The Great Cultural Revolution, American-Style
Who knew that even Gold Rushers were symbols of the racist hegemonic toxic male patriarchy that has plotted against women and minorities from time immemorial? First Father Serra, now Prospector Pete:
Towering over the courtyard at California State University, Long Beach, is the barrel-chested statue of Prospector Pete, the epitome of the rugged 49ers who came to the state looking for gold and land. To some, it is an innocuous icon harkening back to the university’s first president, Pete Peterson, who frequently spoke of having “struck the gold of education.” For others, the bearded and weathered statue is an upsetting relic that sanctions the brutish treatment of indigenous people in the state during the Gold Rush.
As scholars and students on campuses across the country grapple with debates over free speech and political correctness, Prospector Pete has emerged as a divisive symbol in California. “Walking by a statue that’s put in a prominent place on campus, in an almost honorary way, that’s another type of trauma that’s being imposed on me. This is a part of our family history,” said Miztlayolxochitl Aguilera, 20, who is of Tongva Indian descent. “I heard the stories of murder and rape and genocide growing up. Somebody else, they might not notice the statue. They might not feel what I feel as a California Indian when I see that symbol on campus.”
With a name like that, perhaps Miztlayolxochitl Aguilera ought to check out the history of the native peoples of the Americas, such as the Aztecs:
For decades, historians were skeptical of Spanish accounts documenting Aztec human-sacrifice rituals. They were generally thought to be historiographical—intended to portray indigenous Mesoamericans as more savage than they actually were, thus necessitating “civilized” colonial governance. This was, after all, a common justification employed throughout the 500 or so years of European colonialism around the world.
But archaeological evidence suggests human sacrifice was indeed a regular aspect of Aztec religious practices. And the zeal with which it was practiced can be traced back to the political reforms of one man—imperial vizier Tlacaelel, who, in 1428, launched a campaign of religious codification, military development, and territorial expansion that would, for lack of a better term, really piss off the Aztec’s neighbors.
In a 2011 article written for History Today magazine, historian Tim Stanley wrote:“[The Aztecs were] a culture obsessed with death: they believed that human sacrifice was the highest form of karmic healing. When the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan was consecrated in 1487 the Aztecs recorded that 84,000 people were slaughtered in four days. Self-sacrifice was common and individuals would pierce their ears, tongues and genitals to nourish the floors of temples with their blood. Unsurprisingly, there is evidence that Mexico was already suffering from a demographic crisis before the Spanish arrived.”
There’s no use denying it: Aztec sacrifice was a bloody, messy, brutal affair. There was nothing noble about it.