Puro tlaxcalteca? Ethnic Integrity and Consciousness in Seventeenth-Century Northern New Spain

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 8:50 AM
Chicago Ballroom B (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Leslie S. Offutt, Vassar College
This paper looks at ethnic integrity as the core defining characteristic of a particular Tlaxcalan colony in the northern reaches of New Spain in the mid- to late seventeenth century.  Ethnic purity was essential to San Esteban de Nueva Tlaxcala’s very existence; from its very inception in 1591 the pueblo existed as an integral unit physically separated from both the neighboring Spanish settlement of Saltillo and from the band peoples to whom Tlaxcalans had been dispatched as civilizing agents.   This paper explores San Esteban’s ostensible ethnic integrity as gauged through an investigation of marriage patterns, and then turns to the matter of ethnic consciousness, the manifestations of the community “consciencia de sí” as evidenced on both the judicial level (through San Esteban’s repeated recourse to its historic privileges granted in 1591) and the mundane (as suggested by community witnessing of marriages and testaments, a practice that continued at least to the end of the seventeenth century).  I argue that San Esteban’s conscious efforts to deploy its vaunted ethnic integrity moments at critical moments in its history is an essential component of its larger struggle to withstand challenges from external forces, notably the increasing pressure from neighboring Saltillo, that sought to undermine the community and lay claim to its resources.