Orphans and Foundlings in the Data Regime of Late Colonial New Spain

Sunday, January 10, 2016: 8:30 AM
Room A704 (Atlanta Marriott Marquis)
Norah Andrews, Northern Arizona University
Spanish colonial legislation concerning orphans and foundlings reveals official attitudes about the collection of information, the obligations of subjecthood, the rise of race, and the importance of family as an organizing unit of society. As data collection increased massively in eighteenth-century Mexico, Bourbon authorities recorded the social connections of people with missing, deceased, or unknown parents. Orphan and foundling statuses did not deter colonial officials from seeking out the ties individuals maintained with people of their own and other castes. In free-colored and Indian communities especially, understanding these relationships could help authorities identify taxpayers, militiamen, or laborers. Documents related to marriage and taxation illustrate some of the strategies and goals of Bourbon administrators as they tracked orphans and foundlings. This paper examines these two categories from the perspective of Bourbon bureaucrats intent on extracting maximum revenues, analyzing and understanding the populace, and establishing patriarchal family structures. The paper also takes into account the views of orphans who presented their social networks and privileges before the courts of late-colonial New Spain. Using the debate among bureaucrats regarding the fiscal and social status of foundlings in the final decade of the eighteenth century, the paper explores the discourses of charity, social danger, and potential profit that guided official decisions regarding children with “unknown parents.” This debate was especially relevant for individuals who were part of the caste system, being neither Indians nor Spaniards. These royal decrees and practices within colonial bureaucracy show orphans and foundlings at the nexus of ongoing colonial debates about prestige and privilege, honor and belonging, and caste and class.
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