Viceregal Mexico City’s African-descent population was greater than its Spanish population and this Afro-Mexican population had a significant impact on the city. Colonial documents reveal that people labeled negro and mulato participated in every aspect of colonial urban society, from baptisms to bread riots. This chapter describes Black and Mulatto participation in Mexico City’s religious life by examining practices ranging from orthodox Catholicism to practices that Spanish authorities defined as “witchcraft”. Religious practices provide lenses to explore social relationships and ideas about identity based in conceptions of race and ethnicity. What becomes clear is that the urban environment facilitated identity creation along racial and ethnic lines as well as social mixing that complicated these identities. This chapter shows that as Blacks and Mulattos participated in viceregal urban life, they came in contact with and forged relationships with all members of society and participated in all aspects of urban society.
This chapter discusses the role played by the cabildo (municipal council) in shaping the political and religious identity of Mexico City by focusing on the rush for the election of patron saints (native patron saints, in particular), which dominated the city of Mexico since the late 16th century. The chapter argues that this rush was much more than simply a manifestation of the piety of the inhabitants of Mexico City. It was part of a larger movement to assert the crucial place that cities occupied in the structure of the Spanish Empire, at a time when the Spanish monarchs were acquiring their greatest authority to the detriment of the power of the cities. In that regard, patron sainthood represents an excellent window through which to examine the tension between the local and the imperial in the shaping of the city’s identity.
The Church was the predominant institution in colonial cities, where its houses of worship were the hubs of social, cultural, economic and religious life, while, in its convents, important alliances were forged, business was undertaken, and financial transactions were carried out. Half of all the real estate in colonial cities belonged to the Church, and its clergy oversaw its schools and charitable institutions, monopolizing the printing of books and sponsoring artists, musicians, craftsmen, and professionals. Although the missionary friars who built the religious schools were the first to settle in Mexico City, the archbishops began to displace them over time, finally becoming the capital’s main religious authorities.
The essay examines examples of visual arts to appreciate how people in viceregal Mexico City perceived printed texts and images. Following a brief summary of local print history, the essay examines the era’s perceptions of print’s intrinsic and associated characteristics through visual representations–pictures of printed materials–bolstered by archival records and period texts. The essay concludes that printed materials were represented in works of art to communicate multiples messages regarding learning, race, class, and status.
In 1607, the cartographer-turned-hydraulic engineer Enrico Marténez implemented the desagüe, an engineering project to end Mexico City’s propensity to inundate by draining the lakes that surrounded the island city into the Gulf of Mexico. As part of his response to environmental crisis, Marténez produced Descripción de la comarca de México i obra del desagüe de la laguna. Underscoring the need to bring the map under scholarly scrutiny are several important facts. As the Spanish looked to the desagüe to save the city, Martínez’ map represents a defining moment in Mexico City’s history because it is the first drawing made by a professional mapmaker in the service of flood control. Historiographically speaking, no in-depth study exists scrutinizing Descripción de la comarca de México for its graphic commentary on how Martínez proposed to end flooding. While these two points speak to a lacuna in desagüe studies, in particular, and to the role that European cartography played in the trans-Atlantic interactions between Spain and Latin America in general, there is a third and even more significant reason why the map deserves attention. Made under the guise of environmental concern and technological prowess, Descripción de la comarca de México aids understanding how flooding was a problem posed by New World nature to European cartographic analysis, where the latest technologies of mapmaking–science and mathematical abstraction–were mobilized to end Mexico City’s age-old problem of chronic flooding.
Descriptions of Tenochtitlan by Spanish conquistadors are valuable sources on that city’s architecture and culture in 1519. But such descriptions have tended to be taken too much on face value and as simple eye-witness reports, when they in fact reflect early modern Spanish culture as much as–or more than–they convey aspects of Aztec civilization. This chapter argues that perceptions of Aztec Tenochtitlan over the past five centuries, leading up to and including ours today, are heavily influenced and distorted by conquistador accounts and the chronicles and engravings that stemmed from them.