Academic journal article Chasqui

Passing into Fictions: Blackness, Writing and Power in the Captaincy General of Guatemala

Academic journal article Chasqui

Passing into Fictions: Blackness, Writing and Power in the Captaincy General of Guatemala

Article excerpt

Leagues away from the Spanish Crown and thousands of kilometers away from the Viceroyalty of New Spain, the social landscape of the Captaincy General of Guatemala was drafted using a palette that sketched populations according to its own rules. The sightlines that determined the social position of black subjects were especially different in this isolated territory, where historical documents ceased to speak of negros and morenos and over time began to document Afro-descendants as mestizos. The sketches that were drawn in visual and literary discourses about black subjects dissolved notions of calidad as they strengthened ideas about clase, a monumental ideological shift that can be gleaned in colonial travel narratives. Straddling the boundary between historical account and subjective interpretation, these texts capture a society where the distribution of wealth allowed black Central Americans to contribute to and benefit from the colonial economy in ways that were unmatched in other Latin American contexts at the time. By the time the Captaincy General of Guatemala ceased to be, Afrodescendants controlled the palette, so to speak, whence colors were blended with others to represent the peoples of the isthmus.

Blackness ceased to officially exist in the post-independence isthmus and ideological barriers were erected to prevent Central Americans from "seeing" blackness in the territory. One of the most long-lasting barriers was the propagation of the myth that African slavery was never instituted in the Captaincy General of Guatemala. For almost two hundred years, the nations of the isthmus have promulgated grand narratives over a fallacy: since slavery did not exist in Central America, there are no blacks in Central America. A growing body of research defies the centuries of silence surrounding the black roots of Central American identity, heritage and intellectual activity. (1) In order to "trouble the water," as the old Negro spiritual states, it is necessary to wade in the complex waters of race and ethnicity in the region. (2)

Despite the persistent denial of the black roots of the isthmus, blackness appears across genres in the post-independence literacy tradition of Central America. (3) How did it come to be thus, and why? In this essay. I push bacic into the past and examine two travel narratives for the earliest representations of blackness in the isthmus. The texts illustrate changing ideas of blackness during the late colonial period, revealing how blackness ceased to be a fact of Central American reality and instead passed into fictions. I argue that eliminating black-identified racial categories and granting manumission to the last slaves in the Captaincy General of Guatemala set the stage for romantic representations of black peoples in Central American letters, for they could only be apprehended and subjected to representation in the elsewhere of "fiction." As such, 1 develop a point of departure from which to understand the place of blackness in the literary history of Central America.

Blackness in the Captaincy General of Guatemala

In New Spain, and what was to become Central America, classifying bodies according to their color served to maintain hierarchy. The caste system served as a "cognitive and legal system of hierarchically arranged socioracial statuses created by the Spanish law and the colonial elite in response to the miscegenated population in the colonies" (Chance and Taylor 460). It allowed criollos to avoid becoming associated with "tainted" blood in order to reinforce their sense of exclusivity but, by the seventeenth century, urban society divided itself into two major categories: gente decente (gentry) and plebe (plebeians). Yet in this society, the distribution of wealth was such that it permitted blacks to contribute to and benefit from the colonial economy. Black peoples in this society were a caste with "buying power" that flouted Spanish sumptuary regulations on a daily basis (Cope 22). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.