Memories of Conquest: Becoming Mexicano in Colonial Guatemala

Memories of Conquest: Becoming Mexicano in Colonial Guatemala

Memories of Conquest: Becoming Mexicano in Colonial Guatemala

Memories of Conquest: Becoming Mexicano in Colonial Guatemala

Synopsis

Indigenous allies helped the Spanish gain a foothold in the Americas. What did these Indian conquistadors expect from the partnership, and what were the implications of their involvement in Spain's New World empire? Laura Matthew's study of Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala--the study first to focus on a single allied colony over the entire colonial period--places the Nahua, Zapotec, and Mixtec conquistadors of Guatemala and their descendants within a deeply Mesoamerican historical context. Drawing on archives, ethnography, and colonial Mesoamerican maps, Matthew argues that the conquest cannot be fully understood without considering how these Indian conquistadors first invaded and then, of their own accord and largely by their own rules, settled in Central America.
Shaped by pre-Columbian patterns of empire, alliance, warfare, and migration, the members of this diverse indigenous community became unified as the Mexicanos--descendants of Indian conquistadors in their adopted homeland. Their identity and higher status in Guatemalan society derived from their continued pride in their heritage, says Matthew, but also depended on Spanish colonialism's willingness to honor them. Throughout Memories of Conquest, Matthew charts the power of colonialism to reshape and restrict Mesoamerican society--even for those most favored by colonial policy and despite powerful continuities in Mesoamerican culture.
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Excerpt

The conquest of largely Maya territory by foreign invaders in the years 1524–28 is perhaps the most important story of their history for the people of contemporary Guatemala. the invasion followed on the heels of viruses that would kill millions of native K’iche’, Mam, Pipil, and other southern Mesoamericans over the following century. It destroyed the K’iche’ and Kaqchikel Maya cities of Utatlán and Iximché, and laid the foundations of Spanish American cities in their stead. It precipitated half a millennia so far of colonial and neocolonial rule over Central America by people of largely European descent. Over time, it created a new people out of the resulting mix of Native Americans, Africans, Europeans, and Asians: the Ladinos who make up roughly half of Guatemala’s population today.

The Guatemalan experience resonates, too, as a chapter in a much larger tale. With local variations, it repeats the story of European conquest throughout the Americas—in Cuba, Mexico, Massachusetts, Virginia, Chile. Individually and collectively, these conquests symbolize one of the most dramatic moments in world history: the meeting of the “old” and “new” worlds, the demographic collapse of indigenous American popula-

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