MEXICO CITY -- Officials in Mexico City held a small ceremony and unveiled a plaque Tuesday to re-brand the way the 1520 defeat of Spanish conquistadores in Mexico's capital has been remembered.
For centuries, Mexicans called June 30, 1520 “La Noche Triste,” or the “Sad Night,” the name given to it by the eventually victorious Spaniards. That was because hundreds of Spaniards and their Indigenous allies died when Hernán Cortés and his troops fled the increasingly rebellious Aztec capital, now Mexico City.
On Tuesday, Mexico City officials unveiled a plaque and banners celebrating the Spanish defeat, calling it “The Victorious Night.”
The ceremony is symbolic of how Mexicans have struggled with how to mark the 500th anniversary of the 1519-1521 Conquest.
At that time, Aztec warriors under their new leader, Cuitláhuac, attacked the Spaniards as they fled from the island city of Tenochtitlan, across a narrow causeway.
Once they reached dry land, Cortés reportedly sat and wept under a tree. The original “Tree of the Sad Night” was later burned.
But on Monday, city Culture Secretary José Alfonso Suárez del Real y Aguilera planted a small tree of the same kind — a Montezuma cypress — at the site and unveiled the “Victorious Night” plaque.
“Let’s break with these legends of sadness and tears, and recognize the strength, the courage and the audacity of the Mexica peoples who stood up the invaders,” Suárez del Real y Aguilera said.
Drawing a parallel with the current coronavirus pandemic, he urged Mexicans to remember that the Aztecs were defeated as much by smallpox and other European diseases that the Spanish brought, as by their swords. “Let’s recognize that, if it hadn’t of been for the smallpox, the Conquest surely would not have been as easy and simple as it was to cruelly attack people dying of hunger and an unknown disease.”
The fleeing Spaniards dropped some of the gold they had looted from the Aztec capital, then known as Tenochtitlán. Some of the gold was later found and was tested recently, confirming it was likely Aztec gold.
Cortés retreated from Mexico City, regrouped, gained more Indigenous allies and in 1521 returned to conquer the Aztec capital. The Spaniards went on to conquer the rest of Mexico in the ensuing years.
Mexico has struggled with how to mark the 500th anniversary of the conquest, which resulted in the death of a large part of the country’s pre-Hispanic population.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has demanded an apology from Spain for abuses committed during the conquest.