Week Three: The Colonial Experience

I had learned a little about casta paintings in a cultural anthropology course a few semesters ago. Arguably, race is a constructed concept, and in colonial Latin America, it seems race was constructed to favour and ensure Spanish supremacy in the area. Interestingly, I think this relates to the general idea of Latin America; it is a constructed concept that differs from whichever perspective you look at it. A curious pattern!

Something that captured my attention from the casta painting article was the fact that Miranda, a creole, was technically classified as a different race or different mixture of some sort, even though the only difference between him and an espaƱol was where they were born. Why were the Spanish so intent on micro-classification? Is it because they wanted to regain control of the populations they commanded as they conquered indigenous populations, considering the Jews and Moors had just been driven out of Spain? The article argues that the Spanish feared a breakdown of their imposed hierarchy in Latin America and the paintings were in response to that. Perhaps that answers the questions I posed above.

Another thing I found interesting about the article is how the paintings were sometimes viewed by Europeans as “exotica,” and other times were viewed as idealising the tense situations between different populations in colonial Latin America. In this frame of mind, of pondering the reactions different people had towards the paintings, I wonder how the indigenous and black populations reacted? Did they even get a chance to see them, since the article mentions we don’t quite know the “circulation, patronage, and reception of casta paintings” yet?

Now I would like to talk about Lieutenant Nun. What a fascinating story! She seemed to want a life that fit better with her unique needs, style, and personality; she clearly did not want to conform to society’s expectations. She seemed trapped and under-appreciated, not as to say she wanted an easier life. She chased excitement: the potential of being caught in disguise, stealing, leaving the “comfort of [the] situation” as page to Don Carlos de Arellano, and deciding “to join an army battalion headed for Chile, a violent frontier.”

She was brave in every sense of the word. She dared to live her own life outside of society’s rules, and well as performed acts of great bravery in the army, like rescuing the flag. However, I feel like the “hero or villain?” narrative can be put into place in Catalina de Erauso’s story as well. Sure, she was very brave and true to herself, but she also stole and murdered. Was she doing what she had to do to survive, or did she intentionally seek out situations in which to be criminal/violent?

3 thoughts on “Week Three: The Colonial Experience

  1. olga kochkareva

    Hi Kelsey,

    I find your complex about the micro-classification of peoples in Latin America very interesting. I agree that the Spanish seemed very intent on it, and perhaps took it too far with the Casta Paintings, however, is it possible that we cannot, as dwellers of today, separate ourselves from this? So often when we fill in some legal declaration, or complete a form, we are asked to put our ethnicity on the sheet to go into a database. Therefore, are we really very different from the colonial, medieval Spaniards?

    1. ana carolina miranda

      Hey Kelsey,
      I liked your observation on the fact that both race and Latin America are social constructs without any clear definition. Being a Latina, I had never thought of that myself. Also, about the Spanish fixation on micro-classifcation: I think they were desperate to show that each and everyone one who was not a “real” Spaniard (which I believe, included being born in Spain) were below them and should remain like that.
      Good questions!

  2. Sera Jorgensen

    I agree with your opinion that Catalina too could fit into our “hero/villain” debate about Columbus. I’ve always been a firm believer in the idea that individuals hurt others because they themselves have been hurt. Do you think that perhaps it was this feeling trapped and underappreciated that you mentioned, that drove Catalina into the lifestyle she later lived?


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