Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Forbidden Passages: Muslims and Moriscos in Colonial Spanish America

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Forbidden Passages: Muslims and Moriscos in Colonial Spanish America

Article excerpt

LATIN AMERICAN Forbidden Passages: Muslims and Moriscos in Colonial Spanish America. By Karoline P. Cook. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2016. Pp. x, 261. $45.00. ISBN 978-0-8122-4824-1.)

The history of Muslims and Moriscos in colonial Spanish America is an important topic. Considerably more scholarly attention has been paid to the history of conversos (Jewish converts to Christianity, voluntary or otherwise, and their descendants) than to moriscos (Muslim converts to Christianity, voluntary or otherwise, and their descendants). This book goes some way to rectifying that imbalance. Moreover, Spanish and criollo attitudes to Moriscos during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries betray a disconcerting likeness to the twenty-first-century fears and prejudices of many established citizens of Western Europe and North America toward Muslim immigrants and their descendants. Karoline Cook's book is timely: not only does it illuminate past history, but it also sheds indirect light on current tensions.

Cook is both blessed and handicapped by her sources. She has combed archives from Mexico City and Lima to Seville, Granada, and Madrid, and has shaped a wealth of previously unpublished material into an invaluable resource for scholars of colonial Spanish America. Her archival sources, however, are predominantly legal. This has certain disadvantages. Sworn commitment to truth-telling notwithstanding, legal testimony is not a record of private opinion but of what plaintiffs, defendants, and witnesses are willing to say to gain a desired result in court. Cook, perhaps, is not always sufficiently skeptical of the possible distance between what made it into the legal record and what actually happened. Moreover, legal records do not have the excitement of a John Grisham novel. This is not Cook's fault, but it does mean that her readers too often get little sense of the personal dramas behind the records or even, in several cases where the records are incomplete, of the final outcome. Cook does her best to enliven her study with individual stories such as those of Diego Herrador, "a shoemaker residing in Mexico City," who in 1577 was charged with concealing his Morisco heritage on his mother's side to obtain a "false licence" (p. …

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