- Memories of Conquest: Becoming Mexicano in colonial Guatemala by Laura E. Matthew, and: Vertical Empire: The General Resettlement of Indians in the colonial Andes by Jeremy Ravi Mumford
Laura Matthew’s Memories of Conquest: Becoming Mexicano in colonial Guatemala and Jeremy Ravi Mumford’s Vertical Empire: The General Resettlement of Indians in the colonial Andes both offer fine examples of new research that has reassessed and deepened historical understandings of the Spanish conquest and its aftermath in the Americas. Matthew’s Memories of Conquest examines the history of the Nahua and Oaxacan allies who accompanied Jorge Alvarado in the 1520s during the early stages of conquest in Central America, and their subsequent experiences as colonists and colonial subjects in Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala, over the next 300 years. She offers a Native American-centered history of these invasions by grounding her study in the ancient history of persistent Mesoamerican patterns of warfare and alliance, especially the political, administrative, religious and military aspects of Tenochca/Aztec/Mexica empire building. By rejecting the rigid division between ancient Mesoamerican history and the colonial period, she shows that the 1524-28 invasions by Spanish forces in alliance with Indigenous Mexica and Oaxacans into highland Maya territory marked “a continuation as much as a break” with ancient history (17).
Matthew is motivated by a central question: What did being Mexicano mean in colonial Ciudad Vieja over time? This longue durée perspective centers Matthew’s analysis of Lienzo de Quahquechollan and a series of sixteenth-century probanzas to show the ways that the first generations of Ciudad Vieja Mexicanos remembered their participation as a military partnership with the Spanish within Mesoamerican traditions of invasion and conquest. Mexicanos continued speaking Nahuatl to the second and third generation, and yet also quickly learned Spanish, cementing their status as indios ladinos and facilitating their participation in the Spanish colonial world. She creatively and convincingly charts the ways that Nahua and Oaxacan petitioners, for example, defined and interpreted the term “Indian conquistador” in sixteenth-century legal efforts to regain exemption from tribute and made their way through the colonial bureaucracy, based on their military alliances with the Spanish. Throughout, they called themselves, and were called by others, “Indian conquistadors,” on equal footing with the Spanish and at the same time distinguished from Indian slaves and conquered Maya ethnic groups.
In addition to descent from conquistadors, Nahua and Oaxacan residents maintained and transformed their identity as Mexicanos through what Matthew calls “the primacy of place.” Ciudad Vieja, she argues, must be seen as both a colonial town and as an atlepetl in the Mesoamerican tradition. As residents of a colonial town, Mexicanos participated in self-rule through the cabildo (city council) and the establishment of town militias, with Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception as the town’s patron saint. Matthew skillfully shows the ways that the colonial system provided opportunities for the recreation over time of a Mexicano identity as distinct from other Indigenous ethnic groups and as privileged, reinforced through community celebrations that reenacted rituals of conquest and through participation in other community and religious festivals in corporate groups such as cofradías (religious brotherhoods). Thus Ciudad Vieja remained the ancestral home and central settlement of Guatemalan Mexicanos over the centuries.
Mumford takes a fresh look at the General Resettlement of Indians undertaken in the Viceroyalty of Peru during the administration of Viceroy don Francisco de Toledo in the 1570s, and resulted in the forcible relocation of more than one million Andeans into new colonial towns. Mumford considers the question of why Toledo’s reducciones were successful when two earlier efforts to resettle Andeans into tributary towns had failed. To answer that question, he explores in three sections the ideological origins of the General Resettlement, especially early modern practices of ethnography; the General Resettlement itself, where he deemphasizes the role of the imperial center as represented by the Junta Magna and instead argues...