The Weekly Week

The new Aztec temple/shopping complex in Allston is the lighting rod for the cultural debate.

ALLSTON — The Boston area has seen a dramatic rise in its Aztec population recently, escalating racial tensions in many local neighborhoods. The Aztecs' growing influence has some Hub residents derisively calling Boston an 'Aztec empire.'

The changes have certainly been striking. In Roxbury, once a Catholic mainstay, most of the churches have become temples to the plumed serpent Quetzalcoatl, the god of wind and learning. The Fleet Center has been converted into a storehouse for the Aztecs' vast hoards of gold, jade and jaguar skins. And local school children are giving up kickball for tlatchtli, a kickball-like game played to the death.

Particularly irksome for many Bostonians is the Aztecs' new thousand-foot pyramid, constructed in Allston on the banks of the Charles. The pyramid is both a temple to the sun god Huitzilopochtli and an upscale shopping mall, a combination that has some local retailers crying foul.

"We sell earthen housewares, they sell earthen housewares, but because they're also a temple, they're tax-exempt," complains Jeff Jurgensen, manager of Cambridge's Pottery Barn store. "It makes it tough to compete, especially since they'll also accept feathers, salt, and pieces of tin as currency."

Area restaurants are also feeling the pinch. The pyramid's food court has been a surprise success, featuring such Aztec eateries as "Quetzal Time" and "Boston Chichen Itza."

The first Aztecs arrived in the Boston area about a year ago, migrating north from Aztlan, their historical home in western Mexico. According to Cuauhtemoc, the Aztecs' leader, the gods told them that they would come upon an eagle sitting on a cactus eating a snake, at which point they should stop and found a great city.

"That was all well and good until about Delaware," recalls Cuauhtemoc. "After that we started to loosen our interpretation, if you know what I mean. When we got to Allston we saw a pigeon up on a powerline, and the pigeon looked like it had something in its beak. I figured, that's good enough for rock and roll."

"Between you and me, I think the beak was just deformed from all that voltage," added Cuauhtemoc. "You've got to understand — we love ska and Allston's thriving salon scene. That and we were really fucking tired."

At first Boston residents welcomed the Aztecs, but a number of high-profile gaffes have caused the relationship to sour quickly. For example, last September, the Aztecs took the entire suburb of Wellesley captive, gouged out their hearts and threw the still-beating organs into the newly active volcano at Killington.

Tom Williamson, professor of religious studies at Boston College, feels like uproar over the Wellesley incident is much ado about nothing. "Christians drink the symbolic blood of Jesus," he said. "Is sacrificing slaves, prisoners, and children really that different? I mean, it's just like that scene in 'Temple of Doom.'"

But with the Aztecs' numbers rising and their conquests building, many Boston natives fear that the local culture will be permanently altered.

"It's not fair that they come here and take our jobs," said Jane Mayer, a Lexington hunter-gatherer whose office building was razed to the ground to make room for the Aztecs' maize fields. "It's almost as if our nomadic way of life is being displaced by the powerful Aztec civilization."