Mapping Amerindian Captivity in Colonial Mosquitia

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2015-10-11 18:18Z by Steven

Mapping Amerindian Captivity in Colonial Mosquitia

Journal of Latin American Geography
Volume 14, Number 3, October 2015
pages 35-65

Karl Offen, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies
Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio

In 1764, Spanish colonel Luis Diez Navarro mapped the racially diverse British settlement at Black River on what is today the coast of northeastern Honduras. I use the map as a point of departure to ponder the origins of Amerindian and mestizo residents of Black River and other British settlements across the Mosquito Shore in the eighteenth century. I suggest that Diez Navarro’s map can be read to discuss a regional history of violence, the lengthy importance of northern European (and especially British) influence in the region, the significant presence of free people of color, and the social and economic importance of female captivity in general and the Amerindian slave trade in particular. The paper shows how the Afro-Amerindian and Amerindian Mosquito people became deeply entangled with the trade-driven supply of Amerindian captives during times of Anglo-Spanish peace, but also the capture of Amerindians, Africans, mestizos, and mulattos during times of Anglo-Spanish warfare. The paper argues that Amerindian, mestizo, and mulatto captivity made the Mosquito Shore one of the more racially mixed societies anywhere in the British Atlantic and deserves much more attention than it currently receives.

En 1764 el coronel español Luis Diez Navarro mapeó el diverso y mezclado asentamiento británico de Black River, en el lugar que hoy es la costa noreste de Honduras. Utilizo este mapa como punto de partida para examinar el origen de los residentes indígenas y mestizos de Black River y de los demas asentimientos a lo largo de la costa de los Mosquitos en el siglo dieciocho. Sugiero que el mapa de Diez Navarro se puede leer como una pista para entender la historia regional de violencia, la importancia y larga influencia de los nor-europeos y especialmente los británicos, la presencia significativa de gente libre de color y la importancia económica y social de la cautividad femenina en general y el tráfico en esclavos indígenas en particular. El artículo demuestra cómo los Mosquito, tanto los Afro-indígenas como los indígenas, se involucraron con el comercio de las indígenas cautivas durante tiempos de paz entre los Españoles y los Británicos, así como también participaron en la captura de indígenas, afrodescendientes y mulatos durante el tiempo del conflicto Anglo-Hispano. El artículo sostiene que la cautividad indígena, mestiza y mulata convierte a la costa de los Mosquitos en una de las sociedades más diversas de la Atlántica británica y merece un sitio mucho más central que el que tiene actualmente en la academia.

Read or purchase the article here.

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The Disappearing Mestizo: Configuring Difference in the Colonial New Kingdom of Granada by Joanne Rappaport (review) [Roland review]

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2014-10-20 17:50Z by Steven

The Disappearing Mestizo: Configuring Difference in the Colonial New Kingdom of Granada by Joanne Rappaport (review) [Roland review]

Journal of Latin American Geography
Volume 13, Number 3, 2014
pages 253-255
DOI: 10.1353/lag.2014.0045

L. Kaifa Roland, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies
University of Colorado, Boulder

Joanne Rappaport, The Disappearing Mestizo: Configuring Difference in the Colonial New Kingdom of Granada (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014)

Joanne Rappaport’s The Disappearing Mestizo is an important interrogation of the sixteenth and seventeenth century archives in service of detailing the construction of an enduring socio-racial category encountered throughout Latin America. What is a mestizo, or as Rappaport challenges: when, where, and for whom was the mestizo category activated?

As students of Latin American race are aware, mestizaje is understood to describe the condition of racial mixture, usually involving European and indigenous parentage. However, Rappaport finds the question of “impure blood” that mestizaje seems to indicate moves in and out of focus at various times, depending on a variety of contexts. “But must we confine our understanding of mestizaje to the offspring of mixed unions? In the early modern period, mixture resulted not only from sexual encounters but also from other sorts of activities, both public and intimate in character. That is, mixing was not necessarily genealogical in nature” (p.18). She invokes the title trope of “the disappearing mestizo” to address the instability of the category, and expertly engages the archives to ethnographically portray several men and women to whom the contentious label was ascribed in court cases.

After introducing some of the “characters” readers will meet in the course of the book (also denoted in the appendix), Rappaport highlights her strong interdisciplinary approach, while acknowledging the limitations of working with archival data in her ethnographic construction of colonial history. She concedes that she only has information on her subjects for the fragments of time that they enter the legal archives, filling in other parts from available genealogical records in the region. Rather than forcing the evidence to fit the model, she interrogates the record and asks questions of gaps left in the wake of absent data.

The greatest strength of the book is in its storytelling and the sensitive portrayal of historic individuals labeled or contesting the label of mestizo who were encountered in the archives. In chapter one, Rappaport introduces a series of vignettes in order to dismiss the notion that the “disappearing mestizo” phenomenon is an attempt at “passing” from one racial category to another. Rather, she finds individuals contesting or reinforcing classifications associated with Spanishness or indigenousness using color, gender, religion, and status to make the case. Given this fluidity, it can be anticipated that the second chapter’s inquiry into whether mestizos constituted a community is answered in the negative. While mestizo men, in particular, often found themselves on the fringes of society given their exclusion from both Spanish and indigenous society, they often associated with other marginalized individuals—and thus became associated with marginal behaviors like assaults, rapes, and kidnapping (p.87).

While distinctions in gendered experiences are discussed throughout the book, chapter three stands out in the book for the way it highlights why it was often easier for women to transcend mestizaje than it was for men. Certainly, marriage provided mestiza-born women access to different forms of mobility than it did for men, but Rappaport also emphasizes the importance in colonial Spanish society of honor and reputation—especially so in the New World where noble lineages were established through more diverse means than in the Old World. Whereas women could largely be absorbed into Spanish or indigenous communities without upsetting the system too much, men had to be categorized by their particular role in the tribute system. In trying to determine why mestizo men found themselves excluded from sites of power, Rappaport may rely too much on the question of bloodline and biological relationships given her earlier arguments about how mestizaje also took account of issues of cultural mixture like how one comports oneself in public or marriage pairings.

Chapter four turns the attention from mestizos contending with their elite Spanish heritage, to mestizos fighting to be recognized among the chiefly indigenous cacique class. Rappaport introduces readers to two men who try to use their mestizo status to their advantage—arguing their Catholic religion and Spanish practices would help them better “civilize” their indigenous subjects. Their quest is complicated, however, by the position they take in defending the indigenous from unfair tributes, such that they find anti-mestizo opposition from the various groups who benefit from the tribute…

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Chinese Cubans: A Transnational History by Kathleen López (review)

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2013-10-07 17:11Z by Steven

Chinese Cubans: A Transnational History by Kathleen López (review)

Journal of Latin American Geography
Volume 12, Number 3, 2013
pages 234-236
DOI: 10.1353/lag.2013.0049

Joseph L. Scarpaci, Professor Emeritus of Geography
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Kathleen López, Chinese Cubans: A Transnational History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013)

The new millennium cast into the academic and general public’s dialect the word ‘globalization’ as well as the call that everyone should ‘think globally and act locally.’ That may be all well and good, but this adage often falls flat when scholars aim to connect the local with global (glocal). Like the words ‘impact,’ ‘effect,’ and ‘affect,’ the terms at once say everything but communicate little. As the graduate coordinator of my doctoral program was fond of harping in front of frightened graduate students many decades back, “perfectly general, perfectly true, but absolutely meaningless.” Clichés, alas, often substitute for deep, critical thinking and analysis.

For these reasons, when one sees a subtitle that includes the ambitiously stated ‘transnational history,’ a little skepticism inevitably comes to mind. Geographers are no doubt even more skeptical because, after all, scale and spatial analysis situate both human and physical geographies in the broader context of social and natural sciences, respectively.

Enter Kathleen López: Assistant Professor of History and Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies (a title that might also give one pause) at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Whereas many Latinamericanist geographers struggle to speak any semblance of Spanish and conduct fieldwork with the assistance of Latin American and Caribbean scholars, Dr. López approaches the study of transnational migration to the island of Cuba armed with fluent Spanish and Chinese. Armed with extensive field work in Cuba, China, and the United States, Dr. López assembles a tour d’force that brings archival, ethnographic, and historic analyses to bear on a story that traces the history of Chinese migrants to Cuba in the nineteenth century, through the alliance with Cuban forces to overturn the colonial yoke imposed by Madrid, to the twentieth century events that include strong xenophobia, the Japanese-China war, WW II, and the Cuban Revolution. Copiously referenced and gracefully written, Chinese Cubans tells the tale of a truly global transnational migration pattern that documents how the Chinese in Cuba used investment, remittances, and return visits to bridge these migrants’ search for the best of Cuba and their homeland. The tale begins with the importation of more than 100,000 Chinese workers – indentured servants often treated as slaves because of Great Britain’s objection to the African slave trade—who build rail lines and work in sugar plantations in ways similar to how Chinese ‘coolie’ workers did in the United States. Chinese Cubans were fiercely loyal to the Cuban independence movement of the nineteenth century, and great accolades were given to them by the fiercest and most venerable of revolutionary fighters. Unlike conditions in Peru, Jamaica, and the especially harsh anti-Chinese movement in Mexico in the 1930s, we learn that Cuba was relatively welcoming (overall) in receiving the Chinese diaspora. They added to the miscegenation (mestizaje) stew (ajiaco) that Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortíz highly praised. However, to López’s credit, she calls into question the much-venerated Ortíz’s description of this marginal contribution to Cuban culture (which Ortíz postulated that, numerically at least, was a European and African fusion). The so-called ‘third founder’ of Cuba (after Columbus and Alexander von Humboldt), Ortíz derided Chinese immigrants for their certain tolerance of homosexuality, their (limited) use of opium. That is why he classified them phenotypically (i.e., “yellow mongoloids”….”and essential otherness” (p. 210).

Readers will find that similar prejudices hurled upon immigrants elsewhere were also cast upon Chinese Cubans. They were often characterized as ‘inassimilable’ just as Jews were in Europe in the twentieth century and much the way Mexicans are portrayed in the current U.S. immigration debacle. When hard economic times fell upon Cuba, anti-nationalism was whipped up against Cubans of Chinese descent, who were often portrayed as perennial strike breakers and ‘scabs.’

Not surprisingly, there are indirect parallels to be drawn between the relationship of mainland (communist) China and Taiwan, on the one hand, and Cuba and the United States, on the other hand. The 1949 Chinese communist takeover of mainland China and the exodus of Chiang Kai-shek to Formosa (Taiwan) generates yet another out-migration of Chinese to Cuba. And in 1959, many Chinese…

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