As Spain's New World colonies fought for their independence in the early nineteenth century, an anonymous author looked back on the earlier struggle of native Americans against the Spanish conquistadores and penned this novel, Xicoténcatl. Writing from a decidedly anti-Spanish perspective, the author describes the historical events that led to the march on Tenochtitlán and eventual conquest of the Aztec empire in 1519 by Hernán Cortés and his Indian allies, the Tlaxcalans.
Xicoténcatl stands out as a beautiful exposition of an idealized New World about to undergo the tremendous changes wrought by the Spanish Conquest. It was published in Philadelphia in 1826. In his introduction to this first English translation, Guillermo I. Castillo-Feliú discusses why the novel was published outside Latin America, its probable author, and his attitudes toward his Spanish and Indian characters, his debt to Spanish literature and culture, and the parallels that he draws between past and present struggles against Spanish domination in the Americas.
When internal divisions destroy the unity of a people, they inevitably become the victims of their enemies, and more so if the practitioners of political shrewdness and craftiness are able to take advantage of that discord. I call on all nations! If you love your freedom, gather together all your interests and your forces and learn that, if there is no power that will not fail when it collides against the immense force of your union, neither is there an enemy so weak that it will not defeat you and enslave you when you are disunited.
Tlaxcala is a palpable example of that truth. Neither the valor and strength of its armies nor the magnanimous resolution of its brave general, not even the prudence, wisdom, and virtues of the elder Xicoténcatl, nothing was able to save it from the destruction to which strife carried it. These were the secret reflections of the patriotic senator and his virtuous son after they saw all the plans suggested to them by their love of country simply vanish. But since true patriotism does not collapse in the midst of adversity or yield to obstacles presented, those two great men consoled themselves, hoping that fortune would someday show itself less angry at their unhappy republic.
Hernán Cortés continued on his way to Cholula with no impediment, but uneasy, because of his memories of the last scene, in which Teutila's resolution and Xicoténcatl's heroism had forced him to accept such an insulting snub. He was beginning to feel the weight of a woman whose valiant and constant resistance threatened even his glory and fame, and in his spite, he resolved to make a final attempt against her will and to rid himself of her at any cost if he were unable to weaken that resistance.
The army spent the night one league from Cholula, and while they all rested, the unhappy Teutila had to suffer the most terrible and obstinate attack against her honor. Tears, pleas, humiliations, protests, gifts, and promises; all was in vain. Hernán Cortés was unable to get any response. The most atrocious threats and insults had no better result. Teutila persevered in her silence, and through it she always triumphed against her insolent tyrant. Violence and force would have finally consummated the crime had the frightening screams of the innocent victim, fighting off her angry oppressor, not caused great alarm in the encampment.
The commotion among those soldiers closest to the scene was transmitted to everyone like a wave that grows and expands as it moves away from the beach. And what for some was only a certain feeling of indignation became, farther away, fear and alarm, and the shout of "To arms!" was repeated by all the soldiers amid the confusion and chaos. Hernán Cortés had to rush over to reassure all his people, who did not calm down until dawn dissipated their fears along with the night shadows.
"This translation of Xicoténcatl makes available to English-speaking readers a key text in the nineteenth-century history of Spanish American literature.... I am delighted that someone has seen fit to rescue this marvelous story of good and evil, with its [still] pertinent discussion of political and personal morality."
—Nancy Vogeley, Professor of Spanish, University of San Francisco