Mexico, according to Malcolm Lowry, is “the meeting place of mankind itself,” where European and Aztec civilization first made contact. Every year, many Mexicans gather at their family graves to meet with the spirits of departed loved ones. In business etiquette, first impressions are of utmost importance, and establishing a personal rapport is essential for negotiations.
Whether it is cross cultural encounters, assemblies with the dead, or the building of personal and business relationships, meetings are a key to the culture. Here are seven that shaped the country since the arrival of the Spanish.
1. Hernán Cortés meets La Malinche, present day Tabasco, 1519
In April 1519, Doña Marina, or La Malinche as she is commonly known, was among 20 slave women given to Hernan Cortes as a gift from a Mayan warlord. Her exact age at the time is unknown, but it is assumed she was in her late teens. The chronicler of the Conquest, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, remarked on her beauty; and she was the only one of the slaves whose name he remembered. She worked as an interpreter and mediator, mastering Spanish in weeks, and later became Cortes’ lover. She played a pivotal role in events, with Cortes even writing: “after God we owe this conquest of New Spain to Doña Marina.”
2. Cortés meets Moctezuma II, present day Mexico City, 1519
On November 8, 1519, Emperor Moctezuma came with a procession of lords to meet Cortes on the bridge leading into his island city. The Aztec leader gave the Spaniard a golden calendar as a gift, which Cortes melted down for its material value.
Moctezuma brought Cortes into his palace, and the Spaniards stayed as guests for several months. At some point, he became a hostage in his own home, which eventually sparked a rebellion amongst his own frustrated people. Cortes forced Moctezuma to address an angry mob from the palace balcony, and he was hurt by rocks thrown from the crowd. He later died from his injuries, or was murdered by Cortes, depending on which version you believe.
3. General Santa Anna meets Sam Houston, present day Texas, 1836
General Santa Anna was an eccentric military leader and president who ordered a ceremonial burial for a leg he lost in battle. His political blunders make his name a continuing cause of controversy in Mexico. Sam Houston was the commander of the Texan army that fought for independence from Mexico. In 1836, his forces surprised Santa Anna’s, defeating them in the battle of San Jacinto.
The Texan militia rounded up the Mexican soldiers, and Santa Anna initially evaded discovery by changing into the uniform of a common soldier. The tactic worked until he was exposed by one of his own men, who referred to him as “Presidente” in front of the Texans. His true identity exposed, he was brought before Sam Houston, who had been wounded in battle. In exchange for his life, Santa Anna signed over all Mexican rights to Texas. It was the beginning of a process that would eventually see Mexico lose more than half of its territories to the United States. By 1848, it had lost all of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, California, and Nevada as well as parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The bungling General responsible is even vilified in the Molotov song “Frijolero”: “If not for Santa Anna just to let you know, that where your feet are planted would be Mexico!”
4. Frida Kahlo Meets Diego Rivera, Mexico City, 1928
While the student Frida Kahlo used to spy on muralist Diego Rivera as he painted at her school in 1921, their first face-to-face meeting wasn’t until seven years later, at a party hosted by Italian actor Tina Modotti. Frida, who had an unpredictable personality herself, enjoyed seeing Diego pull a pistol and shoot the phonograph. For Diego, it was the meeting that would define his life: “I did not know it then, but Frida had already become the most important fact in my life, and would continue to be up to the moment she died, 27 years later.”
5. Roberto Bolaño meets Octavio Paz, Mexico City, 1974
In 1974, the Nobel prize-winning poet Octavio Paz had the misfortune of meeting a young, angry Roberto Bolaño, the Chilean novelist who went on to write postmodern masterpiece “2666”. Bolaño’s group, the “Infrarealists” saw Paz as the embodiment of the establishment, a suited villain who cozied up to power.
The writer Carmen Boullosa was 20-years-old when she encountered Bolaño and his circle at Mexico City poetry readings. She writes, “With my own eyes I saw a group of Infrarealists throw the contents of a glass over Paz (very smartly dressed, in an elegant blazer) who shook out his tie and continued conversation with a smile, as if nothing happened.”
At another event, Bolaño set out the reasons for his hatred of Paz: “his odious crimes in the service of international fascism, the appalling little piles of words that he risibly calls his poems, his abject insults to Latin American intelligence.”
6. Carlos Salinas meets Carlos Slim, Mexico City, 1982
Carlos Salinas is the former president of Mexico who came to power in the rigged elections of 1988. Carlos Slim is the owner of Telmex, formerly the richest, and currently the second-richest man in the world. The pair met at a dinner in 1982. It was the start of a friendship that would shape the next three decades of Mexican history. Slim was at the banquet in 1994 when Salinas appealed to the country’s millionaires to provide financial aid to the campaign of his chosen successor as president, Ernesto Zedillo, and was almost certainly influential in keeping the country out of the hands of the left-leaning PRD.
For his part, Salinas sold the national telecoms company Telmex to Slim in 1990. It was an auction that rivals alleged was fixed.
“Regardless of whether there was favoritism in the sale of Telmex,” said David Lunhow, writing in the Wall Street Journal, “the privatization process created a new class of super-rich in Mexico. In 1991, the country had two billionaires on the Forbes list. By 1994, at the end of Mr. Salinas’s six-year term, there were 24. The richest of them all was Mr. Slim.”
7. Guillermo del Toro meets Alfonso Cuarón, Mexico City, 1987
The director of “Pan’s Labyrinth” met the director of “Gravity” in 1987, while both were working on a Mexican horror series.
“It was an episodic thing like ‘The Twilight Zone’,” Cuaron said. “We used to call it ‘The Toilet Zone’ because of the budgets.”
“I remember, right after I did my first one, this freak from Guadalajara walks into the office and says: ‘You’re Cuaron, right? I’m Guillermo del Toro. I saw your show, and it was a rip-off from a Stephen King story.’ I started laughing, and I said, ‘You’re the one guy who figured it out!’ And he said, ‘Yeah, man, but your show still stunk.’ I started laughing even louder. I loved the guy immediately.”