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  • Black Mexico: Race and Society from Colonial to Modern Times
  • Aron Althouse
Black Mexico: Race and Society from Colonial to Modern Times. Edited by Ben Vinson IIIand Matthew Restall. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2009. Pp. xiv, 278. Illustrations. Maps. Glossary. Bibliography. Index. $27.95 paper.

This edited collection reveals the largely overlooked "black" Mexico through new scholarly approaches to the study of race, caste, identity, the African Diaspora, and the diverse network of individuals who populated the heart of the colony of New Spain. Chapters from well-established and emerging scholars will prove useful to specialists of race/ethnicity/identity/caste, Latin Americanists seeking to better understand how postcolonial national identity formation depends upon colonial legacies, and even non-Latin Americanists seeking to better their comparative framework for looking at issues of individual and collective identity and the African experience in the Americas. While the volume's chronological span covers the period from colonial inception to the present, its bedrock is clearly the colonial period. This focus does not represent an oversight on the editors' part or an imbalance that flaws the collection. Rather, the paucity of chapters centered on events after 1800 merely accentuates the fact that people of African descent become harder to locate in documents of the independence era when caste distinctions were abolished, and blackness became even more—to borrow an unoriginal concept—"invisible" in the process of post-revolutionary nation building. [End Page 141]

The volume opens with Ben Vinson's general introduction, which places the issue of blackness in Mexico in historiographical context. This is followed by a long section entitled "Entering the Colonial World." "Trey" Proctor's section on slave rebellion utilizes a comparative structure of four instances of collective slave resistance to locate Mexico in the broader American context of slave agency, with specific attention devoted to motivations for such rebellion and how slaves' actions spoke to the intended outcomes of such resistance. Andrew Fisher's treatment of free blacks in the tropical hot lands of Guerrero illustrates social contacts between blacks and natives in a peripheral area, and how the character of such interaction responded to regional and colony-wide changes over time, particularly land pressures in the eighteenth century. Pat Carroll's study charts a different course than Fisher's portrait of Guerrero, emphasizing the often harmonious nature of black and Indian contact within native communities. Arguing that Spanish record keepers tended to accentuate black versus native conflict rather than friendship, Carroll suggests that West African notions of "fictive family formation" may have influenced black strategies of settlement and acceptance into indigenous villages. Though such arrangements were not free of conflict, they were as much a part of colonial life as were instances of violence. In another chapter, Nicole Von Germeten investigates how mulatto cofradíamembers fashioned themselves to appear loyal Crown subjects and thus potentially improved their standing within the Hispanic-designed society.

Unlike the broad approach taken by the aforementioned scholars, Vinson (black labor) and Matthew Restall and Joan Bristol (love magic) focus on more specific moments. Vinson's examination of the occupational experiences of free blacks in four of the colony's largest cities—Mexico City, Puebla, Guanajuato, and Querétaro—locates these workers in the context of eighteenth-century economic prosperity, and demonstrates that while free blacks were an integral part of the labor force in these urban centers and took advantage of unprecedented opportunity as the century progressed, it is less clear that such conditions existed without limitations. Restall and Bristol compare inquisition cases from across Mexico to document the centrality of blacks and mulattos in the multicultural practice of love magic, and as a consequence accentuate the influence such practitioners exerted on the quality of life throughout the colony.

The second and concluding section of the volume, "Engaging Modernity," contains chapters by Laura Lewis and Bobby Vaughn on contemporary images and notions of blackness in Mexico and among Mexican immigrants to the United States, as well as two short pieces on the lived experiences of Afro-Mexicans. In sum, this volume delivers the promise of its title in terms of reflecting current scholarship on blackness in Mexico from...


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pp. 141-142
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