Week 3 – The Colonial Experience

This week we peaked into what the early times of post-colonization looked like and the ways in which identities were changed, erased and created. We did this through examining the popular artworks known as casta paintings and through the life of Catalina de Erauso.

Casta paintings are a series of panels that each depict a family unit with a label as to what combination of races that family is. They are a way of giving a taxonomy to the racial mixes that occurred as a result of colonization of the Americas and the import of African slaves. I did find it surprising that there were so many more slaves brought to Brazil than to other places in the New world as I have never heard of the history or the modern day effects of slavery in Brazil as I have with countries like the US.

The casta paintings depict the racial hierarchy with the more pale Spaniards and spanish descendants wearing better clothes and having more professional jobs and the darker skinned mulatos, indians and zambos being portrayed as coachmen, vendors, shoemakers. In addition to giving a taxonomy and hierarchy to the racial mixes, casta paintings also enforced gender norms to some degree. Some panels, usually those depicting lower-ranking racial statuses, display gender-based violence and others depicting women in typical gender roles such as seamstresses and cooks.

The story of Catalina de Erauso was in stark contrast to the attempt of casta paintings to control and delineate gender and racial identities. Catalina, born and raised as a woman decided to escape her dull life as a nun and disguise herself as a man. As a man she had a lot of opportunities and adventures which took her to the New World. Her story reminded me somewhat of Mulan except as the translators Michele and Gabriel Stepto point out, “the rewards of her transformation were gained almost wholly at the expense of the victims of colonialism”. Again, we are faced with a character who in some ways was a pioneer and perhaps a hero but at the same time she was a murderous conquistador.

I found it particularly interesting that when Catalina revealed herself, she was not punished. In a society that went so far as to delineate hierarchies and status of races and genders as to create casta paintings, why was Catalina not punished when she revealed her biological sex to king Phillip and to the Pope Urban?

1 thought on “Week 3 – The Colonial Experience

  1. Brendan Bayer

    I also thought it was interesting how the Casta Paintings try and associate various racial groups with specific jobs and employment. The Catalina de Erauso part was surprising to me as well, as it seemed quite strange in such a hierarchical society which was very male-focused. An idea for your question at the end is that it’s possible King Phillip and Pope Urban looked over her gender because she was making gains for the crown and doing the heavy lifting with the conquering.

    -Brendan Bayer


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