CLAH Presidential Session: Variations in Family Formation in Early Latin America

Conference on Latin American History 17
Friday, January 7, 2011: 9:30 AM-11:30 AM
Empire Room (The Westin Copley Place)
Cynthia Radding, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and president CLAH
Susan Kellogg, University of Houston

Session Abstract

In response to protests surrounding the 2010 AHA/CLAH meetings in San Diego, the CLAH seconded the AHA’s organization of a mini-conference at the 2010 meetings around questions of historical variations in familial and affective relations with a mandate to organize for the 2011 Boston meetings a group of presidential panels around that question and the issue of unprotected labor and  Latin American migration.   This panel has been selected as a CLAH presidential panel for which we seek AHA inclusion. As the title indicates, the panel addresses variations in family formation in early Latin American history.  For this period, we imagine a strongly patriarchal, blood- and lineage-based family.  Yet these papers demonstrate the degree to which the fluidity within the turbulent, on-going conformation of a multi-racial, multi-cultural colonial society based upon hierarchy and exploitation together with the promotion of celibate, single-sex religious institutions contradicted rigid norms and made for a more capacious practice of family.   In this panel, we explore three instances of creative contradiction.  The first involves sexual/gender complexity in both Nahuatl rule and familial organization on the eve of the Spanish Conquest of Mexico.    Based upon early sixteenth century pictorial manuscripts, it challenges our received notions of the neatly heterosexual Nahuatl family.   The second , based on notarial and parish records from the Andean region, examines Spanish/non-elite-indigenous household formation in the wake of the Conquest to show how native women used kinship to transcend various categorizations of indigenous and Spanish servitude and to establish rootedness, connectedness, power, and prestige.  The third looks at family formation within the ubiquitous Catholic convents that provided the social, economic, and spiritual infrastructure of colonial society.   Here we explore the reconstitution within women’s convents of secular, multi-racial, hierarchical, extended families that were, contrary to norms, female-headed.  In male convents, notions of family and patriarchy were less narrowly defined and more multiple and wide-ranging among priests who, unlike the nuns, were not cloistered.