Researching Chichen Itza: It’s Wacky Down Here

Usually the research for these ports-of-calls is fascinating and complex but relatively straightforward. It’s pretty easy to extrapolate what would “reasonably” have occurred in a given locale after a global catastrophe, geopolitical upset, and technological revolution happened one after another. Failing it being easy to find the most reasonable outcome, then it come down to which possibility is cooler for story-making.

Not so with Chichen Itza.

Mexico was conquered by France in 1862; Maximilian the First, an Austrian prince, was imported to be Mexico’s Emperor. He arrived in 1863, about two months _after_ Atlantis explodes out of the sea.

France was able to conquer Mexico because the United States and its pesky Monroe Doctrine were busy fighting a civil war. When the Union won, they pressured the French to pull out, which left Maximilian high and dry.

The entire time Max was ruling the Mex (see what I did there), the legally-elected president of Mexico, Benito Juarez, was still governing out of Chihuahua. When the French bailed, the Mexicans stormed the capital and executed Maximilian.

Juarez was pretty much awesome on toast, with a solid record of promoting democracy, justice, and indigenous rights (he himself was Zapotec). He also died in 1872, six years before the 1878 start date for Renny Jennys.

Juarez was succeeded (indirectly) by Porfiro Diaz, an autocratic asshole who was going to fix Mexico if it killed them all. A decorated general, he relied heavily on his military connections to brutally suppress domestic opposition because HE JUST NEEDED ONE MORE YEAR TO FIX THIS, JUST BE PATIENT, WILL YOU?!? The era of Mexican politics that includes 1878 is named the Porfiriato after Diaz.

So given a 1863 divergence date and fifteen years of wacky history later, who exactly should be running Mexico? Did Maximilian ever make it to Mexico? Did Juarez live through fewer harsh years and therefore lived longer? Did Diaz ever come to power if not by ousting Maximilian and the French? The hell if I know.

Except—and here’s where it gets interesting, folks—most of the Yucatan peninsula was, throughout this entire period, an independent and self-governing state ruled by traditional Mayan nobility. Chan Santa Cruz, as it was called, was more or less a theocracy of syncretic Mayan-Catholicism called the Cult of the Talking Cross, where saints are really just Mayan gods in Spanish clothes. This wasn’t just some jumped-up and short-lived revolutionary state, either; by 1878 they’ve been self-governing for nearly thirty years. Even the United Kingdom formally recognized their sovereignty (so they could trade via British Honduras).

Chichen Itza itself sits a few miles north of the Chan Santa Cruz border; in addition to the Talking Cross folks, there were a number of other indigenous splinter states whose territories and borders have proven incredibly difficult to pin down. The Ixcanha and Icaiche Maya, for instance, had their own states in the Yucatan, and they all fought between each other and Mexico. And perhaps the cruzob of Chan Santa Cruz got a little expansionistic while the crillos in Mexico City were busy falling all over themselves in the wake of Atlantis rising. Who knows!

Oh yes, I forgot: for a large portion of all this history, the Mexican state of Yucatan itself has declared itself independent of Mexico because at the time Santa Anna, the then-current dictator, was struggling to hold his petty kingdom together with both hands.

So who’s actually the local political power at Chichen Itza? Is it theocratic Maya? Is it Yucataneos? Is it some smaller splinter group of Maya trapped between the larger powers? If Juarez was able to oust Maximilian, might he have made peace with the cruzob of Chan Santa Cruz and other indigenous powers and brought them back into the Mexican fold as a semi-autonomous region? If Maximilian stayed in power a little longer, might he have done the same? If either of those generally agreeable and progressive rulers made peace with Chan Santa Cruz, did Diaz inherit that situation and find it intolerable?

It’s not that I can’t tell which is the most reasonable outcome; I realized this week that especially with this port-of-call, history is really flexible. My trouble now is figuring out which possibility (or combination thereof) will be most interesting for picaros to stumble in, knock over anthills, and otherwise wreak havoc.

But really, there are much worse problems to have than which exciting alternate history to write about. 😉 Thanks all of you for making it possible for me to spend time thinking about this glorious mess!

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