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Bernal Díaz del Castillo wrote The True History of the Conquest of New Spain to present readers with an actual account of the events that occurred in modern Mexico. According to Díaz, New Spain was discovered, conquered, pacified, and settled for His Majesty and in the name of God. Díaz wrote as such to Charles V in Spain and included various instances of conversion to show the willing acceptance of the Christian faith by the natives and how the life of the natives improved.
However, I will argue that the events described by Díaz actually disregarded and mistreated the natives. Díaz and the Spaniards traveled to Mexico in search of gold and to expand their nation’s territory. As they happened upon the natives during their travels, the Spaniards would convert the natives to Christianity. Díaz wrote of the natives willing accepting Christianity: “we ordered them immediately to clear out a newly built cu nearby, take away some idols, plaster it, and clean it in order to put a cross and an image of Our Lady there, which they did right away”.
Díaz implied that the natives readily accepted Christianity, showing Charles V and missionary leaders the level of influential power that Christianity held. However, this assertion made by Díaz in regards to the natives accepting Christianity into their lives, proved false. While in Mexico, the Spaniards witnessed the sacrificial rituals practiced by the natives. These witnessed rituals became the basis of reason and justification for the Spaniards actions, prompting the notion of necessary civilization in Mexico.
The Spaniards believed the key to civilization was through Christianity. The Spaniards ordered the native people of Mexico to accept Christianity and stop sacrificing people before they, the Spaniards, would agree to interact with them. The Spaniards denounced the natives’ beliefs by saying that their idols “were evil and not gods… [and that the idols deceived them”.
With this short sentence, the Spaniards denounced the practices of the native people, thus making themselves superior to the native people. The Spaniards disregarded the natives’ practices, causing them to disconnect from their culture and ‘accepting’ the approved Spaniard culture. Another Spaniard action promoted by Díaz revolved around not only God, but the king of Spain. Cortés called for the natives to accept God and King Charles V as their voices of reason, or the Spaniards would deal with the nonbelievers: “He asked that all the caciques and papas of that city come immediately to see us and pledge their loyalty to our king and lord; if not, he would consider them to have bad intentions”. The Spanish did not see anything wrong with this demand. Cortés further believed he presented the natives with the true path to their salvation when the natives did not visit the Spanish camp: “Cortés then ordered that messengers go to ask the people of Cholula why… they did not come to visit and pay us the respect due as messengers of such a great king and lord as the one who sent us to notify them of our salvation”.
The Spaniards’ misconception of improving the lives of the natives through preconceived beliefs caused the natives great physical and cultural pain. The Spaniards forced the natives into accepting God as their god and King Charles V as their ruler. They had no regard for the locals past way of life and uprooted the native people from their daily routines in order to satisfy their selfish greed. By denouncing the natives’ beliefs, the Spaniards cemented their superiority belief. This belief came to justify the Spaniards actions with the exploitation of the natives. The Spaniards forced the natives to work for long hours in the name of a god that they did not believe in. The natives were forced to distance themselves from their original culture in order to make room for the Spaniards and their big headed ideas. After converting the natives, the Spaniards bestowed new names unto the native people. They were given Spanish names to fit with the new Spanish society implemented in Mexico.
The Spaniards changed the names of many individuals, such as Pitalpitoque, a governor of Montezuma, to Obandillo. One woman in particular “… came to be called doña Marina after becoming Christian”. Díaz does not mention what doña Marina’s name was prior to her Spanish name that was presented to her.10 By giving her a different name, doña Marina lost her native identity and connected to Spain as a result. Doña Marina proved to be an essential asset to the Spaniards in conquering Mexico that the Mexican people of Tenochtitlan could not reproduce.
Doña Marina, a prime example of the Spanish influence over Mexico and need to make Mexico civilized, proved that the Spanish had a hidden agenda. Forcing the natives into accepting Christianity raises many arguments. The basis of any belief is the belief itself, meaning believing in the religion. By not willingly accepting God into their lives, the native people lost the connection to God that is essential when accepting Christianity or any religion. What evidence exists that shows the natives actually accepting God into their lives? The language barrier would not allow for either party to confidently know what the other was saying. While the Spanish had interpreters, their accuracy becomes difficult to judge because then the question of bias arises. The Mexicans did not have interpreters of their own to verify what doña Marina and the other interpreters interpreted from the Spaniards. Interpreting languages results in a lost of the meaning of a word, or phrase, and causes confusion to arise between the involved parties. An essential Christian belief followed by many is the Golden Rule.
The Golden Rule simply states to do to others what you would like done to yourself. The actions taken by the Spaniards do not support the basis of the Golden Rule. Cortés, Díaz, and the rest of the Spaniards murdered many of the natives in their attempt to convert the natives and gain gold. I cannot imagine who would like to be murdered in the name of a god they do not believe in. Díaz and the Spaniards believed they were bettering the natives by forcing them to convert to Christianity and become civilized when, in reality, they were causing the deaths of people and cultures.
What right did Díaz and the Spaniards have to take over a population and change them to fit into their ‘correct’ standard of civilization? This believed notion held by Europeans when settling the Americas became a justification to exploit the native people. The Europeans that traveled did so with selfish motives. The people of the New World had a right to live their lives as seen fit. Instead, Europeans invaded their home lands and demanded a reward for doing so. The narrative presented by Díaz shows this belief. They arrived in Mexico and changed the way of life for the native people. They killed many of the people. But, to the Spaniards, it is okay because it was all done in the name of God.
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