How Colonial New Spain Created a Racialized Society and Its Social Consequences
Cope overturned the idea that racial identity in colonial Mexico was “fixed permanently at birth” and argued that race was a versatile identity that could be “reaffirmed, modified, manipulated, or perhaps even rejected.” The unfixed nature of identities assumed and performed by individuals and groups in colonial Latin America beyond Mexico City is the subject of the collection of essays edited by Andrew Fisher and Matthew O’Hara recently published as Imperial Subjects: Race and Identity in Colonial Latin America.
However, little is known about the patrons of casta paintings in general. Yet, we can infer to a degree who might have commissioned such paintings. Because casta paintings reflect increasing social anxieties about inter-ethnic mixing, it is possible that elites who claimed to be of pure blood, and who likely found the dilution of pure-bloodedness alarming, were among those individuals who commissioned casta paintings.
As will be shown later this confusion would continue in the Americas with terms of socio-racial difference. In Iberia this confusion was institutionalized through the belief in limpieza de sangre.‘ This phrase encapsulated the view that religious impurity, specifically descent from Jews, Muslims, and later Protestants, was transmitted biologically from generation to generation. Broadly, speaking the emphasis on limpieza de sangre evolved as a means to exclude new converts from positions of power restricted to Christians. From the late fourteenth century through the sixteenth century, periodic violence against Jews, including massive pogroms in 1391, had led to large numbers of converts who by virtue of their new faith became newly eligible for civic and religious offices and posts (Thornton, John K., 1998). Historically, Castilian law made no distinction between cristianos nuevos and cristianos viejos. In the thirteenth century, the Siete Partidas specifically stated that they should be honored as all other Christians and be eligible for all posts similarly to other Christians. The attitude contained within the Siete Partidas was not upheld during the course of the fifteenth century (Sylvest, Edwin Edward, 1975).
Sylvest, Edwin Edward. Motifs of Franciscan Mission Theory in Sixteenth Century New Spain Province of the Holy Gospel. Washington: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1975.
Terraciano, Kevin. The Mixtecs of Colonial Oaxaca: Ñudzahui History, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2001.
Thornton, John K. Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800. 2nd ed. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Valdes, Dennis Nodin. ―Decline of the Sociedad de Castas in Mexico City.‖ Ph.D., University of Michigan, 1978.