Week3: On casta paintings and the lieutenant nun


To me the most interesting thing about casta paintings is the variety of perspectives and responses of the viewers. As the text suggests, casta paintings were intended to convey a positive and prosperous image of racial mixture, so as to make a difference in a period when the creoles were discriminated against and the Spanish-born were privileged in the colonial lands. I’m not sure how successful this attempt was; some people were worried about the image being negative. Meanwhile, the paintings also managed to satiate Spanish people’s appetite for exotica and natural history. How will the baby look like if the father is Spanish and mother Indian? And if the mother is Spanish and father Indian? What do they wear? What do they do? What special plants and animals are there in Latin Americas? In this sense the meaning of the paintings is less complicated and nothing political.


When it comes to the recognition of a mixed race, the questions are more sensitive. Did the children, say, Mexican-born, of Spanish parents consider themselves Mexicans or Spaniards? Though pure-blooded, what was the influence of indigenous culture and colonial culture on them? And, as for the children of mixed races, how did they see themselves? Offspring of conquerers and victims? What did that suggest? To some extent the cultural blending process of colonization is similar to that of immigration today, but the colonial nature certainly played a role. With external force such as Spanish rule, Latin American people regardless of ancestry might be able to unite better and to be at peace with a shared identity.



When reading the introduction, I thought the woman should have had clear goals and careful planning to take on a grand adventure, but the fact was quite the contrary. It surprised me how volatile and aimless she was and her whereabouts, especially while in Spain, was mainly a result of chance and precariousness. She could stay comfortably at one place for two years and suddenly opt to end that life just because it suited her.


I also noticed a lack of emotions in the narration of the memoir. The memoir is about what she did but not how she felt. Is it just her writing style or is she cold-hearted? Sometimes one could guess how she felt, as in “when I heard the anguish in my father’s voice, I backed off slowly and slipped away to my room.” But often times her emotion remains a mystery. What did she thinking of killing the Indians? How did she feel after killing her brother other than “I was stunned”?


Despite the absence of inner description, one can make out some of her prominent characteristics. Looking No wonder she was cantankerous and bellicose, and valorous if we want an approving word. She seemed always ready for a fight. We could also say she was unscrupulous for pilfering.

Read 2 comments

  1. The casta paintings are a heritage of colonization, but not only a heritage, but as well an explanation for latter developments regarding race, culture and even Independence of Latin America. The unique racial-cultural mixture is a part of modern Latin American identity.

  2. I agree that the most interesting part of the Casta paintings is how differently they can be received depending on the audience. That is very true that in a sense they attempted to answer people’s curiosity about new, “exotic” situations. I think it is the fact that they attempted to define these new cultures into stereotypes and classify race that made them questionable.

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