Por Su Amor y Lealtad: Afro-Mexican and Indigenous Female Agency in 17th-Century Puebla

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 4:10 PM
Salon 1 (Palmer House Hilton)
Scarlet Leticia Munoz Ramirez, Central Michigan University
This paper seeks to understand the agency that Indigenous, Spanish and Afro-Mexican women had in Puebla and Mexico City, the jobs and roles they fulfilled, their relationships with women from different castes including their employers. Proximity to power can be viewed as proximity to greater autonomy and an Indian free paid worker or even an African slave working as an ordinary domestic servant had better chances to improve their lives than free Indians or Africans or poor Spanish colonists due to their proximity to influential members of society. Domestic slaves in particular often developed close relationships with their masters. Also female workers who established close bonds with the master’s wife had improved chances to gain manumission or financial gain.

I analyze the difficulties and the opportunities that Indigenous and Afro-Mexican women faced in New Spain. These two groups of women suffered a lot of mistreatment as well as emotional and sexual abuse but in many cases as a response to this, they also developed and supported matriarchal alliances amongst themselves. Afro-Mexicans with their Spanish and Creole female master created spaces of negotiation that helped them support each other and protect and support themselves.

The identity of these groups was influenced not only by their ethnicity but also by occupation and the physical spaces they occupied. Nevertheless, for the Afro-Mexican population the opportunities to buy or gain freedom were often limited and indeed almost impossible to achieve. However, the cases in which people were granted their freedom were not only due to the money that they earned to buy their own freedom but rather the relationships that they established with their master. There is particularly a correlation between female slaves and female masters who supported and manumitted their slaves and this bond went beyond racial and ethnic status.

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