A Mixed Mexico.

This block, I think I am saving my parents a lot of money. Instead of heading over to Rastalls, our dining hall, for breakfast, I walk across the quad straight to my classroom. Why, you might ask, well because in the reception area of the Southwest Studies house is a table with an almost unlimited supply of hot water and a wide variety of teas and instant coffees, muffins and other snacks, all waiting to be consumed by hungry college students. Going into the second week of classes [with about a week and a half left in this block!], I have settled into a morning routine here at CC, revolving heavily around the hot water maker, just a few feet away from my classroom.

The past week has flown by! Last Thursday we had a great discussion about our experiences at the Cliff Dwellings. We talked extensively about the architecture and culture of the Ancient Puebloan reflected in the houses as well as some of the issues and questions that we had about the site. The fascinating problems of representation as well as the ethics and responsibilities of the owner of historic artifacts came up when discussing the fact that the Cliff Dwellings was a privately owned site, moved from its original location to attract tourists. In conjunction with this thought, the often-conflicting ideas about education versus commodification of Native American culture lead to an engaging debate between students as well as the professor, Santiago. Everyone had their own thoughts and opinions on the matter.

Over the weekend we finished up reading the book “1491” by Charles C. Mann, which addressed mostly Central and South American history before the time of Columbus. In class we discussed the book in-depth and were all blown away by the extensive and advanced cultures in Pre-Columbian America. I know that I was particularly interested in the how the Spanish, in a foreign land with limited men, supplies, resources etc., were able to topple highly organized empires of millions. Mann explained in his book that it was, arguably, luck, for the Spanish arrived right at the confluence of several important events in the Americas. In the case of many, diseases such as small pox had ravaged the Native populations, reducing their numbers as much as half. Second, like in the case of the Incan Empire, civil war had weakened the country. The Spanish took advantage of the fractured tribes, allying themselves with the Native enemies of the larger Empires. Lastly, differing cultural ideas about warfare and conquest lead to the Native American’s defeat.

When approaching other Empires in Central America, such as the Aztecs, we applied these principles laid out by Mann and supplemented by Santiago’s lectures and other readings, to further grasp these complex events in history. We then moved on to the idea of race and class in colonial Mexico. We learned about an entire “secret history,” of the mixed [or Mestizo] raced people of the New World as well as the class system they lived in known as the Las Casta System. I found this complex social structure to be really interesting and it added a whole new dimension to the evolving and changing world that these people inhabited.

Slavery in the New World added yet another layer to this rigidly, race based social order. Santiago explained that the Spanish only imported 150,000 to 200,000 slaves to Mexico. Although this seems like a high number, he informed us that relative to the amount of slaves brought to the New World by Europe, like by the English to the thirteen colonies, it was quite small.

Heres an example of some of my notes from class that day:

Mestizo America:

  • [In New Spain…] Mestizo: At first just “mixed,” as more people mixed, became sub-category à Indigenous parent and a Spanish parent [50% 50%]
  • Afro-Mestizo: Spanish brought slaves à anyone with African heritage
  • Spanish and African = Mulatto
  • After 1st set of offspring = 6 diff. categories
  • Creates system called the Las Casta System:
  • Social structure à organizing people into a hierarchical system, system of classification
  • Created by Spanish, so on top [Born in Spain = Peninsular, more important, Born in New World = Criollo, less important, less loyal to the crown/ homeland]
  • Mestizo:
  • [More Spanish blood, higher status] Castizo = ¼ Indian is higher,
  • Pure indigenous people and pure African people not in system
  • Slaves = not in system [African = human, but lesser human]
  • Natives = in protective category, undergoing Christianization/ can they be Christian, do they have a soul [sub-human, savages]? 

Slavery in Mexico:

  • 1576-1581 epidemic that causes native population to decline, Spain starts to import African slaves
  • Mexico only brought in 150,000-200,000 slaves [much less than other countries in the Americas]
  • Majority of slaves = west Africa à sent to developing areas, central and coastal regions
  • 1/16 black = Spaniard
  • 1646 Mexico census:
  • African: 130,000
  • Spanish: 114-125,000 à most born in Americas
  • Natives: <1,000,000
  • Spanish crown fears political/ social upheaval à fears mostly mixed raced country
  • Slaves children = free, so have to keep importing slaves
  • Spain decides to stop the importation of slaves à eventually leads to the abolition of slaves in Spain