The Hispanic Heritage and the Borderlands
In a recent article in the Journal of San Diego History, Manuel P. Servín in commenting on California's Hispanic heritage as myth stated, among other things, that most borderlands settlers "as the study of California's settlement shows, were not Spanish, but overwhelmingly mixed-bloods from Indian, Spanish, and also Negro stock."1 Professor Servín may be correct in this contention, but he cites little evidence to support his statement. Moreover, Servín's disregard for strict definitions of the terms he uses, and the undocumented statements he makes regarding the genetic composition of individuals he mentions displays, consciously or unconsciously, the same deception and prejudice he attributes to hispanos of New Mexico, "so called Spanish founders of San Antonio," and "californios, descendants of supposed Spaniards."2
Perhaps the most apparent fault of Servín's article is imprecise and subjective terminology, and this should be discussed before any comments on the Hispanic heritage, real or fancied, are made concerning the settlement and development of the borderlands.
First, Professor Servín never defines what the difference is between a "Spaniard" and a "Mexican" except in terms of race. For Servín, "colonial Mexicans" are "persons of mixed blood."3 The implication is, of course, that Spaniards are persons of "unmixed blood" or racially "pure" types. This is a gross oversimplification and ignores the fact that "the population of the Iberian Peninsula was anything but ethnically homogeneous." As Magnus Mörner has observed, the seven centuries prior to the discovery of the New World in Spain "witnessed extraordinary acculturation and race mixture."4 Moreover, "mestizos born in wedlock, at least during the sixteenth century, were accepted as criollos; that is, 'American Spaniards'.5 In short, Servín's definition of "Mexican" confuses race with nationality in the modern period and with caste in the colonial period; in addition, by his definition of "Mexican," neither an Indian nor a criollo or Negro would be Mexican because they are, by social definition at least, of "unmixed blood."
Second, Servín's definition of gente de razón is, to say the least, extremely confusing. He defines "gente de razón as Hispanicized non-Spaniards who were generally a mixture of Indian, African and Spanish blood,"6 but when Servín states that "Spaniards referred to themselves as 'Spaniards' and as gente de razón -- a term that would equate them with mixed-bloods."7 In other statements he notes that Miguel de Costansó used the term gente de razón to mean criollos or American Spaniards,8 but Servín also mentions that "Spanish settlers always referred to themselves as 'Spaniards' and not as gente de razón. . . ."9
Were Servín familiar with the caste system of colonial Mexico he would have commented in a different fashion. Angel Rosenblat, the distinguished Argentine historical demographer, claims that the term español was synonymous with the terms blanco, gente de razón, and vecino, but never implied absolute purity of blood."10 One who was one-eighth Indian was white, as was an individual one-sixteenth Negro. Thus, a mestizo crossed with a Spaniard produced a castizo; the castizo crossed with another Spaniard produced a person called espanol. In the same fashion, a mulato crossed with a white produced a cuarterón; from cuarteron and white was produced a quinterón; from quinteron and white was produced a white. As Rosenblat notes, the system of castes was removed from an exaggerated racist conception and the term "white" was very flexible.
Rosenblat's comments regarding gente de razón may be qualified by observing that Nicolás León in his Las castas del México colonial, o Nueva España11 states that there were two general classifications for colonial society in Mexico. With respect to intelligence, there were Indians and their opposite, gente de razon. With respect to skin color, there were whites or Spaniards and their opposite, gente de color. Thus, all non-Indians, colored or white, were according to León, gente de razón. All Indians were not only "people of color" but gente sin razón, meaning that Indians were minors in the legal sense and restricted in their liberty of movement, forbidden to buy wine, incapable of concluding contracts, and subjects to be cared for by the mission fathers or royal officials. Eleanor B. Adams has observed that censuses and reports concerning population often distinguish between "Spaniards, i.e., individuals of pure European blood, but not necessarily of European birth, gente de razón, and Indians."12 By this last definition, all those colonials not obviously Spaniards or Creoles "whose way of life followed Spanish rather than indigenous customs" would be gente de razón. What should be apparent from the above is that the term gente de razón can only be understood in the particular context in which it is used, and must not be generally applied to categorically mean "mixed bloods," as Servín does. For example, Charles E. Chapman uses the term "civilized people" for gente de razón or "those of white or mixed blood or even negroes. In fine, all but Indians were included."13
Third, Servín's characterization of José de Gálvez may be generally accurate, but may be viewed as rather narrow. Luis Navarro García mentions that various projects for a serious and organized penetration of the borderlands accumulated prior to Gálvez's admirable concretion of these projects. For example, the presence of two Dutch ships in the Pacific moved the Spanish minister in 1750 to consider whether New Galicia should be removed from the rule of the viceroy and be made an independent government, and in 1760 it was proposed to reduce the jurisdiction of the viceroyalty of Spain and create a new northern viceroyalty with its capital in Durango.14 Also, and this is a minor point, but not to be dismissed, Gálvez may have been a former shepherd of his father's flocks, but so was King David, the youngest of Jesse's sons, and Viriatus, the king of the Lusitanians.
Fourth, Fernando de Rivera, the military commander of Upper California in 1774 is called a "non-Spaniard or gente de razón"15 by Servín. Other than telling us that "Rivera was born around the year 1725 in Compostela, Mexico, or its vicinity,"16 Servín neglects to tell us anything about his "non-Spanish" antecedents. Servín also tells us that Captain Juan Bautista de Anza "was in all probability a mestizo,"17 but again does not state why this is probable. Servín's statement is also contradicted by Richard F. Pourade who states that "Anza's father was brought to Mexico from Spain while still a child and grew up in the military tradition,"18 and by J. N. Bowman and Robert F. Heizer who agree with B. Ivancovich that the Anza family was part of the "presidial aristocracy" of Fronteras.19
Fifth, in commenting on the settlement of California, Servín never documents his statement that the Portolá expedition "contained some sixty Mexican mixed-bloods,"20 and he fails to observe that many of the individuals who arrived with the expedition did not remain as colonists. Chapman states that "something fewer than three hundred men had made up the original expeditions, about half of whom reached Alta, California. A fourth of all who started had lost their lives."21 Also, though no documentation is cited by Servín for the number of mixed-bloods, we do know that Pedro Fages commanded a company of twenty-five Catalan soldiers on the expedition.22
Sixth, Servín makes much of the race mixture of the settlers of Los Angeles, but does not distinguish between culture and race. Servín, like other historians before him, fails to observe that Los Angeles is Spanish in name and a Spanish government in the eighteenth century authorized the founding of the municipality by Spanish citizens. The pueblos of California were not an immediate blessing, and the settlers of Los Angeles were recruited "from the most poverty-stricken classes in Sinaloa."23 In the 1790's Los Angeles' population (along with that of San Jose and Santa Cruz) was augmented by artisans with criminal records, and the pueblos were looked down upon by the upper-class society of Monterey and the other presidial towns. In short, the settlement of Los Angeles was not representative of all the various settlements founded by the Spanish government in the Southwest. To claim that it is would be the same as stating that the physical characteristics of the "mulatto" "Pike County blackguard," who called Salvador Vallejo a "greaser" in the Bear Flag Rebellion,24 were typical of the Anglo-American riflemen who began the rebellion. In spite of this, the somatic features of this man from Pike County, like those of the "tall yellow-skinned mulatto, Jim Beckwourth,"25 do not negate the fact that he was a representative and product of the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant culture that stole the Southwest from the Mexican nation.
In order to arrive at a better knowledge of the Hispanic heritage of the borderlands, one should perhaps always keep in mind that this heritage consists of a Spanish, Mexican, and regional Southwestern past, and that an extreme emphasis on any part of the Hispanic heritage, whether it be the "Spanish cult" or the "Mexican-Indian" past, makes for a distortion of borderlands history.26 Carey McWilliams, for example, has commented on the "amazingly heterogeneous character of the Spanish-speaking minority," and agrees with the late George I. Sánchez that culturally the Spanish-speaking people of the Southwest reflect "their varied biological and historical backgrounds," and are many peoples rather than one.27 It must also be observed that the Spaniards arriving in the New World during the colonial period were a motley group racially and regionally, and peasants, artisans, Berbers, Spanish Jews, and negros ladinos came in abundant numbers as well as "servants and friends" of uncertain social background and ordinary military and pastoral people.28 In spite of the vast number of adventurers and people of the lowest social conditions who emigrated to America, the minor nobility's world view set the standards for Spanish colonial society.
These Spaniards who arrived in the New World soon created a creole group and a caste system. In Mexico it was Hernán Cortés and his fellow adventurers who set the example for race mixture and the caste system that had fully evolved by the seventeenth century. Cortés represents the European Spaniard and doña Marina, his concubine, represents the native Indian. Don Martin Cortés, the son of the Conqueror and doña Marina, represents the mestizo who becomes the "Spaniard" in the first generation or two of race mixture. However, as Mörner has noted, persons of mixed origin in large numbers are not absorbed by either parental group, but become a caste of their own.29 Thus, although don Martin became a "Spaniard," later mestizos born out of wedlock did not. Another son of Hernán Cortés by his second wife, doña Juana de Zúñiga, represents the criollo or the Spaniard born in America. Both Creole and mestizo were considered gente de razón, but in time the mestizo was considered also to be gente de color. It should also be observed that Spaniards born in the Old World or the peninsulares believed that the Creole had degenerated as a result of the different climate of America and had lost whatever virtues were inherent in the Spanish blood.30 Creoles were considered untrustworthy, indolent, improvident, and frivolous, and the social prejudice directed against these whites born in America had nothing to do with race mixture, but to the difference found between those born in the heartland of the civilization and those who by birth are considered colonials.
The birth of the mestizo and the Creole was also accompanied by the results of race mixture between Spaniards and Negroes and Negroes and Indians, and the products of the various mixtures created a complicated social system with its resulting ethnographic significance. However, in spite of legal differences between the castes and the legislation that tended to the endogamy of the various social groups, miscegenation continued its course and became the leveler of society, tending to the dissolution of the castes especially on the frontier.31 Moreover, when it became possible to buy the category of whiteness from the Crown in the eighteenth century, the society of castes became a society of classes and he who was rich was white.32
At the same time that the caste system evolved into a class system, the culture brought by the Spaniards made for "the adaptation of the Indians to the ways of life introduced by Europeans."33 Indigenous customs were scorned and it should not be surprising to anyone that frontier areas like New Mexico and California, to a lesser extent, should become Spanish in culture.
This can be explained as a manifestation of what may be termed the colonial phenomenon in world history. The people on the fringes of an empire or civilization, the frontiersmen or colonials, are frequently the greatest partisans of the system or culture to which they choose to belong. By their hothouse enthusiasm, their conscious efforts at identification with the civilization whose center is so far away, they make their claim to equal citizenship with the people in the heartland of the civilization.34
The best example of an area that became Spanish through and through in the Southwest is, of course, New Mexico. George Sánchez, and others, have remarked that families in New Mexico were closely inter-related and "field hands, herders, and other laborers, as well as domestic servants, were often close relations of the patrón. Nearly all were landowners, with virtually the same economic standards of living as their employer."35 Also, a recent study of New Mexicans indicates that until a late date in New Mexico's history, social relations were egalitarian, and there were "no patrones in the true sense of the word."36
The Spanish-speaking people of New Mexico remained enemies of the nomadic tribes, and their closest contact was with the Pueblo Indians, who were primarily farmers. Although agriculturally-oriented, the Pueblo Indians soon adopted, by way of Spanish introduction, "the wooden plow, two-wheeled cart, clumsy iron ax, imperfect saw, and other [utensils]."37 Moreover, the ownership and use of land in New Mexico, with the arrival of the Spanish-speaking, has its "origin, nature, character, and extent of all claims ... under the laws, usages, and customs of Spain and Mexico." In fact, the "taking of possession, the settling of the land, the building of cities, the forcing of the native population into patterns determined for it by the Spaniards, and the gradual establishment of governmental institutions, represented the second, and perhaps the greater, conquest of America."38
Nor did Spanish-speaking New Mexicans consider themselves anything other than Spanish. This is proved by the best description of New Mexico that we have for the early nineteenth century, the Exposición of don Pedro Pino.39 Pino declared in 1812 that there were only two types of people in New Mexico: Spaniards and Indians. There were no castes of people of African origin, and the Pueblo Indians hardly differed from the Spaniards.40 The New Mexico Spaniards were representatives of the Spanish culture because they lived as Spaniards. The Indians spoke Spanish, and many could read and write, but they remained Indians in culture because they lived as tribal groups in pueblos separated from the Spanish plazas.41
For the separation of mestizos from Spaniards to occur, a clear demarcation of the races must exist. The most eminent authority on New Mexico's colonial history has stated that there was not only no social distinction between Spaniards and Creoles in seventeenth century New Mexico, but "the position of the half-castes in New Mexico was undoubtedly better than in the more densely settled areas of New Spain. Life on the frontier put men on their own, and if a mestizo made a good soldier, he was a welcome member of the community. Many of them attained high military rank, and some became alcaldes mayores or members of the cabildo of Santa Fe."42 Moreover, if it is impossible to estimate the proportions of Spaniards, Creoles, and castes in seventeenth-century New Mexico because social distinctions were blurred, the logical outcome is that all men would over a period of time profess to that group "which set the standard for the rest, which upheld military traditions on a far away frontier." For this reason we can state that Fray Angélico Chávez was essentially correct when he remarked that there was a general preponderance of Spanish blood in New Mexico, and that all New Mexicans were inter-related into "one big family, at least as far as the first two centuries are concerned."
As will be noticed, some of the Conquistadores appear to have had noble antecedents in the dim past, but all were now ordinary military and pastoral people, good folks in the main, who were neither peons nor convicts. True, the misdeeds of some have come down to us, while the good deeds of most were interred with their bones, since court records do not concern themselves with men's virtues. But enough material exists to picture their fortitude and piety, their constant courage, and a marked innate sense of idealism. As I have elsewhere tried to bring out, these pioneer New Mexicans did not come seeking religious and civil liberty for their own group, like the New England colonists. Nor were they looking primarily for mere material benefits and a new home, like those of New France. Rather, in the truly characteristic fashion of southern Castile (La Mancha and Extremadura), they risked life and limb chiefly because they had been promised the title of "hidalgo" if they came and stayed. An empty incentive, this, to any other people, but not to these whose names and blood went back ultimately to that stark land of central Spain where Cervantes had his Don Quijote and Sancho Panza seeking for "islands" to rule.43
Ultimately what remains is culture, and we may note that the Spanish language in New Mexico was "not a vulgar dialect as many misinformed persons believe, but a rich archaic Spanish dialect, largely Castilian in source." Indigenous Indian elements within the language are unimportant and perhaps "not more than one hundred Nahuatl words, all told, are used in New Mexico Spanish." In comparison, there were in 1911 some 300 words of English origin in current use among the uneducated classes of New Mexico and Southern Colorado.44
It should also be noted that California has a rich Spanish tradition and Richard Henry Dana, for example, tells us that the gente de razón, or "better sort of people," wore "cloaks of black or dark blue broadcloth with as much velvet and trimmings as may be." Dana states that not only was he struck with the Californians' love of dress, but also
with the fineness of the voices and beauty of the intonations of both sexes. Every common ruffianlooking fellow, with a slouched hat, blanket cloak, dirty under-dress, and soiled leather leggings, appeared to me to be speaking elegant Spanish. It was a pleasure simply to listen to the sound of the language ... A common bullock-driver, on horseback, delivering a message, seemed to speak like an ambassador at a royal audience. In fact, they sometimes appeared to me to be a people on whom a curse had fallen, and stripped them of everything but their pride, their manners, and their voices.45
Leonard Pitt states that the gentry regarded themselves as grandees without a court, as aristocrats in a republic, and declares that "the rancheros, who had behaved like aristocrats even while poor, eased into affluence naturally, as if living up to a pre-established level of lifesay, that of Spain in the eighteenth century."46
In conclusion, the student of the history of the Spanish-speaking people of the Southwest encounters a civilization that in varying proportions has elements of Spanish, Indian, Mexican, and Anglo origin today.47 Although these background influences are important for the analysis and evaluation of the formation of the people variously called Mexican, Mexican-American, Spanish, Spanish-American, Chicano, and other names, the difference between that which was Spanish, Mexican, and Southwestern or New Mexican in the colonial period can only be a matter of regional distinction within a similar general culture. To claim, as Servín does, that hispanos in New Mexico are not of Spanish stock or language or culture because of some race mixture over the centuries is to miss the importance of miscegenation completely. Miscegenation is of limited interest biologically, and only socially important when it produces a society of castes or a society like that of the United States which is characterized by an intricate complex of tensions arising from interracial mixture or the fear that this may come about. This did not happen in New Mexico specifically, nor did it occur in the borderlands generally. The reason for this is that society on the frontier was relatively open. Vertical mobility existed socially and by the early nineteenth century, all those colonists in New Mexico not obviously Indian were Spaniards. To claim otherwise is almost the same as stating that Spain ceased to be Spanish because of the Berber invasions, or that "Anglo-Americans" today are Indians because they eat corn, potatoes, and use tobacco.
1. Manuel P. Servín, "California's Hispanic Heritage: A View Into the Spanish Myth," The Journal of San Diego History, Vol. XIX, No. I (Winter, 1973), 1-9 (cited hereinafter as Servín).
2. Servín. pp. 1-2.
3. Servín, p. 2.
4. Magnus Mörner, Race Mixture in the History of Latin America (Boston, 1967), p. 13.
5. Ibid. p. 55.
6. Servín. p. 8, n. 9.
7. Servín, p. 8, n. 9.
8. Servín. p. 9, n. 21.
9. Servín. p. 9, n. 20.
10. Angel Rosenblat, La Población indíena y el mestizaje en América (2 vols.; Buenos Aires, 1954), II, 136-138.
11. Nicolás León, Las castas del México colonial, o Nueva España (Mexico, 1924), p. 8.
12. Eleanor B. Adams and Fray Angélico Chávez, trans. and eds., The Missions of New Mexico, 1776 (Albuquerque, 1956), xxi and 341. See also Eleanor B. Adams, ed., Bishop Tamarón's Visitation of New Mexico, 1766 (Albuquerque, 1954), p. 34.
13. Charles E. Chapman, A History of California: The Spanish Period (New York, 1921), p. 146.
14. Luis Navarro García, José de Gálvez y la Comandancia General de las Provincias Internas del norte de Nueva España (Seville, 1964), pp. 90-91.
15. Servín, p. 3.
16. Servín, p. 8, n. 4.
17. Servín, p. 3.
18. Richard F. Pourade, Anza Conquers the Desert (San Diego, 1971), p. 22.
19. J. N. Bowman and Robert F. Heizer, Anza and the Northwest Frontier of New Spain (Los Angeles, 1967), p. 27.
20. Servín, p. 3.
21. Chapman, A History of California, p. 224. Chapman also remarks that in 1770 only 43 soldiers were to be found in Upper California, and in 1773 the total Spanish population "was made up of sixty-one soldiers, eleven friars, and an occasional mechanic temporarily in the province in the service of the government." Ibid., pp. 245, 249.
22. Ibid., p. 22.
23. John Walton Caughey, California (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1953), p. 140. See also Chapman, A History of California, p. 384, who states, "The officers and missionaries were for the most part of pure white blood, but the great majority of the rest were mesitizos -- part white and part Indian. In the Los Angeles district there were some mulattoes." Bancroft states, "The settlers at the pueblos gave more trouble than any other class, being free from military discipline and enjoying greater facilities for sinful dissipations." Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of California (7 vols.: San Francisco, 1884-1890), I, 640.
24. Leonard Pitt, The Decline of the Californios: A Social History of the Spanish-Speaking Californians, 1846-1890 (Berkeley, 1970), p. 27.
25. David Lavender, Bent's Fort (Garden City, N.Y., 1954), p. 193.
26. "The Hispanic heritage of the Southwest has two parts: the Spanish and the Mexican-Indian. Originally one heritage, unified in time, they have long since been polarized." Carey McWilliams, North from Mexico, The Spanish-Speaking People of the United States (New York, 1968), p. 19.
27. Ibid., p. 42.
28. See Mörner, Race Mixture in the History of Latin America, 16: Charles Gibson, Spain in America (New York, 1967), 113. Spanish-speaking Negroes from the Iberian peninsula were first shipped to the New World; the trade in bozales or African slaves began in 1518. The number of Negro slaves in the peninsular kingdoms of Spain has been estimated at 100,000 or more in the early part of the sixteenth century, with half of these being located in Andalucía. Most of these Negroes were, of course, assimilated into the regular majority of the population over the years. For the role played by Spanish Jews as leaders of the slavocracy of Española in the first half of the sixteenth century, see Ralph H. Vigil, "Negro Slaves and Rebels in the Spanish Possessions, 1503-1558," The Historian, Vol. XXXIII, No. 4 (August, 1971) pp. 637-655.
The majority of the Spaniards who migrated to the New World in the sixteenth century were from Andalucía and Extremadura. Few members of the upper nobility came to America, but many second sons of noble houses as well as members of the lower nobility did migrate. After 1530, many friars and priests arrived. Veterans in the profession of arms predominated in the beginnings and declined after the great conquests. There were relatively few learned individuals, but their prestige and importance exceeded their number. J. Vicens Vives, ed., Historia de España y América (5 vols.; Barcelona, 1961), III, pp. 395-396. That illegal migration was common is illustrated by the fact that in 1504 the punishment for illicit transit to the Indies was 100 lashes and a fine of 100,000 maravedis. At the beginning of the seventeenth century the punishment became four years in the galleys and total confiscation of goods.
29. Mörner, Race Mixture in the History of Latin America, p. 29.
30. Julio Jiménez Rueda, Historia de la cultura en México (Mexico, 195 1, p. 33.
31. Rosenblat, La población indigena y el mestizaje en América, II, p. 134.
32. Ibid., p. 138.
33. Harold E. Driver, ed., The Americas on the Eve of Discovery (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1964), p. 165.
34. Norman F. Cantor, Medieval History, The Life and Death of a Civilization (New York, 1969), p. 180.
35. George I. Sánchez, Forgotten People, A Study of New Mexicans (Albuquerque, 1967), p. 6.
36. Nancie L. Gonazález, The Spanish-Americans of New Mexico: A Heritage of Pride (Albuquerque, 1969), p. 45.
37. Charles H. Lange, Cochiti: A New Mexico Pueblo, Past and Present (Carbondale, 1968), p. 90.
38. J. H. Elliott, Imperial Spain, 1469-1716 (New York, 1966), p. 65.
39. See H. Bailey Carroll and J. Villasana Haggard, trs. and eds., Three New Mexico Chronicles (Albuquerque, 1942).
40. Ibid., p. 9.
41. Ibid., pp. 27-30.
42. France V. Scholes, "Civil Government and Society in New Mexico in the Seventeenth Century," New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. X, No. 2 (April, 1935), pp. 71-111.
43. Fray Angélico Chávez, Origins of New Mexico Families (Santa Fe, 1954), p. xv.
44. Aurelio M. Espinosa, "The Spanish Language in New Mexico and Southern Colorado," Publication No. 16, Historical Society of New Mexico (Santa Fe, 1911), pp. 1-37. See also Auerlio M. Espinosa, Estudios sobre el español de Nuevo M&eeacute;jico (Buenos Aires, 1930). Aurelio M. Espinosa, Romancero de Nuevo Méjico (Madrid, 1953); Aurelio M. Espinosa "Spanish Tradition in New Mexico," University of New Mexico Bulletin, XLVIII (Nov 1, 1934), pp. 26-39.
45. Richard Henry Dana, Two Years Before The Mast (New York, 1963), pp. 58, 61.
46. Pitt, The Decline of the Californios, pp. 12-13.
47. In spite of this, it is probably true that the "Mexican-American subculture in its most common variant is probably best regarded and understood as a variant of American working-lower class culture." See Fernando Peñalosa, "The Changing Mexican-American in Southern California," in John H. Burma, ed., Mexican-Americans in the United States: A Reader (Cambridge, Mass., 1970), p. 45.
Ralph H. Vigil is Associate Professor of History and Director, Institute for Ethnic Studies, University of Nebraska, Lincoln. He received his B.A. from Pacific Lutheran College (1959), although he is by inclination a Roman Catholic. His M.A. and Ph.D. degrees are from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque where he studied under both France V. Scholes and Troy S. Floyd. Dr. Vigil was a Fulbright Scholar in 1967 and 1968 and did research in Spain on a biography he is presently writing on Alonso de Zorita, Audiencia judge or oidor in the New World in the years 1548-1566. He is author of the Breve Relación de los señores de la Nueva España and other works. He has taught Mexican-American history at Fresno State College and the University of Texas, El Paso, and has written various articles on ethnohistory that have appeared or will appear shortly in various journals.