Sangre de barrio (Spanish Edition)

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From acclaimed poet and prose-writer Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Desert Blood is a gripping thriller that ponders the effects of patriarchy, gender identity, border culture, transnationalism, and globalization on an international crisis. An in-your-face, no-holds barred story full of brutality, graphic violence, and ultimately, redemption.

Alicia Gaspar De Alaba is the author of various works of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, among them a collection of poems and essays, La Llorona on the Longfellow Bridge: She is also the editor of Velvet Barrios: She has been researching the crimes since and organized an international conference on the murders at UCLA in Had a wonderful Christmas time at our holiday party this week! The Recovering the U.

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In what seems to have been a demonstration of collective outrage against the symbols of secular and religious power, the protesters stopped in front of the palace and the headquarters of the Inquisition the institution that frequently punished blacks and mulattoes tried for blasphemy and ended their march at the house of Moreno de Monroy, where they threatened him and the other occupants with rocks and insults.

Clearly disapproving because the latter order was not carried out, the anonymous source noted that the punishments further enraged the protesters. When infantry companies going to the Philippines arrived in New Spain toward the end of the year, however, the plan was postponed until April 19, Holy Thursday. The passing of the archbishop-viceroy made the colonists feel especially vulnerable. Although the royal Audiencia assumed control of the government, the absence of figureheads in both the political and religious hierarchies exacerbated their fears of a colonial rebellion.

According to the anonymous account, the first warning was from two Portuguese slave traders also anonymous who, on one of the first days of Lent, claimed to have overheard a black woman utter, in the Angolan language, that the Spaniards would be killed during Holy Week and that all slaves would be liberated. After this alert, the Audiencia suspended all Holy Week activities, including the processions, ordered that churches be closed on Holy Thursday, and advised the city of Puebla to take similar precautions.

It also summoned the leaders of the various black confraternities under the pretense that they were being asked to participate in the upcoming funeral rites of Queen Margaret of Austria, wife of Phillip III.

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When two did not obey, the Audiencia imprisoned those who had presented themselves and placed Spanish spies among them. It also claimed that on the twelfth of April, the Audiencia received a fourth warning, this time from a Spanish widow and her daughter who declared that early that morning they had overheard two blacks discussing the rebellion and whether it was still possible to mount it now that their leaders were in prison. On the following day, he received the fifth warning, a declaration by a Spanish couple who learned of the alleged plot from their slave, a criolla. These took place around the middle of April, amid the passage of decrees that reinforced the ban on blacks carrying arms and wearing certain types of Spanish clothing.

On the twenty-first of that month, the day after Good Friday, the Audiencia examined the case and ordered that the prisoners be tortured. According to the anonymous report, the tortures quickly resulted in many confessions, accusations, and information about hidden caches of arms. It also stated that, when authorities located some of these weapons, the tribunal convicted the prisoners and sentenced them to be hanged and quartered on the second of May. The anonymous report contained two additional key bits of information, the first of which pertained to the sexual designs of the alleged conspirators.

These designs, the author contended, were expressed after a mulata slave named Isabel, owned by an alderman, and a free mulato, who served as coachman to an Audiencia official the alcalde de corte , rallied many people to the cause. Having believed the promises that the leaders of the conspiracy had made to them of allowing other confraternities to select future candidates for the throne, Isabel and her accomplice became consumed by dreams of being in power.

The anonymous report also claimed that their excitement and ambition infected their followers, who were unable to keep silent about their intentions to kill Spanish males and make Spanish women the sexual slaves of black men. He describes Isabel as obsessed with the prospect of becoming queen but is not clear about how she felt, or how he thought she felt, regarding the fate of Spanish women once the rebellion was consummated.

Presuming that there was a plot to begin with, it is thus entirely unclear whether the black women involved in it wished for a world in which their white counterparts experienced the sexual abuse and intimidation that was all too familiar to them or whether that part of the fantasy was invented by their menfolk.

Since the so-called conspirators left no records of their own, it is impossible to know for certain. Significantly, the anonymous report also features references to the religious heterodoxy of the alleged conspirators. This linkage of persons of African ancestry with occult practices and in particular with the Devil was one of the main tropes of Spanish colonial racial ideology. As a whole, the anonymous report provides a great deal of information about events leading up to the hangings, the highly charged sociopolitical climate in which rumors about the plot spread, and some of the sexual and religious issues that accompanied the construction of narratives of racial violence in the early months of But how reliable is it?

Furthermore, several factors complicate the use of the anonymous report as historical evidence for the existence of such a conspiracy, the first being its mysterious authorship. After all, the tribunal had to justify its actions while it was left in charge of governing, a fact that also renders the alleged confessions—made while the prisoners were being tortured—suspect. An equally serious problem with the account is the extent to which it assumed that the rumors about the conspiracy, most of them spread by Spaniards or Portuguese who claimed to have overheard certain conversations, were true.

On April 19, , Spaniards in central Mexico were supposed to have marched in a procession as penitents, as they traditionally did on Maundy Thursday. It was that unity that the sistema de castas, already operating on various social and physical levels witness the attention to skin color and gradations of Spanish and African blood in descriptions of the alleged conspirators , was partly trying to prevent, clearly not always successfully. One can only speculate what the actions of the protesters meant.

Perhaps they marched not just to condemn the brutality of slavery but also to express their frustrations at the particular vulnerability experienced by female slaves at the hands of their masters and the powerlessness of black men to protect them. Perhaps, too, they sought to critique crown and church officials for not doing more to prevent brutal violence against slaves and the quotidian beatings and degradations that facilitated them.

In the months that followed the protest, a series of social and political developments combined with a proliferation of rumors made whites feel increasingly vulnerable and unleashed suspicions of what was possibly their worst fear: Such troubling imaginings of sexual violence and racial dispossession might have been encouraged by blacks and mulattoes seeking to manipulate the fears of their oppressors.

But they were also largely the result of a racialized order in which the labor and reproductive power of black women were shamelessly and systematically appropriated by their Spanish masters, many of them top secular and religious officials, and in which black men were denied patriarchal privileges and, indeed, their own reproduction. Colonial records do not reveal whether these were primarily male fantasies—whether Spanish women feared becoming the sexual victims of black men and whether the black women implicated in the plot wanted them to suffer precisely that fate.

All that can be said with certainty is that, from the point of view of certain Spanish sources, the men and women who were accused of plotting the rebellion did not have substantially different visions of the form that their vengeance and postrebellion society would take. The narratives of racial violence circulating in Mexico City in early made that clear.

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By making black men into the protagonists of the new political, economic, and reproductive order, those narratives not only turned the sistema de castas on its head but also demonstrated the extent to which Spanish American mestizaje, occasionally still romanticized in current scholarship, was a function of a number of overlapping power relations. In the early seventeenth century, that world was witnessing the consolidation of the transatlantic slave system, the rise of significant populations of blacks and mulattoes, and the extension of the metropolitan discourse of limpieza de sangre to colonial groups.

Yet, for all the anxieties about sexual relations between black men and native women, it was the possibility of the former having access to Spanish women that troubled colonials the most. Historians of early-seventeenth-century Mexico have yet to uncover evidence that unions, licit or illicit, between black men and white women were taking place in any significant number.

Because the status of limpieza de sangre was generally determined by the paternal and maternal lines of descent, Spanish men had to enjoy exclusive, or near exclusive, access to Spanish women; allowing black men to introduce their blood into Spanish lineages would have jeopardized the reproduction of their purity. Moreover, it would have undermined one of the main psychological premises of colonialism, that of the sexual and reproductive prerogatives enjoyed by white men. In short, unions between black men and Spanish women, especially if they led to marriage, would have threatened colonial hierarchies of rule, and, for this reason, they figured prominently in narratives of racial violence.

Spanish deployments of notions of impurity against blacks and mulattoes also help to account for why these groups became the source of great anxieties during Holy Week, a period of intense religious activity centered precisely on the question of membership in the Christian community. In early-seventeenth-century New Spain, just who was part of that community was by no means clear, even among the colonists. These included New Christians some from Portugal and many Old Christians who were not at all well versed in basic Christian theology.

The sharp increase in Spanish suspicions of potential betrayal, religious and political, by the New Christians closest to them—whether conversos in Spain or blacks in early colonial Mexico City—heightened the threat of physical violence. In New Spain, however, that threat was normally not actualized and subsided once Holy Week had passed. What made Easter of different was a combination of domestic and international developments including the political vacuum, the influx of slaves, and the perceived threats of external and internal enemies that made colonials feel especially vulnerable.

Either because there was no conspiracy or because it was effectively aborted by colonial authorities, when Maundy Thursday arrived neither Mexico City nor Puebla had to face a rebellion. The thirty-five blacks and mulattoes who were identified by the Audiencia as leaders of the conspiracy were tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged and quartered.

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According to Chimalpahin, when the day of the executions arrived, only six were butchered because doctors declared that distributing the parts of any more bodies around Mexico City would jeopardize the health of the population. In the evening, when the celebration was taking place, a group of blacks and mulattoes rushed to shroud the twenty-nine bodies, determined to grant them a somewhat more dignified ending than the other six had been given. They placed the dead, or what was left of them, on petates palm mats and, with the help of some native people and a handful of lay Spaniards, carried them to a cemetery.

The group was accompanied by religious who provided a chorus of songs as the procession made its way to the Hospital of Our Lady of Misericordia, where the twenty-nine bodies received a Christian burial. With regard to the other blacks who were implicated in the plot, Chimalpahin wrote that one who was identified as the main leader of the movement was hanged on the fourteenth of May and that many others were shipped to Spain to testify before the king.

The anonymous account of the hangings claimed that many people witnessed the executions and that they had a strong impact on the population of slaves, which subsequently became much more submissive to their masters. What the author neglected to mention is that they probably also had a great effect on the Spanish population itself. The hangings were ordered by the government and hence did not constitute lynchings; rather, they were manifestations of state power.

As such, they conveyed the message that royal authority embodied in the Audiencia extended to all bodies in the viceroyalty, even those that were deemed private property. By lessening the possibility that their fantasy of being obliterated would become a reality, the hangings also served to affirm their existence, and, indeed, the continuation of a racial order premised on the superiority of whiteness. Finally, the public display of the treachery of persons of African ancestry helped to legitimate slavery, an institution that early modern Iberians related to the Curse of Ham and that, ironically, was to help turn blacks into good Christians and vassals.

Did a plan for rebelling and forging a new sexual-racial-political order exist, or was it simply a fiction, a product of the phantasmagoria of central Mexican Spanish society in which blacks often played a dominant role? Frantz Fanon has powerfully described this inversion fantasy and its sexual component in his discussion of the psychological effects that living in a racist society can have on black men. It is also possible that some black women might have shared the inversion fantasy, at least the part that involved ending their enslavement and regular subjection to violence.

As viceregal reports consistently reveal, physical violence against blacks was endemic in New Spain, which should contribute to dispelling any lingering assumptions about slavery in Spanish America being less brutal than elsewhere.

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Many men and women of African ancestry, including those who were free, creolized, and partly integrated into Spanish communities, did not seem to lack motives for wanting to rebel. Perhaps for that reason, Spaniards became extremely anxious when ladino blacks showed signs of identifying with African-born slaves, potential sources of knowledge about a world that had been violently taken from them and that, though now distant, some might have longed to recreate. After all, in a society that strongly privileged lineage and history, what could be worse than not having a past and living in a state of natal alienation?

In short, there is no reason to rule out the possibility that a black conspiracy existed at the end of or that it surfaced in the tense months that followed, perhaps as a response to the increasingly hostile actions of viceregal officials. But, interestingly, at least one source, Chimalpahin, expressed some doubts about the whole conspiracy narrative, even as he reconstructed it from the rumors that circulated in the capital before and after the hangings.

Did Chimalpahin have a different perspective on the hangings? Was he more skeptical about the validity of the rumors because of his own ambivalent place in colonial society? Or did he simply reproduce Spanish views about blacks? Spanish colonialism encouraged tensions between native people and blacks, and they certainly did exist. For instance, his version of the conspiracy depicted those implicated as fully committed to Christianity, so much so that they were supposedly planning to spare the lives of friars in order to have them prepare some blacks to become church officials—a remarkable statement that hints at the possibility of competing views about who were the true Christians in New Spain.

He seems to have been fully conscious that a seemingly straightforward incident such as the convictions of the thirty-five blacks and mulattoes was the result of a complex set of events that were investigated by persons with specific interests, shaped by rumors, and reconstructed by authorities invested in justifying their actions—in sum, that power plays a central role in the various stages of historical production.

Research grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Huntington Library, and the University of Southern California facilitated the writing of this article. Power and the Production of History Boston, , esp. For a discussion of how archives limit the historical study of crime, in particular, see Natalie Zemon Davis, Fiction in the Archives: A historian with some links to the pre-Hispanic lesser nobility of the Kingdom of Chalco, Chimalpahin was living in Mexico City at the time of the hangings and, hence, might have been an eyewitness he claimed as much.

Rafael Tena Mexico City, , — Both morisca and castiza had a number of different meanings in Spain. Conflicts over Marriage Choice, — Stanford, Calif. The classic work on purity of blood in Spain remains Albert A. Sicroff, Los estatutos de limpieza de sangre: Basically, he endorsed moderate metissage because he believed that it was necessary for civilizations to grow more powerful and to remain dynamic. I am grateful to David B. Among the Spanish and the English, the myth began to be regularly applied to Africans in the last third of the sixteenth century.

Blacks in Mexico, — Cambridge, Mass. Robert Hurley New York, , — The grantee was supposed to ensure the protection and Christianization of his encomienda Indians and to help defend the Spanish population when it was under attack. Zavala, La encomienda indiana, 3d ed. Nutini, The Wages of Conquest: Brading, The First America: Anthropology and History New York, , — Bennett, Africans in Colonial Mexico: For how free and enslaved persons of African ancestry in colonial Brazil used their status as subjects of the Portuguese crown to make appeals for justice, see A.

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Colonial reports typically described the failure of blacks and mulattoes to pay tribute as a sign of disloyalty to the crown. Engerman and Eugene D. Quantitative Studies Princeton, N. On the significance of the passage, see D. Blacks and mulattoes were also normally not allowed to serve as witnesses in civil or ecclesiastical tribunals the Inquisition being an exception because, it was argued, their descent from Old Christians could not be confirmed. I thank Javier Villa-Flores for sharing the latter observation with me.

A Comparative Study [Cambridge, Mass. The extent to which Spanish colonialism was able to accomplish this—the erasure of African lineage and memory—is, of course, debatable, varied by region, and depended on a number of factors. From the Aztecs to Independence, trans. Gillespie, The Aztec Kings: In Mexico City and Lima, which had the largest concentrations of blacks in the western hemisphere through most of the seventeenth century, they participated in a number of guilds and in industries such as shoemaking, ironware, and construction.

A Colonial Society Madison, Wis. Of course, the economic function of slaves, including urban ones, should not be underestimated. Some Spaniards in colonial cities, for instance, profited from renting their slaves to other Spaniards. For the case of Jalapa, see Patrick J. Carroll, Blacks in Colonial Veracruz: Race, Ethnicity, and Regional Development, 2d ed.

Eventually, the term was applied mainly to Jews ladino coming to designate the language spoken by Sephardic Jews and, in the colonial context, depending on the region, to Hispanicized native people, mestizos, or blacks. In parts of southern Mexico and Central America, for example, the word was used to refer to Spanish-speaking Mayas and, in time, simply to nonnative people. Farriss, Mayas Society under Colonial Rule: Fick, The Making of Haiti: From the Baroque to the Modern, — New York, , 12— Racial fantasies also appeared, and became even more prominent, in some post-slavery societies, such as in the Jim Crow South, where thousands of people most of them black men accused of raping or intending to assault white women were lynched between and Fitzhugh Brundage, Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, — Urbana, Ill.

Recent studies of the lynching of nonblacks in the U. A Psychohistory New York, , See Palmer, Slaves of the White God, — A Documentary History Wilmington, Del. The Mexico City one normally consisted of a president ex-officio the viceroy , eight to ten magistrates oidores , four criminal judges alcaldes del crimen , one or two prosecutors fiscal de lo civil and fiscal de lo criminal , one high sheriff alguacil mayor , one lieutenant chancellor teniente de gran chanciller , and other lesser officials.

On Spanish colonial legal institutions and culture, see Charles R. In the early s, French colonial authorities in Louisiana claimed to have uncovered a plot by African slaves to topple the government that involved black appropriations of aristocratic and ruling titles similar to those in Mexico City. Hirsh and Joseph Logsdon, eds. Race and Americanization Baton Rouge, La. This group of masters even included Viceroy don Luis de Velasco, whose pastry cook, a free mulato, performed the coronation. Atlixco was said to have 40 Spaniards and 25 slaves, and Veracruz, Spaniards and slaves.

The report also estimated that in the bishopric of Tlaxcala east of Mexico City there were about rural estates estancias , with a total population of approximately Spaniards and slaves. Nonetheless, it is significant that the participants chose as king the one person among them who had been born in Africa, perhaps because he retained some knowledge of African social and religious traditions, which, as various scholars have noted, tended to be a source of great respect in slave communities.

Cambridge, , — See Palmer, Slaves of the White God, Sherburne Cook and Woodrow Borah estimated that the native population declined from about 27,, in to approximately 1,, in the figures are cited in Palmer, Slaves of the White God, 2. A report sent by Pedro de Vega to the Supreme Council of the Inquisition in estimated the total nonnative population of Mexico City to be 60,, including 40, Spaniards, 10, slaves, and 1, free blacks and mulattoes. Vega probably overestimated the Spanish population, which he determined by multiplying the number of Spanish heads of household 5, in Mexico City, 1, in Puebla by 8, supposedly the average number of people in Spanish homes.

The numbers dropped from to , only to increase sharply again from to ; see Palmer, Slaves of the White God, 14— See Richard Price, Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas Baltimore, , Another important maroon community surfaced in northeastern Oaxaca.

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