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Our Lady (The Virgin) of Guadalupe

I’m writing a book, Niños Héroes: The Fascinating Stores Behind Mexican Street Names. Here’s a short selection:

She is “La Morenita,” the brown lady.

According to Catholic lore, the Virgin Mary first appeared to a peasant in the small town of Guadalupe, Spain, in 1325 AD. She confided to him the location of a long-lost statue, unique in that it portrayed her with a dark face.

In 1531, Mary appeared again on a hill called Tepeyac just outside of Mexico City, this time to a Native named Juan Diego. Speaking to him in his…

Marcos Castellanos

It might seem shocking that Catholic priests like Miguel Hidalgo and José María Morelos led a violent revolution. They believed that Jesus called them not only to save souls for a future in Heaven, but to establish justice here on Earth now, especially for the long-oppressed Natives. This radical (and always Vatican-condemned) philosophy would reemerge under the name “Liberation Theology” in the 1960s when Jesuit priests led similar uprisings in Central America against vicious United-States-installed regimes.

Another such Mexcian priest was Marcos Castellanos who continued Hidalgo’s and Morelos’ revolution on Lake Chapala, just south of Guadalajara. At the…

Malinche (also known as Marina, Malintzin, Malinal…) remains one of the most enigmatic and controversial characters in Mexican history.

According to Texan historian T. R. Fehrenbach, “If there is one villainess in Mexican history, she is [Malinche]. She was to become the ethnic traitress supreme.”

Meanwhile, Colorado Professor Cordelia Candelaria called her a “prototypical Chicana feminist. La Malinche embodies those personal characteristics — such as intelligence, initiative, adaptability and leadership — which are most often associated with Mexican-American women unfettered by traditional restraints against activist public achievement.”

Born to a royal family, Malinche was sold into slavery as a young…

At first it was my nightmare, then my curse, briefly my cross to bear, and finally one of life’s greatest blessings.

I never chose to be gay. Indeed, I spent nearly two decades attempting to deny it, run away from it, pray it away…anything.

As a teen, I furtively scanned the ladies’ bra and underwear sections of the Sears catalog, desperately trying to find the featured women sexy. What was the matter with me?

Later in the full throes of puberty, my gut would clench tightly whenever I saw an attractive boy. “No! No! No!” …

Cortés was intelligent, courageous, ambitious, insubordinate, greedy, and ruthless — the quintessential conquistador. He established the Spanish empire (New Spain) in Mexico.

In 1511, Cortéz joined the conquest of Cuba, and impressed the island’s first Governor, Diego Velázquez, who chose him for his secretary, appointed him mayor of Santiago (Cuba’s capital), and made him wealthy with vast encomiendas. But Cortés wanted more. Much more.

When, in 1818, Velázquez asked Cortés to lead an expedition to explore the mainland, Corteś saw his chance. Even though Velázquez quickly revoked the command (suspecting too late that his protégé was ungovernable), Cortés set off…

Moctezuma I went down in oblivion, while his namesake, Moctezuma II, went down in infamy. The former is a terrible shame, the latter a vexing mystery.

Moctezuma I transformed the small Aztec city-state of Tenochtitlán into an empire. With his brilliant statesmanship, he created The Triple Alliance with Texcoco (ruled by his friend and ally, Nezahualcoyotl) and a lesser city-state, Tlacopan. Under his leadership, they conquered virtually all other tribes and states in central Mexico, shared the spoils, and grew incredibly wealthy.

Sally’s postcard arrived like a love-letter — not just from her, but from the city she’d been visiting: Santander.

Santander! That beautiful town on the northern coast of Spain where Fate had brought me after college, city of laughing sea and stoic mountains, winter rains and summer mirth, desperate loneliness and oh-so-kind welcome.

Santander! How the memories came tumbling back, like so many disparate, long-forgotten pieces to a beloved puzzle I’d never managed to put together.

First, I recalled the Farol, the lighthouse out beyond the city, from where, forlorn and near despair, I’d braved the winds, stared out at…

Twenty-seven cities worldwide and a South-American country bear Columbus’ name, as do innumerable streets throughout Mexico.

No, Columbus wasn’t unique in believing the world was round. He argued that the world was small, with India to the east just beyond the point-of-no-return (when a ship was half-way done with its water). If he was wrong, everyone on the voyage would die. If he was right, well, the potential riches (silks and spices) could fuel an empire.

The Greeks had accurately measured the Earth’s circumference more than 1,700 years before Columbus. But neither he nor the Spanish monarchs who sponsored him…

“So, what’s it all about?” my uncle Fred used to ask me over the sumptuous meals we shared at yearly reunions.

“Isn’t that what you’re supposed to tell me,” I responded laughing.

Uncle Fred had been a Catholic priest. But, when told by the bishop to abandon his ministry to alcoholics in order to say more masses (He had PhD in psychology.), Uncle Fred gave up the priesthood instead.

Shortly after, he met my beloved Aunt Marge. She’d been a nun as well as a patent-winning PhD chemist; but she, too, gave everything up to become an acclaimed artist. …

Quetzalcoatl was an enduring, often even preeminent god of all the great pre-Columbian Mexican civilizations, including the Olmecs, Teotihuacán, Mayans, Toltecs, and Aztecs. The amazing pyramid at Cholula (near Puebla), the most massive ever built in the Americas, honored Quetzalcoatl.

A plumed snake, Quetzalcoatl was at various times the god of water, wind, air, learning, knowledge, the dawn (Venus), merchants, the arts, and the priesthood. He was even credited with creating the human race.

The Toltecs fought an ethnic/religious/political civil war over Quetzalcoatl. Their priest/king (with the honorific name of Quetzalcoatl, so his and the god’s stories become entwined) was…


David Ellison, author of Santander: Rambling on Borrowed Time, retired after 36 years in education to Ajijic, Mexico.

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