In Breach of Faith: Identity Politics at the Frontier of New Spain

Thursday, January 3, 2019: 2:10 PM
Continental A (Hilton Chicago)
Nicholas Myers, Cornell University
On November 30th, 1772, near Ciudad Chihuahua, eight individuals were killed by a party appearing to be Apache Indians. Witnesses, however, identified Phelipe Tapaderas, a Tarahumara, among the perpetrators. A widening investigation would lead to the discovery of “numerous gangs of Tarahumara, Topio, and Tepehuan Indians, also mulatos, coyotes, mestizos and other races of idle, lost, and vagabond peoples” passing as Apache and living concealed in nearby mountains. Mixed race exilic communities in colonial Nueva Vizcaya had previously been categorized, racially and legally, as “barbarians” or “enemy Indians.” Tapaderas’ testimony, however, upset this racial-political binary. Raiding mestizos, afro-mestizos, and incorporated Indians (Indios mansos or Indios amigos) were now infidentes – people of bad faith, traitors.

This rhetorical switch had material consequences. No longer subject to carrot-and-stick policies of appeasement and military persecution, treasonous infidentes were subject to local magistrates, imprisonment, and forced labor. This paper explores the concept of treason as it served to police a racial order essential to state power and legitimacy in colonial New Spain. Particular groups, labelled as enemies or barbarians, were designated beyond the colonial fold. As such, their refusal of state bureaucratic and military hegemony functioned rhetorically to buoy the legitimacy of colonial rule. Violent resistance among ethnicities such as Apache, Comanche, and Seri became the natural state of unincorporated people, a rhetorical sleight of hand evident the ubiquitous use of the moniker bárbaro. Identical forms of resistance among incorporated peoples, however, challenged both this moral rationalization of colonialism (conquest as peace) and the continued complacency of a labor pool vital to the colonial economy. Within this problematic, the charge of treason functioned, ironically, as a means of inclusion, re-asserting the incorporated status of particular groups and rendering political actions criminal.