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Chapter Twelve Black Brotherhoods in Mexico City Nicole von Germeten As explored in other chapters in this volume that focus on port cities in the Iberian Black Atlantic, this chapter analyzes seventeenth-century Mexico City confraternities that had an African or Creole membership or were described in colonial documentation as founded and led by negros or mulatos.1 Confraternities helped seventeenth-century Africans and descendants of Africans survive through fostering community and providing health care and burials, and later encouraged a degree of upward social mobility. They also created a cultural, religious, and spiritual phenomena I call Afro-Mexican Baroque piety, which emphasized women’s leadership and penitence and participants ’ humble, even enslaved status.2 In Mexico City, Afro-Mexicans very rarely organized brotherhoods connected to their place of origin in Africa, but instead asserted their American birth or Creole identity to achieve goals for their community. In fact, as early as 1568, a group of men who described themselves as mulatos and the “sons of black men and Indian women or black women and Spanish men” petitioned the king to found a hospital that served their needs.3 While it has been the focus for well-known English-language historical studies of Africans in New Spain,4 Mexico City is not an easy place for historians to explore the history of Afro-Mexican confraternities. Parish archives or the records of bishops and the courts connected to them offer historians the best documents for understanding confraternities, but these repositories have either been lost or destroyed or are very difficult to access in Mexico City. Because their historical archives have better survived the centuries, northern Mexican mining towns, such as Zacatecas, and regional centers, such as 249 Mexico City Morelia, offer a much more detailed panorama of Afro-Mexican spiritual and family life from the 1500s to the twentieth century. It is also important to note that the history of Mexico City confraternities differs from what can be traced in regional archives. We cannot precisely pinpoint Mexico City population numbers (much less specifics for slaves versus free people or exact numbers of slaves who came from various African regions) for the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries , but historians believe that Africans and their descendants definitely outnumbered Spaniards in this important administrative center well into the 1600s.5 Contemporarypopulationfiguresshouldnotbetrustedbecauseatthis time they were used to prove points or push agendas. Also, it is very difficult to ascertain how observers divided the different categories of residents they identified, or where they drew their boundaries around the city. For example, the petitioners mentioned above claimed that six thousand mulatos lived in Mexico City in 1568, perhaps exaggerating their numbers to stress their need for a hospital. In 1570, historians say that around twelve thousand AfroMexicans lived in Mexico City, and by 1646 this number had grown to almost sixty-three thousand, although the latter figure includes the surrounding region as well.6 In 1612, one traveler asserted that the city was home to fifty thousand blacks and mulattos, fifteen thousand Spaniards, and eighty thousand Indians.7 In 1698, the Italian traveler Gemelli Careri observed that negros and mulatos dominated the numbers of people he observed on Mexico City streets. He offered an estimate of one hundred thousand residents in the city. Historians guess that thirty thousand indigenous people lived in Mexico City through the 1600s, so, given this figure, Spaniards, Africans, and their descendants (both free and enslaved) represented over two-thirds of the inhabitants. We do know that the majority of Africans in New Spain came from Central Africa, especially in the period from 1580 to 1640. An obvious trend was toward a growth in the free population of color, as slaves from Africa rarely came to New Spain after 1640, and a wide swath of the population tended toward sexual unions across racial lines, creating a large racially mixed group often described as castas. Into the eighteenth century, the city continued to grow in population, with an increase of Spaniards, Natives, and free people of color, while the numbers of Africans and enslaved individuals suffered a gradual decline after 1640. This chapter mirrors the broad trend toward free status by presenting snapshots of historical moments taken from the surviving documentation related to Afro-Mexican confraternities, which demonstrate a tendency, over Chapter Twelve 250 one or two generations, to deemphasize African ethnic or geographic labels, instead taking on, whether voluntarily or due to official suggestions or pressure , the personal and confraternal designations of negro and...


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