Contested Spaces and Masculinity in Colonial Mexico

Friday, January 3, 2014: 10:50 AM
Congressional Room B (Omni Shoreham)
Sonya Lipsett-Rivera, Carleton University
Recent works by Alejandro Cañeque, Linda Curcio-Nagy and others demonstrate how the rules of hierarchy dictated how elite Mexicans behaved in various spaces and within the ranking system that prevailed. Thus we know that officials fought over the right to sit on velvet cushions at mass and struggled over the table of precedence. But, how did plebeian men define the spaces in which they interacted with each other? Because there are no formal etiquette manuals for lower-ranked men, we must infer good conduct from the reported breaches of plebeian decorum that make their way into court cases.  Men were not constrained in the way that most women were and thus the spaces in which they operated were far-ranging and diverse.  Lower class men, in particular, often worked outdoors in town and country. There they needed to protect their rights and often this meant clashes over spatial designations. In the small town of Coyoacán in 1807, for example, two groups of men engaged in a street battle because one group did not want the other to walk by.  Men clashed over the control of space in many ways as they tried to maintain their dignity in a colonial society that privileged rank to great extremes. Plebeian men were humiliated when others invaded their houses at night, when a man on horseback intimidated them and refused to dismount, or when, another insisted on sitting in their presence while they stood. All these unwritten rules provide a framework to elaborate how plebeian Mexican men imagined space and why they contested other men’s use of space.  I analyze court cases to illuminate the unwritten spatial rules that governed the lives of plebeian men. This exploration will provide a partial picture of the ways in which heterosexual masculinity was constructed in colonial Mexico.