Friday, February 19, 2010

Week 5: Students Go on Excursion to a Palace!

By Alex Peterson
Bethel University

This past week we had the opportunity to visit and view a mural depicting, the history of Morelos, the conquest, and the revolution, portrayed by Diego Rivera. Diego Rivera was a famous painter throughout the world who established his name by painting murals in places such as: Mexico City, Chapingo, Cuernavaca, San Francisco, Detroit, and New York City. The particular mural that we saw at the Palacio de Cortes (Cortes´Palace) in downtown Cuernavaca was based off of the battle between the Aztecs and the Spanish. We spent about an hour analyzing the mural, which wrapped around an entire upper room of the museum.

Indigenous slaves under the Spanish rule

There was quite a lot to be said about Rivera’s depiction of this major historical event. Before getting to the museum we had a brief lecture by one of our teachers refreshing our minds of what had happened during the conquest of Mexico. As we spent the day discussing this event I came to realize that primary and secondary education in the United States of America did not clearly and concisely depict everything that the Spanish put the indigenous people through.
Another part of Diego´s mural

The mural painted by Rivera showed the absolute control that Hernan Cortes (a Spanish conqueror of Mexico) took over the Aztecs and indigenous people. Rivera´s depiction of Cortes throughout the mural was of someone who stood above the rest. He was illustrated standing above indigenous Aztec people who were being tortured in very inhumane ways, such as the pulling or stretching of the body or the scalping of the heads.

Also portrayed was Cortes’ infamous translator, advisor, and mistress La Malinche, who was an important indigenous woman, caught between the two worlds. There is quite a bit of controversy surrounding the relationship between these two, and for some she has become the symbol of betrayal in Mexico. Hernan Cortes´ and La Malinche’s son was considered the first-born “Mestizo”. Mestizos are people that share both European and Indigenous Mexican ancestors.


  1. Duuuuude, I loved visiting the mural as well! Good analysis. Isn't it kind of ironic that this mural that depicts all of the atrocities that Hernan Cortes personally committed is housed in his old palace in Cuernavaca? I mean, that's like having a poster on the wall saying "YOU SUCK" at your own home... Hopefully it wasn't there when he lived there.

    I'm glad you brought up La Malinche as well. It was pretty cool to be able to find various depictions of her throughout the mural in different lights, and this is important because she has such a ambiguous characterization. Is she the traitor of the people or the creator of the people? Probably both, which is another irony that is difficult for many Mexican mestizos to live with.

    For anyone in Mexico, I recommend going to see this mural, but not just trotting through it, really LOOKING at it and ANALYZING it. It is an important historical artifact that helped me understand some of the realities of Mexican history. I hope to see more Rivera murals in my time here for sure!

  2. Great analysis, Alex, and excellent comments, Annie. I agree that this is a very powerful, thought-provoking mural that everyone should see. Even if you're not in Mexico, you can look it up online and find pictures of it in art books about Diego Rivera and the Mexican muralist movement. Ann

  3. It was really good to hear about your visit with the mural and to see panels that you focused on -- like being with an old friend -- thanks for all the work you all are putting into the blogs and keeping us up to date on your adventure!

  4. "As we spent the day discussing this event I came to realize that primary and secondary education in the United States of America did not clearly and concisely depict everything that the Spanish put the indigenous people through." This reminded me of a conversation I had with a visiting professor from China awhile ago. We were discussing education here as compared to China and I found out that Chinese children learn much more about American history than most American children do. I think it is sad that we learn less than other countries about ourselves and learn very, very little about other countries. The American education system should fix that!