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Part III covers the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire in the early sixteenth century. While Spanish accounts celebrate the heroism of the conquerors, native chronicles describe the initiation of a long period of forced labor and land loss, disease, and cultural weakening. The period was rife with contradiction and conflict. The friars who came as missionaries were indigenous peoples’ greatest defenders; yet, in easing the harshness of the Conquest, they helped to consolidate and perpetuate it. Despite the royal government’s efforts to maintain the “purity” of the races, race mixing was underway from the earliest days of the colony. The white landowning class would later lead the movement for independence, but only with great reluctance, since the exploitative system they inherited left them vulnerable to the wrath of Indians, mestizos, and blacks. The legacy of that system of power, privilege, and corruption would shape the course of independent Mexico.

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