In truth, many who call themselves Aztecs today have Spanish blood in them, much like the mestizo (mixed-blood) majority of Mexico's population. But that hasn't stopped a significant minority from clinging to their indigenous roots, Aztec or otherwise.
Mexico City, Mexico
Her real name is Guru Kirn Kaur Martinez Lazcano but she prefers to go by Matlal Ilhuitl, a name from the Nahuatl language first spoken by the Aztecs more than 1,500 years ago. It was given to her by her family, one of a dwindling few in Mexico that still speak the Nahuatl tongue and still identify themselves as Aztec.
In the case of Matlal, 26, she and her relatives are on the forefront of a movement to revive the ancient Aztec (or Mexica) ways - mostly through arts, dance, song, and other rituals. Several times a month, and on all Aztec holidays, they gather at different holy sites in Mexico City to perform traditional dances, complete with elaborate headdresses and colorful costumes - all of them handmade.
Beautiful as they look, they don't do it for show. There are no spectators and no tourists snapping pictures. They dance only for themselves.
"Wherever we go, we invite young people to participate in this and to know the roots of their Mexico," says Matlal.
But the dances, which pay homage to nature (and the four elements of earth, wind, fire, and water), teach more than just history. They are a means to connect the dancers to the root of their being and to the essence of life itself - one that is grounded in nature and respect for all living beings. For the young people, especially, they form a rite of passage in a world devoid of many meaningful rituals.
"Many of the young people used to be drug addicts or they were in gangs," says Matlal. "Now they are dancing, doing traditional songs, doing all night vigils. And all that energy that used to be wasted with the drugs is now being invested in making their own outfits and making their clothing."
Matlal's 15-year-old cousin, Bal Teotecpatl, was also brought up in the Mexica tradition from a very young age. But when he hit puberty, he began to feel the pull of modern society.
"I started asking myself why I am dancing," says Bal. "I was actually embarrassed and I didn't want people to see me."
He not only stopped going to dance circles but tried desperately to fit in with his peers at school, getting into "regular teenage stuff" such as skateboarding and rock and roll.
Without being specific, he says he became "sick in the head," so confused that he was "beyond sad." At his grandparents' urging, he resumed dancing and was able to find, at last, some inner peace.
"What helped me come back to my own nature was all the knowledge that was passed down from the elders, the knowledge that mankind has to be united with nature," says Bal. More importantly, it's a knowledge that works its way through rituals to connect him to nature on a daily basis.
Now, whenever he dances alongside his cousin, Matlal, on the remains of a small pyramid behind their house, he's able to clear his mind of all that's around him - the white noise of modern society - to find the spirit and wisdom of the warrior within, one linked to all the Aztec warriors who have gone before.
Their message to youth around the world is clear: Through the teachings of our past, we can find strength to live in this world of chaos, and a reason to live with dignity.
During this time of human transition, it is necessary to take the initiative and have the strength to make a change in our lives, which are soaked in the daily routines of society. We must look back and return to our elders, know where we have come from and where we are going so that we can walk with dignity in this world, which is carrying our people to chaos and unconsciousness.
For thousands of years, the ancient traditions of this continent have lived in harmony with the Earth. Today is the moment to reclaim the teachings they left behind and put them into practice in our own lives. We are few and these few are divided. We must bring together our hearts and hope, in order to make real what our elders used to say: "Unity, as the beginning of our greatness."
Knowing that the children are the seeds of humanity, we have the responsibility to guide them with our consciousness. So let us begin to work with our own family, with our youth and elders, with our men and our women.