IN SEARCH OF AZTLÁN
Martha Ramirez Interview
October 27, 2000
Q: Could you explain this trek of the Aztecs from Aztlán? What
happened, when did it happened, and what were they looking for?
A: The Aztlán papers, the Tira de Aztlán, also known as
Codice Boturini, for the person that founded and eventually made it known,
starts with the image of an island, where theres a woman. Her name
is Chimalma. We dont know if its her name, or her rank. But
this woman was in charge of protecting the people. Chimalma means the
woman with a shield in her hand.
Unfortunately, [there was a mass] destruction of codices, thousands of
them. We think that every town had at least three or four codices, these
manuscripts, and we only have sixteen original pieces. So you can imagine
the importance of what oral tradition and how it can help us add on information
to what we have written.
So the oral tradition tells us that it was a time for them to leave. We
dont know why, but everything was governed by cosmic cycles. And
in this precise moment, it was year one tecoatl, one flint obsidian knife.
One flint is the moment which is there on the codice [that] marks important
changes. Why, because its an obsidian knife that carves away everything
and leaves only but the truth. And so to speak the truth, to take away
what is waste, what is not needed, means that its a new process.
So we see in the image of the codice a man [in] a canoe crossing a river.
And its a very strong river. Its not a calm one. So this also
gives us an idea that [there was some] hardship [at the start of] this
Then we see an image where leaders are guiding this voyage, or this journey.
Theres Apanecatl, theres Adescatl, Chimalma, and Huachoatu.
Theres also an important function in one of these people is that
hes carrying a huitzili, a hummingbird. This hummingbird represents
Huitzilopochtli. Huitzilopochtli is the willpower of the people, represents
willpower. Its governed by that emotion thats water and fire.
Water and fire coming together makes a spark that ignites the movement
[of] this journey. So Huitzilopochtli can be seen not as a god, [but]
more of that inner willpower that people, nations, need to overcome and
to continue on with their mission.
[In] the next image, we see that Huitzilopochtli is speaking within a
cave. Within this cave, there [are] many metaphors that have to do with
how the people would speak and understand. To speak with their elders,
to speak with the ancient ones. Within the cave. The caves represent the
Tezcatlipoca factor. Tezcatlipoca is the spirit of the memory of the people.
Our ancient memory. And so, within this cave, this ancient memory, they
receive their mission. They receive the knowledge that they have to go
and found a great city. This great promised land will eventually be found,
but they are going to have to go through a lot of ordeals and they will
find that this force of Huitzilopochtli, this willpower, will keep them
alive, and will keep them protected.
So then we see that image of this Chicomoztoc, these seven caves, [representing]
seven different peoples, that were all Nahuatl-speaking people. This is
where we trace our origin of the Nahuatl language, with this migration,
from this place thats called Aztlán, or Aztalán. It
comes with the idea that its up in the skies and here on Earth.
This ideal is taught to us by our elders that this is not a mythological
place. Its a real place. Its a real place in the universe
and on Earth. So its within us, but at the same time, its
a real place.
So with this beginning, we see the names of the seven peoples that go
out into this journey. And in the next image theres a tree that
is broken in half. This is the muanchan. This is the place [where] a cosmic
force elevates into the universe, and theres one linked to the Earth
thats like the eagle and the serpent. And so this means that at
some point of this journey they had to separate. Some groups went their
own route. And another one, the Mexica people, at that moment, the Azteca
people, would have to continue on by themselves. And we see a little gathering
of people where theyre crying, so we know that it was very hard
for them to separate, but, nevertheless, it was the way it had to be.
And so the Azteca people start their journey, by themselves, and the rest
of the of the towns of the of the peoples went on their own way, and eventually
they would find each other.
But in this journey, we see an image where theres a ceremony where
an eagle comes down and gives them a bow and arrow. And at this moment
this is where the change of the name takes place, from Aztec to the Mexica.
And so from now on, theyre [going to] be the Mexica Nation. And
so, from here on we see the different places where theyre going
to rest and try to settle down in search of this promised land.
The oral traditions [tell] of many places that they went through. Many
of them were very beautiful. Like Michoacan, and Chapultepec, all these
places. But they had orders to keep on going, even though these places
were very beneficial and there [were] life [sustaining] sources and everything.
But the idea [was] that they had to find certain symbols. Certain signs
had not [yet] taken place.
And so, we find several things that happened during this long journey.
For example, when they find agua miel (honey water), they discover agua
miel from the maguey plant. This is an important moment. The maguey is
a plant that is a warrior. Its a plant that will heal [and clothe]
people, [for it provides] string that you can weave. Also the with the
agua miel, there [are] several different liquids, or different bebidas,
drinks, that [range from] the medicinal to the nurturing. This is a very
important moment of the migration.
Q: What happens when they get to the Valley of Mexico?
A: When they get to the Valley of Mexico, theyre trying to set up
a place to live, and the only place that theyre able to get is this
little island [that is] full of snakes. And so they have to start eating
snake. This is also, metaphorically, important. Why, because the snake,
coatl, marks their way. Those who know the pochtecas, the ambassador,
the people that would travel in long migrations, in search for different
places would go with the calendar date of coatl. So when they have to
eat the serpent, because there wasnt anything else to eat, they
find a symbol that represents that they have found what theyre looking
Also, the idea of seeing the eagle on the nopal, which was an image that
was on a stone, that Tenochtitlán, is a place where they finally
settle and from then on, they have to create a whole different form of
living. So that they can create more land with the chinan, with the different
places so they can start settling there.