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Genealogical Fictions: Limpieza de Sangre, Religion, and Gender in Colonial Mexico

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María Elena Martínez's Genealogical Fictions is the first in-depth study of the relationship between the Spanish concept of limpieza de sangre (purity of blood) and colonial Mexico's sistema de castas, a hierarchical system of social classification based primarily on ancestry. Specifically, it explains how this notion surfaced amid socio-religious tensions in early modern María Elena Martínez's Genealogical Fictions is the first in-depth study of the relationship between the Spanish concept of limpieza de sangre (purity of blood) and colonial Mexico's sistema de castas, a hierarchical system of social classification based primarily on ancestry. Specifically, it explains how this notion surfaced amid socio-religious tensions in early modern Spain, and was initially used against Jewish and Muslim converts to Christianity. It was then transplanted to the Americas, adapted to colonial conditions, and employed to create and reproduce identity categories according to descent. Martínez also examines how the state, church, Inquisition, and other institutions in colonial Mexico used the notion of purity of blood over time, arguing that the concept's enduring religious, genealogical, and gendered meanings and the archival practices it promoted came to shape the region's patriotic and racial ideologies.


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María Elena Martínez's Genealogical Fictions is the first in-depth study of the relationship between the Spanish concept of limpieza de sangre (purity of blood) and colonial Mexico's sistema de castas, a hierarchical system of social classification based primarily on ancestry. Specifically, it explains how this notion surfaced amid socio-religious tensions in early modern María Elena Martínez's Genealogical Fictions is the first in-depth study of the relationship between the Spanish concept of limpieza de sangre (purity of blood) and colonial Mexico's sistema de castas, a hierarchical system of social classification based primarily on ancestry. Specifically, it explains how this notion surfaced amid socio-religious tensions in early modern Spain, and was initially used against Jewish and Muslim converts to Christianity. It was then transplanted to the Americas, adapted to colonial conditions, and employed to create and reproduce identity categories according to descent. Martínez also examines how the state, church, Inquisition, and other institutions in colonial Mexico used the notion of purity of blood over time, arguing that the concept's enduring religious, genealogical, and gendered meanings and the archival practices it promoted came to shape the region's patriotic and racial ideologies.

30 review for Genealogical Fictions: Limpieza de Sangre, Religion, and Gender in Colonial Mexico

  1. 4 out of 5

    Luke

    Reading this book, it's hard to avoid the sense that Martínez was gaslit by the entire historical establishment while writing this book. It sounds like she was accused of being too obsessed with race, for looking for documents where "there were none," with seeking transatlantic leakages of limpieza de sangre. And yet, this book vindicates all of her efforts. The thesis is a simple one: Limpieza de sangre, or "blood purity"--a measure designed to show that Christians did not have any Jewish ancest Reading this book, it's hard to avoid the sense that Martínez was gaslit by the entire historical establishment while writing this book. It sounds like she was accused of being too obsessed with race, for looking for documents where "there were none," with seeking transatlantic leakages of limpieza de sangre. And yet, this book vindicates all of her efforts. The thesis is a simple one: Limpieza de sangre, or "blood purity"--a measure designed to show that Christians did not have any Jewish ancestors--made its way across the Atlantic. Once in Mexico, it remained a religious measure as Spanish conquerors attempted to establish two parallel societies--one for Spaniards, the other for indigenous peoples--which failed (fortunately, 16th century apartheid would not win the day). However, the logic involved demanded that the Spanish establish some sort of distinction between them and indigenous peoples. When African slaves were first brought to Mexico, they were immediately associated with slavery, and Spanish American faced a tripartite division. As a result, the limpieza de sangre was reappropriated to suggest Spanish ancestry rather than "old Christian" ancestry. This worked especially well as, legally, people with Jewish ancestry were not given permission to cross the Atlantic (although some still did by way of direct permission from the monarch or illegal migration). In turn, the limpieza de sangre gave way to the sistema de castas, a regimented "system of castes," where race represented the place an individual fit on the racio-class hierarchy. By the eighteenth century, with an increase in interest in European science and taxonomy, the caste system became far more elaborate. Moreover, gender was important to the entire process, as royal officials both took an interest in and regulated female sexuality for the purpose of maintaining barriers between indigenous peoples and Spanish, then between the castes. The text itself is not quite so simple as my summary. In fact, the history involved is quite messy, but the fault is not the author's--it's that of the subject itself. In fact, Martínez warns us to be wary of simplistic analyses of the development of the sistema de castas. Before the publication of this book, the most widespread interpretation was that the castes were a direct representation of the tripartite structure of Spanish society. The castes, Spanish-Indian-African, were supposedly directly reflected by the roles, Noble-Commoner-Slave. It's logical, but it lacks historical grounding. The book is also really theory-heavy, but it works for Martínez here. There are times where it appears overused, but this is not one of those cases.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

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  5. 4 out of 5

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  16. 5 out of 5

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  17. 4 out of 5

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  18. 5 out of 5

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    Colleen Greene

  20. 4 out of 5

    OscarIsTheChandrian

  21. 5 out of 5

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  29. 4 out of 5

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  30. 4 out of 5

    Luis Jaquez

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