Knowledge about captivity in the Muslim world played a role in everyday interactions between Spaniards and indigenous peoples in the so-called frontier regions of Spanish America. During the 1530s, Spaniards brought interpreters to northern New Spain, some of whom were Moriscos or North African Muslims who were conversant in Arabic dialects. Multiple linguistic skills and perceived facility with languages made these individuals seem like attractive candidates for learning Nahuatl and accompanying early expeditions to New Galicia. The North African slave Estebanico, who accompanied Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, is perhaps the best known of these individuals, but lesser-known cases shed light on early encounters between Spaniards and semi-nomadic indigenous groups. My paper explores how memories and lived experiences of Muslim-Christian relations in the Mediterranean world informed ethnic and linguistic encounters in northern New Spain.
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