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  • The Genizaro Land Grant Settlements of New Mexico
  • Moises Gonzales (bio)

Historical Context of Genizaro Settlements in New Mexico

As defined by Fray Angelico Chavez, genizaro was the designation given to North American Indians of mixed tribal derivation living among the Hispanic population in Spanish fashion: that is, having Spanish surnames from their masters, Christian names through baptism, speaking a simple form of Spanish, and living together or sprinkled among the Hispanic towns and ranchos.1 Beginning in the 18th century, genizaro settlements were established by the Spanish to provide defensible communities on the frontier of New Spain. The strategic planning of these new towns was vital to the ability of the Spanish to sustain a presence in New Mexico during the early 1700s due to increased attacks by nomadic tribes such as the Navajo, Ute, Comanche, Apache, and Kiowa. Due to the immense pressure on the colony caused by these attacks, the settlement policy established by Governor Tomas Velez Gachupin, and continued by his successors, was to establish genizaro settlements at the fringe of the frontier to serve as a buffer zone between the nomadic tribes and the villas (principal settlements) of Santa Cruz, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque as well as many of the Pueblo communities.2 The permanence of these communities would alter the cultural landscape of New Mexico as well as blur the lines of distinction between European Spanish and Amerindian settlements in New Mexico.

From the 1740s to the 1790s, towns such as Abiquiu, Las Trampas, San Miguel del Vado, Belen, Ojo Caliente, and San Miguel de Carnué were established as genizaro buffer settlements.3 During this period, [End Page 583] genizaros were specifically targeted for recruitment to establish frontier communities, which Spanish officials planned as a network of high mountain communities located along mountain passes used by nomadic tribes as routes of attack. One might ask: Why would an individual in the mid-18th century volunteer to establish a settlement that was at risk of constant attack by nomadic tribes? One answer is that for genizaros, as well as mestizos, establishing buffer settlements was a way to become a landowner and gain social status, and escape the domination and servitude by the Spanish ruling caste.4 While many genizaros brought into servitude at birth or by purchase to work for Spanish families eventually earned freedom at adulthood, many others would remain working for the same families that they served for the duration of their lives because, under the Spanish colonial caste system, genizaros were unable to secure land. However, the only way in which a genizaro or mestizo could gain social and economic position in colonial society was through acquiring land. Therefore, the opportunity to acquire land by participating in the organization and construction of a buffer settlement, although dangerous, was worth the ability to become economically self-reliant. Colonial officials conceived a policy of settling genizaros on the frontier of the colony, granting them land in return for their building of fortified villages and serving in the frontier militia.5 In such a community, away from the direct domination of the church, genizaros could be semi-autonomous, live among a similar caste group, and practice their native customs. Even today, the genizaro dance known as the captive dance is still danced in the Pueblo of Abiquiu on the Catholic feast day of Santo Tomas, which attests to the survival of genizaro culture.6 The purpose of this paper is to examine the history of five genizaro land grant communities that were established in the 18th century and then explore the complexity of identity and indigenous land rights in contemporary New Mexico. Although there are other communities that were established during this period by, or including, genizaros, such as Ojo Caliente and Barrio de Analco, the five communities in this article were chosen because of their role in land rights policy today.

Research Methodology

The methodology for developing the ethnographic history of genizaro land grant communities in this article was developed by examining archival records of community land grants in New Mexico during the [End Page 584] 18th century in which genizaros participated in the formulation of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-1371
Print ISSN
0894-8410
Pages
pp. 583-602
Launched on MUSE
2015-02-02
Open Access
No
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