The Americas 58.3 (2002) 482-483
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Ida Altman has identified a significant current of migration between the Castilian town of Brihuega and Puebla in Mexico that first appears during the second half of the sixteenth century and continues until well after 1600. Her painstaking research in largely local archives on both sides of the Atlantic has enabled her to reconstruct a number of the characteristics of a migratory flow that were important enough to give rise to a briocense community in Puebla and to influence a number of aspects of local life in Brihuega. As she did in her fine study of transoceanic migration originating in Cáceres and Trujillo during much the same period, she is able to trace families and individuals on both sides of the empire and assess, at least in a tentative fashion, the impact this migration had for people and for local society.
Migration from Brihuega to Puebla initially involved mainly single young men, and only later did women, children and families participate in the process. Altman shows how natives of Brihuega moved into a much larger and more dynamic economic context in Puebla, yet continued to make use of many of the skills they had first learned back home. Their special involvement in textile production in Puebla or in different aspects of cattle ranching is fitting testimony to their Castilian origins. Many or most of the briocenses were able to improve their economic position in Puebla, and some of them made use of this to return to Brihuega with a different social status. People from Brihuega ended up forming a distinct and cohesive niche in Puebla society. They became active in public life, though seldom reached really important positions. The role of the family both for migration itself and for adjustment to life in Mexico, often perceptible over a number of generations of extended family groups, is significant. Residential clustering by briocenses in Puebla is an example of the on-going importance of a people's family and place of origin for the way strategies worked both in origin and destination. The author finds that with time it is nearly impossible to find identifiable briocense characteristics in Puebla society, [End Page 482] and concludes that after a number of decades, they had become true poblanos. In other words, full assimilation had finally taken place.
Altman's book gives us snippets of information about what was probably a very complex process. Some of them are wonderful, like the way migration rippled through entire family groups in Brihuega (pp. 130-143, 150-152), or the tale of broken promises in the family of Diego de Anzures (pp. 156-165). But snippets they remain. This is not meant as a criticism of the research underlying this book, which is as thorough as the source material will allow. Rather it means that the story told is a partial one, one where often we are not so sure the extent to which, for example, the tale is directly concerned with Brihuega-Puebla links or is rather concerned with colonial society as a whole. What is the specificity of Brihuega in this tale? Giving this question the reply it deserves is often difficult or impossible. Even so, the Altman's tale rings true, even in its minor details. The reason for this is that this book affords multiple, early-modern examples of how well much of classic migration theory really does hold up when compared with historical reality. It is surprising, on this count, that the author cites very few of these works and theories which are precisely the ones that turn her snippets into a cogent and very convincing account of how migration processes linked the colonial empire of Spain.
Universidad Complutense de Madrid