"Noble" Tlaxcalans: race and ethnicity in northeastern New Spain, 1770-1810

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Martinez, Patricia

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This dissertation reconstructs how one late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century northern Mexican indigenous community, San Esteban de la Nueva Tlaxcala, gave meaning to their world. San Esteban was home to Tlaxcalans who resettled from central New Spain in 1591. Although other works allude to the importance of the Tlaxcalans who populated this region, there has been little detailed historical research about their activities and the impact they had on colonial society. My work provides the most thorough analysis yet of this community by utilizing a rich array of Spanish-language sources by and about the Tlaxcalans of Coahuila, including legal cases, criminal records, parish birth, marriage and burial records, census data, testaments, and municipal records. Although colonial scholars who have used native-language sources helped reshape our understanding of indigenous life and culture, we must also consider official documentation and the voluminous Spanish-language resources produced by indigenous people in order to gain a more complete understanding of how indigenous peole viewed and interacted with the colonial world. These sources are especially important as, unlike many other indigenous communities, most documents produced by the Tlaxcalans of San Esteban in the late colonial period are in Spanish. This research thus indicates that Tlaxcalans actively questioned colonial policies, but Tlaxcalan elites also forged alliances with Spaniards both to help their own interests and those of the community. In addition, Tlaxcalans vehemently defended the noble status first given to them by the king in exchange for their help in conquering the northern provinces. This defense of communal rights and status ideology became part of their ethnic identity. Consequently, the Tlaxcalan elite's behavior ultimately both challenged and helped facilitate Spanish colonial rule. Moreover, by buying into Spanish notions of race and status Tlaxcalans supported this society's racial hierarchy.