Adam Vignau: Ida España 2022

My life’s adventure is made through faith in God and the opportunities He has given me. My name is Adam Vignau and I’m a student at Florida International University’s Honors College. I’m currently majoring in International Business with future ambitions of achieving a Masters in Finance. The lessons and experience I gain through Professor Bailly’s class will be translated as best possible through this blog.

Adam Vignau

Professor Bailly

IDH 4007

24 April 2022

Colonial and Post-Colonial Spanish Civic Structure

Political Structure

            After the discovery of the Americas by Cristopher Columbus in 1492, the Spanish immediately laid a claim on the land in the large regions of modern day, north and south America. Thus began the Spanish colonization largely led by conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon. The initial motive and rationalization of Spain to conquer the Americas was to spread Christianity to the indigenous natives and to expand trade from across the Atlantic Ocean. As Spain found the “New World ” to be profitable due to its abundance in resources, more Spanish people began making voyages across the Atlantic to seek a new fortune. This was called the “Feitoria system” described as a “money making trading venture in which self-contained European communities would establish profitable trading alliances with American natives and share the profits with the Crown” (Deagan 4). Being so far away from the monarchy that had ruled the settlers made the need for new local governments in the Americas necessary as well. Establishing new levels of authority affected populations in the Americas for years to come. 

Spain brought to the Americas a very strong authoritarian government which was extremely different from the civic structure that had previously been established amongst the indigenous peoples. The “supreme executive” (Barnes 55) was the viceroy who was appointed by the Spanish crown to be the substitute monarchy in the New World. The only checks and balances the viceroy had was from the Crown itself and the “virrenai audiencia, primarily a judicial body,” who could pressure him for change (55). Then spread across the different regions were “adelantados” (Deagan 4) which were typically military leaders that expanded into new areas and would have to follow the rule of the primary viceroy. The Spanish system of government was very different for the natives as they were used to a federalistic government where the governed body had more of a say in decision making. Specifically, the women in the native tribes were able to be involved in decision making which was very different from Spanish culture. David Sahr in “Native American Governments in Today’s Curriculum” mentions that the Native American Governments formed policy “based on the good of the nation as a whole in preference of individual rights” (Sahr 1). The Spanish monarchy was typically focused on their own preferences above everyone else which was completely different from the chieftains in the native tribes.

The regional governments established by the Spanish have a lasting impact on modern political structure today. As seen by today’s representative democracy in the United States that splits up the government between federal and local governments. With an organized rule over the Americas, the Spanish were able to control large sections of land due to information not having to relay through a large hierarchy to make judgments. We can see similar reflections of this strategy through the decisions local governments have currently been making regarding the Coronavirus pandemic. Certain mandates such as the requirement to wear a mask in public have been laid responsible to the state governments, especially the governor. These modern-day governors can be compared to colonial “adelantados” for their powerful judgment over their people. 

Encomienda System/ Social Structure

Establishing a social structure that benefited the Spanish, more specifically the white males, was a standard that was held for years after colonialism in the Americas. Being that the main two reasons for colonization were to create converts to Christianity and exploit the land for its resources, quick control over certain groups was necessary for the demand in results from the Spanish crown. The encomienda system was created to facilitate their desires by forcing natives to convert to Catholicism through “econmenderos” (Yeager 844). Encomenderos were the conquistadors that were “required to instruct the natives in the faith and enforce attendance at Mass on Sundays” (844). This is alarming since religion is being forced upon them when many tribes had already established their own religious practices. Through this system we can see lasting effects in countries such as Mexico who worship the Lady of Guadelupe, Jesus’ mother as believed in Catholicism. The Spanish were able to successfully share their religion through force, but the Mexicans were able to make it their own through a Mexican Mother Mary.

In many homes today, when someone is born into a religious household it is typically expected by their parents for their children to believe in whatever god they worship. The “econmiendas” or the natives that were made to follow Catholicism experienced similar pressures from the Spanish. In Catholicism, it seems as though there are still many governing bodies from the bishops to the Pope. I personally, believe more to the Protestant point of view that religion is more of a personal relationship between God and yourself. After all these years, religion supposedly gives authority to certain individuals as seen by the Spanish Crown and the modern-day Pope. This would be fine if the authorities were perfect human beings. The Spaniards wanted absolute rule without question from their subordinates in the Americas. By making all the natives Catholic by forced practice, no other higher power could be used to question their authority. Today, the Pope (Francis)  is an active participant in policy. Francis has the authority, according to the Catholic Church, to translate God’s will over to the world. This has brought much controversy through certain topics such as LGBTG rights. From a post-colonial perspective I see this as a great issue since without personal judgment of morality or of the Bible, many people can be taken advantage of. 

The Encomienda System was the foundation for exploiting the natives fiscally by taxing their resources heavily. By offering the natives protection from the Spanish military, they required the natives to be taxed and converted to Catholicism. The reason the Crown preferred the econmienda was because “the property rights granted to encomenderos reduced the threats to its security” (Yeager 846). Though the Spanish could have used African slaves, they preferred the security and ultimately did not like slavery as a practice or ideology. Despite the Crown’s sentiments, in the Americas, slavery was practiced extensively due to its profitable nature. Slavery in the Americas was not abolished until the 1800’s, this dependency on slavery was strongly influenced by the early colonizers from Spain. Many of the modern day issues regarding systemic and societal racism can be seen stemming from colonialism. The african slaves brought to the Americas were immediately put in the lowest social caste which led to  racial abuse for generations. 

Post-Colonial Feminism

In Sandra Cisneros’ “Never Marry A Mexican” she presents ideas regarding feminism amongst Latin women that affect modern culture. The passage is narrated by a Chicana woman named Clemencia who deals with the pressures of her mother and the historic definition of success and class. I will be using post-colonial feminist theory to analyze Clemencia, as she struggles with her internal and external conflicts of escaping her cultural norms and obtaining power over white men through seduction and sex. This is shown by Clemencia’s way of gaining status through sexual relations with a white man, her relation to La Malinche and the effects of new feminist ideas imparting themselves into modern society through the mix of race.

Upward mobility of the Latin woman during the modern era is extremely difficult as society has automatically placed the Latin American woman at a disadvantage. This is due to the colonial adaptation of the principle that women can receive status through the participating in sexual relations with a white man. Clemencia is told at an early age to “Never marry a Mexican ” (Cisneros 1) from her mother due to the fact that her father was also Mexican but was born in Mexico rather than the U.S, making him inherently a lower class. The difference between someone born in a white-dominant place and someone who is not is that those who are, are automatically given an advantage and are thought of as more superior. Clemencia translates this same mentality in her adult life as she says “Mexican men, forget it…Not men I considered potential lovers” (Cisneros 2). Instead, Clemencia uses her sexuality to potentially reach upward mobility in society by sleeping with a white man named Drew. Maythee Rojas in her discourse “Cisneros’s ‘Terrible’ Women,” states that Clemencia’s “social deviance points to the particularly precarious state of sexual and cultural subordination” (Rojas 3). Describing that Clemencia deviates from a submissive feminine role that is expected from her society, to one that is typically masculine. She does this by using sex as her power over Drew saying that he is “almost not a man without your [Drew] clothes.” (Cisneros 11). Though this gives Clemencia a level of power over Drew, as a white man he still maintains the top of the social hierarchy through the caste system established during colonization. Clemencia’s ability to switch the gender roles is familiar with the feminist symbol that is La Malinche.

Clemencia’s relation to La Malinche through her use of sexuality depicts the effects of post-colonialism on the female perspective of power in Latin American culture. In “Never Marry A Mexican,” Clemencia is referred to as “My Malinalli, Malinche, my courtesan” (Cisneros 7) by Drew as he makes love to her. This is not only due to her color but the intercourse between them. La Malinche is described by Dian Suntanto in the “Feminist Refiguring of La Malinche in Sandra Cisneros’ Never Marry A Mexican,” to be the symbol of the “rape of the indigenous people” (Suntanto 1) and ultimately the downfall of the Aztecs. This is due to La Malinche’s relationship with European conquistador Hernan Cortes, who she aided in translating and learning about the Aztec Empire. Though Suntanto makes the argument that modern feminist’s view La Malinche’s actions as a form of “survival” (Suntanto 2) similar to Clemencia because of her ability to “exert her sexual agency.” Cisneros purposefully compared Clemencia to La Malinche to develop the idea of power through sex. This is shown as both La Malinche and Clemencia are translators and Drew’s description of Clemencia as “Mi Doradita” or “my little golden girl”. Anna McClintock in “Imperial Leather” makes a similar argument towards the modern way of viewing feminism as she mentions that colonized women were actually “disadvantaged within their societies” (McClintock 6) before Imperial rule. This is because the societies pre-colonization had already made a hierarchical system where the women would simply be the ones to raise children and work at home, while men had positions of power within society. In Aztec culture, men were even given the right to eat before women, which further established a patriarchy. With the introduction of colonization, native women had the opportunity to hold a level of power through the encomienda system by marrying a European man and creating a mestizo family. La Malinche as a feminist symbol has directly affected modern post-colonialism shown by the parallelism between La Malinche and Clemencia. These ideas correlate to other modern feminism movements being made.

Colonization has affected modern gender roles to an extent where boundaries have begun to blend and produce questions regarding the correct placement of masculine and feminine practices. Silvia Torres in “La conciencia de La Mestiza” writes that there is a “nepantla” or a “place in the middle” (Torres 1) where the border between cultures meets. In Mexican American culture it is the Chicana and Mestizos that display the mix in societies. In effect, Clemencia in “Never Marry A Mexican” adopts typical masculine traits of establishing dominance in bed. Clemencia speaks of Drew as a “slender boy of a man” (Cisneros 11) which is not typical in such a patriarchal society. Such odd ways of obtaining power over the white man are born from the untraditional ways of the Chicana. Clemencia’s mother also had her own part in an affair with a white man and eventually married him after the death of Clemencia’s father. Blaming her marriage to a Mexican man to be an act of ignorance as she “never had a chance to be young” (Cisneros 6). The Mexican woman finds the need to be with a white man in order to reach value in love and power. This is because European men were the “most direct agents of empire” (McClintock), and women were drawn to the idea of being part of something larger than their own lives as natives. So, the narrative continues through post-colonialism that the Latin woman will be happier within the safety of a white masculine figure. This is an issue found in class theory and critical race theory, though as these binaries come together through a mestizo class or a mix of culture, a “nepantla” is formed that serves as a shift of cultural norms. Such as in Clemencia’s case, as a Chicana she is self-empowered by believing she is above the Mexican man and uses her sexuality to bridge the gap with the white patriarchal binary. Unfortunately, by using sexuality as the only modality in which Latin women can experience a switch in gender roles, other aspects of the relationship suffer for the women. This situation is expressed as Clemencia mentions how “with you [Drew] I’m useless with words” (Cisneros 11), making a real relationship between them extremely difficult. But as Clemencia sleeps with Drew he becomes “naked” and the binary flips. Similarly, La Malinche gained status by using her sexuality with Hernan Cortes though she was still put within the limited constraint of her role as a woman. Due to the colonial mix of races, new feminism arose and modern feminist’s are able to grow past the need for sexual boundaries and vocalize their demand for gender equality.

The modern form of displaying feminism in such a patriarchal society is shown to be found in a woman’s sexuality based on Clemencia and Drew’s relationship in “Never Marry A Mexican.” This is exhibited by the effects of colonialism between European and Latin groups that produce a grey area between gender roles. Making sexuality a form of upward mobility in society’s hierarchy. The “nepantla” can be sourced as one of the major symbols in modern feminism, La Malinche. Though when thinking about the current issues in gender roles the question must be made whether using sexuality as a form of gaining authority is the ethical way of doing so? Understandably, there are many unethical practices from masculine counterparts, but imposing one’s body sexually during a power struggle is not a better solution. As a feminist, I believe that women should speak up for themselves and what they are comfortable with at home and in society. Women make up a very large percentage of the population and must be heard since they are society as well. 

Works Cited

Cisneros, Sandra. Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories. New York :Vintage Books, 1992.

Dian, Natalia Sutanto. “Feminist Refiguring of La Malinche in Sandra Cisneros’ Never Marry A Mexican.” LLT Journal: A Journal on Language and Language Teaching.1 (2016): 19. Web.

McClintock, Anne. Imperial Leather. [Electronic Resource] : Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. Routledge, 1995. Web.

Torres, Sonia. La Conciencia De La Mestiza /Towards a New Consciousness: Uma Conversação Inter-Americana Com Gloria Anzaldúa / La Conciencia De La Mestiza/Towards a New Consciousness: An Inter-American Conversation with Gloria Anzaldúa. 13 Vol. Centro de Filosofia e Ciências Humanas e Centro de Comunicação e Expressão da Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, 2005. Web.

Rojas, Maythee G. Cisneros’s ‘Terrible’ Women: Recuperating the Erotic as a Feminist Source in ‘Never Marry a Mexican’ and ‘Eyes of Zapata’. 20 Vol. Washington State University Press, 1999. Web.

Deagan, Kathleen. “Colonial Origins and Colonial Transformations in Spanish America.” Historical Archaeology, vol. 37, no. 4, 2003, pp. 3–13, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25617091. Accessed 22 Apr. 2022.

Barnes, Thomas C., et al. “THE STRUCTURE OF COLONIAL GOVERNMENT.” Northern New Spain: A Research Guide, University of Arizona Press, 1981, pp. 55–60, https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv1mq848r.11. Accessed 22 Apr. 2022.

Yeager, Timothy J. “Encomienda or Slavery? The Spanish Crown’s Choice of Labor Organization in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America.” The Journal of Economic History, vol. 55, no. 4, 1995, pp. 842–59, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2123819. Accessed 24 Apr. 2022.

Buie, Alex. Educator, Published by, et al. “Spanish Empire’s Huge Impact on the World.” Exploring the UK, Europe and Russia, 21 July 2015, https://exploringeuropeandrussia.wordpress.com/2015/07/14/spanish-empires-huge-impact-on-the-world/.

Sahr, David. “Native American Governments in Today’s Curriculum.” Native American Governments in Today’s Curriculum, 1991, http://www.socialstudies.org/sites/default/files/publications/se/6106/610601.html. 

Author: adamvignau

My name is Adam Vignau and I'm an student in FIU's Honors College. I'm currently majoring in International Business and planning on achieving a masters in Finance. In my posts I'll be documenting my adventures in my honors study abroad class with Professor Bailly.

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