Hijos del Pueblo: Gender, Family, and Community in Rural Mexico, 1730-1850

Hijos del Pueblo: Gender, Family, and Community in Rural Mexico, 1730-1850

Hijos del Pueblo: Gender, Family, and Community in Rural Mexico, 1730-1850

Hijos del Pueblo: Gender, Family, and Community in Rural Mexico, 1730-1850


The everyday lives of indigenous and Spanish families in the countryside, a previously under-explored segment of Mexican cultural history, are now illuminated through the vivid narratives presented inHijos del Pueblo("offspring of the village"). Drawing on neglected civil and criminal judicial records from the Toluca region, Deborah Kanter revives the voices of native women and men, their Spanish neighbors, muleteers, and hacienda peons to showcase their struggles in an era of crisis and uncertainty (1730-1850).

Engaging and meaningful biographies of indigenous villagers, female and male, illustrate that no scholar can understand the history of Mexican communities without taking gender seriously. In legal interactions native plaintiffs and Spanish jurists confronted essential questions of identity and hegemony. At once an insightful consideration of individual experiences and sweeping paternalistic power constructs,Hijos del Pueblocontributes important new findings to the realm of gender studies and the evolution of Latin America.


In the Mexican countryside people often used the phrase hijos del pueblo. Translated as “offspring of the village,”the phrase evokes the vital relationh- ship between family and community in past times and suggests the impor- tance of birthplace in rural society. This kinship metaphor also signifies that a native individual owed deference to the larger community and that the community had responsibilities to its wards.

The translation of hijos del pueblo into English, however, is not so simple. As the phrase was used in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, “sons and daughters of the village”may be more accurate. Yet in some documents, the phrase refers only to village sons. The very ambiguity of the plural, hijos, almost winks at us, inviting an examination of the differences between being male and female.

Together with ethnicity, this study advances gender as a central division—”a useful category of historical analysis” —in rural Mexican society. This empha- sis on gender implicitly critiques many canonical works on the ethnohistory of Mexico. Charles Gibson and James Lockhart, for example, present meticu- lous, thoughtful re-creations of how colonial Indian communities worked. Yet by neglecting the essential role of gender, their studies tell an incomplete story. Gender opens up and enriches important topics such as community membership, land tenure, criminality, morality, and the judicial system.

Using gender as a lens on Indian village life implies that women had a different experience from men, not a separate one. In these villages men and women depended on each other, shared a culture, and joined in struggles against outsiders. Although women held significant kinds of power, they hardly stood on equal ground with their male kin and neighbors. Local po- litical structures did not include women. Norms about female subordination and morality placed restrictions on their behavior. Patrilocal residence pat- terns often isolated women from their natal families, barrios, and villages, thus exposing them to abuse without easy recourse to protection. Being born . . .

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