I loved the readings and video for this week!
Catalina’s story, which absolutely immersed me, is quite an anomaly. It’s unique firstly in that unlike many historical texts, Catalina is a testament to the reality of queerness in periods long predating us – and yet her experience is unique also in that it can be misleading. Although Catalina’s life had an extraordinary series of ups and downs (She unintentionally killed her own brother!), the fact that she was validated by both the Pope and King Phillip is quite the paradox when one thinks about the plight of other queer people of the same era. In fact, sodomy was one of the factors that led the Spanish to think so lowly of the indigenous, who in many societies partook in homosexual activity.
Catalina was not really paving the way for our 20th century sensibilities – at least probably not intentionally. She herself would participate in the very entity that would otherwise harm her – and as a conquistador, she falls short of our standards pertaining to the abuse of indigenous people and other colonial abuses. This side of her life, and the intricacy of her character, is lost if we hurryingly celebrate her as a lesbian feminist ahead of her time. But, like Columbus, it’s not so simple as a binary judgement. Even the most virtuous people at a given time act with the knowledge they have and the conditions they find themselves in. This entails that individuals in history often act on presumptions we now declare wrong – and all of this is true also of us. It is true that some people break this mould, and while Catalina would hardly fit the average life of a contemporary social activist, she led an epic and fearless life, setting an example for a woman’s sovereignty even for us today.
The casta paintings were also fascinating. Like Catalina, these paintings shone some light on those who are at the bottom of hierarchies – and like Catalina’s journey, it can be a bit misleading. The idealization of the couples, mixed with scenes of richness, efficiency, and exotic flora presents us with a contradiction. The reality of these mixed-race couples and social life in the New World as a whole (that being “domestic conflict, drunkards, vagrants,” etc.) is in effect quite different. I can only assume that this was done to flaunt Spain’s rule whilst also puzzlingly classifying and degrading its inhabitants. This isn’t to say that it was all embellishment; those who were lower on the rungs of the paintings were displayed much worse off then the couples whose blood was less ‘diluted’.
My question for further discussion is this:
At what point did mixed-raced couples become dissuaded rather then outright prohibited? It seems to me that if artworks were commissioned to display the different types of interracial couples, it became at some point accepted that these couples would inevitably exist. While such relationships were also actively discouraged by the hierarchy these paintings imposed, I wonder if these paintings also indicate a realization that these relationships would arise inevitably?