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Nahuatl: Aztlān, [ˈast͡ɬaːn]) is the legendary ancestral home of the Nahua peoples, one of the main cultural groups in Mesoamerica and, by extension, is the mythical homeland of the Aztec peoples. Aztec is the Nahuatl word for "people from Aztlan".
LegendNahuatl legends relate that six tribes lived in Chicomoztoc, or "the place of the seven caves". Each cave represented a different Nahua group: the Xochimilca, Tlahuica, Acolhua, Tlaxcalan, Tepaneca, Chalca, and Mexica. Because of a common linguistic origin, those groups also are called "Nahuatlaca" (Nahua people). These tribes subsequently left the caves and settled "near" Aztlán, or Aztatlan.
The various descriptions of Aztlán are seemingly contradictory. While some legends describe Aztlán as a paradise, the Aubin Codex says that the Aztecs were subject to a tyrannical elite called the Azteca Chicomoztoca. Guided by their priest, the Aztec fled, and, on the road, their god Huitzilopochtli forbade them to call themselves Azteca, telling them that they should be known as Mexica. Ironically, scholars of the 19th century—in particular Alexander von Humboldt and William H. Prescott—would name them Aztec. Humboldt's suggestion was widely adopted in the 19th century as a way to distance "modern" Mexicans from pre-conquest Mexicans.
The role of Aztlán is slightly less important to Aztec legendary histories than the migration to Tenochtitlán itself. According to the legend, the southward migration began on May 24, 1064 CE; 1064 is also the year of a volcanic explosion at Sunset Crater in Arizona and the first Aztec solar year, beginning on May 24, after the Crab Nebula events from May to July 1054. Each of the seven groups is credited with founding a different major city-state in Central Mexico. The city-states reputed to have an Aztec foundation were:
- Tepaneca (now Azcapotzalco, a delegación of the Mexican Federal District), and
- Matlatzinca (whose language was Otomian).
According to Aztec legends, the Mexica were the last tribe to emigrate. When they arrived at their ancestral homeland, the present-day Valley of Mexico, all available land had been taken, and they were forced to squat on the edge of Lake Texcoco.
Places postulated as AztlánTamoanchan, Chicomoztoc, Tollan, and Cibola, archaeologists have nonetheless attempted to identify the geographic place of origin for the Mexica.
Friar Diego Durán (c. 1537–1588), who chronicled the history of the Aztecs, wrote of Aztec emperor Moctezuma I's attempt to recover the history of the Mexica by congregating warriors and wise men on an expedition to locate Aztlán. According to Durán, the expedition was successful in finding a place that offered characteristics unique to Aztlán. However, his accounts were written shortly after the conquest of Tenochtitlan and before an accurate mapping of the American continent was made; therefore, he was unable to provide a precise location. 
There is a lake around Cerro Culiacan, Lake Yuriria, that makes the mountain look very much like an island when photographed from the water, and is similar to the illustration at right.
In 1887, Mexican anthropologist Alfredo Chavero claimed that Aztlán was located on the Pacific coast in the state of Nayarit. While this was disputed by contemporary scholars, it achieved some popular acceptance.
Eduardo Matos Moctezuma presumes Aztlán to be somewhere in the modern-day states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, and Michoacán. Indeed, scholars are all consistent in naming the measures of "150 leagues" from Tenochtitlan that were documented by the Spanish scribes taking notes from conquered Mexica as the distance to the place of origin, coinciding in all ways at Chicomoztoc, "Cerro del Culiacan", which is indeed a humped mountain when seen from the south face.
EtymologyThe meaning of the name Aztlan is uncertain. One suggested meaning is "place of Herons" or "place of egrets"—the explanation given in the Crónica Mexicáyotl—but this is not possible under Nahuatl morphology: "place of egrets" would be Aztatlan. Other proposed derivations include "place of whiteness" and "at the place in the vicinity of tools", sharing the āz- element of words such as teponāztli, "drum" (from tepontli, "log").
Aztlán [asˈtlan] is the Spanish language spelling and pronunciation of Nahuatl Aztlān [ˈas.tɬaːn]. The spelling Aztlán and its matching last-syllable stress cannot be Nahuatl, which always stresses words on the second-to-last syllable. The accent mark on the second a added in Spanish marks stress shift (from oxytone to paroxytone), typical of several Nahuatl words when lent into Mexican Spanish.
Use by the Chicano movement
The name Aztlán was first taken up by a group of Chicano independence activists led by Oscar Zeta Acosta during the Chicano movement of the 1960s and 1970s. They mistakenly used the name Aztlán to refer to the lands of Northern Mexico that were sold to the United States as a result of the Mexican-American War. (The land in question being the homeland of Native American Indian tribes which were not "Aztec". Aztlán became a symbol for mestizo activists who believe they have a legal and primordial right to the land. In order to exercise this right, some members of the Chicano movement propose that a new nation be created, a Republica del Norte.
Groups who have used the name Aztlán in this manner include Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, "Chicano Student Movement of Aztlán"), and the Nation of Aztlán (NOA).
Aztlán is also the name of the Chicano studies journal published out of UCLA.
- Manuel Aguilar-Moreno Handbook to Life in the Aztec World. page 29.
- Matos Moctezuma (1988, p.38)
- Andrews (2003, p.496)
- Andrews (2003, p. 616)
- Professor Predicts 'Hispanic Homeland', Associated Press, 2000