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"Mulata, hija de negro y India": Afro-indigenous mulatos in early colonial Mexico.

In July of 1574, a sandal maker named Francisco Granados denounced his wife, Isabel Diaz, for being married twice. In his statement, he described both himself and Isabel as mulatos. However, he qualified her description further by pointing out that she was the daughter of an india. According to his account, the couple had lived as unwed lovers for four years before a near-death illness induced them to marry in Puebla. After their formal marriage in 1572, the couple lived as man and wife for about a year, eventually moving Mexico City. There they lived together for four months before Francisco was arrested for a murder he had committed previously. When he was released, they resumed married life for a few more months in the barrio of San Sebastian. Eventually, another shoemaker, named Parrales, told Francisco that Isabel had another husband. According to Parrales, many years before Isabel had been married to an indio named Pedro. (1) This may or may not have been news to Francisco. According to Isabel's statements, she was reticent to marry Francisco even as he lay in his deathbed because she did not know if her previous husband was still alive. She claimed that Francisco told her that he had heard from a man in Mexico that Pedro had died and that she could freely marry him. Unfortunately for Francisco, other witnesses provided testimony proving Pedro was still alive and that Francisco knew about the prior marriage when he proposed to Isabel. Ultimately, Isabel was convicted of bigamy and Francisco was tried as an accomplice for willfully leading Isabel into heresy.

This case is hardly unique in the events it describes. Mobility, the vicissitudes of life, and personal changes-of-heart led many people to leave spouses and remarry in violation of church law. (2) Nevertheless, this case does provide some tantalizing and unique perspectives on interracial relationships in colonial Mexico. Isabel Diaz is both described as a mulata and the daughter of an india, a description that appears to be contradictory. In most official documentation of the time and in standard definitions into the present, mulato described an individual born to one African and one European parent. (3) In other parts of Latin America and in some official documents, the category of 'zambaigo' or 'zambo' was used to describe individuals of mixed African and indigenous descent. (4) However, this appellation was not incorporated into common usage in Mexico. (5) Yet, Francisco made no mistake in describing his wife as both the daughter of an india and as a mulata; rather, he was using the contemporary definition of mulato which placed individuals of European-African descent and African-indigenous descent within the same socio-racial category. Unfortunately for scholars, most colonial documentation does not provide enough detailed information about non-elite individuals to determine their specific ethnic ancestry. Consequently, although scholars have rioted the occasional usage of mulato to describe individuals of African-Indian descent, few scholars have investigated how this usage might complicate our understanding of the term 'mulatos,' the body of individuals so labeled, or what this might suggest for an understanding of race and casta in the colonial period.

The general tendency in scholarship has been to recognize that some mulatos were of African-indigenous descent while paying little or no attention to how these individuals may have differed from their Afro-European counterparts. (6) Aguirre Beltran's La Poblacion Negra de Mexico was one of the first scholarly works to examine Mexico's African population. While this work notes the presence of Afro-indigenous individuals within the category of 'mulato,' he did not examine the social or cultural context of these individuals nor the exact relationship between Afro-indigenous and Afro-Hispanic mulatos. (7) In Medicina y Magia, Aguirre Beltran placed emphasis on mulatos and mestizos as agents of acculturation between African, indigenous, and European systems of medicine and magic. Yet in this work, his analysis focused more on the exchange and transculturation of medicinal practices rather than the social dynamics which underlay African and indigenous interaction during the colonial period. (8) Even in Race Mixture in the History of Latin America, Mangus Morner devoted few pages to the discussion of colonial African-indigenous unions. Of the contexts which produced such paring he only noted that they "almost always took place outside of wedlock, being usually of a casual character." (9)

In their regional studies, James Lockhart and John Chance provided slightly more detail concerning the interaction of Africans and native peoples. In his examination of sixteenth century Peru, Lockhart was one of the first to note that those born to Africans and native women were given the label of "mulato" because no other term such as "zambo" or "zambaigo" had yet developed. (10) For his part Chance did an excellent job noting the vagaries between an official-administrative racial hierarchy and a "folk" model operating in colonial Oaxaca. (11) This finding is crucially important to the overall argument made here because it highlights that for the bureaucracy one mulato was the same as the next even though to a colonial individual an Afro-Hispanic mulato might be very different than a "mulato medio indio." (12) One of the first scholars to directly tackle the issue of African-indigenous unions was Patrick Carroll in his work on colonial Veracruz. He found that although marriages between Africans and native people were never the most numerous for either group, significant numbers of Africans married native peoples during the seventeenth century. This trend contributed to the increasing ethnic and racial variability in seventeenth and eighteenth century Veracruz. (13) The research presented here seeks to add to the findings of Carroll and others by delineating the factors which facilitated this process across most of sixteenth century New Spain.

More recent works have greatly expanded out knowledge of colonial Afro-Mexicans; nevertheless, the scholarship still has largely skirted the problematic nature of Afro-indigenous offspring and the vagaries within the category of 'mulato.' Scholars such as Ben Vinson, Herman Bennett, Joan Bristol, Nicole von Germeten, and Frank Proctor, have greatly expanded the investigation of Mexico's African past and the lives of colonial Afro-Mexicans. (14) These studies have highlighted the way that Africans and their descendents negotiated with colonial authorities and sought to create spaces for themselves within the complex and ever changing social structure of New Spain. Their emphasis on Afro-Mexicans has helped demonstrate the strong shared experiences, beliefs, and actions of individuals who were classified into a variety of socio-racial categories: negro, mulato, morisco, pardo, zambo, to name the most common. These shared experiences strongly shaped the lives of these individuals and these works demonstrate that Afro-Mexicans and their actions profoundly shaped colonial society.

A downside to studying Afro-Mexicans as a group is that differences between individuals of slightly different ancestry or individuals of different categories may be overlooked in the pursuit of shared experiences. While socio-racial labels were constantly mediated and very often fluid, (15) the possibility exists that these labels may have reflected subtle differences between individuals of African ancestry. That is to say that while individuals labeled negro and mulato may have had very similar experiences, beliefs, and lifestyles, we cannot assume that there were no important cultural or social differences between them. With this caveat in mind, this article seeks to demonstrate that even within one socio-racial term, mulato, there could exist a wide variety of lived experience.

This article will take a two-fold approach to exploring the historical development of Afro-indigenous mulatos. (16) Firstly, it will provide an analytical explanation of how Africans and native peoples found themselves in locations in which facilitated unions between the two groups. This analysis focuses primarily on the political and economic development of New Spain, but the broader trends of Spanish conquest and colonialism insured that similar patterns were repeated elsewhere in the Americas. Additionally this section will re-evaluate the relative size of Afro-indigenous mulatos within colonial Mexican society. Secondly, this work will examine several inquisition cases involving Afro-indigenous defendants in order to explore their unique lifestyle and place within colonial society. This analysis seeks to go beyond a simple delineation of the lives and experiences of individual mulatos by refocusing scholarly attention on the colonial meaning of "mulato." By doing so this research highlights the ways in which the colonial categorization of difference continues to homogenize individuals and minimize the perception of diversity among colonial subjects.

The Early Colonial Crucible

The growth of an Afro-indigenous mulato population can be correlated in large part with the economic and political development of New Spain during the early sixteenth century. While Spaniards did not attempt to foster African-indigenous unions (in fact they sought much the opposite), (17) the means by which Spaniards chose to develop their American colonies placed Africans and indigenous people into close proximity. This spatial proximity and the economic niches occupied by both groups insured that cross-cultural unions could occur. While the urban and rural settings of the colony developed differently, in both areas Africans and natives found themselves side-by-side as Spanish entrepreneurs and officials sought to mobilize their labor.

In his article "Black Conquistadors," Matthew Restall examines the multiple ways in which Africans were incorporated into the process of conquest from the sixteenth century until the eighteenth century. (18) In particular he noted that early Africans brought into the colonies can be placed into three overlapping categories: mass slave, unarmed auxiliary, and armed auxiliary. Although more typical of the African experience in later periods, mass slave importation began relatively quickly as Spaniards began importing Africans to replace native labor in the Caribbean. (19) Nevertheless, during the conquest era, many Africans aided the Spanish by taking up arms in the campaigns. Certainly, for many Africans this decision was based in self-preservation. As forced immigrants these early Africans did not generally have the choice of avoiding combat, and by taking up arms they probably hoped to improve their own chances of survival and possibly improve their position through service to their masters and the crown. Restall also notes that the use of Africans began in the Caribbean context and like many other Spanish conquest tactics was transferred and expanded upon with the move from the Caribbean to the mainland. (20) James Lockhart and Stuart Schwartz also described this trend and noted that in general the Caribbean served as an area of experimentation for patterns of conquest and settlement. (21) These findings are essential for understanding the African contribution to conquest and settlement. The use of African slaves and freemen in the earliest efforts to control and govern the Indies insured that Africans would continue to be used in a myriad of environments and contexts during the colonial period.

While most Spanish chronicles of conquest exploits rarely mention African auxiliaries, several of these African men were successful enough to be noted by their Spanish counterparts. Prominent 'black conquistadors' include: Juan Garrido in Mexico, Sebastian Toral in Yucatan, and Juan Valiente in Chile. In general, African conquistadors were born in Africa but spent some time in Iberia or the Caribbean before becoming members of conquest expeditions. They also tended to be young men, usually around thirty, and most began fighting while enslaved. (22) Some of these black conquistadors were exceptionally successful even by Spanish standards. The most well known black conquistador, Juan Garrido received his freedom, was appointed to several minor posts, and was recognized formally as a vecino of early Mexico City. (23) Another African in early colonial New Spain, Juan Valiente received permission from his owner to participate in the campaigns of conquest in South America. He eventually became a captain of an expedition into Chile where he was rewarded with an estate and given an encomienda. (24)

Throughout the sixteenth century, Africans found themselves part of continued conquests and expansions. Just as the members of Cortes' 1519 company had sought to better themselves financially and expand beyond the conquered areas of the Caribbean, so too did poorer, less rewarded Spaniards seek new conquests beyond central Mexico. At almost any point in the century, an interested Spaniard would have been able to participate in a conquest campaign aimed at expanding Spanish dominion. In the 1520s and 30s, Spaniards like Pedro de Alvarado and Cortes himself sought to expand south into Central America and west to the Pacific Ocean. During the 1530s and 40s the Montejo clan made repeated attempts to conquer the Yucatan, finally 'succeeding' in 1541. The 1530s through the 1550s saw expansion to the north into the mining regions of Guanajuato and Zacatecas. Continued conflicts with indios chichimecos persisted throughout the 1570s and 80s. As in previous conquest attempts, Spaniards brought their African slaves and servants on these campaigns. Moreover, following the example of Cortes, and others, these campaigns used extensive numbers of native allies. Throughout these extended conquests, Africans and natives found themselves side-by-side fighting and surviving in new and dangerous landscapes. While Afro-indigenous families may not have been formed on these expeditions, both sides would have participated in cultural exchange. Ultimately, when both native allies and African auxiliaries settled in newly founded towns mixed families developed over time.

One important means of African-indigenous interaction during the conquest era was sexual violence. As in most other violent encounters, one of the more frequent spoils of war was women. Consequently, the early history of African-indigenous unions cannot be divorced from the sexual violence which was perpetrated against native women by Iberians and their African auxiliaries. In his examination of the later conquest and colonization of New Mexico, Ramon Gutierrez vividly describes the variety of sexual violence committed against native women and the resulting children born of such unions. (25) Moreover, he notes that on the northern border of the viceroyalty, even the term 'mulato' differed in its application. Although Afro-indigenous persons were born from sexual violence and other unions, in seventeenth-century New Mexico 'mulato' more frequently described the offspring of Spanish-indigenous unions. This usage suggests a conceited effort to further depreciate 'half-breed' individuals through the use of a term more commonly associated with African descent. Moreover, James Brooks noted that frequent practice of abduction and captive exchange played a key role in the development of colonial relationships in the northern part of New Spain. (26) While a detailed examination of sexual violence against indigenous women by African slaves is lacking for the early conquest period, evidence suggests it did occur.

Early royal decrees directed to the Caribbean and later decrees made for the mainland, noted that Africans could and did harm native women and in some cases rape or abduct indias. For example, in 1526 the crown sought to restrict the importation of African slaves from Iberia to the Caribbean because of fears that they would cause violence, flee, and disrupt the developing colony. (27) Although the order did not mention possible sexual violence against native women, the crown was concerned that they would flee to the mountains and commit other crimes. This order, like those that followed, probably reflected both preconceptions of African behavior and the complaints of colonial subjects against their slaves. The wording alluded to any variety of crimes against the Spanish and indio population. In later decades, officials made more open claims to violence between slaves and native women. In a cedula directed to Peru in 1541, the Council of the Indies ordered that no negro be allowed to have authority over indios because of the frequent crimes they perpetrated against natives. (28) The bureaucratic concern over African violence against native peoples represents an effort to insure continued revenue from native tribute and labor. The frequency of such decrees suggests that sexual violence was probably the one of the first means by which Afro-indigenous individuals came into the colonial system just as it also begat the first mestizos.

Although sexual violence may have characterized the first African-indigenous unions it probably did not represent the norm after the conquest era. Nevertheless, the problem of African and Spanish violence against natives in the Caribbean led the crown to physically and politically separate their indigenous subjects from Spaniards and Africans. (29) Theoretically the "republica de indios" existed separately from the "republica de espanoles" in law. Yet, in practice urban environments made such separation impossible. (30) The largest early colonial cities were built on major pre-Columbian centers such as Tenochtitlan-Mexico or Tiho (Merida). In these cities, both indigenous and Spanish residents convened their own cabildos to govern their respective republicas. All major Spanish settlements contained native peoples even if they lacked an official native cabildo. Regardless of the governing bodies presiding within a given city, Spaniards, native peoples, and Africans found themselves side by side, sometimes separated by city blocks but more frequently simply by walls within a home. (31)

As the single largest group of colonial subjects, native peoples provided the bulk of the colony's labor. In urban areas, the native population tended to provide unskilled, manual labor. In the immediate post-conquest period, native labor was used to transform ruined pre-Columbian centers into Spanish cities. Encomienda grants also allowed Spaniards to use native labor and goods to supply and maintain their new urban homes. (32) Natives tended to produce and supply urban centers with their necessary food products. Indigenous vendors sold fruits, vegetables, fish, and game to urban residents. In fact, colonial ordinances granted indigenous entrepreneurs a monopoly on commerce in food products. (33) Some natives learned trades and worked alongside Spanish craftsmen. (34) In order to meet the major labor needs of Spanish colonizers, native labor was mobilized in almost every sector of the urban economy.

The multiplicity of labor needs in early colonial cities insured that Africans found themselves working next to and with indigenous people. Robinson Herrera's excellent study of Santiago de Guatemala provides valuable insights into the place of Africans in early colonial cities. (35) He found that African slaves primarily worked in Spanish homes in domestic service and often there was a sexual division of labor. African women worked in homes as domestics and cooks while African men often worked in trades outside the home. For example, in sixteenth century Santiago, African slaves worked as carpenters, locksmiths, tanners, and even barbers. In sixteenth-century Mexico, Africans slaves very often held skilled positions in textile obrajes, while natives provided simple manual labor. (36) In the market, African and indigenous vendors competed for sales. In Nahuas After the Conquest, James Lockhart noted that indigenous control over the marketplace, a legacy of the pre-Columbian era, became much more tenuous in areas of high Spanish settlement. (37) In such communities, Africans, mulatos, and mestizos began to compete within the physical and economic space of the market. Finally, colonial Spanish homes provided yet another area in which Africans and native peoples interacted. As in trades, Africans probably represented a more permanent part of Spanish households while individual native laborers rotated through homes and trade shops based on the vagaries of encomienda grants, repartimiento labor, or free-wage arrangements.

The constant presence of Africans and natives in so many aspects of urban life led to increased personal connections and a broader cultural awareness of the other. While person-to-person interaction could be fleeting and vary depending on employment and residence, the urban setting placed Africans and natives in almost constant contact. This contact would have allowed individuals to gain increased fluency in the cultural norms of those with whom they worked and interacted. These factors created the possibility for formal and informal African-indigenous unions in urban areas. Work for Spanish households would have placed African and indigenous servants in a position to begin and maintain long-term relationships. Ultimately, the varied labor needs of the city and a multiplicity of possible forms of interaction insured that Africans and native peoples would form relationships some of which would produce Afro-indigenous mulatos.

Unlike urban areas during the sixteenth century, the rural countryside remained largely indigenous; however, Spanish economic interests insured Africans labor was also present in most areas. In fact, scholars of indigenous communities have long noted the frequent and sustained presence of Africans in pueblos de indios. In Nahuas and Spaniards, James Lockhart traced the advancement of Spanish economic interests into the Valley of Toluca during the sixteenth century. (38) He noted that Africans, and later mulatos, were frequently employed as intermediaries who oversaw rural Spanish estates. A particularly illuminating example from this study is that of Agustina Sanchez, a mulata, who was married to Juan Zape, a negro slave. This couple worked for Juan's owner and oversaw the agricultural production of their rural estate. Both Agustina and Juan had extensive personal connections to nearby native communities and probably were both fluent in Spanish, Nahuatl, and possibly Otomi. In some areas, indigenous elites may have even owned African slaves. In his study of the Mixtec, Kevin Terraciano noted several fleeting examples of Nudzahui households owning African slaves in the 1540s. (39) Despite this oddity, most African slaves in the Mixtec region worked for Spanish owners. In general, Africans entered the rural area as part of Spanish entrepreneurial development.

The single most important industry outside of the cities was mining. The search for precious metals to fund further expansion, economic development, and debt repayment drove many Spaniards to find and claim mining property. The major physical demands of mining led many mine owners to favor African slaves over native labor as workers in the mines. They believed natives to be frail and easily susceptible to overwork. In contrast, Africans were seen as hardy, durable laborers capable of far greater exertion. During the sixteenth century the demand for slaves was so great that every viceroy asked the crown to send slaves to the colony solely for work in the mines. (40) Despite prohibitions to the contrary, almost all major mining regions of Mexico used a mixed African and indigenous workforce to extract ore. Skilled slaves also provided the mining settlements with the tradesmen required for specialized goods and services. Even with African slaves, native labor was invaluable to the running of the mine. In 1597, the Zacatecas labor force consisted of nearly seventy percent free-wage native labor and another eighteen percent indigenous forced-labor. (41) Nearby native communities helped provide food and supplies for the miners. As outlined in the rarely-followed mining ordinances of Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza, (42) native labor was used for transport and light duties befitting their perceived frailty. Natives collected and transported firewood and other raw materials required for mining operations. The shared work and social space of Africans and native peoples in the mines allowed for increased cultural awareness of both sides and eventually the growth of Afro-indigenous mulatos.

After mining, initial Spanish rural development focused on ranching. Throughout the century, Spaniards received land grants to develop cattle and sheep ranches. (43) Few land grantees sought to work these ranches themselves. Instead they used African slave labor, or hired a mixed work force of Spanish, mulato, mestizo and negro laborers. (44) Some Africans and Afro-Hispanics had previous experience in ranching in Iberia or in the Caribbean. Rural ranch hands generally lived on the land with the livestock. However, very often these estancias bordered native settlements and mendicant missions. On the edge of the empire and often surrounded by indios de guerra, African and Afro-Hispanics would have had close contact with the local indigenous population who would have helped supply them with provisions. Both ranchers and indios de paz banded together to protect themselves during Chichimec raids. The isolation of their environment and the presence of native settlements would have led many African ranchers to form close relationships with native peoples.

In general, rural areas probably represented the most important venue for the formation of African-indigenous unions. While Africans were frequently employed as overseers or managers of native labor, the harsher rural environment necessitated a greater degree of mutual cooperation and friendship. Sadly, evidence for such relationships is difficult to find as conflict more often than cooperation tended to produce documentation in the historical record. (45) Consequently, scholars are more apt to see African-indigenous interactions as negative and conflicting than mutually beneficial.

One way to assess the extent of African-indigenous interaction and the relationship between African-indigenous mulatos and their Afro-Hispanic counterparts is to examine the number of individuals born of such unions. Although demographic sources for the sixteenth century are sparse, data do exist to approximate the sizes of Mexico's various sub-populations and suggests the rapid growth of an Afro-indigenous population. As early as 1553, Viceroy Velasco warned that Africans and individuals of mixed-descent greatly outnumbered Spaniards and that there could be a danger of insurrection. (46) In that same letter, Velasco suggested that the crown begin to limit African slave imports because the African slave population for the viceroyalty was over 20,000 and growing. (47)

In 1571, a census was conducted of the Archdiocese of Mexico. (48) According to the figures, Spaniards numbered almost twelve thousand with over ten thousand of those living within Mexico City. Natives numbered over seven hundred thousand and Africans almost five thousand with over three thousand living in the capital. Sadly, the census does not contain any account or estimate of individuals of mixed ancestry or those without fixed residences. (49) More data can be found in an undated, late-sixteenth century census of the dioceses of Mexico, Michoacan, Nueva Galicia, Tlaxcala, Yucatan, Oaxaca, and Chiapa which tallied almost 15,000 Spaniards, 17,000 negro slaves, 2,445 mestizos and 1,465 mulatos. (50) Although this document does record some mutates and mestizos, there is reason to believe that it greatly underestimates the actual sizes of these demographic groups. (51)

Anecdotal evidence from roughly the same period as the above records suggests a mulato population much greater than the mere 1,465 individuals recorded across the whole of the viceroyalty. In 1568, Juan Bautista, a mulato tailor, petitioned the crown for permission to build a mulato hospital in Mexico City. This request, made on behalf of all mulatos, noted that there were over six thousand mulatos, "the children of black men and Indian women and children of Spanish men and black women" in desperate need of their own medical establishment." While this number may have been slightly exaggerated for the purposes of their petition, this claim clearly contradicts the meager numbers recorded by the census. (53) More importantly, Bautista places African-indigenous unions before African-European unions, suggesting more mulatos were born of negros and indias than espanoles and negras.

Further anecdotal evidence for the size of the mulato population can be found in the correspondence of Viceroy Martin Enriquez. In 1574, the viceroy warned the crown:
  Only one thing continues worsening day by day and if God and Your
  Majesty do not rectify [the problem] I fear that it will be the
  downfall of this land. [The crisis] is the tremendous growth of
  mulatos. Of mestizos I do not have such fears even though there are
  many with ruinous lives and base behavior. At the end of the day they
  are the sons of espanoles and they are all raised by their fathers
  and by age four or five have left the care of the indias and have
  begun to follow their fathers, who they honor greatly. Worse are the
  mulatos who are children of negros and who are raised by their
  mothers [indias] and who cannot he taught good customs from either
  patent. Yet, as free persons they do what they wish, very few
  applying themselves to trades and none cultivating the land. Instead,
  they go to work as ranch hands and in other jobs where they can
  travel as they wish. (54)

Although Martha Enriquez did not enumerate the population, the vehemence of his opposition to the growth of the mulato population suggests that these individuals had begun to constitute a segment of society much larger than that suggested by the censuses of the same period. Like Juan Bautista, the viceroy viewed most mulatos as being the children of African and indigenous unions. The letter went on to make another very important observation about the 'plague' of mulatos. The viceroy claimed that enslaved African men may have been preferentially choosing to have children with indias and free mulatas in order to insure their offspring would be born free. In order to slow the growth of these freeborn, Afro-indigenous mulatos, Martin Enriquez suggested that the crown order that any child born to a negro slave he considered a slave. This would lead indias and free mulatas to reconsider having children with enslaved men and place the troublesome mulatos under greater control. The suggestion was ignored by the crown but nonetheless reinforces the numerical danger as seen by Viceroy Martin Enriquez.

One final aspect of note in this account is the emphasis paid to the gender of the Africans involved in these unions. Martin Enriquez speaks almost exclusively of male Africans with little attention paid to enslaved women. This may be due to the fact that any child born to an enslaved negra would be born a slave and by his own logic less likely to be born of an African-indigenous union. However, the viceroy's focus on negro-india relationships suggests that this was the most common parental coupling for mulatos of the sixteenth century. Viceroy Enriquez was not the first or the last to warn the crown of negro-india unions. In 1552, an Augustinian friar, Nicolas de Witte wrote to the crown complaining of all the new 'mixtures' arising from the unions of Africans, Europeans, and native peoples. (55) According to his observations all mulatos descended from negros and indias. (56) In 1582, Archibishop Moya de Contreras, cautioned the crown that continued slave importations would directly lead 10 many more mulatos who would invariably band together with mestizos and cause unrest. (57) In general during the sixteenth-century, observers tended to mention African-indigenous unions over African-European ones when describing the growing mulato population of the colony.

Sadly, systematic data do not exist for the gender ratio of slaves brought to into sixteenth century Spanish America. The crown favored a ratio of two male slaves to one female slave. (58) This preference for men reflected the underlying economic demand for labor. (59) A survey of African slaves living in Puebla suggests that the African population may have approximated this mandated gender ratio during the mid-sixteenth century. Between 1540 and 1556, 221 slaves appeared in notarial documents, of these 170 were men and 51 women, a ratio greater than 3:1. (60) A sex imbalance of this size would certainly steer African men to search out non-African partners. The obvious choice for numerical and status considerations would be native women or freed African or Afro-Mexican women. (61) Taken together the demographics of slave imports and the desire to bear free children may have led many enslaved negros to form unions with indias. While, the resulting mulato children may have been overlooked in census documentation, by the 1570s they were numerous enough to unsettle the viceroy and to believe themselves deserving of royal aid.

Cultural Fluency

Cast of Characters (62)

* Isabel Diaz - mulata, daughter of a mulato and an India

* Pedro Garcia - indio, shoemaker, her first husband

* Francisco Granados - mulato, shoemaker, her second husband

* Diego Piloto - mulato, son of a moreno and an india

* Ines - india, his first wife

* Maria Sape - negra slave, his second wife

* Juana Ramirez - mulata, daughter of a negro and an india

* Anton Yaruniga - negro slave, her first husband

* Anton - negro slave, her second husband

* Francisca de Acosta - mulata

* Anton Sanchez - negro slave, her first husband

* Juan - mulato slave, her second husband

* Luis Hernandez - mulato, son of an India

* Agustina - mulata, daughter of an india, his first wife

* Madalena de la Cruz - mulata, his second wife

* Gonzalo Hernandez - mulato, son of a negro slave and an india

* Francisca Rangel - mulata, daughter of an india, his first wife

* Catalina Garcia - india, his second wife.

In most cases involving Afro-indigenous mulatos, one can detect a great degree of cross-cultural awareness on the part of indigenous people as well as among Africans and their descendents. In particular the documentation surrounding Africans and their descendents suggests that their contact with native persons led them to become fluent in native culture. Certainly if each group saw the other as totally foreign, one would not expect to see many cross-cultural unions. This was clearly not the case. I have found no extensive evidence of Africans or their descendents living native lifestyles in the sixteenth century; however, many Africans were aware of native culture and often operated within or alongside it. Conversely, native peoples did not live in a cultural vacuum.

In 1574, Anton Yaruniga a negro slave denounced his wife Juana Ramirez, a mulata, for remarrying. (63) According to Anton's initial statement to the tribunal, he and Juana, who was then called Maria, had married twenty-three years before. However, he lamented that for most of that period Juana had not lived with him. Like Francisco Granados, Anton said that he heard from a third party that his wife had remarried. Juana's second husband was supposedly another negro slave named Anton owned by don Francisco Velasco. Initially, Juana denied any marriage to Anton Yaruniga; however, in later testimony she reconsidered the effectiveness of this strategy and presented her recollection of the marriage. (64) She claimed that being very young she was forced to marry Anton. The mayordomo of Anton's owner bound her in irons and whipped her until she consented to the marriage. She said that she did not want to marry Anton because he was older and entirely too tall. After one month of marriage in which they slept in the same bed and had sexual relations, she fled and did not see Anton again until she was arrested decades later.

Witnesses tended to side with her recollection. Thomas Portugues said that she was very quarrelsome and often fled from Anton. He recalled Juana complaining that Anton was big and ugly and also reported one particular incident in which Anton tried to punish her by forcing her to breathe chili smoke and in the process burned her face. Another sixty year-old slave named Maria also remembered that as young girl Juana was very mischievous, and had a tendency to run away from Anton. However, she testified that Juana was burned by chilies as a result of a punishment given by her mother. For all the discrepancies between different recollections, the testimony on the whole clearly describes a very unhappy marriage.

Yet despite the couple's differences, Juana Ramirez's case is demonstrative of this cross-cultural awareness. Her mother, Francisca, an india, was born in the predominantly indigenous community of Texcoco sometime in the late 1520s or 1530s. (65) Although Spaniards would have been present throughout her life, one can safely assume that during her formative years Spanish cultural influence would have been quite minimal. (66) At some point in her life Francisca left Texcoco and ended up in the silver mining region of Taxco. She and her family may have been sent to the region as repartimiento labor or she may have chosen to move there as a means of supporting herself during the difficult decades following the conquest. Whatever the case, when she arrived in Taxco she entered a very different cultural milieu than that of her native Texcoco. Populated by Europeans of diverse nationalities, Africans from various ethnic and language groups, and rotating native labor from nearby altepetl, cultural adaptability would have been necessary to survive. (67) Francisca clearly survived and we know she became involved with two African men, eventually marrying one of them. We do not know if Jorge or Francisco were bozales, new arrivals from Africa, or if they were ladinos, fluent in Spanish language and culture. Either way, Francisca and her suitors shared neither the same culture nor the same language. After arriving in Taxco, Francisca learned to communicate with and understand the cultural framework of her diverse, new neighbors.

Her daughter, Juana, would have had the benefit of being raised in this multi-cultural environment. The documents do not indicate Juana's level of competence in native languages, but she most likely had at least a passing understanding of Nahuatl through her mother. Further, we see a level of multicultural fluency among her immediate family. We know that at the time of her trial she had two sisters. In 1574, one still resided in Taxco and the other had moved to Tenancingo, a town within the encomienda of Pedro de Salzedo. Her sister in Tenancingo, a rural, largely indigenous pueblo, would have been culturally fluent, and perhaps highly acculturated to native language and practice. (68) The sister's willingness to move to, and live in, a predominantly indigenous town indicates considerable comfort among the native population that was likely a product of her early life. It is safe to assume Juana felt a similar comfort.

According to his testimony Anton Yaruniga arrived from Africa as a young man and came to know Juana when she was a child. (69) Upon arriving, Anton certainly had very little if any cultural awareness of European or indigenous culture. However, by the time of his denunciation to the Inquisition it is cleat that eventually he learned to operate well within the multi-cultural environment of the mining town and the colony. The accusation that he forced Juana to breathe chili smoke suggests he had learned traditional Nahua disciplinary techniques. (70) His Hispanic acculturation can deafly be seen in actions before the Inquisition. In the years between when Juana fled and his denunciation, Anton became aware of the canon law relevant to an estranged husband and the proper manner in which he should contact the authorities and present his case. Being a slave in Taxco, he would not have been able to easily travel to make a denunciation. Instead he sought out a scribe and had a letter written to the inquisitors in Mexico City. Additionally, when ordered to testify before the court the scribe recording the interview did not note his skill in language or that an interpreter was used. This lack of notation generally implied that the individual testifying spoke fluent castellano. Taken as a whole, in denouncing his wife Anton demonstrated that he had not only become fluent in Spanish but had acquired the cultural knowledge necessary to advance his claims before the Holy Office.

However, Juana and Anton's unhappy marriage suggests that there were considerable cultural differences between them at least initially. Certainly, Juana may simply have been rebelling against outside pressure to marry so young to a man she disliked. But it is also quite possible that she and Anton simply could not communicate or understand one another. Unfortunately, we do not know how many years elapsed between Anton's arrival and his marriage to Juana. If the period were short, he may have been accustomed to a very different set of cultural assumptions from that of his new community. And while we can assume that Juana was culturally prepared to operate among native peoples, ladino Africans, and Spaniards, she may not have had very much experience with bozales. (71) Between outside pressure and possible cultural confusion, Juana's desire to escape matrimony is understandable. Ultimately, this case provides a window into the extent and limits of acculturation among Africans and Afro-Mexicans.

The 1559 Inquisition case against Francisca de Acosta provides even clearer evidence of a mulata's understanding of native culture. Although tantalizing in what it contains, the case is unfortunately sparse in its biographical information. However, it does suggest that Francisca, a mulata living on an estancia in rural Oaxaca, was fluent in Nahuatl. (72) According to the testimony, Francisca initially married a man named Anton Sanchez, a slave described as negro or moreno. Witnesses claim they were married in 1558, and then went to live in Tehuantepec. Sometime after that, she was seen living on a different estancia with a second husband, a mulato slave named Juan.

Most of the case testimony surrounds the initial marriage to Anton Sanchez. It is this testimony which suggests that Francisca spoke Nahuatl. Martin de San Miguel, a mulato servant, stated that one day Anton Sanchez arrived on the estancia with Francisca. At some point during that stay, Anton took Francisca by the hand and asked if she would marry him. Martin says that Francisca responded to the proposal by saying "yes" in Nahuatl. Another witness, Martin Ximenez, a moreno slave, recalls that having recently returned from the Mixteca he ran into Anton, Francisca, and Martin de San Miguel. Immediately, Anton asked him to be a witness to their exchange of vows. According to his statement:
  [Anton] asked Francisca, "Senora would you like to marry me." At this
  Francisca was silent and a second time he asked, "Would you be my
  wife?" She responded to him in the Mexican language, "Quema." This
  means 'yes.' (73)

Sadly, the case contains no more testimony about this exchange. Both witnesses say that Anton and Francisca lived as man and wife after this exchange of vows. Neither witness offers any suggestions as to why Francisca may have responded in Nahuatl. The confession of Francisca de Acosta is likewise silent on her knowledge of Nahuatl and her genealogy. She gave her statement in Spanish, and inquisitors did not note that she spoke poorly, suggesting fluency in that language. (74) Unfortunately, the inquisitors did not ask any biographical details other than her name and age, fifteen.

Without more biographical detail about Francisca it is impossible to determine if she was the daughter of an African-indigenous couple. Nonetheless, she demonstrates the acculturation that occurred when Africans and native peoples lived and worked in close proximity. The country-side in which she lived was almost entirely populated by native peoples. In the 1540s and -50s, very few Spaniards, other than clergy, would have lived near the estancias in between the Mixteca and Tehuantepec. She was undoubtedly raised in a community consisting of multi-ethnic cowboys and local native peoples. Her use of Nahuatl suggests that not only was she in contact with native peoples but that that contact was prolonged enough for her to learn a native language. Additionally, the other two witnesses, both of African-descent, demonstrated a familiarity with Nahuatl as they recognized what she had said and knew it to be a native tongue. This awareness could only have been acquired through interaction with nearby indigenous residents.

African-indigenous families were not limited to the rural areas of colonial Mexico. In 1555, a mulato named Luis Hernandez was arrested for bigamy in Mexico City. He was accused of exchanging vows in that city with a mulata named Agustina then later marrying a woman named Madalena de la Cruz, also a mulata, in Atlixco. (75) According to statements by Luis and Agustina, they had been in a relationship for several months during which time she lost her virginity to him and they had intercourse frequently. Luis only asked Agustina to marry him after her parents ordered him to propose. Agustina claimed that he asked her to marry him many times, but after exchanging vows and living together for a time he left her. In his first statements, Luis did not deny this and even admitted to his second marriage in Atlisco to Madalena de la Cruz.

The legal strategies in this case suggest that all the mulatos involved had a reasonable understanding of the tribunal and the relevant canon law. Initially, Luis tried to suggest that the first marriage was coerced and therefore invalid. Agustina took the opposite tack by insisting that the marriage to her was entered into openly and should be considered valid. Madalena sided with Agustina's position by petitioning to be declared free of the second, illegitimate marriage and awarded financial damages. In an attempt to counter these strategies, Luis changed his position, denied the marriages, and attempted to preclude his previous statements by arguing that he was too young, without sufficient reason, and incapable of understanding his own legal situation. (76) Despite his attempt, Agustina provided even more damning evidence by soliciting the testimony of her mother and Luis' mother.

These two women were called simply "Isabel y Madalena, indias." Their testimony was taken through a court appointed interpreter. Although the case only records their testimony as a Spanish translation, these two indigenous women would have provided their official testimony in Nahautl. (77) According to Isabel:
  About three or so years, ago Luis mulato, my son, told me, "I have
  taken the virginity of Agustina mulata, Madalena's daughter, and I
  want to marry her."

Isabel told him that he should marry Agustina. Madalena told a very similar story. Interestingly, her statement did not describe her own daughter as a mulata. More importantly, the case does not contain any statements concerning the fathers of either Luis or Agustina. The lack of any mention of their fathers and the statements of these to Indian women suggests that these two mulatos primarily resided with their mothers in the barrio of San Pablo. They might not have had any contact with, or even any knowledge of, their fathers.

The close association between these two mulatos and their mothers suggests that they were highly acculturated to native society. Based on their testimony, Luis and Agustina did speak Spanish. Yet, we must assume that these two mulatos were fluent in Nahuatl, or at least had a passing understanding of the language. They would have learned Spanish and Nahuatl as children. Luis was a tailor and needed Spanish to function within his work environment. Although we know nothing of his father, it is very likely that he was an African or mulato servant or slave in the city and may have helped prepare young Luis to work as a tailor. Either under the tutelage of his father or a Spanish tailor, Luis would have begun his working life young and become fluent in Spanish as a result.

Both Luis and Agustina were exposed to Nahuatl with their mothers and in their neighborhood. The fact that their indigenous mothers were involved in their decision to marry suggests that they may have lived in their mothers' homes. Agustina certainly lived with Madalena india as it was in her home that many of Luis' advances occurred. Luis may or may not have lived at home. As a tailor, he probably worked in a shop owned by a Spaniard. He may have lived in his employer's shop. Nonetheless, Luis clearly had frequent contact with his mother suggesting that even if he did not reside with her he frequented her home and neighborhood. San Pablo was probably the most diverse of Mexico City's neighborhoods. In 1571, almost one thousand Spaniards and four thousand natives lived together with an unknown number of mestizos, mulatos, and negros. (78) Within this cultural milieu Luis and Agustina would certainly have been exposed to and benefited from learning both Spanish and Nahuatl.

This case does suggest some important differences between urban and rural Afro-indigenous mulatos. Even though this case is one of the earliest in the documentation, the mulatos involved in the investigation show a very highly developed understanding of the legal system. Agustina and Madalena both presented petitions to the court in order to sway the ruling. Agustina's claim that her marriage should be considered valid based on the exchange of vows and consummation had legal basis in the canon law of the time. Likewise, Madalena's claim to an annulment and financial restitution for being made an unwitting accomplice to the sin of multiple matrimony had legal basis. Luis, however, did not demonstrate the same degree of legal knowledge. His initial candid confession of his two relationships would have represented a possible strategy for minimizing the possible punishment meted out by the court, However, his confession did not contain notations suggesting contrition or an appeal to the mercy of the court. (79) The alternate strategy taken by many Inquisition suspects and witnesses was a complete denial of any wrong doing. (80) Rather than follow either of these two common strategies, he was initially too open to obfuscate or shade his past but not contrite enough to try to curry sympathy from the court. Nevertheless, when he came to recognize that some of his statements may have been self-incriminating, he tried to have them precluded or at least qualified through a claim of ignorance and lack of reason. (81)

Unfortunately for both women, the court chose to recognize the second marriage as valid and ordered Luis to take up married life with Madalena while providing some financial support for Agustina. In ruling this way the court clearly favored the marriage which they knew had been contracted through and blessed by a cleric. Even though pre-Tridentine canon law recognized marriage as the simple exchange of vows, the court may have had their doubts as to the exact verbal exchange between Luis and Agustina. A lack of witnesses would have negated the validity of the first marriage. (82) Nonetheless, through their attempts to sway the court these urban mulatos demonstrate a relatively advanced understanding of the court system and their legal positions.

Multi-generational African-Indigenous Families

Frequently, families containing Afro-indigneous mulatos show evidence of continued African-indigenous pairings over multiple generations. This tendency can be seen as an extension of the cultural fluency described above. Once acculturated to indigenous norms, Africans and their descendents demonstrated continued connections to indigenous persons over multiple generations. The life of Isabel Diaz, the bigamist wife of Francisco Granados, presents an excellent example of a family with multiple generations of African-indigenous unions. Sadly, we know little of Isabel's parents other than their names and castas. Her father was a mulato named Francisco Diaz and her mother was an India largely unknown to Isabel. As the daughter of an Afro-Mexican and an india, Isabel represents at least the second generation of an African-indigenous family. Her own marriages continued this trend. Sometime around 1560 she married her first husband, Pedro Garcia, the indio shoemaker. They had one child, a daughter. Although unnamed in the documents, this daughter was also described as a mulata despite her known bilateral indigenous heritage. Isabel's second marriage was to another shoemaker, the mulato Francisco Granados. Unfortunately, the case records nothing of his genealogy so we cannot know if he had any indigenous ancestry. Nonetheless, even our slight knowledge of Isabel's family demonstrates several generations of African-indigenous unions.

Diego Piloto provides another example of one of these multi-generational families. (83) Like Isabel, Diego was denounced to the Inquisition for being married twice. Born in Guatemala, Diego described his parents as a moreno (84) named Diego and an india named Maria Ines. Diego, the father, was also described by witnesses in Honduras as a negro. Most likely, Diego, the son, represents the first generation of an African-indigenous family. According to his confession he was thirty-nine years old in 1575. Even if his age was only an approximation, we can assume he was born sometime between 1535 and 1540. Consequently, it is most likely that Diego, the father, participated in the conquest or early settlement of the region and, like many Spaniards and Africans, subsequently formed a family with an indigenous woman.

Sometime around 1560, Diego Piloto married an indigenous woman named Ines in Honduras. They lived as a couple for over ten years in San Pedro and in the province of Comayagua. However, Diego's work as a muleteer often took him away from home for extended periods of time. On one of these journeys he heard that Ines had died. Three years after the death of Ines, around 1570, Diego moved to Antequera (Oaxaca) where he married an enslaved negra, named Maria Sape. (85) Although he was denounced for being married twice, the thorough investigation conducted by the Inquisition ultimately determined that Ines had died prior to Diego's second marriage.

In his choosing his first wife, Diego formed the second generation of an African-indigenous family. The Inquisition case records no children for either of Diego's marriages. However, the investigation only occurred a few months after his second marriage, and he may have had children with Maria Sape after the case was suspended. Ultimately, his own mixed African-indigenous heritage would insure that any child he had with either wife would have represented another generation of African-indigenous family.

One final example of these families can be found in the Inquisition case against Gonzalo Hernandez. (86) Gonzalo was born sometime around 1526 to Juan, a negro slave of Alonso Avalos, and Maria, an India from Mexico. In 1584, Gonzalo, then almost sixty years old, wrote a letter to the comissario of the Holy Office in Guadalajara denouncing himself for being married to two women at the same time. He claimed that around 1550 he had married a mulata named Francisca Rangel in her home town of Amatitlan. (87) After two years of marriage and the birth of a child, Francisca suddenly left her husband and disappeared. For twenty-eight years, Gonzalo sought word of his wife to no avail. In 1579, he found witnesses who could attest to the death of Francisca. After being declared free of matrimony by virtue of Francisca's death, he married Catalina Garcia, india, in the pueblo of Maquili. According to the indio witnesses to this second wedding, Gonzalo specifically asked permission of the villagers to marry Catalina.

After four years of marriage to Catalina, Gonzalo received word that Francisca was still alive living on an estancia in Michoacan amancebada to a negro. (88) When he approached her she rebuffed him and the negro and several mulatos prevented him from bringing her back with him. Gonzalo's self-denunciation represented the only possible means by which he could extricate himself from his circumstance and normalize his marital situation. In his statement, he expressed a desire to return to a married life with Francisca since - still alive - theirs was the only valid marriage. After its investigation, the inquisition determined that Gonzalo had presented valid - if erroneous - evidence of Francisca's death and had been dually granted permission to remarry. Consequently, Gonzalo did not commit a heretical crime; his case was remitted to the ordinary for final determination. (89)

This case is interesting in that both of Gonzalo's marriages reflect multi-generational African-indigenous ties. His first wife, Francisca was an Afro-indigenous mulata. According to her statements, her mother was an India from the pueblo of Icatlan. Sadly, she did not mention her father directly. Given her age of fifty in 1586, her father was probably an African sent to work in the burgeoning mines of the region or as an overseer for some Spaniard's rural estate. (90) In marrying, Gonzalo and Francisca continued the African-indigenous connection as both were equally African and indigenous. Their life experiences demonstrate a familiarity with native culture. When she left Gonzalo, Francisca returned to her mother and lived in that pueblo until her mother's death. This suggests a strong attachment to and comfort with indigenous culture. Likewise, after being declared free of his first marriage, Gonzalo turned to an indigenous woman to be his second spouse. More importantly, he demonstrated an understanding of communal norms and a fluency in native language when he asked Catalina's community of Maquili for permission to marry. In the testimony gathered by the Inquisition, all of the native witnesses to this marriage spoke Nahuatl through interpreters. This fact suggests that Gonzalo's communication with them took place in Nahuatl and not Spanish.

Ultimately, Gonzalo's case serves as a vivid demonstration of the frequency of African-indigenous ties. He married a mulata and an India yet in either case he perpetuated African-indigenous ties. This multigenerational trend most likely reflects the fact that the contexts in which Africans and natives first came into contact helped foster a shared understanding of native culture. Over time this sustained cultural awareness helped facilitate multiple unions between Africans - or their descendants - and native people.


This article explored African-indigenous interaction in two ways. Firstly, it constructed a framework for understanding how Africans and native people came to find themselves in similar physical and occupational spaces. Although geared towards understanding colonial Mexico, these findings hold true generally for all of Spanish America given that, the processes which facilitated these interaction represent typical patterns of Spanish conquest and colonialism which developed in the Caribbean and spread outward over time and space. Secondly, this article examined Inquisition cases in order to better flesh out the actual lived experiences of Afro-indigenous mulatos. While more particular to New Spain, this discussion demonstrates several important aspects of African-indigenous interactions. Namely the close proximity of Africans and native persons facilitated acculturation on both sides, and long-term cultural fluency led to multiple generations of unions between the two groups and their descendents.

Although focused on sixteenth century New Spain, these findings provide some important insights into the broader historiography of race and ethnicity in Latin America. Most notably they challenge our understanding of the term 'mulato.' This term originally developed for describing African-European mixture expanded in the context of early Spanish American conquest and colonization. In the sixteenth century, 'mulato' came to subsume any person of known African ancestry. Consequently, it homogenized a vast group within one sole term. While scholars have noted this trend, few have investigated it. This work provides an illuminating, if brief, discussion of these individuals and in so doing argues that further examination of the term 'mulato' is needed. Scholarship must not further the stereotyping of the colonial period but seek to find the contradictions and contingencies which ultimately made such terms legal fictions.

Investigation of this sort can help to better understand the nature of the African experience in the Americas and the complexity of the African Diaspora. As Ben Vinson has noted this type of research must explore the "space in-between, among, and through various racial existences." (91) This article has sought to examine these issues. Afro-indigneous mulatos represented a unique body of individuals connected to both Africans and native peoples. Their place was bounded by neither Spanish nor indigenous culture but rather existed in a space encompassing both and articulated by means of their own choices and actions. By exploring the wide range of factors which contributed to African-indigenous interactions and the rise of Afro-indigenous mulatos as well as delineating the multitude of experiences and choices made by those individuals themselves we can gain a greater understanding of the strategies used by Africans and their descendents for surviving and thriving in the New World.

This study also speaks for the need to engage in broader comparative studies of terminology in Spanish America. Although beyond the scope of this work, such explorations can help examine how socio-racial terminology sought to describe the ever-shifting colonial population. As Lockhart pointed out for Peru, the term 'zambo' or 'zambaigo' eventually came to define Afro-indigenous persons in some areas. Such terms were rare in Mexico. Nevertheless, scholars like Ben Vinson and Matthew Restall have noted that terms such as 'pardo,' 'lobo,' and 'coyote' were adopted to describe a variety of ethnic backgrounds over the course of the colonial period. (92) Scholarship must continue to address the factors which led to the creation and adoption of socio-racial labels. These terms were not static and their use could vary over time and space.

Finally, these findings add to our understanding of socio-racial terms as a reflection on the social order in Spanish America. Scholars such as Magali Marie Carrera and Ilona Katzew have argued that inter-ethnic unions led to the creation of a phenotypically and culturally diverse population which by the eighteenth century caused an elite pre-occupation with racial categories and taxonomies. (93) Such taxonomies and their complex explanation of physical difference sought to order a highly variable population no longer reflective of earlier categories of difference. Douglas Cope's pioneering study of these terms and their relevance in seventeenth century Mexico City, suggests that inter-ethnic unions were pervasive enough negate the effectiveness of terminology as a means to divide the urban population. (94) This study provides an explanation of how exogamous unions began to crumble the tenuous socio-racial barriers created by Spanish categories of difference. In particular it has shown that Africans and native peoples formed a large number of unions over the course of the sixteenth century. Moreover, these unions often continued over multiple generations. As Africans and native people inter-married and formed unions the stark dividing line between negro and indio blurred. Moreover the breadth of the term mulato further weakened its value as a marker of difference. By the end of the sixteenth century, it was being used to describe persons with three indio grandparents and only one negro, just as it could be applied to individuals equivalent Iberian-African ancestry. The process briefly described here would continue over the course of the centuries and whittle away the utility of such terms. In this regard, this study represents the first detailed analysis of the sixteenth century which seeks to explain how later seventeenth and eighteenth century processes came into being and how socio-racial terminology came to represent highly variable and contextual markers of difference for colonial individuals.

Department of History

Charlotte, NC 28223


I would like to thank all those who have provided comments on this article, especially: Allyson Poska, Matthew Restall, John F. Schwaller, Ben Vinson III, and the anonymous reviewer. The archival research which supported this research was funded by a Pennsylvania State University (PSU) Department of History Sparks Dissertation Fellowship, a PSU Institute for Arts and Humanities Dissertation Release, and a Fulbright Research Fellowship.

(1.) Archivo General de la Nacion (AGN), Inquisicion volume 101, expedience 8, folio 309.

(2.) Richard E. Boyer, Lives of the Bigamists: Marriage, Family, and Community in Colonial Mexico, (Albuquerque, 1995).

(3.) Or someone of equal parts European and African descent.

(4.) See: Berta Ares Queija, ed., "Mestizos, Mulatos, y Zambaigos (Virreinato Del Peru, Siglo XVI)," in Negros Mulatos Zambaigos: Derroteros Africanos en los Mundos Ibericos (Sevilla, 2000), p. 78; Irene Diggs, "Color in Colonial Spanish America," The Journal of Negro History 38: 4 (1953): 424; Michael D. Olien, "Black and Part-Black Populations in Colonial Costa Rica: Ethnohistorical Resources and Problems," Ethnohistory 27:1 (1980): 22; and La Recopilacion de Leyes de Las Indias, Libro 7, Titulo 5, Ley xiiii, "Que los Mulatos, y Zambaygos no traygan armas, y los Mestizos pueden traer con licencia." This law reflects two Reales Cedulas issued by Phillip II on Dec. 19, 1568 and Dec. 1, 1573.

(5.) 'Zambaigo' and 'zambo' were used in the famous 'casta paintings' of the late colonial period. Yet, these and others, such as 'salta atras' and 'tente al aire,' are not found in quotidian colonial documentation of the sixteenth century.

(6.) For example: Laura A. Lewis, Hall of Mirrors: Power, Witchcraft, and Caste in Colonial Mexico (Durham, 2003), pp. 75-6; Magnus Morner, Race Mixture in the History of Latin America (Boston, 1967), pp. 30-1.

(7.) Gonzalo Aguirre Beltran, La Poblacion Negra de Mexico: Estudio Etnohistorico (Mexico, 1984 (1946)). Although he does not dissect the complex socio-racial connotations contained within the term 'mulato' or cultural variability among these individuals, he did recognize their ethnic breadth.

(8.) Gonzalo Aguirre Beltran, Medicina y Magia: El Proceso de Aculturacion en la Estructura Colonial (Mexico, 1980), pp. 73-76, 275-77.

(9.) Magnus Morner, Race Mixture in the History of Latin America, p. 31.

(10.) James Lockhart, Spanish Peru, 1532-1560; a Colonial Society (Madison, 1968), p. 176.

(11.) John K. Chance, Race and Class in Colonial Oaxaca (Stanford, 1978), pp. 126-7. Chance used the example of a "mulato achinado" or "indio amestizado."

(12.) I have found the example of "mulato medio indio" in documents from colonial New Spain. See, Archivo General de Indias (AGI), Mexico, Vol. 109, Ramo 3, N. 18, fs. 282-602. This phrase was used to describe an Afro-Mexican cowboy living near the Chichimec frontier in 1581.

(13.) Patrick Carroll, "Los Mexicanos Negros, El Mestizaje y los Fundamentos Olvidados de la "Raza Cosmica:" Una Perspective Regional," Historia Mexicana 44: 3 (1995); Patrick James Carroll, Blacks in Colonial Veracruz: Race, Ethnicity, and Regional Development (Austin, 2001), pp. 88-89.

(14.) Herman L. Bennett, Africans in Colonial Mexico: Absolutism, Christianity, and Afro-Creole Consciousness, 1570-1640 (Bloomington, 2003); Joan Cameron Bristol, Christians, Blasphemers, and Witches: Afro-Mexican Ritual Practice in the Seventeenth Century (Albuquerque, 2007); Nicole von Germeten, Black Blood Brothers: Confraternities and Social Mobility for Afro-Mexicans, The History of African-American Religions (Gainesville, 2006); Frank T. Proctor, "Slavery, Identity, and Culture: An Afro-Mexican Counterpoint, 1640-1763" (Ph.D. dissertation, Emory University, 2003); Ben Vinson III, Bearing Arms for His Majesty: The Free-Colored Militia in Colonial Mexico (Stanford, 2001); Ben Vinson III, "Race and Badge: Free-Colored Soldiers in the Colonial Mexican Militia," The Americas 56:4 (2000); Ben Vinson III, "Studying Race from the Margins: The 'Forgotten Castes' - Lobos, Moriscos, Coyotes, Moros, and Chinos in the Colonial Mexican Caste System," in International Seminar on the History of the Atlantic World (Harvard University: 2000).

(15.) Scholars of the later colonial period have often highlighted the variability of terminology and the frequent divergence between self-perception and observer opinion in labeling. See: Aaron P. Althouse, "Contested Mestizos, Alleged Mulattos: Racial Identity and Caste," The Americas 62: 2 (2005); John K. Chance and William B. Taylor, "The Ecology of Race and Class in Late Colonial Oaxaca," in Studies in Spanish American Population History, ed. David J. Robinson (Boulder, CO, 1981); John K. Chance and William B. Taylor, "Estate and Class: A Reply," Comparative Studies in Society and History 25 (1979); John K. Chance and Willian B. Taylor, "Estate and Class in a Colonial City, Oaxaca in 1792," Comparative studies in Society and History 19 (1977); Robert H. Jackson, "Race/Caste and the Creation and Meaning of Identity in Colonial Spanish America," Revista de Indias 55:203 (1995); Robert McCaa, Stuart B. Schwartz, and Arturo Grubessich, "Race and Class in Colonial America: A Critique," Comparative studies in Society and History 25 (1979); Restall, The Black Middle: Africans, Mayas, and Spaniards in Colonial Yucatan (Stanford, 2009), pp. 97-109; Patricia Seed, "The Social Dimensions of Race: Mexico City 1753," Hispanic American Historical Review 62: 4 (1982); Vinson, "Studying Race from the Margins: The 'Forgotten Castes' - Lobos, Moriscos, Coyotes, Moros, and Chinos in the Colonial Mexican Caste System."

(16.) The Testimonies preserved in criminal cases, both secular and ecclesiastical, provide rich details about those accused and their contemporaries. Sadly, few secular cases from sixteenth century Mexico survive. However, Inquisition documentation is plentiful and provides a valuable source of information for exploring the lives of colonial subjects.

(17.) See: Patrick Carroll, "Black-Native Relations and the Historical Record in Colonial Mexico," in Beyond Black and Red: African-Native Relations in Colonial Latin America, ed. Matthew Restall (Albuquerque, 2005); J.I. Israel, Race, Class, and Politics in Colonial Mexico (Oxford, 1975), pp. 67-75; Edgar F. Love, "Legal Restrictions on Afro-Indian Relations in Colonial Mexico," The Journal of Negro History 55: 2 (1970); Morner, Race Mixture in the History of Latin America, pp. 35-48.

(18.) Matthew Restall, "Black Conquistadors: Armed Africans in Early Spanish America," The Americas 57: 2 (2000): 173.

(19.) For a recent study of early mass slave importation and use on Hispaniola, see: Lynne Guitar, "Boiling It Down: Slavery on the First Commercial Sugarcane Ingenios in the Americas (Hispaniola, 1530-45)," in Slaves, Subjects, and Subversives: Blacks in Colonial Latin America, ed. Jane G. Landers and Barry Robinson (Albuquerque, 2006).

(20.) Restall, The Black Middle; Matthew Restall, Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest (New York, 2003).

(21.) James Lockhart and Stuart B. Schwartz, Early Latin America: A Short History of Colonial Spanish America and Brazil, Cambridge Latin American Studies (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 61-85.

(22.) Restall, "Black Conquistadors," pp. 188-90.

(23.) For a detailed history of Garrido's Life see: Peter Gerhard, "A Black Conquistador in Mexico," The Hispanic American Historical Review 58: 3 (1978).

(24.) Restall, Seven Myths, pp. 53-63.

(25.) Ramon A. Gutierrez, When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 1500-1846 (Stanford, 1991), pp. 195-6.

(26.) James F. Brooks, Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands (University of North Carolina Press, 2001).

(27.) Richard Konetzke, Coleccion de Documentos para la Historia de la Formacion Social de Hispano America, 1493-1810, 3 vols. (Madrid, 1953), vol. 1, #40, p. 80.

(28.) Ibid., vol. 1, #131, p. 206.

(29.) The crown regularly issued cedulas to this effect. See: Diego de Encinas, Cedulario Indiano, Reproduccion Facsimil de la Edicion Unica de 1596 ed., 4 vols. (Madrid, 1945 (1596)), IV: 340-1, 43. Similar cedulas were issued in 1550, 1558, 1563, 1578, 1580, 1581.

(30.) See: R. Douglas Cope, The Limits of Racial Domination: Plebeian Society in Colonial Mexico City, 1660-1720 (Madison, 1994).

(31.) For an excellent description of the Africans in the urban milieu see, Restall, The Black Middle, pp. 200-46.

(32.) Ethelia Ruiz Medrano, Reshaping New Spain: Government and Private Interests in the Colonial Bureaucracy, 1531-1550 (Boulder, 2006).

(33.) See: AGN, Reales Cedulas Duplicadas, vol. 3, exp. 11 and 24. Both of these orders by Don Martin Enriquez uphold existing ordinances which prohibited "espanoles, mestizos, mulatos y negros" from selling most locally produced foods.

(34.) Manuel Carrera Stampa, Los Gremios Mexicanos: La Organizacion Gremial en Nueva Espana (Mexico, 1954), pp. 226-38.

(35.) Robinson A. Herrera, Natives, Europeans, and Africans in Sixteenth-Century Santiago De Guatemala, 1st ed. (Austin, 2003), pp. 122-23.

(36.) Colin A. Palmer, Slaves of the White God: Blacks in Mexico, 1570-1650 (Cambridge, 1976), Proctor, "Slavery, Identity, and Culture: An Afro-Mexican Counterpoint, 1640-1763".

(37.) James Lockhart, The Nahuas after the Conquest: A Social and Cultural History of the Indians of Central Mexico, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries (Stanford, 1992), p. 191.

(38.) James Lockhart, Nahuas and Spaniards: Postconquest Central Mexican History and Philology (Stanford, 1991), pp. 230-32.

(39.) Kevin Terraciano, The Mixtecs of Colonial Oaxaca: Nudzahui History, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries (Stanford, 2001), p. 340.

(40.) See: AGI, Mexico, vols. 19-24. "Cartas y expedientes de los Virreyes"

(41.) Kris Lane, "Africans and Natives in the Mines of Spanish America," in Beyond Black and Red: African-Native Relations in Colonial Latin America, ed. Matthew Restall (Albuquerque, 2005), pp. 174-75.

(42.) A copy of these ordinances can he found in the documentation concerning Mendoza's residencia. See: AGI, Justicia 259, "Hordenancas de mynas e otras cosas."

(43.) Elinor G. K. Melville, A Plague of Sheep: Environmental Consequences of the Conquest of Mexico, Studies in Environment and History (Cambridge, 1994).

(44.) Francois Chevalier, La Formacion de los Latifundios en Mexico: Haciendas y Sociedad en los Siglos XVI, XVII, Y XVIII (Mexico, 1999 (1956)), p. 202. In passing Chevalier also noted that on rural estancias the term "mulato" more often referred to the children of negros and indias.

(45.) Patrick Carroll, "Black-Native Relations and the Historical Record in Colonial Mexico."

(46.) Cartas de Indias, (Madrid, 1877), pp. 263-9, "Carta de don Luis de Velasco, virrey de Nueva Espana, al Emperador Don Carlos ..." (5-4-1553).

(47.) Ibid., 265. This number was clearly exaggerated for effect. By this date, there were certainly fewer than 20,000 African slaves. Philip Curtin places the total imports to all of Spanish America prior to 1550 at ~15,000 slaves. Philip Curtin, The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census (Madison, 1969), pp. 21-25.

(48.) AGI, Mexico 112, "Tabla general en que van las provincias del Arcobispado de Mexico ..."

(49.) Idem. "Ay otra muncha gente assi de espanoles mestizos como negros mulatos e yndios que por andar vagando y no tener ciertos asientos y abitaciones no se puede hazer padron ni numero dellos."

(50.) AGI, Indiferente General 1529, N.41, summation of totals mine. Also found in German Latorre, Relaciones Geograficas de Indias. La Hispano-America del Siglo XVI: Virreinato de Nueva Espana (Mexico-Censos de Poblacion) (Sevilla: 1920). References to relocating the see of Michoacan from Patzcuaro to Valladolid (called Guayangareo) suggest that the document was made very soon after 1580.

(51.) Both the censuses cited stated that individuals without permanent residences or living in rural, areas could not be fully enumerated. Since mulatos and other individuals of mixed-ancestry generally fell into one or both of these categories, these omissions probably mask the true size of these groups.

(52.) AGI, Mexico 98, "Los vecinos mulatos de la Nueva Espana en solicitud de licencia para hacer un hospital donde curase de sus enfermedades" (1568). The description of their parentage reads, "mulatos hijos de negros y yndias e de espanoles e negras."

(53.) The contradiction is greater because this petition was put forward the mulatos of Mexico City suggesting they were only counting those individuals who lived close enough to the capital to benefit from a hospital.

(54.) Cartas de Indias, p. 299. "Carta del Virey de la Nueva Espana, Don Martin Enriquez al Rey Don Felipe II, dandole cuenta de varios asuntos de las islas Filipinas y de aquel Reino. - Mexico, 9 de enero de 1574." Translation mine.

(55.) AGI, Mexico 280, N. 57. "Fray Nicolas de Witte a S.M." Jan. 8, 1552.

(56.) Idem. "... que esta llena de negros que se casan con las indias de donde proceden los mulatos ..."

(57.) AGI, Mexico 336B, N. 160. "Arzobispo Moya de Contreras a S.M." Nov. 20, 1582. Although Moya de Contreras did not mention negro-india unions explicitly the close associations between mulatos and mestizos suggests shared cultural understandings which probably resulted from indigenous parents.

(58.) Aguirre Beltran, La Poblacion Negra de Mexico: Estudio Etnohistorico, pp. 30, 236.

(59.) While large slave importers were regulated by royal asientos and should have followed this gender ratio, the crown frequently granted individuals immigrating to the colony the right to import slaves as part of their households. This type of importation did not necessarily follow the prescribed gender ratio, and may have led to a less drastic gender disparity overall. For examples of private importation, see: Catalogo de Pasajeros a Indias: Durante los Siglos XVI, XVII, Y XVIII, ed. Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, 4+ vols. (Sevilla: 1940 (and later)). For a concise summary of royal slave trade policy and the use of asientos, see Eufemio Lorenzo Sanz, Comercio de Espana con America en la Epoca de Felipe II, 2 vols. (Valladolid, 1979), I: 511-42.

(60.) Peter Boyd-Bowman, "Negro Slaves in Early Colonial Mexico," The Americas 26: 2 (1969): 145. While suggestive, notarial documents generally record slave sales, bequests, and emancipations. This ratio could be skewed by factors which caused slave owners to sell, buy, free, trade, etc. male rather than female slaves.

(61.) For data on seventeenth century rates of marriage endogamy for individuals from various socio-racial groups see: Carroll, "Los Mexicanos Negros, El Mestizaje y los Fundamentos Olvidados de la "Raza Cosmica:" Una Perspective Regional."; Cope, The Limits of Racial Domination: Plebeian Society in Colonial Mexico City, 1660-1720, pp. 80-81; Edgar F. Love, "Marriage Patterns of Persons of African Descent in a Colonial Mexico City Parish," The Hispanic American Historical Review 51: 1 (1971).

(62.) I will use the casta labels, such as mulato, as they appeared and were used in the language of the time. I feel that there is a semantic difference between mulato and mulatto or negro and black. In order to best convey the use and meaning of these terms I will retain their colonial form and usage.

(63.) AGN, Inq vol. 101, exp. 7, fs. 277.

(64.) Many defendants chose to initially deny any knowledge or recollection of the crime(s) for which they were under investigation. This strategy could lead to a suspension of the case if the tribunal felt they lacked adequate evidence to pursue the matter further. Unfortunately, defendants could never be sure of how much testimony the inquisitors had gathered. In this case, a friend of Juana had suggested that she simply deny all charges. This friend, Beatriz Ramirez, another mulata, claimed that she had used this strategy to effectively avoid prosecution.

(65.) Based on the approximate ages and times given for Juana's marriage, she was most likely born sometime between 1545 and 1550. Even if she gave birth to Juana at a young age, Francisca could not have been born much later than 1530. She may well have been born at the time of the conquest or immediately afterwards.

(66.) Although she was certainly baptized and would have had encounters with mendicant missionaries, neither the early conquistadors nor the missionaries wished to Hispanize the native population.

(67.) Jose Enciso Contreras, Taxco en el Siglo XVI: Sociedad y Normatividad en un Real de Minas Novohispano (Zacatecas, 1999).

(68.) Peter Gerhard, A Guide to the Historical Geography of New Spain (Cambridge, 1972), pp. 170-2.

(69.) AGN, Inq. 101, exp. 7, fs. 280v, "dijo que cuando este vino de guinea la hallo en Taxco chiquita ..."

(70.) Frances Berdan and Patricia Rieff Anawalt, eds., The Essential Codex Mendoza (Berkeley, 1997), pp. 124-5.

(71.) Direct importation from Africa was never very common in Spanish America during the early 16th c. Although a Real Cedula from 1526 mandated the exclusive importation of bozales, this was rarely possible and most slaves were resold as ladinos into New Spain from Iberia or the Caribbean (see: AGI, lndiferente General 420, l. 10, fs. 342-342v).

(72.) AGN, Inq. Vol 91, exp. 2, fs. 14.

(73.) Ibid., fs. 14v. "dixo a la dicha francisca mulata senora quereys os casar conmigo y ella callo y segunda vez se lo ynterrogo y dixo senora days os por mi muger y ella le respondio en la lengna mexicana quema que quiere dezir si ..."

(74.) In general, if indigenous or negro witnesses were fluent in Spanish they were labeled ladinos. In contrast, mulatos and mestizos were assumed to he fluent and comments would only be made if they could not speak Spanish well.

(75.) AGN Inq. vol. 95, fs. 200-217. At this time, prior to the Tridentine redefinition of marriage, the exchange of vows before witnesses constituted a marriage even in the absence of a clerical blessing.

(76.) Ibid., fs. 209. Specifically he called himself, a "muchacho de poca edad y falto de juicio y tonto y incapaz."

(77.) Isabel and Madalena did not speak Spanish. If they had spoken with any fluency they would have been labeled ladinas and would have provided testimony in Spanish.

(78.) AGI, Mexico 112, "Tabla general en que van las provincias del Arcobispade de Mexico ..."

(79.) This strategy was not unheard of. Often when moved by contrition, or fear, accused did breakdown and place themselves at the mercy of the court. In these cases, their testimony included the phrase, "on their knees with tears in their eyes. ..." (hincado de rodillas con lagrimas). For examples, see; AGN, Inq, 1495, exp. 4 (1608); or AGN, Inq. 145, exp. 11, fs. 270 (1596).

(80.) This strategy, although more risky, tended to force the court to be more specific in their questioning which could often provide clues to the witness/defendant about what information the court already possessed. See: AGN, Inq 94, exp. 1, fs. 47 (1572).

(81.) In this claim he was clearly playing into the prevailing opinion of Afro-Mexicans as well as suggesting that as a minor he could not possess the same mental faculties or reasoned judgment as an adult.

(82.) Allyson M. Poska, "When Love Goes Wrong: Getting out of Marriage in Seventeenth-Century Spain," Journal of Social History 29: 4 (1996): 872.

(83.) AGN, Inq vol. 104, exp. 2, fs. 18.

(84.) During the sixteenth century throughout the viceroyalty of New Spain, moreno was very often a synonym for negro. However, unlike negro which was itself often synonymous with 'slave,' moreno may have been used as a qualifier to suggest someone of African descent with a dark complexion but without reference to legal status. In this case, Diego referred to his father as a moreno while others chose to use negro. This suggests that Diego was attempting to place his heritage in a slightly more favorable light.

(85.) AGN, Inq vol. 104, exp. 2, fs. 18-9.

(86.) AGN, Inq. vol. 137, exp. 6, fs. 142-186.

(87.) Amatitlan was part of the Provincia de Avalos, part of modern Jalisco.

(88.) In the sixteenth century, amancebamiento refered to sexual relationships our of wedlock.

(89.) Presumably, the ordinary would have ordered Francisca and Gonzalo to re-establish marital cohabitation.

(90.) Gerhard, A Guide to the Historical Geography of New Spain, pp. 156-57.

(91.) Ben Vinson III, "Introduction: African (Black) Diaspora History, Latin American History," The Americas 63:1 (2006): 9.

(92.) Matthew Restall, The Black Middle, pp. 97-109: Vinson, "Studying Race from the Margins: The 'Forgotten Castes' - Lobes, Moriscos, Coyotes, Moros, and Chinos in the Colonial Mexican Caste System."

(93.) Magali Marie Carrera, Imagining Identity in New Spain: Race, Lineage, and the Colonial Body in portraiture and Casta Paintings, 1st ed., Joe R. And Teresa Lozano Long Series in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture (Austin, 2003), Ilona Katzew, Casta Painting: Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico (New Haven, 2004).

(94.) Cope, The Limits of Racial Domination: Plebeian Society in Colonial Mexico City, 1660-1720.

By Robert C. Schwaller

University of North Carolina, Charlotte
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Author:Schwaller, Robert C.
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Date:Mar 22, 2011
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