Identities in motion. The formation of a plural Indio society in early San Luis Potosí, New Spain, 1591-1630

by Laurent Corbeil

Institution: McGill University
Department: Department of History and Classical Studies
Degree: PhD
Year: 2015
Keywords: History - Latin American
Record ID: 2058566
Full text PDF: http://digitool.library.mcgill.ca/thesisfile130403.pdf


This dissertation analyzes the construction of indio identities in the urban society of San Luis Potosí, over a period of forty years from the arrival of the Tlaxcalans in the valley in 1591 until 1630. The development of indigenous groups in the city unfolded in two stages corresponding to the generation of migrants who established its foundations, and to the generation of their children, who consolidated social structures into tangible institutions. Distinguishing between formal political identities and more continuous and flexible processes of identification, the dissertation displays the range of possibilities available to indigenous peoples. I argue that indigenous peoples constructed formal, corporate identities around the pueblos y barrios de indios and around labour teams, appropriating to a degree the Spanish legal concept of indios and in keeping with the particular characteristics of each community. As well, I show that indigenous peoples informally identified with various sectors of San Luis Potosí's society, depending on their place of residence, their work, their familial relations, and their involvement in local and regional trade. Finally, I argue that socio-economic status and gender were more significant than was ethnicity in determining an individual's place in society. The dissertation begins with an analysis of the origins of indigenous peoples in San Luis Potosí, and with the process of migration that brought them to this location in the late sixteenth century. Indigenous peoples came from more than ten cultural groups, including Tlaxcalans and other Nahuas, Tarascans, Otomis, Cazcans, Tecuexes, Cocas, and others. This variety was symptomatic of the great mobility of the indigenous population in the sixteenth century, and it suggests an exceptional ability to adapt. Indeed, I observed widespread multilingualism and frequent exchanges between distinct indigenous peoples. The study then turns to the transformation and construction of social networks among these migrants. I show how they settled in the Indian towns – called the pueblos y barrios de indios – in ore-processing facilities, charcoal-making operations, workshops, and other work sites. I argue that all of these places were not only sites of labour and commercial interactions, but also living spaces that indigenous peoples appropriated and shaped. These spaces became the basis of social relations, familial organization, ritual kinship, and gender roles. Finally, I analyse the development of formal identities through the legal, political, and discursive stands taken by indigenous peoples and authorities. I demonstrate that, through the adoption of formal corporate identities, indigenous communities could maintain their place in the city by creating collective personae that could appeal to the Spanish law. The apparent homogeneity of these communities, however, was accompanied by substantial internal heterogeneity. Cette thèse analyse la construction des identités autochtones dans la société urbaine de San Luis Potosí, pendant une…