I was surprised to learn how large a proportion of the present Mexican population is composed of descendants of the Aztecs. At least two-thirds of the inhabitants of Mexico are Indians, most of them poor, ignorant, and ragged. Even in the capital the proportion is about the same. I doubt not that a brilliant future is awaiting Mexico, thanks to the excellent government of President Diaz, the introduction of railroads, and the development of her magnificent mineral and agricultural enterprises; but there can be no question that she has before her an Herculean task in educating seven million ignorant Indians, and elevating them to decent life and the responsibilities of citizenship.
A Mexican Water-Cart.
Our first real halting-place in Mexico was Zacatecas, one of the loftiest situations on the table-land, and we saw without regret the train move on and leave our special car upon a side-track till the following day. The view of Zacatecas from the railroad is impressive. Directly opposite the station rises a rugged mountain, wearing, as a unique and ever to be remembered ornament, a curving crown of perpendicular rocks, whose moss-like vegetation makes them look like malachite. Below this I beheld what seemed to be an Oriental city, since almost all the buildings had flat roofs, with walls of unbaked bricks, just as one sees them in the Holy Land. The most remarkable feature of Zacatecas is its vivid coloring. Its varied hues are charming, and here an artist would be transported with delight. All the plastered walls are painted, and every street is, therefore, framed in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, or violet, adorned with gaily decorated signs. Many of the buildings, it is true, are dirty and dilapidated, and most of them have but one story. To scrutinize them closely is disenchanting; but, in the brilliant sunshine of the tropics and under the intense blue sky of Mexico, even squalid structures become picturesque. When I glanced down the streets, I usually saw a multitude of motionless or moving figures, their garments of white cotton half concealed by yellow, red, and purple blankets; and as I watched the multicolored groups, meeting and separating, or coming and going before the brightly tinted walls, I felt as if I were looking into a kaleidoscope. But, while the natives are attractive at a distance, a closer scrutiny reveals the fact that," "Tis distance lends enchantment" to the Mexican. The peaked hat of straw or felt becomes, on near approach, a thing to be studied under a microscope; the bronzed face, looking in the distance so effective, is painfully innocent of soap and water; and it would be advisable to treat the brightly colored blanket as the Priest and Levite did the traveler on the way to Jericho, when they "passed by on the other side." As for the natives' shirts and trousers, they call to mind the sails of an old ship, snow-white, when seen upon the verge of the horizon, but proving upon closer inspection to be a gray and melancholy waste of soiled canvas, seamed with patches. It is not, I am sure, an exaggeration to say that one-half of the inhabitants of Mexico are either barefooted or wear a kind of sandal, consisting of a piece of leather strapped to the foot like a skate.
Street View, Zacatecas.
Plaza Fountain, Zacatecas.
The Valley Of Maltroda.
We saw a number of water-venders in Zacatecas, whose little tanks (strapped on their shoulders after the fashion of Italian organ-grinders), contained the drinking water which they were carrying to the houses; for water here is precious, and has been sold sometimes as high as two cents a gallon. If drinking water be thus scarce, it is painful to reflect on the bathing conveniences in this Mexican city. So far as my observation went, however, the lack of water for that purpose occasioned its inhabitants no uneasiness, - apparently to none of the natives was a bath either a reminiscence or an aspiration.