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Indigenous Elites and Creole Identity in Colonial Mexico, 1500–1800


Part of Cambridge Latin American Studies

  • Date Published: March 2018
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107569614

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About the Authors
  • Modern Mexico derives many of its richest symbols of national heritage and identity from the Aztec legacy, even as it remains a predominantly Spanish-speaking, Christian society. This volume argues that the composite, neo-Aztec flavor of Mexican identity was, in part, a consequence of active efforts by indigenous elites after the Spanish conquest to grandfather ancestral rights into the colonial era. By emphasizing the antiquity of their claims before Spanish officials, native leaders extended the historical awareness of the colonial regime into the pre-Hispanic past, and therefore also the themes, emotional contours, and beginning points of what we today understand as 'Mexican history'. This emphasis on ancient roots, moreover, resonated with the patriotic longings of many creoles, descendants of Spaniards born in Mexico. Alienated by Spanish scorn, creoles associated with indigenous elites and studied their histories, thereby reinventing themselves as Mexico's new 'native' leadership and the heirs to its prestigious antiquity.

    • Bridges the gulf scholars often presume (and thus create) between 'native history', 'folk history', and national history in Latin America
    • Historicizes and contextualizes native texts, which are all too often presumptively dismissed or privileged as 'ancient'
    • Decenters Mexican history to include a wider variety of historical actors, including Indians, mestizos, and middling officials
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Professor Villella has proven that there is no key juncture in the development of Mexico's imaginary past in which indigenous figures were not involved. After reading Villella's book, one can in no way argue that Indians themselves were not integrally involved in the production and evolution of the nation's self-understanding. It is a masterful work.' Camilla Townsend, Rutgers University, New Jersey

    'Indigenous Elites and Creole Identity in Colonial Mexico, 1500–1800 is a masterful, revisionist study of native leaders in New Spain who capitalized on their ancestral heritage to create and secure prestigious positions for themselves and their families. Covering the longue durée of the colonial era, Peter B. Villella's exemplary research, most remarkably, reveals that the native peoples' glorious primordial story of Aztec achievement also served their counterparts, the creole Spaniards, who appropriated the same indigenous sources and monuments as patria to exemplify Mexico as grand and equivalent to any place in the world. Erudite and eloquently written, the book is a landmark contribution to our field.' Susan Schroeder, France Vinton Scholes Professor of Colonial Latin American History Emerita, Tulane University

    'This beautifully written book is a magnificent contribution to Latin American intellectual history. Villella uses a rich variety of legal records, unpublished manuscripts, and printed books to examine the historical consciousness and vision of indigenous nobles in New Spain who strategically adapted their own Mesoamerican concepts of hereditary authority and rank to Spanish notions of nobility in order to maintain and advance their status in the colonial order. Villella shows how indigenous and mestizo writers and actors participated in the construction of a local, proto-nationalist, patriotic discourse that has been attributed primarily, if not exclusively, to Spanish Creoles.' Kevin Terraciano, University of California, Los Angeles

    'In his engaging and comprehensive Indigenous Elites and Creole Identity in Colonial Mexico, 1500–1800, Professor Peter B. Villella takes the reader beyond this well-established narrative to examine the conditions and strategies that allowed generations of indigenous noble families from diverse ethnic groups to preserve some recognizable guise of their original status under increasingly adverse circumstances. The author painstakingly shows how the Indian nobility developed and exploited its ties to sectors of a creole elite that was still finding its footing in colonial society.' Osvaldo Pardo, Hispanic American Historical Review

    '… deftly exposes how both indigenous elites and creoles selectively employed the historical past to serve the different needs of each body. … Villella's work is impressive in its use of archival sources to cast a brighter light on the myriad ways natives, and even creoles, engaged history to further their ambitions …' Mark Christensen, Latin American Research Review

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    Product details

    • Date Published: March 2018
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107569614
    • length: 367 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 153 x 23 mm
    • weight: 0.55kg
    • contains: 12 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. The natural lords: asserting continuity, 1531–66
    3. Cacique informants and early Spanish texts, 1535–80
    4. Cacique-chroniclers and the origins of Creole historiography, 1580–1640
    5. Cacique-hidalgos: envisioning ancient roots in the mature colony
    6. Cacique-patrons: Mexicanizing the Church
    7. Cacique-letrados: an Indian gentry after 1697
    8. Cacique-ambassadors and the 'Indian nation' in Bourbon Mexico
    9. Conclusion.

  • Author

    Peter B. Villella, University of North Carolina, Greensboro
    Peter B. Villella is Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

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