Nahua Mexico City: Bilingualism, Households, and Community in the Viceregal Capital, 1700–1806

Friday, January 6, 2012: 2:50 PM
Huron Room (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Margarita R. Ochoa, Loyola Marymount University
What is the impact of urban life on indigenous communities?  Colonial Spanish America, a place and period marked by cities with large native and ethno-racially diverse populations, provides a unique opportunity to study the impact of the urban environment on the development of ethnic identities, gender norms, and linguistic structures. Capital cities, in particular, serve as ideal sites to study the relationship between legal infrastructures and practices, on the one hand, and gender relations, issues of identity, and bilingualism, on the other; administrative centers contained all the representatives of institutional authority as well as the most complex ethnic and social populations in colonial Latin America. Mexico City, the most important city in Spanish America, served as the center of a vibrant political, ecclesiastic, social, legal, and economic network connecting it to even the most remote areas of present-day North and Central America. Through work with a new and unexamined corpus of sixty-two Nahuatl (indigenous language) last wills and testaments, written from 1692-1806, that I have found and collected over the last few years in the National Archive in Mexico City, this paper presents an examination of urban Nahua (ethnic group of central Mexico) households and communities. The presentation of distinctly indigenous practices at the heart of Spanish viceregal rule in America is evidenced via an analysis of gendered and linguistic practices associated with the transmission of properties in late colonial Mexico City.