- Alva Ixtlilxochitl's Native Archive and the Circulation of Knowledge in Colonial Mexico by Amber Brian
The past thirty or so years have seen a marked increase in the number of academic monographs that seek to break the simple binarisms that even now shape many people's understanding of the Latin American Colonial era. Indeed, categories such as [End Page 196] "indigenous," "mestizo," and "creole" are all too often treated as stable, reified entities when a close examination of texts from the period reveals these labels as sites of slippage and negotiation on the parts of all actors involved. An important contribution to this growing body of scholarship, Amber Brian's Alva Ixtlilxochitl's Native Archive and the Circulation of Knowledge in Colonial Mexico takes up the task of exploring creole/mestizo/indigenous relationships in the late seventeenth century, furthering our understanding of how these actors went about constructing the historical narratives that would eventually flow into the production of Mexican national histories.
As made explicit in the Introduction, Brian takes as her object of analysis the web of social and cultural relationships surrounding the collection of indigenous texts compiled by Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl (~1578-1650), and its subsequent passage as a gift into the hands of the creole intellectual Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora (1645-1700) in the late 1680s. As she notes, "[t]he collection became one of the most important archives on pre-Colombian and conquest-era Mexico, and the cultural significance attached to its transfer as a gift has far-reaching relevance" (1). Subsequently, Brian argues that through analysis of the collection within this broader context of the relationships surrounding it, "we can gain significant insight into how historical memory in Mexico was created among many actors" (3).
The book's four chapters follow through in the promise of the Introduction in their careful examination of the intricate negotiations within interracial relationships. Chapter 1, "Creoles, Mestizos, and the Native Archive," provides the reader with a solid grounding in the stakes of indigenous textual production in the first 200 years after the Spanish Conquest. Brian amply demonstrates how in their discussions of indigeneity, successive generations of intellectuals, from Ixtlilxochitl and Sigüenza to Francisco Clavijero and Juan José de Eguiara, were "working within a discursive formation that defined the position of the Indian differently" (38). In particular, her lengthy discussion of the pains Ixtlilxochitl took to construct his own authoritative voice are a valuable analysis of the roles colonized elites play as simultaneous cultural mediators with the non-indigenous world and the preservers of indigenous histories. Chapter 2, "Land, Law, and Lineage: The Cacicazgo of San Juan Teotihuacan," delves further into the symbiotic relationships that existed between indigenous elites and non-indigenous peoples by looking at the archive's transfer into Singüenza y Góngora's hands as an attempt to "bolster don Diego's (a descendant of Ixtlilxochitl's) claim on the family's cacicazgo" at a time when claims to traditional indigenous landholdings were increasingly under attack (48). In other words, the collection's rearticulation as a gift likely served legal arguments tied to land tenure in addition to further cementing the bonds of friendship between these families. In Chapter 3, "Configuring Native Knowledge: Seventeenth-Century Mestizo Historiography," further critiques Ixtlilxochitl's position as a historian writing across indigenous and European perspectives, one who ultimately "put into dialogue the historical narrative forms from Europe and those from the Americas in an attempt to communicate the history of Anahuac and its people effectively" (106). The final chapter, "Circulating Native Knowledge: Seventeenth-Century Creole Historiography," provides an interesting contrast with Chapter 3 in its exploration of [End Page 197] how Sigüenza y Góngora seeks to accomplish similar ends and "the native archive […] becomes the creole archive" (111).
In the Epilogue, Brian reminds us that the stakes of indigenous knowledge and their circulation remain politically charged, as evidenced by the recent repatriation of the colonial-era Códice Chimalpahin in 2014...