Categories of Distinction: Constructing Social Identities in Colonial Oaxaca, 16701730

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 3:30 PM
Salon 1 (Palmer House Hilton)
Sabrina Smith, University of California, Merced
This paper examines the construction and use of racial categories among African descent women in colonial Oaxaca. I argue that while racial categorization became more complex in seventeenth-century New Spain, this change remained an elite construction with some influence on the daily lives of African descent people in Oaxaca City. Moreover, I argue that free and enslaved women of African descent found ways to negotiate or secure their position in the changing social landscape of Oaxaca City.

Socio-economic changes of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries created a diverse society in Oaxaca City, which was a provincial city connected to other areas of New Spain, and even Guatemala. Major changes during this period included a dramatic increase in the city’s population, a rising prominence of free African descendants, and accordingly, the development of new social relations. By analyzing judicial sources, this paper examines the extent to which elite constructions of race shaped the everyday lives of African descent people living in a diverse urban center like Oaxaca City. By focusing on African descent women, this paper suggests that women and men from various castas negotiated and affirmed their position in the changing social hierarchies of Oaxaca City. Thus, this paper advances our understanding of colonial categorization and the experience of African descent people in colonial Latin America beyond the scope of large urban centers and the institution of slavery.

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