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Towards a New Interpretation of the Colonial Regime in Sonora, 1681–1821

From: Journal of the Southwest
Volume 50, Number 4, Winter 2008
pp. 377-413 | 10.1353/jsw.2008.0004

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Towards a New Interpretation of the Colonial Regime in Sonora, 1681–1821 Ignacio Almada Bay, José Marcos Medina Bustos, and María del Valle Borrero Silva Translated from the Spanish and edited by Jeff Banister One of the central postulates of contemporary historiography is the focus on the so-called Other, a concept that requires a deconstructive approach to history. Moving towards such a line of inquiry, in this essay we attempt to rethink some of the taken-for-granted historical discourses on the political entity we call Sonora. Our objective is to deconstruct it along the analytical axis of the Other, a category that, in this case (and in Latin America more generally) includes the indigenous, the poor, the oppressed, and the excluded (Dussel 2004: 9–10). Focusing on the poor, the dominated, and the excluded provides an analytical entry point for decentering and deconstructing the entity called Sonora and its historical representations. We do so by recognizing these people’s participation in history; that is, by tracing their tracks, their responses to events, the great breadth of their resistances, and the perceptions and representations that these have prompted in historiography. The history of the territory we call Sonora is thus explored as a collective yet conflictive construction.1 Prevailing discourses of Sonoran history have long circulated in the popular media and have become increasingly shrill in political campaigns. While they have many characteristics, they share in common their instrumental role in social control; their prosaic use for legitimizing the status quo; their focus on individuals and singular events (as opposed to processes and dynamics); their efforts to disfigure and obscure “the uncontrolled forces at work” in any given event (Peretti 2004: 97); their uncritical use of colonial-period categories of human groupings within Ignacio Almada Bay, José Marcos Medina Bustos, and María del Valle Borrero Silva are research professors in the Centro de Estudios Históricos de Región y Frontera at El Colegio de Sonora, Hermosillo. Jeff Banister is assistant editor of Journal of the Southwest. Journal of the Southwest 50, 4 (Winter 2008) : 377–414 378  ✜  Journal of the Southwest the space of “Sonora”; and, finally, their fusion into a collection of epic legends full of regional pride and xenophobia. Indeed, such discourses would appear to be part of a deliberate effort on the part of individuals and families, or of political pressure groups, to manipulate and mobilize public opinion. We, on the other hand, argue that the course of past and present events “cannot be understood as a unitary process unfolding through a meta-narrative of control” (Zizek 2004: 259). If knowing and/or interpreting the Other is indeed part of a complex collective learning process, in this essay we discuss three primary aspects of Sonora’s colonial period that we hope will contribute to this effort. These are aspects that we interpret with a view towards rendering visible those whose acts and lives have been erased in historiography. We begin with a critique of representations that idealize and exaggerate the dimensions of certain actors, and of manipulations of discourses concerning the past. We recognize that our efforts are but an initial exploration, that we remain at an analytical threshold. Still, this essay represents an enthusiastic first step toward reframing the interpretation of the past. In what follows, then, we draw from the historiography on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to begin this reframing along the following three general lines: (1) revisiting the breakup of the missions in the provinces of Sonora and Sinaloa, 1681–1767; (2) a revalorization of the role of indigenous societies during the Hispanic monarchy; and (3) a fresh look at Sonora’s colonial civilian and presidial populations. The Breakup of Missions in the Provinces of Sonora and Sinaloa, 1681–17672 Sonoran and Sinaloan missions run by the Society of Jesus underwent a process of deterioration that began in 1681. The true dimensions of this process were obscured by the Jesuits’ expulsion in 1767 and the resultant discourse of heroism in the face of political persecution and victimization. Following a trend in historiography, local and regional chroniclers have often employed this interpretation of victimization, etc., to dramatize the 1767 Jesuit...