Class And Classless In Nahuatl

I thought I had been invited to a class in Nahuatl, the ancient language of the indigenous peoples of this part of Mexico, the Aztecs. But the actual name of the language is Mechica, or Mexica. Nahuatl is a Mechica word for harmony. 

What? Harmony? The Aztecs? Those bloodthirsty tyrants who dominated all the smaller tribes, who tore out people’s living hearts as sacrifice? That was harmony?

Our language teacher, Monica Mesini Aguilera, attempted to explain. The Mexica, or Aztecs, were not any more bloodthirsty than any large tribe anywhere in the world. The stories of pumping hearts being regularly torn from living bodies was a myth the Spaniards came up with, and most westerners later accepted, to justify their own reigns of terror. “Nahuatl,” living in harmony with sky and earth, with animals and plants, with your family and with strangers who become your family, is an ideal that inspires the best in us, no matter where we live. Classes in Nahuatl, harmony, are open to anyone. 

Monica and her husband, Axel, follow the Red Path (Camino Rojo), which means the Indian, or Indigenous Path. “It is not a perfect path,” says Monica, “because there is no perfect path. There is no one way to do things. All peoples have their ancestral culture and stories. All peoples have their dreams, their legends, and we all have our dark side. But when people are cut off from their ancestors, they lose their joy and spontaneity.”

Monica with the flag of the Mechica people. Eagle, or águila, is the spirit of the north, while Condor is the spirit of the south. The nopal cactus represents the body of the Mexicatl people and the longevity and perennial essence of Mexican culture, with its fruits being the invincible hearts of the people and future generations. The base represents the ancestors.

Axel and Monica pursue a dream of starting an intercultural community center in San Juan Cosalá, where they live. Indeed, the idea of inter-cultural is embodied even in the name of their town, San Juan Cosalá. San Juan is of course Saint John, embodying the Spanish, Christian and European traditions, while Cosalá is a Mechica word meaning “the place of the butterflies,” or “the place of rainbows.” or “rainbow springs,” derived from the scintillating multi-colored spray from the local hot springs. 

A song in Nahuatl: 

NAWI MITL (4 arrows, or flechas, representing N, S, E, W)

ANAHUAC XOCHITL YOLOTZIN (the flowery heart of Anáhuac, the confederation of the northern peoples)

YOLOTZIN (our flowering hearts)

TAWANTZIN ZUYU YOLOTZIN (the flowery heart of the southern peoples)

For those of us whose native language is English, this nahuatl song has an amusing irony. The first line, “nawi mitl” (in which the L is silent) comes out as “now we meet.” While Monica teaches her class translating from Spanish into Mechica, she will help those whose Spanish is limited with her own limited English. Nawi mitl. Ya nos encontramos. Now we meet. All are welcome. 

The emphasis on the meeting of North and South is very much emphasized, as well as the reconciliation of differences in general. For instance, between Criollos and Indigenas, Spanish-Mexicans and indigenous Mexicans, or among different indigenous tribes, or between Mexicans and gringos. Remember that for Canadians and US citizens (estadounidenses), Mexico is south, but it is still part of North America, with the symbol of the eagle. So relations with South and Central American peoples, the people of the Condor, are also critical. A fact that US politicians would do well to recognize. 

The universality of the Red Path can sometimes be a bit startling. When I lived in Denver some years ago I was invited by Lakota friends to attend a Sun Dance, very similar to the Sun Dances my partner Lin and I have been invited to here these last two years. The Sun Dances here are held on tribal land on the other side of the lake. The first time I went, I was startled to hear prayers and chants that I recognized from my time with the Lakota in Colorado. 

Monica’s mate, Axel, is a Sun Dancer, as well as a local artist who paints scenes of nature and molds clay figures, and also works growing vegetables at an organic farm. He met Monica at a mexicatl dance in Guadalajara. “At first I was afraid of her,” he says. “She was very smart and very educated. I am just a street kid. I didn’t think she could be interested in me.”

Axel & Monica

“I thought he was guapo, very handsome,” Monica says. “But at that time I had other boyfriends.” But as she and Axel came to know each other through other cultural events, they began to recognize a growing attraction. Not only common interests, but a gentleness and kindness, as well as dedication to their communities. 


Along with yoga and herbal medicine classes, another of Monica’s interests or dedications is a project called Niñas Sabias. “Many young girls are afraid of their bodies, and of menstruation,” explains Monica. “As if it were something icky or shameful. We try to show them that it is something to be proud of, in harmony with the moon and the seasons, an expression of the creative powers of women. We want the girls to know the blood mysteries, that their bodies are sacred, not shameful. We also want to help the girls free themselves from commercial pressures. Many cannot afford sanitary pads, for instance. At the end of the class we give them sustainable sanitary towels which can be cleaned and reused. We also show them how to make their own.            

“What about Niños Sabios for boys?” I ask Axel. He gives me a somewhat “aw, shucks” response. “There is a lot of macho and right now I think the women are ahead of the men trying to find our connections to our land and to our ancestors.” But Mónica adds that Niñas Sabias is making plans to help develop a companion class for boys.

Monica Teaching In The Schools System

San Juan Cosalá is one of the oldest communities along the shores of Lake Chapala. With the inspiration of teachers and leaders such as Mónica and Axel, it’s future looks richly grounded in all the possibilities which Mexico has to offer.             

For more information about Lake Chapala visit:

John Sacelli
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