A Mexican historian and intellectual his works focused on the pre-columbian civilizations and peoples of what is now known as Mexico and Central America. He wrote extensively on native language, literature and culture as well as in defense of indigenous rights.
of the Vanquished, or The Broken Spears (1959): 222 pages.
One of the rare books to tell the story of the rape and genocide
of Mexico from, not only the perspective of the victims, but
actually in their own words. The book contains several extracts
from rare Aztec testimonies of the genocide of Mexico with short
introductions by Leon-Portillo to explain the background and
peculiarities of the given text. It also includes many
reproductions of Aztec art made shortly after the genocide.
Unlike most accounts of the genocide of Mexico, this account shows the dignity, beauty, and culture of the Aztec people even after the genocide and the enormous suffering and despair they went through. It also depicts the european conquistadors accurately as blood thirsty savages who killed people for no reason at all, brutally tortured innocent people, including children, and whose main reason for doing anything was a greedy desire for rocks and stones.
Unlike "traditional" accounts of the genocide of Mexico, which portray the Aztecs as savages who were killed immediately as soon as they tried to resist the europeans' genocide, this account shows the Aztecs as they were: cultured, with advanced forms of organization and religion, and a complex island city that was beyond the cultural level of Europe at the time. It also shows the Aztecs resisting the european genocide bravely and fiercely, and far from the battle being one-sided, the Aztecs actually slaughtered and beat back the invading murderers many times. In the end of course they did lose to the murdering colonialists, but not before exacting a heavy price on them and fighting them to the death.
We also read of the faults and failures of the Aztecs, from the average Aztec's perspective. Like the Aztec leader who chose not to fight the europeans from the very start, when he already knew they were brutal murderers who had massacred all the inhabitants of several villages on the way to Tenoticlan. The same leader that was later imprisoned by the europeans and issued orders to the Aztec people on their behalf, and was later executed by the Aztec people for his treachery. We also see the collaborationist leaders from other tribes who acted as willing allies to the europeans, completely selling out the Aztec, and in the end even their own people, to foreign invaders. On the other hand, we see the radicalism and rebelliousness of the Aztec people who did not hesitate to rise up and take the fight to the colonialists, and execute their former leader, when their brothers were murdered in cold blood by the europeans. As has often occurred in history, when the critical moment came the leaders didn't hesitate to betray their people and sell out, and it took the people rising up and seizing power and initiative in their own hands for any proper response to be carried out.