Mexico in a Mural
The Allende Institute features a large mural in the center courtyard painted by Mexican muralist, David Leonardo, in 1999 featuring a mix of national, and a dash of local history, as it is often pointless to try and separate the two.
The timing of the mural’s events are linear, left to right, starting with the arrival of the Spanish up to present day Mexico. Often group events are fairly self-explanatory but it is easy to overlook individuals, particularly those not visually famous to foreigners.
So let’s look deeper at the who’s who of some individuals depicted in the mural…..
Sor Juana – One of the most significant figures of Mexican history wasn’t a conqueror or a ruler, but a 17th century nun known for her charm, beauty, and wit. Also for being a self-educated genius who composed poems that were the most important body of poetic work produced in the Americas until the arrival of 19th-century figures such as Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’ most viewed likeness is featured on the older 200 pesos note. The paper bill contains her famous quote (in very tiny print) deploring the stupidity of men who question the intellectual capacity of women.
La Malinche was long seen as an evil temptress that betrayed her people in books, films and plays for aiding Cortés. Later, with the rise in the Feminist Movement, she started being portrayed as an empowered woman who took control of her life and career, reaching unprecedented heights of power and influence. Either way, she is universally seen as the mother of the first mixed-race child in the Americas for having given birth to Cortés’ son.
Cuauhtémoc – The last Aztec Emperor. His name, Cuauhtémoc, means “Descending Eagle”, as in the moment when an eagle folds its wings and plummets down to strike its prey implying aggressiveness and determination.
Cuauhtémoc is the only Aztec emperor who survived the conquest by the Spanish Empire honored on coins, paintings, music, and popular culture.
Josefa Lina de la Canal y Hervas – Born in 1736 Josefa was the first child in the extremely wealthy Canal family. Both parents died when Josefa was 15 and she used her inheritance to construct a cloistered convent and church, The Immaculate Conception, that are still active if you chose to be cloistered in centro.
Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla – During the planning of independence from Spain it was very important to the insurgents to have a priest on their side. A priest would show the masses it was a war against Spain, not a war against the Church. That priest was Fr. Hidalgo, a very different thinker. He taught the indigenous trades like making the brightly colored pottery still made in his namesake city, Delores Hidalgo, enabling them to support themselves, an illegal action at the time. He also took certain priestly vows less seriously than others, fathering seven children among three indigenous women.
Guadalupe – The version of Mary that appeared outside of Mexico City symbolizing the birth of a new country (Mexico) and a new mixed race of Europeans and indigenous. She is featured on the flag grabbed by Fr. Hidalgo becoming the Mexican Virgin for an independent Mexico.
Ignacio Allende – The founding father of Mexico and namesake to San Miguel de Allende. He grew up in the house next to the Parroquia and like all the other male insurgents, died during the War for Independence from Spain. It is he on the horse featured in the middle of Plaza Civica in much the same pose he has in the mural.
Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez – the wife of the Spanish appointed mayor of Queretaro she fought for independence against Spain. Mother of 14, she opposed the oppressive Spanish colonial government in favor of the indigenous and mixed races.
Organizing political meetings under the guise of book clubs she became pals with Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla and Ignacio Allende, it was she that got the news that Spaniards were aware of the plans to Hidalgo and Allende officially starting the war of Independence.
In murals she is the only character seen twice. Often facing each other as she is the only insurgent to survive the war and see Mexico once it was free from Spain.
St. Michael – Michael is an archangel meaning he was created to be an angel, never human. Since he was never human he has no male genitalia. In art, he’ll always be big and strong as he beats the devil and removes him from Heaven. However, if you look closely, he’ll never have a beard, or body hair, while maintaining a sense of style, fashion and creamy skin. That’s why in local processions he’s portrayed by teen-aged girls because they’ve the best hair in town.
Niños Héroes – Six teenage military cadets that died defending Mexico City’s Chapultepec Castle from invading United States forces in the 1847 Mexican-American War. In an act of bravery, Juan Escutia wrapped the Mexican flag around his body and jumped from the top of the castle in order to keep it from falling into the hands of the Americans. Local schools are named for the cadets both singularly and as a group.
Maximilian and Carlotta – Following freedom from Spain, the French decided to toss a blonde relative of Napoleon, Maximilian , and his young wife, Carlotta, over to the newly formed Mexico to make it a French colony. The defeat of French, after only 3 years, is where the celebration of Cinco de Mayo comes from. May fifth is a big celebration in northern Mexican restaurants, largely because it rhymes, but means little here in Mexico. The Spanish conquered and controlled Mexico for 300 years, the French a mere three. Suffice to say Independence from Spain is more widely celebrated.
Carlotta was in Europe pleading with the Vatican to support the French rule of Mexico when she got word of Maximilian’s demise. Distraught, she spent the rest of her life rowing a boat in an insane asylum’s’ lake trying to reach Mexico. It was a fun part for Bette Davis to portray in film if only as practice for her most memorable role as the less than stable Baby Jane Hudson.
School Children – Many murals around town feature school-aged children symbolizing the future of Mexico.
Surprisingly, the mural is not my favorite for Mexican history. That mural is on Aurora in decay as the parking lot it visually blocks is about to be sold and the mural soon destroyed. For now, though, it features a procession of local image makers from the indigenous times to Hollywood to the present day Mexican Maria doll.
Murals, like flowers, are ethereal so enjoy all of them around town while you can!