Aztlán (from Nahuatl languages: Aztlān, Nahuatl pronunciation: [ˈast͡ɬaːn] (listen)) is the ancestral home of the Aztec peoples. Aztecah is the Nahuatl word for "people from Aztlan". Aztlan is mentioned in several ethnohistorical sources dating from the colonial period, and each of them give different lists of the different tribal groups who participated in the migration from Aztlan to central Mexico, but 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 southwest US, although there are doubts about whether the place is purely mythical or represents a historical reality.
Nahuatl legends 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. 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 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.
Some say that the southward migration began on May 24, 1064 CE, 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.
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, 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."  Another version 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
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.
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.
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. 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").
Use by the Chicano movement
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The concept of Aztlán as the place of origin of the pre-Columbian Mexican civilization has become a symbol for various Mexican nationalist and indigenous movements.
In 1969 the notion of Aztlan was introduced by the poet Alurista (Aberto 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 annexed by the United States as a result of the Mexican–American War of 1846–1848. 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 República del Norte.
Movements that use or formerly used the concept of Aztlán
- Brown Berets
- MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, "Chicano Student Movement of Aztlán")
- Plan Espiritual de Aztlán
- Raza Unida Party
- Freedom Road Socialist Organization, which calls for self-determination for the Chicano nation in Aztlan up to and including the right to secession.
In popular culture
"Aztlán" has been used as the name of speculative fictional future states that emerge in the southwest U.S. or Mexico after the central U.S. government suffers 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.
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