I recently had the pleasure of seeing a performance of the play The Sun Serpent by José Cruz González. It tells the story of the conquest of the Aztecs by the Spanish Conquistadores, led by Hernan Cortés. It is remarkable that this story is told by a total of three actors, employing a variety of masks and lightning-fast costume changes. This is the first play I have ever seen to be performed in three languages (English, Spanish, and the Mesoamerican Nahuatl language). Supertitles were provided on a screen at the top of the stage.
The Sun Serpent
In a review in the Star-Tribune, the playwright shared these words regarding his play: “We like to think of the Spanish as brutal and the Aztecs and other tribes as good, but that wasn’t always the case. The Aztecs were the oppressors of Mexico before the Spanish. They required human sacrifices from the subjugated populations. That’s why a small number of Spanish men were able to ally with oppressed groups and overthrow this great empire.”
The two main characters are two brothers, Anahuac and Tlememe, who belong to one of the subjugated populations. Seeking to avenge the death of his parents by the Aztecs, the older brother Tlememe joins the Conquistadores. After his mother Alci is killed, Anahuac searches for his brother, following the trail of death and destruction. He discovers that one group of oppressors has been exchanged for another.
Maybe if the Aztecs had been kinder to their subjects, they would have lasted longer. Perhaps if the Aztecs had been more skeptical about their prophecies, they would have mounted a resistance. Maybe if the subjugated tribes had been less angry and bitter towards the Aztecs, they might have been more skeptical of the promises of Cortés. I consider the arrival of Cortés to have been a disastrous setback for Christianity in Mexico, anchoring it to the state and the sword.
I have pondered about Cortés in many a dark hour. Maybe the lesson to be learned is, if someone comes to your shores, they do so to solve their problems, not your problems
At the end of the play, Anahuac tells of how he survived the great end of the Aztecs, and witnessed the beginning of a mestizo nation, the seeds of the modern nation of Mexico. I consider it a great accomplishment to tell this story without whining or victimhood. There will be six more performances of The Sun Serpent in Minneapolis between now and March 22.
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