochtitlan] the words ‘Aztec’ or ‘Moctezuma,’ he would perhaps stare at you. Nobody said the word ‘Aztec’ in the Spanish world, ever. It was an invention of the 18th century by a British man,” Enrigue said.

Attendee Roger Wilder ’25 found these metaphors and arguments both compelling and entertaining.

“I think it pushed [Enrigue’s] perspective about how everything was connected to this time in history that was 500 years ago,” Wilder said. “It made it easier to understand or realize how big of an impact this event had.”

Later in the talk, Enrigue expressed his frustration with current discourse on the fall of Tenochtitlan and the Aztec Empire at large.

“All of the information about the fall of Tenochtitlan is confusing. There were [and are] debates in Mexico where it was half the country against [the other] half of the country … about what really happened in that period. It’s important [to find the truth] because I think what happened in Mexico on that dark day in 1521 was happening all over the world,” Enrigue said. “Let us never forget that nine out of ten original populators of the Americas died in the first one hundred years of occupation.”

Additionally, he argued that the conception that the Aztecs were an empire at all is false.

“[In Mexico,] there were no countries, there were no nations,” Enrigue said. “There were cities called altepetl. Those [altepetl] were cities that had fiscal and tax powers over other cities. And that was it.”

Enrigue also explained that, due to the relatively long and complicated history of the transition of power in the region from local peoples to the Spanish Empire, he finds popular narratives of the Aztecs’ demise to be false. To Wilder, these misconceptions were a shocking, but fascinating new way of looking at the region, having learned from his introductory classes in Art History and Art of Ancient Mexico and Peru.

“I think their culture was so big because they taxed so many different cultures, but it was interesting to hear him say that. I wasn’t sure if those cities were all combined or if they were truly separate entities,” Wilder said.

Above all else, Wilder appreciated hearing the story of the fall of Tenochtitlan from someone from Mexico City.

“I thought it was really interesting,” Wilder said. “It was good to hear someone’s perspective who actually lived in Mexico and grew up very close to Tetnotitchlan and other historic Aztec sites.”

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