Civilizing the Chichimecas: The Crucial Role of Africans, Mulatos, and Indios in New Spain's Frontier

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 8:30 AM
Chicago Ballroom B (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Robert C. Schwaller, University of Kansas
Recent scholarship has begun to emphasize that Spanish Conquests rarely occurred without significant Native American and African contribution. This paper adds to this trend by focusing on the role played by Africans, their descendents, and Native Americans in expanding the borders of New Spain into the region known as the Chichimecas.  The Spanish desire - bordering on necessity - of using African and Native American auxiliaries in their expansion placed those two groups in close and prolonged contact with each other. While these allies were crucial to Spanish efforts at controlling this rural frontier, the close association of African and native gave rise to interethnic families and a prolonged process of socio-racial mixing which produced individuals of mixed Afro-indigenous ancestry generally referred to as mulatos. The ramifications of this dynamic were profoundly important for the racial history of New Spain. Firstly, the close association of Africans and Native Americans undercut the key governing principal of ‘dual republics’ which sought to separate Spaniards and Hispanicized individuals – including Africans – from Native Americans. Secondly, the formation of interethnic families with offspring of Afro-indigenous ancestry began a process of mestizaje which complicated the socio-racial distinctions of the colony. Thirdly, the existence of Afro-indigenous families undercuts the pervasive Spanish notion that Africans routinely abused and dominated Native Americans.  This paper will examine the earliest African and indigenous participants of this dynamic. In particular, readings of viceroyal correspondence, secular treatises on ‘buen gobierno,’ and chronicals can help highlight the frequent association of Africans and native during this process. Additionally, this paper will include a case-study drawn from a criminal investigation in the region to demonstrate the ubiquitous nature of Afro-indigenous families. Ultimately, this paper attempts to refocus scholarly attention on sites of African-indigenous cooperation and away from the more dominant perception of interethnic conflict.
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