Mulata Nation: Visualizing Race and Gender in Cuba by Alison Fraunhar (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Women on 2019-11-03 03:21Z by Steven

Mulata Nation: Visualizing Race and Gender in Cuba by Alison Fraunhar (review)

The Americas
Volume 76, Number 4, October 2019
pages 727-728

Mey-Yen Moriuchi, Assistant Professor of Art History
LaSalle University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Mulata Nation: Visualizing Race and Gender in Cuba. By Alison Fraunhar. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2018. Pp. 262. $70.00. Cloth.

Alison Fraunhar discerningly examines how the mulata has been represented and performed in Cuban visual culture from the nineteenth century to the present. She analyzes a variety of visual media, from prints and paintings to film and photography, to demonstrate how the identity and stereotypes of the mulata developed within popular culture and the national imagination.

Considered a bridge between European subject and African other, the mulata was “European enough to be visible and beautiful to the white male subject, and African enough to be typologized as sexual, primitive, desirable, and available” (4). Invoking Antonio Benítez-Rojo’s notion of “The Repeating Island,” Homi Bhabha’s concept of colonial mimicry, Stuart Hall’s model of identity based on ambivalence, and Judith Butler’s performativity of identity, along with the work of other theorists, Fraunhar investigates how performance and representation of the mulata and mulataje (performativity of the mulata) are intertwined. The study is not focused on actual life experiences of mulatas but rather their visual representation across media.

Fraunhar begins her analysis through the lens of costumbrismo, a literary and artistic movement popular in Spain and the Americas that represented scenes and types from everyday life. The figure of the desirable mulata, though in existence since the seventeenth century, was cemented during the nineteenth century with costumbrismo. An interesting manifestation of this occurs in marquillas cigarreras, small chromolithographed papers in which cigarettes for the Cuban domestic market were bundled. In this fascinating medium, Fraunhar shows how marquillas served as sites of cubanidad (Cuban identity). Fraunhar argues that the images of mulatas on marquillas demonstrate colonial anxiety and the inability to clearly define racial, social, and spatial boundaries. Unfortunately, the images presented in this chapter were all misnumbered, disrupting the fluidity of the text.

Chapter 2 focuses on the performance of the mulata on the stages, dances, and streets of nineteenth-century Cuba. In popular theater, like teatro bufo and zarzuela, the mulata was one of several principal stock characters performed, along with the negrito (black boy) and the gallego (Spaniard). During this time, the connection between prostitution and mulataje became explicit, thus producing tension between the mulata as a symbol of the nation and desire. Several Cuban actresses found success outside of Cuba in Mexican cabaretera films, performing cultural and racial passing.

Chapter 3 considers the mulata as a sign of femininity, cosmopolitanism, and modernity. Fraunhar examines how the mulata was variously depicted on magazine covers and in avant-garde paintings by early twentieth-century artists such as Jaime Valls, Mario Carreño, Carlos Enríquez, and José Hurtado de Mendoza. Although an icon of modernity, representations of the mulata were still rooted in past tropes of desire and availability. After the revolution of 1959, women’s roles in society were debated as leaders struggled to redefine the nation.

In Chapter 4, Fraunhar investigates how the revolution sought to reform the mulata as a revolutionary citizen. Several Cuban films produced in the 1960s and 1970s have mulata protagonists, presented to showcase how Cuban revolutionary society was constructed upon utopian ideas of equality and community. The mulata became the “new (wo)man” of the revolution (157).

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the beginning of the Período Especial, cultural production was disrupted, and economic crisis ensued. Cuba now positioned itself to foreign visitors as an exotic, nostalgic, tropical tourist destination. Mulatas resumed the role of the sensual, the desirable, and available body of the nation. The rise of jineterismo (hustling) and prostitution associated with the mulata became ubiquitous in Cuba in the 1990s, as did the emergence of drag and cross-gender performativity.

In Chapter 5, Fraunhar discusses the work of several photographers who capture the plight and agency of these mulata jinetera, gay, and trans performers.

A strength of this study is the wide range of popular visual culture that is included, though at times this means less in-depth analysis of specific…

Read or purchase the article here.

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Calidad, Genealogy, and Disputed Free-colored Tributary Status in New Spain

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico on 2016-07-04 18:35Z by Steven

Calidad, Genealogy, and Disputed Free-colored Tributary Status in New Spain

The Americas
Volume 73, Number 2, April 2016
pages 139-170

Norah Andrews, Assistant Professor of World History
Georgian Court University, Lakewood, New Jersey

In 1787, a group of Indians from the town of Almoloya, part of Apan in the Intendancy of Mexico, aired their grievances against several prominent local leaders. The petitioners claimed that their predominantly Indian community was plagued by a group of free-colored people who were masquerading as Indian nobles, or caciques, and enjoying privileges to which only those with noble lineage were entitled. One of these was exemption from the economically onerous and socially stigmatized royal tribute that had symbolized the relationship between the Spanish monarch and free-colored subjects since the sixteenth century.

To prove that the suspected were indeed tributaries, those lodging the complaint turned to lineage. They named more than a dozen people who lived as caciques, adding that those same individuals were “mixed with blacks and mulatos and should be registered and pay tribute with those of that class.” Despite their attempts to fashion themselves into caciques, the accused families had not erased from communal memory the occupations, castes, and places of origin of various ancestors, all of which could determine reputation, or calidad. Members of the Sánchez family, the petition claimed, were “grandchildren of a negro shoemaker called Martín.” The Granillos were “descendants of Juan Granillo, married to a known mulata servant.” The list of possible free-coloreds was exhaustive.

These “notorious mulatos” had gained exemptions awarded by the Spanish monarchy to Tlaxcalans who had served in Spanish conquests more than two and a half centuries before. Throughout the colonial period, descendants of Tlaxcalans could claim exemption from the tribute and other taxes, as well as land rights and a legal status distinct from those of free-coloreds and other Indians. This concern with the mixture of Indian and African blood resonated where Tlaxcalan, Nahua, or other Indian groups enjoyed place- and genealogy-specific tribute privileges. Apan bordered Tlaxcala, making the presence of Tlaxcalans in Almoloya entirely feasible. But to preserve such a status, the complainants reasoned, the Tlaxcalans should have pursued marital unions that preserved a lineage “without degeneration from the class of Indians or mestizos de españoles,” a caste category specifying a Spanish father and an Indian mother. How, wondered the Almoloya petitioners, could people with a publicly reputed line of free-colored ancestors possibly prove a Tlaxcalan genealogy?

The “pure Indians” of Almoloya, as they called themselves in their initial petition and subsequent documents, relied on genealogy to stake their claims. The petitioners upheld proof of ancestry as a prerequisite for exercising privileges, a legal argument favored by Indian elites at the time. The use of the term “degeneración” in the petition drew on an older rhetoric of purity as well as hereditary concepts that would become popular in the nineteenth century. The repeated references to the “mixed nature” and “inferior calidad” of these individuals undermined their authority as caciques. Indeed, cacique status was predicated on publicly regarded and written genealogies. These ideas rested on the genealogical concept of limpieza de sangre, or blood purity, which had risen to prominence as a form of communal memory following mass conversions of Jews in medieval Iberia. In New Spain, limpieza de sangre would evolve to equate genealogical impurity with the presence of African ancestry as well. Pitting the idea of an inferior, mixed, and mulato calidad against Indian purity, the petitioners used the language of genealogy to upend local hierarchies.

The case of Almoloya shows the prominent place genealogy took in disputes involving local privileges, rivalries, and migration from the 1780s to the 1800s. Ordinary people who engaged in those disputes were well aware of it. In Almoloya’s surrounding jurisdiction, between 1781 and 1788 the number of mulato tributaries nearly doubled, while the number of Indian tributaries dropped by 10 percent. On a register made at the end of the year 1800, no caciques were listed at all, though 407 Indians and 21 mulatos were registered as reserved from payment. The Almoloya caciques failed to prove their genealogy and thus became (or had always been, in…

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Silencing Race: Disentangling Blackness, Colonialism, and National Identities in Puerto Rico by Ileana Rodríguez-Silva (review)

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, United States on 2015-12-23 00:58Z by Steven

Silencing Race: Disentangling Blackness, Colonialism, and National Identities in Puerto Rico by Ileana Rodríguez-Silva (review)

The Americas
Volume 72, Number 4, October 2015
pages 655-657

Isar Godreau, Researcher
Interdisciplinary Research Institute
University of Puerto Rico, Cayey

Rodríguez-Silva, Ileana M., Silencing Race: Disentangling Blackness, Colonialism, and National Identities in Puerto Rico (London, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

In Silencing Race, Ileana Rodríguez offers a much-needed historical exploration of the silences about “race” embedded in political and public discourses about Puerto Rico. The book is divided in two parts that cover the years from 1870 to 1910. The first part is dedicated to the later years of the Spanish colonial regime, the second to the first years under US colonial rule. Rodríguez-Silva demonstrates how different class and political interests during both these periods converged to subordinate the issue of racial inequality to issues of class and national identity. She argues that class, not race, became the key category through which demands for rights and political participation were made and recognizes the varying perspectives of creole elites, former slaves, union organizers, politicians, and US labor unions. The author also explains the historical conditions that supported such silencing of racial issues and demonstrates why voicing a racialized sense of self or denouncing racism had complex and multifaceted political consequences. On the one hand, politicians sought to gain the electoral support of the predominantly black and expanding labor movement. Aware as they were of the close relationship between race and class, they often accused political rivals of being racist for not attending to workers, needs for economic uplift and equity. On the other hand, blackness and associated popular expressions of poor working-class folk were considered backward by the criollo leadership, who also limited participation of black males in party decisions.

Rodríguez-Silva argues further that a politicized black identity was associated with unrest and the anticolonial movements that had taken place in Haiti and the rest of the Caribbean, including Cuba with its 1912 race war and massacre against the black members of the Partido Independiente de Color. Explicit debates about racism were also inconvenient for political elites who wanted to project themselves to metropolitan authorities as illustrious men in charge of a multiracial society free of racial conflict. During the years of Spanish colonialism, evading the issue of racism and making claims to racial harmony proved Puerto Ricans’ capacity to renegotiate the relationship with Spain as equals (not as separatists).

Undermining racial conflict was also important for maintaining key political alliances between white criollos, artisans, and the working class. As a US colony, making claims to racial harmony proved the local elite’s capacity to negotiate the colonial relationship with the racially segregated United States. An explicit racialized discourse also stood at odds with US colonial representatives with whom annexationists, socialists, and labor union leaders were trying to negotiate better wages, employment opportunities, legal protection, and US citizenship. Hence, Rodríguez-Silva shows how, despite major ideological and class differences, politicians, intellectuals, and labor organizers sought to deracialize their politics. The book explores the silence around issues of race and racial inequality across various geographical areas, but offers the most substantive material on Ponce, its political parties, artisans’ associations, regional publications, and other aspects of public life.

The book’s introduction provides a sophisticated analysis of the role of silence in these processes. The author theorizes silence as the attempt to shape or prevent racial talk as a strategy and tool of oppression, but also as a strategy of the oppressed for survival. She persuasively argues that silence also communicates. However, defining what exactly is being silenced in the historical sources analyzed or defining her expectations for “noise” could have improved the analysis. For Rodríguez-Silva, “noise” (or the opposite of silence) seems to mean the explicit discourses that condemn racism, draw attention to Puerto Rican blackness, or call for organizing around a racialized subjectivity. Yet “race” can also encompass whiteness, whitening, racial harmony, racial mixture, or euphemisms such as “de color.”

These terms do not necessarily represent a silencing of race, but they do imply a silencing of some specific formulations of race, for example, black identity. As such, they can be understood as a deployment of race to silence other specific formulations of race. This unspoken notion of “race talk” or “racial noise” makes the overall theoretical argument about silencing less focused than one would like. It also presents what is being suppressed as an inherently “natural” thing that exists out…

Read the entire review here.

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Creole Renegades: Rhetoric of Betrayal and Guilt in the Caribbean Diaspora by Bénédicte Boisseron (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing on 2015-12-10 21:43Z by Steven

Creole Renegades: Rhetoric of Betrayal and Guilt in the Caribbean Diaspora by Bénédicte Boisseron (review)

The Americas
Volume 72, Number 4, October 2015
pages 661-664

John Patrick Walsh, Assistant Professor of French
University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

In this outstanding book, Bénédicte Boisseron challenges received ideas on Caribbean literature and critical paradigms that have sedimented around them. Organized around individual trajectories and texts of “second-generation” Caribbean diasporic writers, the book argues that these authors resist the cultural obligation to Caribbeanness that enjoined an earlier generation to “write back” to the metropolitan center from the peripheral spaces of empire. Boisseron eschews this historical binarism in order to call attention to writers who have pulled up stakes from a “home” that has become a “new center” (p. 7). The oppositional stance they adopt is marked by less by political engagement, Boisseron contends, than by the desire to explore personal stories. The rejection of prescribed identities makes them “renegades.”

Boisseron anchors her use of “renegade” in C. L. R. James’s Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways, the study of Melville that calls attention to Ahab’s crew of isolatoes, or those “living on a separate continent of [their] own” (p. 8). Throughout, Boisseron moves between textual analysis and biography to frame the renegade as one who questions allegiance to the Caribbean. As the book unfolds, “renegade” shifts meaning according to the writer’s particular form of defection. Therefore, it becomes an umbrella term that encompasses the itineraries in question.

By arguing that local spaces of the Caribbean have developed their own centripetal power, Boisseron suggests that the so-called global turn of literary studies still has a way to go to break free of the colonial legacy of center and periphery. Boisseron draws on numerous schools of thought, from diaspora studies and postcolonial theory, to psychoanalysis and deconstruction, and her ability to distill a range of ideas is evidence that European theoretical models take on new life in the location of their translation. The book thus performs the very “decentering” of authority that it underscores as the hallmark of second-generation Caribbean writers.

The five chapters make for an engaging read. The clarity and consistency of Boisseron’s prose, and the balance it achieves between historical overview and close reading, make it suitable for both experts in the field and students new to these texts. The first chapter, “Anatole Broyard: Racial Betrayal and the Art of Being Creole,” explores the phenomenon of racial passing as an exemplary act of being Creole. In contrast to the book’s generally extensive use of primary written sources, this chapter is largely a study of the life of the long-time literary critic, including the biography penned by his daughter, Bliss Broyard, and the posthumous “outing” of Broyard by Henry Louis Gates Jr. For Boisseron, “the incompleteness of kinship is what makes the Creole, just like the passing subject, a born renegade” (p. 51).

Chapter 2, “Maryse Condé’s Histoire de la femme cannibale: Coming Out in the French Caribbean,” foregrounds Condé’s refusal to adhere to the critical norms of Postcolonial Studies. “Because she resists, while seemingly adopting, the postcolonial trend,” Boisseron writes, “Condé is strictly speaking a postcolonial renegade, or a ‘postcolonial antipostcolonial’” (p. 58). Condé’s most significant betrayal of Caribbean sensibilities is her portrayal of the macoumé, or the Creole term that refers to an unsayable homosexuality through its association with “the source of gossip (commère)” (p. 68). The trope of “coming out,” Boisseron concludes, “revealing the covert presence of Creole homosexuality, allows Condé to break open the walls of sedentariness in the French Antilles” (p. 85). Given the enormous critical attention to Condé, the originality of Boisseron’s reading is a rare feat.

Chapter 3, “Parasitic and Remittance Diaspora’” turns to two writers of the Haitian dyaspora, Edwidge Danticat and Dany Laferrière. The conflict between the perception of resident writers and those on the outside is a complicated issue that owes to a rigid idea of geographic and affective borders. In an arguably cynical approach, Boisseron describes the texts of Danticat and Laferrière as “an uncertain mixture of opportunism . . . and remittance,” or a kind of cultural repayment that the expatriate makes to the native country (p. 128). Yet her close readings betray a more nuanced way of thinking about the texts of these immigrant artists.

Chapter 4, “V. S. Naipaul and Jamaica Kincaid: Rhetoric…

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The Disappearing Mestizo: Configuring Difference in the Colonial New Kingdom of Granada by Joanne Rappaport (review) [von Germeten]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2015-03-25 14:59Z by Steven

The Disappearing Mestizo: Configuring Difference in the Colonial New Kingdom of Granada by Joanne Rappaport (review) [von Germeten]

The Americas
Volume 72, Number 1, January 2015
pages 159-160

Nicole von Germeten, Associate Professor of History
Oregon State University

Rappaport, Joanne, The Disappearing Mestizo: Configuring Difference in the Colonial New Kingdom of Granada (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014).

Joanne Rappaport argues that even in the seventeenth-century classic satire known as El Carnero, set in what is now Colombia, the main character avoids identification as a mestiza, demonstrating the disappearing elusiveness of this term. The fact that readers cannot be sure if Inés de Hinojosa’s mother was or was not an indigenous woman brings directly to life the point Rappaport explores throughout her book. Subjects of the Spanish crown living in the sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and even eighteenth-century New Kingdom of Granada avoided categorization as mestizo when it suited them, although they sometimes took on the label if it seemed expedient at a particular moment. Rappaport effectively proves that identification as mestizo, mulatto, or even the more basic categories of Spanish, Indian, and black, does not equate to a stable, genetic, or genealogical “race” in the modern sense of the word. These categories are beyond fluid or malleable, the common explanation for why one individual might receive several different “racial” identifications during their lifespan.

Rappaport suggests instead that, at least in the New Kingdom of Granada, terms such as mestizo and mulatto do not necessarily represent an easily definable or cohesive group of individuals. In other words, regardless of what a person might call him or herself, or “pass” as within the Spanish world, we cannot hope to ascertain their “real race” from such a limited term, within this particular historical context. The designation of mestizo especially represents nothing other than an allusion, because this category did not carry a specific legal status or set of privileges within Spanish law. Therefore, students and scholars who wish to understand personal identity and society in the Spanish American viceroyalties must set aside our modern obsession with race as a simple unchanging way to categorize human beings. In fact, calidad, a broad range of attributes including stage of life, gender, occupation, personal wealth, spousal choice, place of residence, domestic setting, literacy, speech patterns, and style of dress, may have held more weight than what we call “race.”

Rappoport supports these arguments with ethnographic explorations of several suggestive case studies, in a far more effective and readable style than would be provided by the tiresome citation of innumerable confusing examples, or even worse statistical analysis. At the end of the book, the reader actually remembers the individuals under discussion and feels a sense of knowing them as well as possible and understanding how their life experiences elucidate why mestizos represent a “disappearing” category. Rappaport’s analytical narratives include individuals sometimes classed as mestizos, but otherwise known as a duped doncella, a politically engaged cacique, an adulterous widow, a frustrated, blustering upwardly mobile Bogotá alderman, a man who just wants to stay with his family and friends in an indigenous village, and even the stereotypical abusive, rabble-rousing mulatto. Rappaport also takes a look at the physical descriptions contained in casa de la contratación travel documents, the early modern version of passport photos, expressed in standardized verbiage describing hair texture, skin tone, and most importantly, beards. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the most common color used to describe Spanish skin was brown [moreno].

This book corrects simplistic ideas about the timelessness of racial categorization, even including previous efforts to historicize the alleged “hardening” of race designations in the eighteenth century. Rappaport makes an excellent point that historians of other parts of Spanish America should not assume the sistema de castas applied beyond New Spain, although it is even doubtful that it works as an analytical framework there. Even if Bourbon reformers attempted to “harden” racial lines or put a “caste system” into effect, scholars who spend their time in archives already know the need to question the effectiveness of these efforts. This book offers an important contribution to the historiography of Spanish rule in the Americas, and might even challenge and complicate undergraduate thinking on race. Understanding the history of the Spanish viceroyalties demands mental flexibility, and this book does an essential job of exposing where, through lazy thinking, we still hold onto rigid, anachronistic interpretations…

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Making the Mexican Diabetic: Race, Science, and the Genetics of Inequality by Michael J. Montoya (review) [Wentzell]

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, United States on 2014-09-29 21:17Z by Steven

Making the Mexican Diabetic: Race, Science, and the Genetics of Inequality by Michael J. Montoya (review) [Wentzell]

The Americas
Volume 71, Number 1, July 2014
pages 179-181
DOI: 10.1353/tam.2014.0105

Emily Wentzell, Assistant Professor of Anthropology
University of Iowa

Montoya, Michael J., Making the Mexican Diabetic: Race, Science, and the Genetics of Inequality (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011)

Michael J. Montoya investigates U.S.-based genetic research and discourse asserting Mexican-American susceptibility to type 2 diabetes, to reveal “the role of genetic research in the persistent use of race to divide populations in society at large” (p. 12). Montoya makes the importance of this project clear, situating it in a sociocultural context where genetics suffuse our understandings of humanness, identity, and sickness, and where folk taxonomies of race—which Montoya understands as embodiments of group-based oppression—are simultaneously contested and enduring. His chapters follow blood samples and their use from donation, though abstraction into datasets and analyses, to market and the popular cultural deployment of the scientific claims they generate. Montoya reveals how each of these moments entails the construction of scientific objects, including the recasting of borderlands residents who cannot afford healthcare as humanist donors, the elision of folk taxonomies of race into bodily attributes on the population level, and the construction of “the Mexican American population” as a homogenously admixed ethno-racial group. These chapters also illustrate the process of what Montoya terms “bioethnic conscription,” in which “ethnicity comes to be construed as meaningful for scientific research,” supporting genetic or clinical claims (p. 26) and obscuring the social origins of human difference and sickness. Overall, this book reveals how broader contexts of oppression lead well-meaning researchers to further the biologization of inequality into ethno-racial categories, which pathologize and homogenize the oppressed while obscuring the material causes of sickness.

This work builds on the best foundations from anthropology and STS, wedding attention to the co-construction of society and science with an anthropological eye to material and social realities. Montoya’s resistance to dualities when investigating science-race relationships is at the same time a resistance to reductionist traditions. Avoiding oppositions between biology and society, he productively frames biology as part of society to understand how embodied inequality can come to look like racial disease susceptibility, and how broader social phenomena, like the existence of racial labels, filter into biological research.

He similarly complicates debates about the use of race in science. Pointing out that scientists are themselves wary of naturalizing race, Montoya sees that simply identifying their failures is a dead end. Instead, he investigates how even those seeking to avoid biologizing folk taxonomies of race participate in broader cultural assemblages that reinforce them. His claims draw authority from his impressive engagement with scientific practice and fluency in the language of genetics, which enable him to avoid critiquing a scientific straw man.

Such analysis draws on remarkable ethnography. Montoya conducted extensive participant observation in multiple sites of an international diabetes research consortium. This research yields data on geneticists’ daily practice in offices in Chicago, DNA sample collection along the U.S.-Mexico border, and diabetes research conferences, as well as the resulting documents such as grant proposals. Linking rich ethnography with equally rich analysis, Montoya shows readers how interactions in these sites illustrate widely varying uses and even critiques of ideas of race which ultimately, because of broader social forces, revivify ideas of human difference that perpetuate inequality. Montoya clearly situates himself in the work, discussing his intellectual and social background and its relationship to the development of his project; graduate students designing their own fieldwork will find this instructive.

This book is a must-read for scholars seeking an ethnographically grounded yet highly theoretical read on science, sickness, race and Mexicanness. It reveals relationships between race, science, and context that should be widely understood, and Montoya expresses hope that a broadly interdisciplinary readership might apply these insights. However, this aim of applicability might be thwarted by the book’s impressive but dizzying linkage of analyses to relevant theories from multiple disciplines, as well as its inclusion (especially in the introduction) of rafts of provocative questions that will not be explicitly answered. Somewhat ironically, given Montoya’s engaging discussion of a geneticist critiquing an ethnography of science’s emphasis on “philosophy shit” (p. 128), this work uses high-level theory in a way that will excite social scientists but overwhelm others. While excerpts (especially the engaging sections analyzing rich ethnography) would be useful for undergraduate classes on medical and cultural anthropology, race…

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Notaries of Color in Colonial Panama: Limpieza de Sangre, Legislation, and Imperial Practices in the Administration of the Spanish Empire

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Law, Media Archive on 2014-09-29 19:57Z by Steven

Notaries of Color in Colonial Panama: Limpieza de Sangre, Legislation, and Imperial Practices in the Administration of the Spanish Empire

The Americas
Volume 71, Number 1, July 2014
pages 37-69
DOI: 10.1353/tam.2014.0082

Silvia Espelt-Bombín
University of St Andrews, United Kingdom

On July 20, 1740, King Philip V of Spain was given paperwork regarding a dispute over the adjudication of a notarial office in Panama City and, as usual, he was expected to make a decision. The king also had in hand recommendations from the Cámara of the Consejo de Indias. The king would have handled the case in a relatively straightforward manner, but for one fact—the two notaries involved in the public bid were of African descent.

The notarial office (escribano público y del número) in question had been auctioned to Francisco Garcia y Robles, a white notary, for 1,525 pesos. A man named Jorge Geronimo Perez had also bid for it but lost, and was appealing the auction results on the grounds that the former owner of the notarial office had handed it over to him when the latter resigned. In addition, Perez argued, his long career in notarial service, including a time as assistant in the office of a notary, demonstrated his suitability for the post. To better assess his claim, the local authorities had required Perez to present documentation of his fiat (title of notary) and the dispensation of his defecto (defect), a document that stated he was of African descent—his grandmother was a mulata. However, Perez did not comply, and the case was forwarded to Spain. There, the Cámara and the king encountered a complication: the notary who had certified the auction was Joseph de Avellaneda, himself of African descent. To resolve the conflict, Philip issued a decree requesting that the two notaries of color present their fiats and dispensas de color o calidad (dispensations of color or calidad), both issued by the king, to the audiencia of Panama. If either refused to obey, he would be prevented from continuing to exercise his occupation. The decree also stated that the audiencia should not allow any mestizo or mulato to use the title of notary unless the king had provided him with an exemption for his defecto.

This case highlights the existence of a seemingly contradictory reality. Although official imperial legislation prohibited notary positions to people of African descent, the monarchs and the Consejo de Indias—and not so infrequently—granted them individual dispensas to work as notaries and to own notarial offices. The case before Philip V did not represent an isolated incident. I have identified 42 individuals of African descent who worked as notaries in Panama between the early seventeenth century and the 1810s, and frequently they owned notarial offices as well. These 42 cases demonstrate the existence of an imperial practice that started with the Habsburg monarchs and developed under the Bourbons. I argue that this practice needs to be understood within Spain’s policy of flexible legislation, which allowed for adaptations to maintain its empire. It evidences an accommodative approach on the part of metropolitan authorities to the changing social reality in the Spanish-American colonies. The practice would ultimately be made official with the late-eighteenth century gracias al sacar decrees.

In undertaking a quantitative and qualitative analysis of notaries of African descent in Panama over two centuries, this article engages with and contributes to four main lines of research in early-modern Latin American history: the role of notaries, the importance of limpieza de sangre and calidad in Spanish America, the workings of the administration of the Spanish territories, and the experience of free people of African descent. In my analysis, I question the predominant historiography that supports the notion that notaries were of Spanish descent, and maintains that African descendants were allowed to become notaries only through a combination of the crown’s economic need and a lack of interest in the occupation on the part of whites or Spaniards. I also question the suggestion that this permission was granted in significant numbers only in moments of crisis, or when there were difficulties in finding suitable candidates to occupy the posts, mostly from the early eighteenth century onward. The research I present here clearly establishes that people of color became notaries from the early seventeenth century. Even though greater public revenue might have been increasingly important in the late early-modern period, it…

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Assumed Identities: The Meanings of Race in the Atlantic World by John D. Garrigus and Christopher Morris (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive on 2013-04-02 23:52Z by Steven

Assumed Identities: The Meanings of Race in the Atlantic World by John D. Garrigus and Christopher Morris (review)

The Americas
Volume 69, Number 4, April 2013
pages 532-533
DOI: 10.1353/tam.2013.0017

James Sidbury, Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Professor of Humanities
Rice University

John D. Garrigus and Christopher Morris, eds., Assumed Identities: The Meanings of Race in the Atlantic World (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2007)

This anthology of six essays on the complicated and sometimes surprising nature of black and white racial identities in the Atlantic region prior to the age of emancipation grew out of the 2007 Webb Memorial Lectures at the University of Texas at Arlington. The collection begins with an introductory essay in which Franklin W. Knight provides a broad and insightful overview of the meanings of race in different parts of the Americas, both historically and today. That is followed by four case studies that range from North America to the Caribbean to Brazil. The volume closes with an essay by Rebecca J. Scott and Jean M. Hébrard that traces a family’s odyssey as they moved from colonial Saint-Domingue to Cuba, then to Louisiana, then to Europe, and then back to Louisiana, before finally returning to Europe. The other essays do not touch on as many locales, but they match Scott and Hébrard in their complex portrayals of the ways various black and white people in the Americas conceived of racial difference and the ways in which people of African descent worked within those conceptions to build their lives.

Two case studies explore Anglo-American racial thought. Rebecca Goetz, taking a fresh look at seventeenth-century Virginia, argues that the Englishmen who settled there came to believe that Africans and Indians lacked the capacity for true Christian belief, and whites used this belief to explain enslaving and dispossessing them. “By questioning the ability of Africans to become Christian, settlers defined both their own religious and cultural identity” and that of their racial others (p. 65). Trevor Burnard explores the demands of Anglo-Caribbeans to establish their standing as good and respectable Englishmen. As previous scholars have noted, they failed, but Burnard argues that their failure has less to do with the libertinage for which they were famous (there being metropolitans who openly sympathized with libertine values) than with their admitted attraction to African women. Those in the metropole “suspected that white West Indians’ constant intercourse with Africans . . . was turning them from ‘proper’ white people into black people” (p. 79), a perception exacerbated by the belief that white women in the islands behaved too much like black women. “Whiteness was endangered by the dereliction of gender rules” (p. 84).

The other case studies center on people of African descent. John Garrigus digs beneath the myths that have surrounded Vincent Ogé, the homme de couleur who was tortured and executed in Saint-Domingue for allegedly trying to foment a rebellion prior to the 1791 uprising in the northern plain. Garrigus upends the received narrative of this famous incident, showing that Ogé probably did not want to lead a prolonged uprising, but that he sought instead to rally the free colored militia to take advantage of the ties between militia service and citizenship that were emerging in the metropole. Sidney Chalhoub shows how Brazilian planters used the 1831 law that putatively prohibited the Atlantic slave trade to their own advantage, creating a system in which they could easily seize and enslave free black Brazilians. But black Brazilians also used the law and assumptions of “natural” black slavery that emerged out of it to avoid military service, seek less brutal masters, and finally, after 1851, to contest slavery. Neither the law itself nor the legal regime that arose out of its evasion operated in a simple or straightforward manner. Scott and Hébrard provide an overview of the complicated transatlantic genealogy that they have reconstructed for the children of “Rosalie of the Poulard Nation,” an enslaved African who achieved freedom in southern Saint-Domingue on the eve of the Haitian Revolution. Her grandson became a Reconstruction-era Louisiana legislator and fought for racial and gender equality. That battle was rooted in his family’s history.

These essays, as Franklin Knight points out, underscore that the development of racial identities in the Americas was “a complicated process that varied according to time, place, and circumstances,” an understanding that helps to explain…

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“La Negrita,” Queen of the Ticos: The Black Roots of Costa Rica’s Patron Saint

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Religion on 2013-04-02 16:54Z by Steven

“La Negrita,” Queen of the Ticos: The Black Roots of Costa Rica’s Patron Saint

The Americas
Volume 69, Number 3, January 2013
pages 323-355
DOI: 10.1353/tam.2013.0025

Russell Lohse, Assistant Professor of History
Pennsylvania State University

In sharp contrast to her mestizo and mulatto neighbors, Costa Rica is one of a handful of Latin American countries commonly regarded as “white.” For more than a century, national elites and foreign observers alike attributed Costa Rica’s relative political stability, high rate of literacy, and prosperity to the nation’s supposed racial homogeneity. The “Switzerland of Central America” was rarely regarded as part of the African Diaspora, yet people of African descent have been part of Costa Rican society since its colonial beginnings. In fact, the patron saint of Costa Rica has always been depicted as black. Known affectionately as La Negrita, the Virgen de los Angeles is believed to have appeared with a divine mandate of harmony at a remote time when Costa Rica was divided by racial tensions. In the legend of her apparition some have found the key to Costa Rica’s tradition of “rural democracy.”

Many writers have traced Costa Rica’s democratic tradition to the colonial period. In the mid-twentieth century, Carlos Monge Alfaro advanced the classic articulation of the myth of “rural democracy,” an enduring staple of conventional Costa Rican historiography. In his Historia de Costa Rica, read as a textbook by generations of Costa Rican students, Monge Alfaro argued that colonial Costa Rica developed as an egalitarian society of small landholders, unique in Latin America. According to this widely accepted version of national history, colonial Costa Rica remained for centuries an impoverished backwater, neglected by the Spanish Empire. Deep class divisions never emerged because all members of society toiled equally for their meager subsistence. The province’s isolation and chronic poverty forced all of its residents to work with their own hands, for each to make of the situation what he would.

Monge Alfaro and others further contended that colonial Costa Rica was a racially homogeneous society. The racial component of the myth is based on the notion that the few Indians living in Costa Rica at the time of the conquest were peacefully absorbed into Hispanic society, obviating the bloody racial conflicts that plagued other Central American regions. Similarly, the marginalizing character of the subsistence economy precluded the entrenchment of African slavery and the sistema de castas. Spanish peasant immigration accounted for the overwhelming preponderance of the country’s racial stock. Racially homogeneous, Costa Rica was therefore free of racial prejudice and discrimination. The lighter complexion of the population and the absence of racial tension made Costa Rica resemble a tranquil European country more than its Central American neighbors. Racial homogeneity predisposed the region to the harmonious coexistence (convivencia) accepted as a national characteristic. More overtly racist ideologues envisioned Costa Rica’s relative political stability, high literacy rate, economic prosperity, and “European” standards of civilization as results of the absence of indigenous and African populations.

But the popular legend of the apparition of the Virgen de los Angeles openly challenges key tenets of the myths of rural democracy and racial homogeneity. The central theme of the legend of the Virgin’s apparition demands recognition not only of Costa Rica’s racial diversity, but of the reality of racial prejudice and discrimination in the nation’s past.

Legend of the Apparition

As the legend has been recounted in the twentieth century, on August 2, 1635, a woman was gathering firewood near her home in Puebla de los Pardos, the segregated district where people of African descent lived on the outskirts of Cartago, the capital of the Spanish province of Costa Rica. On that day she was surprised to find a black stone image of the Virgin Mary and Child perched on a large rock. Elated, she put the small statue in a basket and carried it home. The next day, she returned to the woods for more firewood and there she found an identical image on the same rock. Thinking she had found a secaond statue, she returned home to find, to her surprise, that the image of the day before was gone….

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Indian Lords, Hispanic Gentlemen: The Salazars of Colonial Tlaxcala

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico on 2012-09-16 20:24Z by Steven

Indian Lords, Hispanic Gentlemen: The Salazars of Colonial Tlaxcala

The Americas
Volume 69, Number 1, July 2012
pages 1-36
DOI: 10.1353/tam.2012.0060

Peter B. Villella, Assistant Professor of History
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

In 1773, a Mexico City expert in gold embroidery named don José Mariano Sánchez de Salazar Zitlalpopoca petitioned for a license to operate his own shop and take on apprentices. As handling precious metals was politically and economically sensitive, such professions were by law exclusive, open only to those of proven character, standing, and reputation—qualities understood to be inherited by blood. Thus, to establish his sufficiency for the license don José called forth witnesses to his family’s honor, reputation, and good lineage.

Genealogical and character investigations were common in the early modern Spanish world, part of the required process for those seeking access to elite institutions and associations. Among other indicators of high social status, aspirants often cited noble ancestors in Spain, both real and invented, as proof of their blood quality. Yet don José was not Spanish and could not credibly establish such a pedigree. Instead, he hired a scribe in the primarily Nahuatl-speaking city of Tlaxcala, east of Mexico City, to consult its noble registry (becerro) and confirm that he was descended from don Bartolomé Citlalpopoca, a Tlaxcalan leader at the time of the Spaniards’ arrival two and a half centuries earlier (Figure 1).

The scribe also reported that subsequent generations of Salazars, up to and including don José’s own brother, had served honorably with the Tlaxcalan cabildo, or municipal governing council. Finally, lest his indigenous origins raise suspicions among Spanish officials, the petitioner also submitted copies of royal decrees explicitly equating the legal status and rights of caciques, the hereditary lords in America’s native communities, with those of Spain’s hidalgos, gentlemen who enjoyed the privileges of minor nobility. “I am a cacique,” don José concluded, and “caciques are . . . eligible for all the ecclesiastical and secular employments and dignities customarily conferred upon the hidalgos of Castile, and can participate in any communities that require nobility.” Satisfied, the overseer confirmed that don José was indeed “a cacique Indian of the Tlaxcaltecos,” and, following a successful practical examination, the viceroy certified him as a master goldworker. Ironically, upon conferring his new rights, they required him to swear that he would never accept non-Spanish apprentices.

Don José was not the first of his family to find success in a social and professional realm normally reserved for Spaniards and creoles (American-born Spaniards). Nor was he the first cacique to gain access to the privileges of Spanish hidalgos, which was not entirely unusual by the end of the eighteenth century. Yet the Salazars of Tlaxcala stand out, inasmuch as their participation in the elite institutions of New Spain did not entirely replace the political offices they held and the historical identities they proclaimed as Tlaxcalan aristocrats. That is, they were not creoles boasting (as some did) of distant and mostly abstract cacica great-grandmothers. Rather, they were both caciques and hidalgos, performing each role simultaneously: Nahua nobles living as Novohispanic gentlemen, Tlaxcalan aristocrats wielding intellectual, political, and legal authority within the Spanish empire.

The Salazars belonged to a handful of families in central Mexico that had managed to escape the general decline of the Mesoamerican hereditary elite by the eighteenth century. The late-colonial plight of the indigenous nobility was such that in…

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