Gonzalo Guerrero was a sailor and a soldier, from Palos (Huelva), Spain, who in April 1511 was shipwrecked along with 20 others onboard the ship Santa María de la Barca, under the command of Capt. Pedro de Valdivia, on the Yucatecan coast, near what is now known as Isla Mujeres and Cozumel.
After confrontations and other adventures with the Maya, the only survivors were Gerónimo de Aguilar and Gonzalo Guerrero, who were later separated and sent as servants to separate Maya chiefs. But after a few years passed, due to his talents and his ability to adopt the Maya culture, Guerrero was climbing the ladder, until 1519 when Hernán Cortés was skirting the Yucatán coasts in preparation for his conquest of Mexico. Cortés heard of two Spanish shipwreck survivors who were living among the indigenous people and sent a rescue team for them, thinking that they would serve well as translators.
When Gerónimo de Aguilar heard about this, he went in search of Guerrero, who by then was captain of the military forces of the Maya lord Na Chan Can, and had married the lord’s daughter Zazil-Há, with whom he had three children.
This is what Gonzalo Guerrero responded to Gerónimo: “Brother Aguilar, I am married and have three children, and they look on me as a cacique (lord) here, and captain in time of war. My face is tattooed and my ears are pierced. What would the Spaniards say about me if they saw me like this? Go and God’s blessing be with you, for you have seen how handsome these children of mine are. Please give me some of those beads you have brought to give to them and I will tell them that my brothers have sent them from my own country.” (taken from the “Historia Verdadera de la Conquista de la Nueva España,” written by Bernal Díaz del Castillo.)
Thanks to Guerrero, it was many more years before the Spaniards could conquer the Yucatán Peninsula, for he had trained the Maya soldiers with techniques, tactics, and military discipline used by the conquerors, with which they were able to defeat the Spaniards many times, keeping his family and the Maya people who had adopted him safe; in this way forgetting about his king, his god, and his Spanish customs.
Gonzalo Guerrero died in 1536 fighting alongside the Maya against his Spanish compatriots in a battle which took place near Honduras, remaining always immortalized as the father of “mestizaje” in America, for his children were the first children born of a mixed race union created without violence, a free union based on love. Ironically, there is a statue of Guerrero at the end of Prolongación Montejo, the avenue named for the conqueror Guerrero battled against in defense of the Maya people.
by Ricardo E. Tatto
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