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The Casa Amaya is one of the oldest individual houses in Mexico City. Right on the corner of the Xochimilco Central Plaza, it offers a quick and deep trip into the early history of the entire area.
Begun in about 1553, the house has long been know as the “Casa del Cacique Apochquiyahuatzin.” We don’t use such a name today because the word “cacique” implies a “strongman” or even “thuggish” style of leadership. That’s clearly a misunderstanding of indigenous ways by colonial-era thinkers. The Virrenial system the Spanish imposed on the Valley of Mexico, from our own perspective, was entirely a cacique system.
Today the home is known by the name of the Amaya family who purchased it in 1920. But it’s especially remembered for having been the home of Apochquiyauhtzin.
- Apochquiyahuatzin, (died 1572) was a Xochimilca ruler and tlatoani of the altepetl (i.e.; city-state) of Xochimilco when the Spanish arrived in the Valley of Mexico in 1520. His name has been variously translated to mean “tattered” or “frayed” lord. He likely attended the meeting between Hernán Cortés and Cuitláhuac in today’s Iztapalapa. In 1521, he led Xochimilca forces in alliance with those of Cortés during the siege of Tenochtitlan.
- Baptized already in 1522, he’s said to have been the first Xochimilca person to accept the ritual. His name thereafter was Luis Martín Cortés Cerón de Alvarado. The “de Alvarado” part of his name indicates that Pedro de Alvarado became the ruler of the Xochimilco encomienda. But Cortés Cerón achieved a good amount of power at the same time.
- In 1524, Cortés Cerón received orders to receive the Franciscan missionaries with “reverence.” And this marked the beginning of the conversion of all of the people of Xochimilco to Christianity.
- But it can also be understood as a shrewd political maneuver. The people of Xochimilco had long resisted dominance by Tenochtitlan. Through the figure of Cortés Cerón, they maintained that independence even under the Spanish. To this day, the spirit of the alcaldía is understood in its resistance to outside interference.
Today the street level is home to a pharmacy and a medical office. But as a home to an early “indigenous nobility” it’s entirely unique. Much of Xochimilco traces its history through this very house. A good tour of the Xochimilco Historic Center may rightly begin here.