The Transformation of the Other: The Development of Gender, Race and Racism in Mesoamerica in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
Mentor:Jose Ortega, Assistant Professor of History, Whittier College
This paper will evaluate and assess the impact Spanish colonization had on Mesoamerican peoples and their identities in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by analyzing the categories of race and gender. It will do so by examining Spanish colonialism and the imposition of binary European social and cultural notions on indigenous groups in sixteenth and seventeenth century Mesoamerica. This essay will consider how cross-cultural influences and competing social and cultural values affected indigenous peoples’ understanding of identity. Through a complex process of transculturation, slavery, and violence, both physical and sexual, Spaniards imposed concepts of the Other and binary oppositions onto relatively fluid understandings of gender and sexuality practiced by Mesoamerican peoples prior to colonization. Through conquest and colonization, indigenous identities were transformed, altering concepts of race, gender, and sexuality. Such transformations constructed a society with inherent social contradictions ranging from fundamental definitions of what it meant to be a man or a woman as well as the development of a caste system based on race and ethnicity. Race became tied with many other societal identifiers, such as class and gender. By the seventeenth century, Spanish colonization altered Mesoamerican gendered identities, as well as social and cultural values.