COLONIAL LATIN AMERICA
Donald J. Mabry Professor of History Mississippi State University and The Historical Text Archive historicaltextarchive.com
For Paula Crockett Mabry
The material in this book comes from my teaching Latin American history over many years. It does not pretend to be a textbook, although it could form the basis of one. It is more than an outline but much is omitted. This little book contains notes and commentary on important topics. It reflects my interpretation of Latin America in the colonial period. My focus is political and economic; I am more comfortable with such topics. Such topics as art, drama, and music are not mentioned. My expertise does not extend to these very worthwhile subjects. Some chapters are more complete than others because I taught more about them. In a number of instances, I have used lists to make it easier to spot important points. Readers should find that the book covers the essentials but that they might want to read articles and other books to find out more. Colonial Latin America, which lasted for about 300 years for most of the region, was extraordinarily complex and rich in texture. There are enormous differences between Mexico, on the one hand, and Brazil, on the other. The term “Latin America” is not only shorthand but
also a bit of a misnomer, for much of it was not Latin. It was Indian or mestizo or African, often with little more than a veneer of Iberian culture. The degree to which it was any of these are Spanish, Portuguese, African, Indian, or some combination thereof varies according to place and time. We have trouble deciding what to call other humans. Some terms are inaccurate; some are invented to satisfy the politics of the day. Some are acceptable in one era and unacceptable in another. In modern parlance, the earlier immigrants are often called "Native Americans," a term as inaccurate as the term "Indian" or indio as the Iberians called them. They immigrated just like everyone else but not all at the same time. Nor have we wanted to see the coming of the Europeans and Africans to the Western Hemisphere as just another episode in the many thousand years of its immigration history. One is at a loss to decide what terminology would be accurate and inoffensive. Equally serious, is that most people, even scholars, ignore the DNA evidence and the reasonable conclusions that are drawn from it. We do not want to think of all human beings as cousins, which they are, because it forces us to reconsider all kinds of cherished beliefs. We prefer to be inaccurate because it is easier and feels better. Similarly, we refer to some people as Spaniards when, in 1500, there was no Spain. Some Latin Americans today point out that it is politically incorrect for citizens of the United States to expropriate the name “American” for themselves. They see it as sheer arrogance, which it is. On the other hand, we see the Mexican people called Aztecs when, in fact, only a fraction were in 1519; that they are called thusly is imperialism on the part of those who rule Mexico. We do not have to look very hard in this part of the world to find other examples.
For convenience sake, I use conventional terminology, which is, of course, European. The European immigrants engaged in biological war against the earlier immigrants, the Indians, but not intentionally. What happened illustrates the devastating effects of biological warfare. That they did not understand the germ diseases and how they spread made the pandemics worse. Although we do understand such things, it remains to be seen how well we would be able to cope. After all, the movements of peoples in the modern world, crossing oceans in a matter of hours, bodes ill for the containment of infectious disease. This little book should inform the reader of the basic story of colonial Latin America; it is my hope that it will incite interest in Latin America and...