Along red-tiled corridors buckling with age, a zealously Mexican museum offers 17 rooms filled with mementos, documents, proclamations and pictures, all testifying to foreign insults, raids, incursions, full-scale invasions and occupations since the country proclaimed independence in 1810.
On this same spot, the Aztecs once offered throbbing human hearts to Left-Handed Hummingbird, their war god, until Spanish priests in their holy fury smashed the temple. The friars used the black lava rocks of the temple to build a monastery here in the south of Mexico City.
But behind the heavy 16th century walls, there is no murmur of psalms among the palms in the grand gardens.
The former convent of Churubusco, as it came to be known, has just become the National Museum of Interventions. While nationalism and patriotism may be universal commodities, people in the know say there is nothing else like this museum on the continent -a blend of anti-imperialism and bruised dignity.
The old refectory and cells hold axes, lassos, stones and sticks -weapons the Mexicans used in their guerrilla warfare against invaders. Quotes from threatening and taunting foreign texts appear on the walls. There is an eloquent one from a U.S. publication, Mining and Engineering World. In 1914, with an eye on Mexico's oil and silver wealth, it printed: "Mexico should be U.S. territory and its inhabitants U.S. citizens."
The villain of the show, unquestionably, is the United States. Although the Spanish stayed 300 years and the French occupied Mexico for five years in the mid-19th century, Mexicans have remained mesmerized by the neighbors to the north.
Historians talk of two Mexican traumas never fully resolved: the Spanish conquest and what Mexicans call "the American intervention," from which the United States emerged with an extra 1.4 million square miles of territory, roughly half of what was then Mexico.
Mexico remains fascinated by the United States. Its historians believe this this is in part because the many instances of American bullying forced Mexico to forge a nation out of its divided and quarreling groups.
Curiously, even the site of the new museum, so the catalog states, was chosen because it was the scene of a battle when the U.S. Army under Winfield Scott marched into Mexico City in 1847.
"Of course this is a political museum. The idea is to raise consciousness about how difficult it is for us to keep our independence," said museum director Luz Maria Colombres. "It was difficult and it may be in the future. That goes all the way from military action to economic penetration."
Since this government-owned museum opened in September, it has been a subject of debate among the intelligentsia, some of whom have criticized it as another of the "demagogic monuments," of which there are many, or as an "exercise in historic masochism."
But most have applauded it, saying the museum has a new, pointed urgency, given the warlike postures and the military threats against Cuba and Nicaragua coming from Washington.
So far, the refurbished rooms have been flooded with schoolchildren, particularly from Mexico's 10 military schools. They peer at the vivid battle scenes and the losses suffered at the hads of the Spanish, French and Americans.
However, Gaston Garcia Cantu, the director of the National Institute of Anthropology and History, who had the idea for the museum, maintains that "this is not a place to stress our losses. It is a lesson in survival. No country can afford to lose its historic memory. People must understand what happened and why."
Special courses already are given to teachers and for next year, plans exist for conferences and seminars on Mexico's current foreign policy in the context of the past.
A tour of this ancient place gives a perspective on U.S.Mexican entanglements that is likely to surprise Americans.
In the first room, after a prominent display of the text of the Monroe Doctrine, a large plaque offers the comments of the first anti-American official, this country's first ambassador to Washington. "The arrogance of those republicans does not allow them to see us as equals but as inferiors," said Jose Manuel Zozaya. "With time they will become our sworn enemies."
Maps and texts describe "Jefferson's expansionism" and the U.S. drive to conquer the west "at Mexico's expense." Cartoons and engravings illustrate the year-long occupation of Mexico by the U.S. Army in 1847.
Off to one side is the fading but complete collection of the Daily American Star, the English-language newspaper put out for the occupation troops, a forerunner of today's Stars and Stripes.
A small, eroded monument lists the names of the Irish St. Patrick's Battalion, which deserted the invading U.S. Army and passed to the Mexican side. The inscription notes that when the Mexicans lost, the battalion was executed by the Americans. The Irishmen became martyrs to thee Mexicans.
Although it was France's Napoleon III who in 1862 sent an invasion force here, this led to new U.S. troubles. President Lincoln had declared neutrality, but one text here reads that U.S. officials "nonetheless forgot their declarations and let arms and supplies pass across the U.S.-Mexican border to help the French invaders."
Much space is reserved for the events at the beginning of this century and "U.S. meddling" in the Mexican Revolution, which Washington at various times tried to stop or guide. Fading brown photographs show U.S. Marines occupying the gulf port of Veracruz in 1914. The U.S. fleet had been sent to intercept a German arms shipment for the Mexican rebels. Many Mexicans were killed fighting the Marines, who shelled the town until it gave in.
To Mexicans, 1914 and the years following are significant less because of World War I than for the break in relations with the United States and the arrival of more American warships.
There was a demand in the U.S. Senate for dispatch of 500,000 troops to "restore order" in Mixico and turn the country into "a security buffer" between the United States and Latin America. And 1917 is remembered not as the year of the Russian Revolution but as the time when Gen. John (Blackjack) Pershing finally pulled his troops out of northern Mexico.
Such were Mexican reactions to Pershing's "punitive expedition" against Pancho Villa that it turned a feared and despised "bandit" into a revolutionary hero.
Politicians here often point out that it is the Mexican perception of the long and difficult history between the two nations that determines Mexico's current U.S. policy, rather than the personal or ideological preferences of any given president.
Jose Lopez Portillo, who became president in 1976, is the grandson of a foreign minister of the same name who allegedly was insulted when sent to negotiate with the U.S. Marines at Veracruz. The president's grandfather is quoted in the museum as criticizing the "coercion and prepotency of the arrogant Yankees."
Among the bitter memories and the fine antiques, the museum offers a rather unexpected 19th century parallel with the present. It is a text from gadfly and newspaper editor Jose Maria de Bustamante, written in 1823.
With other contemporary liberals, he protested against the Mexican military chiefs' attempt to occupy Guatemala and Eel Salvador.
"They are fighting a disastrous war in El Salvador," Bustamante wrote. He called for release of all political prisoners, respect for the right of the Salvadorans to decide their own future and immediate talks to end the hostilities.