Honor and Social Status
There is a Spanish folktale of the seventeenth century that Hispanos in New Mexico still tell their children whenever the family gathers to listen to stories of bygone days. "La Constancia" (which means constancy or sexual fidelity), as the tale is known, describes the values that most preoccupied New Mexico's Spanish colonists. Set in New Mexico and in Reconquest Spain, the story tells of seduction and intrigue, of malevolence, rivalries, and a pact with a witch, of how one man took the honor of another, and most importantly, of how honor was won and lost honor avenged. The focus of this chapter and of the next is the value of honor the Spanish colonists placed at the very center of their moral system. Because honor could be won, its loss -- or dishonor -- will concern us here too. The story of "La Constancia" vividly illustrates all of this, so let us begin by reading of her travails.
La Constancia was a beautiful woman who lived happily with her husband, José María, in New Mexico. Because of her great beauty, Constancia constantly gained the attentions of men. One day a wicked vagabond laid eyes upon her and immediately tried to seduce her. He failed and his failure was so humiliating that he decided to ruin Constancia's marriage and reputation. With the help of a witch, the vagabond stole a necklace from Constancia that her husband had given her as a wedding present. The vagabond presented the necklace to José María as evidence that his wife had committed adultery. José María believed the scheme and surrendered his public honor and wealth because of his wife's alleged acts. To punish Constancia, José María locked her in a box and threw her into the sea. After many days the box landed on the coast of Spain, where Constancia emerged amid a fierce battle between the Christians and the Moors. Not knowing what to do, Constancia prayed to the Virgin Mary. In an appa-