Hernán Cortés led a fascinating life. This is not only because he defeated the most powerful empire in Mesoamerica with very few resources and lots of intelligence, but also because of his firm conviction to create a great mestizo nation, without Spanish domination and with a deep respect for indigenous culture.
The biography and legacy of this complex historical figure is surely among the most relevant and distorted in the history of Mexico, because paradoxically Cortés' image was systematically denigrated by Spanish kings. I'm fascinated with Cortés because I see him as the origin of the complex nation known as Mexico. The story of Cortés tells us of a man who built his own destiny and whose successes and mistakes mark us to this day. Nothing has damaged our collective subconscious more than disqualifying the entrepreneur who risked everything, who left behind his status as the richest man in Cuba, to embark on a journey into the unknown and begin his fascinating Mexican adventure.
The official story, which simplifies, polarizes, and even caricaturizes the origin of our nation, dividing us between "conquerors" and "conquered," victims and victimizers, not only slights the achievements of our ancestors but also engenders a vision that divides and degrades us. The historical narrative without nuances and based on absolute truths has only resulted in Mexicans entering into conflict with their own origins.
We must seek a more balanced view on the principles of our great nation. For example, the book "Cortés" by Christian Duverger offers a detailed account of the conquest of Mexico and the public administration and social organization put into place by Cortés in the new territories.
Another author who I consider important in delving into this complex figure is Juan Miralles, with his books "The Five Routes of Hernán Cortés" and "Hernán: the Inventor of Mexico." Duverger's book gives us a comprehensive and objective view of a much nuanced historical figure with an appreciation that goes far beyond the caricature presented in textbooks.
At the age of 19, with an entrepreneurial and adventurous spirit, the young Cortés arrived in the Americas in 1504. He lived for some time in what is today Haiti and Cuba.
In his quest for options to develop a new mestizo nation, with values that would transcend the Middle Ages and taking advantage of the opportunity presented by Diego Velazquez, governor of Cuba, for an expedition to Mexico, Cortés sold his property, obtained loans, and in 1519 set sail for Yucatan.
Determined to explore and colonize new territories, Cortés left with ten boats, close to 500 infantrymen, 16 horses and 13 shotguns.
How could a man with so few resources conquer a vast empire of more than 6 million inhabitants, with enormous military capacity? His leadership, political savvy, ability to detect opportunities, make decisions and act quickly according to the circumstances, as well as the untenable situation of the peoples living under Aztec domination would be crucial factors in this formidable undertaking.
Cortés was not the brutal and bloodthirsty conqueror described in official historic accounts. He was a lover of the Nahua culture and waged war against the Aztecs as a last resort after exhausting the possibility of negotiations. And even then, when executing the attack, he left the northern road open so his opponents could flee, an option that was strongly rejected by the Mexicas.
In the earliest period of New Spain -the name he gave the region ̶ Cortés tried to ensure that most of the natural resources remained in what is today Mexico, because he realized very soon that this country was much richer than Spain itself.
Cortés was also a true entrepreneur who sought to adapt the livestock and agriculture of the Old World to the climate of Mesoamerica. He financed and led several expeditions to the southeast and across the Mexican Pacific -that's why the Sea of Cortés, also known as the Gulf of California bears his name ̶ and launched maritime transport between New Spain and Peru, among many other business initiatives.
Hernán Cortés, visionary and creator of his own world, promoted a mestizaje model based on the racial and ethnic mix that he himself followed. He sought to make Nahuatl the official language and for Catholicism to be gradually assimilated, respecting the core beliefs of the inhabitants of Mesoamerica.
However, King Carlos I, in his unbridled lust for material wealth and power, opposed Cortés' plan, and pushed aside the conquistador and send viceroys to govern New Spain, with the territory becoming one more property of the Spanish crown.
Given the official discourse that refuses to recognize Cortés' relevance in the history of Mexico, I have decided to launch a dramatized historical series for television. This will offer an objective look at this key figure, a story of love, war, and mestizaje.
Making a television series about this historical figure is to establish a legacy in relation to our identity that invites us to think about and value our cultural heritage. Mexico can overcome the "trauma of the Conquest," but to do so it must know its history.
Five hundred years are enough to look back and consider who we are. We have the right and obligation to know our origin and identity.