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Map of the migration from Aztlán to Chapultepec.

“Aztlán” (from Nahuatl languages: Astlan, Nahuatl pronunciation: [ˈast͡ɬãːn̥] ) is the ancestral home of the Aztec peoples. Astekah is the Nahuatl word for "people from Aztlan". Aztlan is mentioned in several ethnohistorical sources dating from the colonial period, and while they each cite varying lists of the different tribal groups who participated in the migration from Aztlan to central Mexico, the Mexica who went on to found Mexico-Tenochtitlan are mentioned in all of the accounts.

Historians have speculated about the possible location of Aztlan and tend to place it either in northwestern Mexico or the Southwestern United States,[1] although whether Aztlan represents a real location or is purely mythological is a matter of debate.


Nahuatl histories relate that seven tribes lived in Chicomoztoc, or "the place of the seven caves". Each cave represented a different Nahua group: the Xochimilca, Tlahuica, Acolhua, Tlaxcalteca, Tepaneca, Chalca, and Mexica. Along with these people, the Olmec-Xicalanca and Xaltocamecas are also said to come from Aztlan. Because of their common linguistic origin, those groups are called collectively "Nahualteca" (Nahua people). These tribes subsequently left the caves and settled "near" Aztlán.

The various descriptions of Aztlán apparently contradict each other. While some legends describe Aztlán as a paradise, the Codex Aubin says that the Aztecs were subject to a tyrannical elite called the Azteca Chicomoztoca. Guided by their priest, the Aztec tribe fled. On the road, their god Huitzilopochtli forbade them to call themselves Azteca, telling them that they should be known as Mexica. Scholars of the 19th century—in particular Alexander von Humboldt and William H. Prescott—translated the word Azteca, as is shown in the Aubin Codex, to Aztec.[2][3]

Some say[4] that the southward migration began on May 24, 1064, CE, after the super nova 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.

A 2004 translation of the Anales de Tlatelolco gives the only known date related to the exit from Aztlan; day-sign "4 Cuauhtli" (Four Eagle) of the year "1 Tecpatl" (Knife) or 1064–1065,[4] and correlated to January 4, 1065.

Cristobal del Castillo mentions in his book "Fragmentos de la Obra General Sobre Historia de los Mexicanos", that the lake around the Aztlan island was called Metztliapan or "Lake of the moon."[5] Another version[6] reads:

One day a man heard a bird calling to him, saying, "Go now, go now." When the man told the chief about the bird, the chief was relieved. He had known his people must find a new land, their own land, but had waited for a sign. So the people gathered and began a long march. They followed an idol of Huitzilopochtli that the priests carried. As they went, Huitzilopochtli spoke through the priests and prepared the people for the greatness of their empire to come. He explained that they should travel until they came to a large lake; there, they should look for another sign—an eagle in a cactus. The journey took 200 years, and the people settled for a while in the Toltec capital of Tollan. Some people stayed in Tollan and some moved on. From time to time, Huitzilopochtli changed himself into a white eagle to inspire the people, and they traveled until they came to Lake Texcoco and saw a great eagle sitting on a cactus, holding a serpent. There they built Tenochtitlán, the city that became the capital and center of the Aztec empire.

Places postulated as Aztlán[edit]

Depiction of the departure from Aztlán from an island in the 16th-century Codex Boturini. Aztlán is also depicted as some island in the Aubin and Azcatitlan codices.[7]

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.[8]

During the 1960s, Mexican intellectuals began to seriously speculate about the possibility that Mexcaltitán de Uribe was the mythical city of Aztlán. One of the first to consider Aztlán being linked to the Nayaritian island was historian Alfredo Chavero towards the end of the 19th century. Historical investigators after his death tested his proposition and considered it valid, among them Wigberto Jiménez Moreno. This hypothesis is still up for debate.[9]

Some scholars even argue that it is nearly or completely impossible to find the true location of Aztlan. Conflicting accounts and narratives make the discovery extremely difficult and inaccurate.[10]


The 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" is Aztatlan.[11] Other proposed derivations include "place of whiteness"[11] and "at the place in the vicinity of tools", sharing the āz- element of words such as teponāztli, "drum" (from tepontli, "log").[11][12]

Use by the Chicano movement[edit]

Territories considered for "Aztlán" by the Chicano movement

The concept of Aztlán as the place of origin of the pre-Columbian Mexican civilization has become a symbol for various Mexican ethno-nationalist movements.

In 1969 the notion of Aztlan was introduced by the poet Alurista (Alberto Baltazar Urista Heredia) at the National Chicano Youth Liberation Conference held in Denver, Colorado by the Crusade for Justice. There he read a poem, which has come to be known as the preamble to El Plan de Aztlan or as "El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan" due to its poetic aesthetic. For some Chicanos, Aztlan refers to the Mexican territories purchased by the United States as a result of the Mexican–American War of 1846–1848. Aztlán became a symbol for activists who allege that they have a legal and primordial right to the land. Some members of the Chicano movement propose that a new ethnocentric government overthrow and replace the respective United States governments in the Southwest region, a República del Norte.[13]

Aztlán is also the name of the Chicano studies journal published out of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.[14]

Aztlan has been used for Chicanos to connect with their heritage and past. The myth has become a sort of shared memory that has united many people in the diasporic community. Like the Aztecs, Mexican-Americans migrated out of their homeland to seek a better life or more opportunities. Some members of the Chicano movement feel that they are repeating what their ancestors did or at least they feel a symbolic connection to the myth. Many Chicanos simply view Aztlan as a spiritual guiding force rather than a tangible location.[10]

Movements that use or formerly used the concept of Aztlán[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

In literature[edit]

"Aztlán" has been used as the name of speculative fictional future states that emerge in the southwestern United States or Mexico after their governments suffer a collapse or major setback; examples appear in such works as the novels Heart of Aztlán (1976), by Rudolfo Anaya; Warday (1984), by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka; The Peace War (1984), by Vernor Vinge; The House of the Scorpion (2002), by Nancy Farmer; and World War Z (2006), by Max Brooks; as well as the role-playing game Shadowrun, in which the Mexican government was usurped by the Aztechnology Corporation (1989). In Gary Jennings' novel Aztec (1980), the protagonist resides in Aztlán for a while, later facilitating contact between Aztlán and the Aztec Triple Alliance just before Hernán Cortés' arrival.

"Strange Rumblings in Aztlan" is an article written by Hunter S. Thompson that appeared in the April 29, 1971 issue of Rolling Stone. The article is about the death of civil rights activist Ruben Salazar in East Los Angeles during a Vietnam War protest.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Yancuic Mexico. | Nahuatl Dictionary". Retrieved 2022-06-21.
  2. ^ Prescott, William H. (1892). History Of The Conquest Of Mexico, and a Preliminary View of the Aztec Civilization (Transcription). Vol. 1. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippicott. pp. 3–133. Archived from the original on 2014-10-18. Retrieved 2016-01-24 – via Sam Houston State University.
  3. ^ "Should We Call the Aztec Empire the Mexica Empire?". Archived from the original on 2016-12-11. Retrieved 2016-01-24.
  4. ^ a b Anales de Tlatelolco, Rafael Tena INAH-CONACULTA 2004 p 55
  5. ^ Fragmentos de la Obra General Sobre Historia de los Mexicanos, Cristobal del Castillo pages 58–83
  6. ^ Mercatante, Anthony (2009). Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend (Third ed.).
  7. ^ Rajagopalan, Angela Herren (2019). Portraying the Aztec Past: The Codices Boturini, Azcatitlan, and Aubin. University of Texas Press. p. 27. ISBN 9781477316078.
  8. ^ Aguilar-Moreno, Manuel (2006). Handbook to Life in the Aztec World. Infobase Publishing. p. 29. ISBN 0-8160-5673-0.
  9. ^ Hart, Tom. "Island of the Aztecs - Geographical". Archived from the original on 7 March 2017. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  10. ^ a b Anaya, Rudolfo; Lomeli, Francisco A.; Lamadrid, Enrique R. (2017). Aztlan: Essays on the Chicano Homeland (Revised and Expanded ed.). Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 31–103, 151–152, 329.
  11. ^ a b c Andrews 2003, p. 496.
  12. ^ Andrews 2003, p. 616.
  13. ^ "Professor Predicts 'Hispanic Homeland'". Associated Press. 2000. Archived from the original on 2012-11-07 – via
  14. ^ "Aztlán".
  15. ^ Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) (2001-05-06). "Unity Statement". Retrieved 2020-10-17.


Further reading[edit]

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