Q: With respect to the Codice Boturini, what were the Mexicas told to look for? And what is the probable reason why they were forced to leave Aztlán?

A: The Codice Boturini has basic explanation of why the Mexica left. One of them is that Huitzilopochtli, who was their main god, had somehow been offended. And because of that offense, they were forced to move from Aztlán, from their point of origin. And, certainly, the glyphs show, for example, the Mexica almost waving goodbye aboard small reed boats. And so that kind of gives us a clue of that, in fact, Aztlán is “a place of herons and reeds,” but that in fact people were deriving their livelihood from fishing. At least from some kind of fish or fowl. [or] combination of the two.
So these folks largely were hunters and gatherers who left. So you have this command from on high to leave. Now what’s interesting to me is that if we can focus on the geographical point of origin for the population, around, perhaps, Lake Cahuilla--I’m not saying that this is the case, but this may be the case. That, in fact, it’s more than likely because the lake bed was drying up, as it did periodically. And it took about fifty-some years for the lake bed to dry. So around 900 we know that, in fact, the lake bed was starting to be replenished from a relatively long period of drought. And of course it dried up again in 1250, and then by 1500. In fact, the lake bed had been pretty defunct. That’s also interesting in relationship to the myth, itself. And that is because we have a great deal of evidence both from the codices as well as from other documents, that you have a series of migrations, not just a single migration. From their point of origin, that is, from Aztlán, “the place of heron and reeds.” Which, in my particular point of view, I think there’s something to be said for Lake Cahuilla.
Now that coincides with, probably, the drought periods, as well. So all human populations, in one form or another, especially for ancient populations, and you have examples across the world of populations rationalizing their exit from Point “A” to Point “B” because of a command from on high. Because of some kind of misbehavior. And you see that in the Bible, and you see that in the Koran, and you see that in a variety of other documents. So, the codice, itself, it seems to me, is a kind of biblical rendition of the origins of a population to another body of water--and that’s what’s interesting, leaving one body of water for another body of water--leads me to believe that, in fact, the original body of water dried up, they went to another one, and it was there that Huitzilopochtli had declared that, in fact, they would find their home with an eagle eating a serpent mounted on top of a cactus.
What’s interesting, of course, is you take that myth, and it exists even to this day by other migrating populations. For example, in New York City, in Brooklyn, New York, at this moment, there’s a mural in a Mexican restaurant, which depicts exactly the same scene, except you see the Mexica and the cactus and the snake and the eagle being part of a larger scene in which the Statue of Liberty is on the other side of the eagle and the snake and the cactus. So the myth continues. And that’s what’s interesting to me. That is, it’s a kind of explanation of origins, but also of connection. And that, in fact, is what the codice provides. It provide us a kind of connection with the past for human beings who migrate.

Q: Going back to Lake Cahuilla. What evidence is there that this lake is “the one”?

A: Well, Lake Cahuilla provides us a kind of theoretical speculation for the idea that, perhaps, Lake Cahuilla may be an origin point for many of the migrations of populations from that region to the South. For the simple reason that you have period drought that occurs. And this periodic drought that occurs pushes, we know for a fact, populations away from the area. If those geological dates would coincide in a general way with the arrival of the different versions of the Mexica to the Valley of Mexico, then you could probably make a much better connection, but it’s still speculative, because you have 200 year periods of which you have to deal with. So you can’t prove it. But it certainly is suspect that there may be a relationship between Lake Cahuilla and the movement of population, itself. And connected to, perhaps, to the Mexica.
Q: What is the linkage between Aztlán and Lake Teguayo?
A: Well, the idea that Lake Teguayo [is] somehow Aztlán, really emerges out of a 1700, or an eighteenth century map, that indicates that this was the birthplace of the Mexica, of the Azteca. I would guess what we’d have to ask is who was providing the information? And that may be one source of origin, but I don’t think it’s a very good candidate. I don’t think, ecologically, it provides us, at least, with sufficient information to suggest something equivalent to what could be suggested for Lake Cahuilla. And that is the ecological kinds of waning of fresh water, over a long period of time. So that particular lake’s probably a little too small to generate so much movement south.

Q: Lake Teguayo has been identified as the Great Salt Lake. So you’re saying that Lake Cahuilla is a better candidate than the Great Salt Lake for the origin, because of the waning of the Colorado?

A: Well, part of the reason, I think, that Lake Cahuilla is a better candidate is because of its ecology. And the literally thousands of inhabitants in that particular area. We have very little evidence that you had relatively large-scale populations in what is now the Salt Lake. And it’s more than likely there are grand trails from the Colorado River delta, south that are much more indicative of the ability of human beings to be able to travel to the south than there are from the Salt Lake.

Q: Could you talk about the interplay between indigenous Aztecs, after the conquest, with Spanish map makers?

A: Well the interaction after the conquest, as you well know, Friar Duran, especially, became very interested in trying to recapture the oral histories of the Mexica. Basically, from an intellectual point of view. He wanted to recapture the histories. And, as a matter of fact, the origin of the notion of Aztlán comes from Friar Duran’s attempts to recapture that, the long historical lineage. Now, map makers, themselves, relied on the same sources. But in fact, most map makers relied on Duran’s work of the indigenous populations that he had recruited in order to tell their historical stories. So in part you have two sources for map designations. One of them is Duran, and the codices that were created from Duran’s intervention. And secondly were the indigenous people, themselves, who were, more than likely, asked by map makers whether a particular point of reference was true or not. So you have two references, basically. Between the two, the Spanish map maker, then, could devise approximate dates, places, locations, and so on.

Q: We tend to think of Aztlán in a geographic sense. Could you talk to us about how Aztlán has acquired a whole other meaning?

A: The idea of Aztlán, I think, became extremely important in the 1960's for many Mexicanos, who had been shocked, culturally. Let me explain what I mean by that. I can remember as a kid, looking for pieces of me in things that I read when I was in the third and fourth and fifth grade. And never finding myself. There were only two, as I recall, references to me, as a Mexican. One of them was in a little book called Carlos Centipede. And I identified with that, and I said “My god, there I am. I do exist.” The other one was in the western novels by Zane Gray that, once in a while, a bad bandito would come out. And I would say “Oh, there’s me again.” Not very positive, but there’s me again. The other source for me-ness, where the heck was I in relationship to all of this, was in the myths created about the grand Spanish conquistadores, where everybody was wearing this steel helmet, running around in the southwestern desert, cooking inside of helmets. I think we all kind of understood that that had very little to do with us. That those references had very little to do with us. And in fact, many of us who were impacted upon by acculturation, who lost language. Who lost their kinship relationships with people that, in Sonora, or in Baja California, or whatever it is. We were looking for something to connect with. And Aztlán provided a reference point of legitimacy. That, in fact, we were just not newcomers, but rather, that we had been here for centuries. Tied to that was, for the very first time-- and this is what’s interesting for me--was a real sense that the indigenous, cultural aspects of ourselves were also important. And they had never been important before that. Because, in fact, most of the festivities and most of the kind of symbols and everything else having to do with the Mexicano population, usually were Spanish. As a matter of fact, for years people used to run around saying “Well, I’m not a Mexican. I’m Spanish.” And that kind of gives you an indication of the way in which the population, literally, was culturally erased.

Aztlán became a very important reference point for many of us of the 1960's. For me it became an intellectually important point. I, in my own analysis of Aztlán, pretty well knew that an awful lot of what, especially, Alurista had suggested, had less than a verifiable source. There was an awful lot of things that he suggested that kind of eliminated and created a whole new myth. But nevertheless, what was important about that is that Alurista connected us with the South to the North. So as a beginning graduate student in anthropology, one of the first things that I did was to go to Mexico to do my field work. Not to do field work in the Southwest, but rather go back to see what was there. And what did I choose? I chose a place called Suvat Netzalhuacoatl Ricale “the place where hungry coyote reside.” Netzalhualcoatl being the king of Texcoco, when at the same time that the Mexica emerge, in the fourteenth century, 1325. Right? And that’s ironic. Because Nezalhualcoatl, what I found, in this large urban city, of people migrating from Jalisco and from Oaxaca, into the urban area, had, themselves, been migrants in California. And as a matter of fact, I started connecting then with this whole notion of migration, first learning that from Mexican migrants, who had moved from Oaxaca to Netzalhualcoatl, who started telling me about when they were migrants in Brawley, where they were migrants in Chino, when they were migrants in the Central Valley, and so on. And, as a matter of fact, they recognized me as something different. They called me Mexicano imitation gringo. Which basically meant, well wait a minute, you’re a Mexican, but you’re also one of them. But we really associate with you because you’re also something else very important. That is, you’re a Chicano. And that means that, in fact, you have an identity with the working class of the population, but also you have sensitivity to the very hard work that we used to do in California.
So what’s interesting for me is that Aztlán became a kind of stimulant to try to understand this whole process of migration, which then led me to try to understand the pre-Hispanic connections and colonial connections and present connections between Meso America and the Southwest. So what I’ve done, in a sense, [is go] a full turn from being a kid from Tucson, Arizona, learning anthropology, becoming a part of the movement in San Diego, being stimulated to ask more questions, going to Central Mexico, and then from that coming back full turn to make the connections, academically. That’s why Aztlán was important for many of us. For me, personally, and certainly, even to this day, it’s been important for all the populations that followed us. Because, in fact, these enormous demographic changes now have, in fact, been very responsible for a reawakening of the notion of Aztlán. Why? Well, because when people migrate, you become dislocated. You need a reference point. Aztlán serves as a very important reference point for people coming in. That is, we belong here. We are not just moving from the South to the North, we have been moving from the South to the North at least since 900 A.D. And we certainly moved from the North to the South since about 1100.

Q: Why do you think Aztlán captures the imagination of today's younger generation?

A: I think Aztlán captures the younger generation's imagination for the same reason it captured us. A younger generation has two barriers that they have to surmount. One of them is moving from childhood to adulthood, to young adulthood, and then from young adulthood to adulthood. So they’re kind of caught between a hard place and a rock. Not adults and not children. So they’re looking for a connection, as well. That’s one part of it. The other part is that, in fact, too many educational institutions still continue to erase our kids, culturally. That is, that the reference point for their existence is Washington. So you get your children going through school, and there is no mention of the fact that there were two great colonial powers in the seventeenth century, one English and one Spanish, that created, in fact, the networks and the economies and the polities for us to be here. And there’s very little reference to that. American history is taught, basically, from 1776 on, without understanding that on August the fifteenth, Tucson, Arizona, was founded as Tuc-son, [on] August the fifteenth, 1776, a month after the Declaration of Independence. So our kids are still very much, as a population, left out of the historical tale of what we are. And so we keep having to reproduce ourselves in a sense, and reemphasize, perhaps, things like Aztlán, myths like Aztlán, in order to set the record straight.