Color, Status, and the Discourse of Public Rights in Eighteenth-Century Lima, Peru

Saturday, January 9, 2010: 9:20 AM
Manchester Ballroom F (Hyatt)
Tamara J. Walker , University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
In 1790, a man named Don Francisco Antonio Solórzano filed criminal charges against an African woman named Maria Mercedes, for physically attacking him and leaving a scar on his face. The language of the complaint reflected Solórzano’s preoccupation with the question of status: despite his many references to the color and clase of the accused, Solórzano made no specific reference to his own racial background.  Instead, he used the vague referent of “a person of distinction” to describe himself.    Moreover, he combined his private claim to be protected against aggression and insolence with an assertion that, given the public nature of the attack, a “public right” was also at stake.
While this document referenced a violent altercation, other criminal records of this nature generally complained of verbal insults suffered at the hands of presumed social inferiors. Despite their differences, these records often shared key features: in addition to offended parties’ complaints about public humiliation, the alleged offenders (often slaves and free castas) also spoke to their own sense of injury. Using Solórzano’s 1790 complaint as a point of entry, this paper will explore the discourse of public rights in late-colonial Lima, showing that, however certain individuals had come to believe in their elevated social status, they also encountered folks who were not necessarily willing to cede to it.