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Cinco de Mayo Event Offers History Lesson

May 06, 1997|KARIMA A. HAYNES

Strains of ancient Indian music filled the air as Montezuma, the last Aztec emperor of Mexico, emerged from behind stone sculptures adorning the outdoor Plaza of Mexican Heritage at Forest Lawn-Memorial Park.

Montezuma--dressed in a flowing gold lame cape, feathered headdress and beaded breastplate, loincloth and boots--strode to the edge of the plaza and introduced himself to 200 students from Valley Alternative Magnet School in Van Nuys.

"I am Mexico's last great emperor! Montezuma!" actor Fabian Gregory Cordova boomed.

The students gathered at the plaza Monday to commemorate Cinco de Mayo, which marks the 1862 victory of the Mexican army against militarily superior French soldiers at the Battle of Puebla. In a 25-minute monologue, Cordova described in vivid detail Indian life in what is today modern Mexico both before and after the Spanish conquest of the 16th century.

Beginning with the Olmecs in 1200 BC, Cordova said the early peoples of Mexico established their own cultural identity through religion, mythology, mathematics, agriculture, gold-mining, language, astronomy, architecture and military defense.

"The Olmecs set the standard for a way of life for the Indian people who followed," Cordova said, including the Zapotec), Teotihuacan, Toltec, Maya, Aztec, Huastec and Totonac civilizations.

With dramatic flair, Cordova recounted the demise of the Indians--through internal fighting and external enemies--that began with Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes' landing on Mexico's eastern shore and ended in a bloody takeover of the Indian people.

"It was really educational," said Angel Meza, 13, after Cordova's presentation. "I knew some Mexican history, but not all of it."

After walking around the plaza to look at the Indian sculptures Nicholas Silva, 12, said: "It's better than reading about it in a book, because you can see it up close."

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