Tales of Incorporation, Resistance, and Reconquest in New Spain
Contributing Editor: Juan Bruce-Novoa
History of the Miraculous Apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe in
Classroom Issues and Strategies
The central issue raised by these selections revolve around the opposing forces of colonialism and native resistance to it. In my experience students tend to side with the Native Americans against the Spanish, focusing on the Hopi text and its act of direct and simple rejection through violence. The protests against the Columbus quintcentennial celebrations provided added impetus to this anti-Spanish sentiment, ironically especially among the U.S. Latino population. A discussion of the legal and moral rights of conquest should not be avoided, but care should be taken to avoid focusing solely on the Spanish. Certainly by the seventeenth century the other major powers in the Americas, the English and the French, were dealing with similar resistance in very similar ways. No European colonial power willingly gave up possession of American territory to its native inhabitants; the U.S. government followed suit in later centuries.
The appropriateness of a Mexican religious legend in an anthology of U.S. literature may be questioned. Justification lies in the pervasiveness of the story everywhere Mexicans have settled in the United States. The hybrid character of the figure suggests an alternate image of American identity, that of the cultural and biological fusion of Old and New World peoples.
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
Two contradictory themes dialogue throughout this section: the Native American's determination to defend their culture to the death and the colonizer's determination to hold conquered territory with equal zeal. Both feel bound by their cultural codes of behavior to resist the efforts of the other and neither seems willing to compromise. The Virgin of Guadalupe, however, represents a possible point of confluence in hybridism. Her tale raises the theme of miscegenation, one which has been treated very differently in Latin America and the United States.
Students lack the historical training to contextualize these tales. The headnotes, as well as references to studies of the period, provide a good introduction. It is most important to keep in mind that these texts reflect the ongoing efforts of the Spanish empire to perpetuate itself by maintaining order and control over its territory and inhabitants.
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
The differences in the formal character of these texts reflect the conflicting issues mentioned above. While the Spanish official used the written word, with the full authority of a document within a legalistic political order, the anonymous Hopi resistance text began as oral tales and preserves a kinship with folklore and clandestine communications. The Guadalupe text is, like the image of the Virgin herself, a hybrid of elite and popular styles. The governmental texts obey the conventions of bureaucratic communiques, employing the rhetoric of political justification that appeals to hegemonic regulations; the other texts counter through an appeal to a sense of common justice for the oppressed at the margins of that same order.
Again, the Spanish governors addressed themselves to those few powerful officials in the chain of command whose task it was to judge their conduct and recommend action by the crown. Their texts were never meant for distribution to readers other than those versed in the formalities and legalities of the colonial situation. There was no room for flights of literary fancy among these bureaucrats, yet it is exactly this cut-and-dried style that conveys to us now the harsh realities of the colonial system; its highly organized and controlled character as contrasted with the relatively loose structure of the English colonies.
The Guadalupe text was intended for the Native Americans of central Mexico; a proselytizing text for people of non-European cultures, it was originally published in Náhuatl and thus not directed at a Spanish readership. However, one must consider that the great majority of Native Americans could not read in any language, so the text could have well been intended for trained clerics to use in evangelizing.
The Hopi text was originally an oral story repeated by and for members of this and other tribes. It is still found among the oral tradition tales in the Southwest.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
The Otermín and Vargas texts can be read with Villagrá's account of the resistance at Acoma a century earlier; stylistic differences arise from the roles the authors played within the imperial system. Villagrá chronicled his experience in the epic verse common to his time, free to fictionalize the events and characters, while Otermín and Vargas wrote in the governmental form that they were expected to use to report facts without embellishments.
Students can read Thomas Morton's account of the massacre of the Wessaguscus by the Plymouth colonists. Also, they could consider the difference between the positive image of miscegenation in the Virgin of Guadalupe and the negative image of that possibility in Rowlandson's captivity.
Questions for Reading and Discussion/Approaches to Writing
1. Ask students to consider the moral and political issues addressed in the selections in a contemporary setting. The particular locality and region in which your institution is located should fit the purpose, since it is difficult to find any place in the United States that did not experience a similar frontier situation at some point. Have them ponder what it would mean for them and their families to be forced to relinquish their property and return to their ancestors' homeland. What would they expect of their elected official, the court, the police, and the military?
2. Have students think of the Virgin of Guadalupe metaphorically as a figure of cultural confluence designed to ameliorate conflict among ethnic and racial groups. Ask them to consider if such figures could be useful now in the United States and if they have existed in our history. Is the model of hybridism (cultural and racial) viable in the United States?
Consult headnotes for references.