Aztec Silver

San Juan de la Penitencia dormitory was where I lived in Toledo, Spain. I knew the former convent was built before my parents’ house (1930). I visited the El Greco Museum and was amazed to recognize the curved portico balcony of the convent in his “View and Plan of Toledo” (1610-1614). San Juan de la Penitencia was built in 1514! El Greco’s painting brought this fact home. I was living history in my monastic alcove. (See a photo:

The Americas made Spain very wealthy from the 1500s to the early 1800s. “New World” foods; tomatoes, potatoes and chocolate enriched Iberian and European diets. Spanish Empire naval fleets full of natural resources landed in Sevilla. Tons of precious metals, like Peruvian and Mexican silver, lined the kings coffers. Imperial Spain was primed to rule for millennia, yet royal mistakes foiled the plan.

Our Spanish history class professor in Toledo highlighted the enormous sums the monarchs spent on British textiles and foreign wars. She made a generalization from this I’ve never forgotten. The world power that spends more on imported goods than on its own industry and infrastructure, passes the imperial torch on to the country it makes rich. I see Spanish history paints a possible future for the US and China. One empire falls and another rises.

This has gone beyond textiles. Currently, there are no LED light bulbs for residential use made in the USA. All those we find at the store and online are made in China. That worries me. We too have squandered our “Aztec silver.” Our economy has moved abroad. How many US products and factories still exist? Living in another country has brought my focus home. What future will we invest in and what is our new role in the world?

Rebecca Cuningham

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