English 328, Colonial Society: New Spain

Let’s try to place ourselves back at the dawn of the Spanish colonial era.  You are a subject within the Aztec Empire.  Your nation has lost a war, and the victors are changing society.  What was called Tenochtitlan (“place of the prickly pear cactus”) is now called “New Spain” to indicate a “new” holding of the Spanish crown.

Among the changes are language (from Nahuatl into Spanish) and religion (Christianity).  What do you suppose some of the adaptive challenges would be for the native people?  How might they approach the new spheres of culture, religion, intermarriage, social privilege, and their general place inside the new Mexico?

21 thoughts on “English 328, Colonial Society: New Spain

  1. The biggest challenge for the native people following the conquest of New Spain would likely have been the loss of many traditions and customs that were present for so long in Tenochtitlan. Due to Spanish rule and an intense focus on Christianity, many Aztec interests would have taken a back seat, so navigating the new cultural, religious, and social “norms” (introduced by the powers at be) would have effectively made the Aztec people foreigners in a sense. Without any sort of physical displacement, they would find themselves immediately subject to social pressure to behave and believe a certain way, so the need to assimilate for the sake of their livelihoods would have led to the Aztecs losing much of what Aztecs held dear for years. Depending on what specific aspects of Aztec culture looked like, their concept of family may have been uprooted as marriage practices changed, and family lineages would have become very hard to trace. Socially, the Spanish immediately established a hierarchy of europeans, mestizos, and natives, so anybody that visibly was not purely European would have been treated worse, and likely ridiculed for attempting to preserve Aztec culture at the expense of the new, invasive Spanish culture. The mass conversions of Christianity would of course have been a massive loss as well, and that would have created the challenge of reassessing and reorganizing personal and communal morals in many people, as well as an embattlement over who and what to worship and put faith in. The Aztec people would have been significantly disadvantaged in the disorienting and forced transition between two different cultures.

    • Hi Eli!
      I agree with your response! I think having to adapt to a COMPLETELY new lifestyle is insanely challenging. Not only are they changing their religion, but also their language and everything that they grew up being taught is the right way of life. It is also to note that they are FORCED to change these aspects, and this decision is not out of free will. In this respect, I want to bring up something we both touched on last week! The Indians used sacrifices as a means to respect their gods and show respect, however, Diaz Del Castillo saw them as terrifying acts of brutality. This is only one issue that can be highlighted to show how drastic this change would be for the citizens of the Aztec Empire, their customs compared to Christianity could not be any more of opposites.

    • I agree with you, I believe that the changes would be difficult in the time in history especially that the Spanish at the beginning of their conquest pushed violently to change religion and that the religion of the Natives was considered an abomination to the Spanish. Also, the worshiping would be completely different because reading the past readings in class, the Natives would use sacrifice to honor the gods or change a situation but now had to avoid sacrificing because it is now considered a violent act against humanity.

    • I agree with the complications you’ve presented here, especially the points you’ve made regarding marriage and family. I’m curious to know how Aztec culture viewed marriage and the incorporation of those who they had conquered through marriage. If traditionally they had accepted prisoners of war of members of competing tribes as replacements for those lost in battle or as a way of diminishing the power of those that had been defeated, would there had been an aspect of that in the intermarriage of Aztec and Spanish?

  2. If I were to place myself in the Spanish Colonial Era as a native my approach to a new world essentially would be met with hesitation. The loss of my pervious traditions would be hard to get over. If I were to look at it in a postivite way I would want to learn about my “new culture” and at that point see if I can faithfully follow it or not. The reading about Santa Maria de Guadalupe was a way natives took their new religion and meshed it with the old religion. I can see natives doing that too many things such as the thoughts of intermarriage, social privileges, and customs. It would be their way of being in control of their new lives. Overall, I believe one must improvise and adept when defeated and I believe that’s what natives did in New Spain.

    • Hey Bryan,
      I think the same way as you do, I believe it would hard to adapt to new norms of culture, and especially learning a new langaguage, which once it was considered normal to speak in the dialet that the tribe spoke to communicate with one another but now learning a langauge to communicate to another type ethnicity is difficult. Also, another thing I imagine that would be hard to adapt is religion, which once normal to worship many gods they now worship other gods.

  3. Hello Everyone!
    I believe this time of transition from what I grew up in will be very difficult to adapt to a new culture norms and religion. I believe that having another perspective of how to worship, who to worship is the will be the most difficult part of change because religion has always been a great influence in the way an individual thinks, feels and behaves. The way of worship will be difficult since what was considered not normal now is considered the new norm. Also, with culture changes comes the way in someone dresses differently and behaves differently, to before the tribe only used tribal clothing now wear dresses and men wear pants. Another hard changed will be to learn a completely different language than the language that was spoken before, which was a dialect that the tribe communicated with one individual to another.
    It would be difficult to change to what society now considered a new norm and what is expected of me to adapt to the new changes.

  4. A loss of tradition and culture would be a devastating challenge. Living a life that you know so well then having it all change can be problematic. However, they could bring their traditions and cultures with them to avoid such a challenge. Then you would have many social problems such as peer pressure.

  5. If I were to place myself back at the dawn of the Spanish colonial era I think one of the hardest changes would be the change in traditions. There would be a period of time where all of your traditions are being erased and replaced with new traditions and other new cultural aspects. Adjusting to a new religion would most likely be difficult for them too, especially if their gods are disrespected in the process. Their general place inside the New Mexico would likely be similar to their old place in society for numerous people, but others who were considered to be more important and now are not would most likely find it difficult to adjust.

  6. Obviously all aspects of adaptation were challenging for the native people. First and foremost is the oppression of Christianity on the indigenous people of Mexico. Then, comes the culture that comes along with Christianity and general European-ness. These things are all easily adapted more or less. On the other hand, there is the shift in language. This is a difficult change and not one that can be made in one generation. The shift from Nahuatl to Spanish took at least a few generations to accomplish because it is already difficult to learn a new language as an adult, let alone learning it from someone who barely knows it (e.g. the second generation). This put the indigenous people at an extreme disadvantage considering the colonizers viewed their native language as primal and savage. I believe the implementation of Spanish as the only acceptable language was by far the most oppressive form of social adaptation that happened in the Spanish colonial era.

  7. I imagine that it would be a very difficult transition to a new, Christian way of living. Religion and culture are tied so closely together that the arrival of Christianity does not only bring changes in religious beliefs, but also changes in every day living. The people in the Aztec Empire are now under the control of foreigners. This means that they are now expected to completely surrender their way of living and adopt the Spanish culture, which includes a new language and religion.

  8. In thinking through the social and cultural transformation to create “New Spain,” many of you make excellent points. Language would definitely be one of them, especially for adults. Children would likely adapt to the new requirements and the new way of seeing the world better than adults who have grown up under the old system. Religion would take a part in this by placing everyone under a new system of rules under one God. This creates a kind of unification for all, but certainly the changes would happen through a decades-long process of generational change.

  9. I imagine that the new social structure would be very challenging to assimilate to. Before Spanish rule, the Aztecs had their own established structure of government with an emperor and hierarchy. When the Spaniards took control, this entire structure and ideology was replaced. Going from having your own social structure and government to a caste system that favors the Spanish must have been extremely difficult.

  10. As everyone has said, it would be a new way of life as the Spaniards’ focal point relied on Christianity. As these people already had their ideas and rules set in place, the new Spanish rule did not even recognize the Aztecs’ way of life and forced conversion among the people. As there was already a language barrier between the Spaniards and Aztecs, it could be even more frustrating with the added force of new rulers. Their true sense of hope was lost, and many internal battles were fought. Under New Spain, intentions were off even more so as there were difficulties in transferring religious concepts from one to another. Men were often illustrated more in history, therefore a personal barrier between the two cultures were set beforehand; with the demanded submission, the Aztecs were not favorable of the Spaniards previously.

  11. It is easy to say that the most notable change that the native people would have had to endure upon the transition to “New Spain” would be the culture and way of life. The natives would have to adjust to a completely new way of thinking and living by always having to comply with what the Spanish were forcing onto them (Spanish language, dress, Christianity, etc.). With such a cultural difference like a language barrier, it would be even more difficult for communication between the two sides to occur. When the Spanish arrived, they completely disregarded this, and pushed whatever their own beliefs were onto the Aztecs. The Spanish would have used the language barrier to their own advantage by changing things to satisfy themselves so that the Aztec people couldn’t even air out their grievances. The Aztecs would have no way of truly understanding what was going on and would have to adjust because there was nothing they could say. The Aztec’s literature was changed, because we can see in the reading how much Christianity influenced it, and how it influenced their daily lives as well. This was by far the biggest change that the natives would have had to go through.

  12. Coping with drastic changes in societies can be extremely difficult. To be a subject of the Aztec empire during a time in which the society is being integrated with another culture seems like a daunting task. Religion and language are the most prominent points at which one can determine that Aztec society was forced to change. When learning a new language, there is no doubt that they were learning the culture and ideas of social privilege along with it, as language and culture are tied so closely together. Furthermore, the immediate and invasive implementation of Christianity in the wake of previous religions that the Aztecs celebrated surely caused confusion and disorientation among the population. The most challenging adaptation for the Aztecs to overcome would be bridging between their previous sense of self and their future sense of self. It would have been extremely difficult to establish a sense of balance between what the Aztecs previously believed and what they were being forced to accept. This conflict of identity would be especially prominent in older generations who maintained long-established traditions and were suddenly expected to not only passively accept but actively welcome and immerse themselves in a new language and culture.

  13. The forced transition of religion, language, and overall way of living in the Aztec Empire would make it hard for anyone to seamlessly adapt. I think a lot about diasporas of our current society, how they are essentially forced to assimilate into whichever area they are moving to. The difference here is that the Aztecs were not forcibly removed from the geographic location of their empire, it’s that with the forced New Spain they were displaced in their culture and way of life. If they wanted to succeed in New Spain they would have to forgo their own beliefs and familiar way of living and adopt whichever ideals the Spaniards were forcing upon them. Those who didn’t were punished, creating a bigger incentive for the Aztecs to abandon the culture they have known. The fear of never knowing if you were performing well enough in the eyes of Spaniards would be one of the most nerve-racking aspects of this transition, as my life would be in the hands of strangers that are ripping any sense of familiarity away from me.

  14. Besides learning a new language and adapting to a new religion, there would be many social and cultural challenges. As the email stated, there was a new and very strict caste system. This would bring up all kinds of problems with intermarriage and just adjusting to a whole new place in society. Suddenly, people who used to be in the higher ranks of society were equated to the commoners they once lorded over– that’s a big change. Culturally, there was a great shift as we have some members of the indigenous population being educated. Their whole perspective of how the world was created or even just how natural phenomenons worked, would be greatly changed. And now there are a whole new race of people being brought over from a different country, and their culture is entangling with the Spaniards and indigenous people. It seems that New Spain was a melting pot which would allow for all types of hybrid cultures, religions and languages to be born. This is probably the best way to adapt to sudden shifts culturally, religiously and linguistically, just co-op parts from the old and the new to create a new thing.

  15. The narrative we read for this week and the photos of the church that Dr. Barrenechea sent provide a view of the construction of a literary “backstory” that allowed the creation of mixed cultural references. Although the narrative is produced under Spanish Catholicism, it was originally “written in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs”. (160) Incorporating an “Indian named Juan Diego” with the vision of the Virgin Mary gave life to the idea that there was a connection between the Aztecs and the Spanish through Catholicism as well as some credence in a completely new religion. In the Miraculous Apparition, when Juan Diego doubts his ability to convince the Bishop of what the Virgin Mary has told him, Mary responds that it is “important that you speak for me in this matter”. (162) The narrative places Juan Diego in a place of importance and trust.

  16. I feel that all these new changes would be met initially with resistance and mourning and then an extremely awkward and uncomfortable transition into the “new” way of life. Being a person of color, I can infer that they probably tried to transition by merging cultures together. Mixing languages, religious beliefs and maybe even cuisine. It brings to mind modern day “Spanglish” – a clumsy mix of Spanish and English languages infused into one. The natives pride in their culture was most likely whittled away and replaced with shame and rejection of their original way of life. They were most likely brainwashed into thinking that they were originally lacking morals, backwards and led astray by the “devil”/”false gods”.

  17. I believe that one of the most challenging parts of colonization for the natives was the loss of identity that natives experienced when the contrasting European and native cultures meshed. Natives held on to their own cultural practices and beliefs as they operated under a new government that did not support or reflect their beliefs. For instance, the influx of Christianity changed natives’ ideas of gender roles and introduced a church-based hierarchy. While native’s attempted to hold on to their previously held roles, the presence of Christianity in New Spain made these roles difficult and, sometimes, “immoral” to fulfill. Christianity acted not only as a religious belief system, but as a radical agent of colonization. the colonial addition of native obligations to the church, the government, and the family unit, obscured many roles by which natives identified themselves.

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