Week Three: “The Colonial Experience”
The ‘discovery’ of the Americas must have been a tremendous cultural experience. I mean, just by encountering new and different peoples, territories, and climates, these circumstances created new socially constructed categories of ‘Otherness’. As commented in the video, what King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela had started with the expulsion of two very important social and economic powerhouses: the Moros and the Jewish people in Spain; conversely, in the Americas and with Christopher Columbus voyages, he created new categories which undermined previous imperial efforts for homogeneity. However, I wonder, is this totally true? I believe that while this may seem to be the case originally, social, political, and economic division continued to happen in the Americas with the favoritism of the white-Spaniard, ruling class at the top of the social lather.
It’s true. There were some defenders of indigenous populations in the Americas. And yes, we can definitely count as Bartolome de las Casas as one of the leading early defenders of indigenous in the Americas. However, it is important to remember that, at the beginning of his administrative career as a servant of the Spanish crown, de las Casas owned slaves, of both black and indigenous origin. Later on, he had a change of heart and saw this as cruel and unequal practice in the eyes of God. Consequently, I think that, in a way, de las Casas gave Indians the godly right of having a soul as a way to indoctrinate them into the catholic region; hence, forcing them to assimilate into an imposing culture that brought them damaging consequences. Conversely, and no less important, it has to be present that many Africans were brought to the Americas as slaves with the solely purpose of helping with the production of staple products such as sugar, tobacco, and corn. This is to say that countless, African slaves lost their lives and were forced to work under despicable human conditions.
Homogeneity was a social preoccupation which hunted many white Spaniards who resided in the Americas and whom saw racial mixing as a direct threat to their social status. Consequently, it is because of these social challenges that the creations of Casta paintings were formulated to ensure, at least at a superficial level, that the superiority of the white-Spanish elite was preserved. When I see these Casta paintings, I recognized a clear hierarchy of race and class having a few at the top, mostly Spanish ruling classes and underneath them, the majority of other racial categories. There is also a patriarchal vision of power within the Casta organization putting the white-male figure, as the most important political embodiment of social control. In the same token, the only practical use of the Casta system was to exercise political control and dominance over a majority whose rights were oppressed and sometimes taken for granted.
On a side note, I find the story of Catalina de Erauzo fascinating. She is an adventurous figure who, not only challenged the stereotypical female roles of her time in colonial America, but also as a heroic persona who made her own destiny.