03324_000_011Mexican Youths Discover Their Heritage
The stone faces of many ages brooded in deep pools of light. The 20th century sunlight splashing on the wide patio outside had no dominion here in these huge darkened chambers. Era coexisted with era in a timeless present.
Among the monolithic serpents, jaguars, and other creatures of ancient American worship, 12 attractive young people walked and pointed and laughed and whispered and looked. There is a lot to see in the Mexican National Museum of Anthropology—the finest anthropological museum in the world.
The young people were from Benemérito de las Americas, an LDS school that includes primary, secondary, normal, and preparatory schools. Its students come from all over Mexico, and its graduates are making names for themselves in all walks of life. There is not a finer school in all Mexico. Today 12 students had come to explore their heritage in Chapultepec Park, the ancient pleasure gardens of the Aztec emperors and now the largest and most beautiful recreational area in Mexico City.
The Museum of Anthropology was their first stop. Mexico owes its language and much of its legal and cultural system to its Spanish ancestors, but it owes its deepest pride and sense of belonging to its Indian forefathers. It is to the Indian cultures, both pre-Hispanic and modern, that the museum is dedicated.
The group stared in awe at the Colossus of Tula, one of the huge stone sentries that guarded a Toltec temple. They admired the intricate carvings and colorful frescoes of Mayan temples. They examined the mysterious Olmec stone heads that are as tall as a tall man. They smiled at the Tarascan ceramic sculptures that depict a long-ago everyday life, and wondered at the Aztec sun stone and the monolithic Aztec serpents and skull-faced deities. They were thrilled with the incredible workmanship of the ancient artists and stoneworkers as they visited hundreds of displays from many ancient peoples. They read the stories of vanished civilizations in stone and clay with a growing sense of pride, because these were their ancestors, and because they knew, as the learned men who built the museum did not, that they were of the house of Israel.
They then moved to the upper level of the museum where Mexico’s modern Indian cultures are represented. When the museum was built, representatives of tribes all over Mexico were brought in to build authentic dwellings and implements for the exhibits, and the young visitors gained new insight into their country.
After leaving the museum the group paused a moment by the fountain-home of an immense stone statue of Tlaloc, the ancient American rain god. When the 168-ton statue was excavated and moved to Mexico City to be displayed at the museum, the city was lashed by the heaviest rainstorm ever recorded in the dry season.
Next the group strolled through Chapultepec Park. The park is immense, covering many acres of grass and trees, several museums, an amusement park, a zoo, a botanical garden, sports fields, playgrounds, a lake, bridle paths, and many refreshment stands. Along their route they stopped at a kiosk by the lake to eat a snack, watch the boaters on the lake, and feed the friendly swans.
Then it was on through the park, past happy crowds and balloon salesmen, and even some men selling wind-up toy monsters, to cyprus-hung Chapultepec castle atop its hill. When Cortez arrived, Montezuma had a palace there, and it wasn’t long till a Spanish viceroy had erected a stronghold on the spot. The Emperor Maxmillian made it into a sumptuous palace, and it was later to serve as a military academy. Today it is the National Museum of History, housing artifacts, paintings, documents, and memorabilia from the stormy and colorful history of Mexico. It was here that young cadets clutched the Mexican flag and lept to their deaths rather than surrender during the Mexican-American war. The six niños heroes, as they are known, are now pictured on a ceiling mural in the castle. Here Maxmillian and Carlotta established their ill-fated court, and from here Maxmillian watched his “empire” crumble when France withdrew her troops.
Bold murals covering the broad sweep of Mexican history, filled with the image of the patient, strong, indestructible Indian and the flash of uniform and sword, were everywhere. Looking down from the walls are the great figures in Mexican history—Father Hidalgo, whose strong voice signaled the beginning of the revolution against Spain; Benito Juarez, the farsighted Indian who arose from anonymous poverty to become the president of the republic and the most beloved figure in Mexican history; Zapata, Guerrero, the controversial Villa, and others who ignited Mexico’s second great revolution, a revolution for equality and reform that Mexico’s leaders say will never end; and many others, great and small.
The young Latter-day Saints studied the symbols of their nation with deep respect and patriotism. It was clear that they believe in their country and are determined to contribute their own talents to its greatness and goodness.
After leaving the castle they wandered around the grounds for awhile, just as Maxmillian might have wandered on a cool afternoon. They visited the only known statue to a cricket, built there because Chapultepec means cricket in the language of the Aztecs.
After leaving the castle they paused a moment for amusement in a hall of mirrors, where the curved surfaces reflected grotesque caricatures of their laughter.
Their last stop was the Museum of Modern Art where Rivera, Orozco, Siquieros, Tamayo, and other great Mexican artists are displayed. Mexican art tends to be bold and vibrant and vital, making strong statements in strong colors, but there is often a sadness too, because Mexico has known sadness. Having seen the painting and sculptures indoors, the young people walked through the gardens outside, studying the large abstract sculptures planted there and discussing their possible meanings, sometimes seriously, sometimes with tongue securely in cheek.
While waiting for their school bus to pick them up, the young people had time for some reflections on their day and their lives.
“I was amazed by the artistry of those ancient craftsmen,” one young lady said. “We can see the kind of life they lived and almost live it again with them by studying what they left behind.” Another commented, “I’ve been impressed with everything we have seen about our ancestors. I could see how these old cultures related to the history of the Book of Mormon.”
An 18-year-old student commented, “I was impressed by the philosophy of the great poets and thinkers of ancient America. Today I could feel as they felt and understand them.”
Another young person found the visit to Chapultepec castle to be the most moving experience. “It brought great honor to our nation when the six niños heroes gave their lives rather than let their country’s flag be dishonored,” she said.
One thoughtful young man felt he saw the hand of the Lord in the history he had studied at the castle. “I could see,” he said, “how the Lord prepared Mexico for the gospel. Great men such as Hildago, Juarez, Guerrero, and Allende made it possible for us to have liberty and religious tolerance, and we can see how the purposes of the Lord are fulfilled.”
The young students all share a profound loyalty to the Church school they attend. “Benemérito prepares us to be leaders of the Church and the nation,” one young man said. “From Benemérito will come great architects, engineers, doctors, lawyers, chemists, physicists, and teachers. If we study hard and live as we should, we can help fulfill the prophetic promise that the Lamanites will blossom as a rose.”
Above all, these young men and women love the Lord. “I am grateful that I have been taught the gospel,” a young girl said. “The gospel is the greatest blessing in my life. I know that someday I will see my Father in heaven, and so I will keep his commandments.”
The lives of these young men and women are reminiscent of these words by the ancient sage Huehuetlantolli, engraved on the wall of the museum:
And they began to teach them:
How they should live.
How they should respect people.
How they should give themselves to that which is proper and upright.
That they should avoid evil,
Fleeing quickly from wickedness,
Perversion and greed.
Let there be light! Let it dawn in the heavens and on earth! There will be neither glory nor grandeur Until the human creature comes. Until man is formed. (Popul Vuh)