Week 3 – The Colonial Experience

The excerpt of the memoir of la Monja Alferez, titled “The Lieutenant Nun”, was really fascinating because it offered such a hollywood-esque take on an aspect of this era of colonialism. Being a big fan of movies myself, learning about this story of a woman who cut her hair and pretended to be a man, becoming not just a soldier but a conquistador, was unbelievably enthralling. Nonetheless, on the matter of whether Catalina was a rebel or not, I would say that she was in fact not a rebel per say. This is because she was rebelling strictly in the sense that she defied convention by doing something that no other woman would dare to do at that time, yet she did not rebel against the whole system of society or hierarchy entirely due to her stepping into a new hierarchical role. Moreover, the matter in which she was also forgiven and implicitly ignored by the top brass of Spain at that time when she came out, also implies that this was not seen as a hugely momentous act of rebellion that altered anything significantly.

When observing the casta paintings, the first thing that came to me was the idealized way in which they portray Spanish colonial society. It’s almost explicit that they are advertising themselves to those on the outside of their society and colonial culture. More particularly, they are advertising the harmonious restructured society in which the people live, contrary to what someone may have perceived as pure slavery. Yet, importantly, it is nonetheless apparent that the paintings spread a message of harmony in cohesion with hierarchy. Looking at these paintings and reading about them gives us some indication as to the thinking at that time of the people within the Spanish Empire. Personally, I believe some paintings are better than others simply due to the way in which they portray the relationship between the pureblood Spaniards and the mixed-race “others”. To conclude on this topic, I would make the final observation that the casta paintings are another piece of evidence for the argument that art is powerful enough to extend beyond boundaries and can affect people in all sorts of ways both politically and in social-commentary.

My question for this week is related to the story of Catalina de Erauso, and even though it is hard to find out personal motivations for such a story, I would still ask the question of what is exactly was her motivations for carrying out such a defiant act? I think that this question is particularly important because it would help to identify and analyze with increased thoroughness the extent to which Catalina was a rebel or not.

Thanks for reading,


5 thoughts on “Week 3 – The Colonial Experience

  1. Thalia Ramage

    I like your take on Catalina’s story and whether or not she was a rebel. Personally, I don’t think she was a rebel as well, because her gender change or cross-dressing was not the most significant part of herself, her being a conquistador was more significant. And at that time, being a conquistador was probably not status quo, but was probably not that out-there. I also really enjoyed reading her story because it read so well and it was like an action movie, almost, just with looser footing and a harder-to-define plot.

  2. DoreanLotfazar

    I love your association of “The Lieutenant Nun” with Hollywood (right on) and I also agree that Catalina was not a rebel as well. Something that I started thinking about as soon as I read the memoir, was Catalina’s motivation behind her actions, as you suggested. You also made a beautiful observation that the Casta paintings are evidence that art can be powerful enough to affect people in all sorts of ways.

  3. Leobardo

    I think the same of the casta painting, they felt like some kind of propaganda to everyone in Spain, as if they were advertising what type of life they would have if they came to the new land. I dont know if its true but i would say the painting were not a reflection of what was happening in Latin America but what spanish conquistadors wanted people to be.

  4. Moses Caliboso

    Interesting that The Lieutenant Nun reminded you of Hollywood movies, it reminded me a lot of Mulan, to be honest. Interesting perspecting on Catalina as well. She was a subversive figure in the sense that she became a man and freely crossed and blurred the gender binary, but the flip side is that she was an active participant in Spanish imperialist actions by being a conquistador.

  5. Kito Romero

    I also agree with your suggestion that Catalina was not a rebel in the strict sense of the word because she was still carrying out the role of conquistador, and her dressing as a man was simply to allow her to fulfill that role, not to question in any way what the conquistadors were doing to the Indigenous peoples. Regarding the casta paintings, I have always found art interesting in that it can be a view on to what is important or telling as to what is happening in the moment in time in history. However, so much of the art that is “famous” is from the wealthy class – how different it would be to see a painting by an Indigenous Latin American at that time.


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