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Students Get Creative Lesson in Aztec History


First-grader Hector Gamiz didn't know the meaning of the intricate designs decorating his T-shirt until he met Montezuma, the last Aztec emperor of Mexico, on Wednesday at Forest Lawn-Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills.

Montezuma, played by actor Fabian Gregory Cordova, described the foods ancient Mexicans ate, the gods they worshiped and the monuments they built as he led about 25 Southland school children on a tour of the outdoor Plaza of Mexican Heritage at the cemetery.

The annual tour coincides with the Mexican national holiday of Cinco de Mayo celebrated today to commemorate the Battle of Puebla in which ragtag Mexican warriors, outnumbered three to one, defeated the French Army on May 5, 1862.

Cordova, who wore an elaborate feather headdress, a beaded loincloth and a gold cape, called Hector, 6, to the front of a group of Toluca Lake School students and told the youngster his shirt was a representation of a large stone Aztec calendar--shown in a sculpture at the end of the outdoor plaza.

The god of the sun is featured in the center of the calendar, Cordova told students, and has a tongue shaped like a dagger to show he welcomed human sacrifice.

After the presentation, Hector, who was born in Mexico City, proudly pointed to the inside of the Aztec calendar on his shirt and said, "This is the god of the sun and he's mean."

The event, which also featured a walk through of a museum of Mexican history and a film, "Sentinels of Silence," gives students--many of whom have parents or grandparents from Mexico--a taste of Mexican history, said J. Carol Winn, education affairs director at Forest Lawn.

"I know a little bit about Cinco de Mayo," said Thomas Martinez, 6, "but nothing about this stuff." Thomas, a first-grader at Toluca Lake School, said his father was born in Mexico City and has taken him to visit relatives there.

Julianna Bentes, a sixth-grader at the Children's Community School in Van Nuys, said today's civilizations can learn from ancient Mexican peoples who struggled to overcome famine, disease and war.

"It's important to learn about other cultures to improve our own--we can learn from their mistakes," Julianna said.

More than 2,900 Southern California students were scheduled to participate in the presentations, which will also be held this morning at the cemetery.

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