[Marxism] Indian Slavery Once Thrived in New Mexico. Latinos Are Finding Family Ties to It

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jan 29 08:39:13 MST 2018


NY Times, Jan. 29, 2018
Indian Slavery Once Thrived in New Mexico. Latinos Are Finding Family 
Ties to It.
By SIMON ROMERO

ALBUQUERQUE — Lenny Trujillo made a startling discovery when he began 
researching his descent from one of New Mexico’s pioneering Hispanic 
families: One of his ancestors was a slave.

“I didn’t know about New Mexico’s slave trade, so I was just stunned,” 
said Mr. Trujillo, 66, a retired postal worker who lives in Los Angeles. 
“Then I discovered how slavery was a defining feature of my family’s 
history.”

Mr. Trujillo is one of many Latinos who are finding ancestral 
connections to a flourishing slave trade on the blood-soaked frontier 
now known as the American Southwest. Their captive forebears were Native 
Americans — slaves frequently known as Genízaros (pronounced 
heh-NEE-sah-ros) who were sold to Hispanic families when the region was 
under Spanish control from the 16th to 19th centuries. Many Indian 
slaves remained in bondage when Mexico and later the United States 
governed New Mexico.

The revelations have prompted some painful personal reckonings over 
identity and heritage. But they have also fueled a larger, politically 
charged debate on what it means to be Hispanic and Native American.

A growing number of Latinos who have made such discoveries are embracing 
their indigenous backgrounds, challenging a long tradition in New Mexico 
in which families prize Spanish ancestry. Some are starting to identify 
as Genízaros. Historians estimate that Genízaros accounted for as much 
as one-third of New Mexico’s population of 29,000 in the late 18th century.

“We’re discovering things that complicate the hell out of our history, 
demanding that we reject the myths we’ve been taught,” said Gregorio 
Gonzáles, 29, an anthropologist and self-described Genízaro who writes 
about the legacies of Indian enslavement.

Those legacies were born of a tortuous story of colonial conquest and 
forced assimilation.

New Mexico, which had the largest number of sedentary Indians north of 
central Mexico, emerged as a coveted domain for slavers almost as soon 
as the Spanish began settling here in the 16th century, according to 
Andrés Reséndez, a historian who details the trade in his 2016 book, 
“The Other Slavery.” Colonists initially took local Pueblo Indians as 
slaves, leading to an uprising in 1680 that temporarily pushed the 
Spanish out of New Mexico.

The trade then evolved to include not just Hispanic traffickers but 
horse-mounted Comanche and Ute warriors, who raided the settlements of 
Apache, Kiowa, Jumano, Pawnee and other peoples. They took captives, 
many of them children plucked from their homes, and sold them at 
auctions in village plazas.

The Spanish crown tried to prohibit slavery in its colonies, but 
traffickers often circumvented the ban by labeling their captives in 
parish records as criados, or servants. The trade endured even decades 
after the Mexican-American War, when the United States took control of 
much of the Southwest in the 1840s.

Seeking to strengthen the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in 
1865, Congress passed the Peonage Act of 1867 after learning of 
propertied New Mexicans owning hundreds and perhaps thousands of Indian 
slaves, mainly Navajo women and children. But scholars say the measure, 
which specifically targeted New Mexico, did little for many slaves in 
the territory.

Many Hispanic families in New Mexico have long known that they had 
indigenous ancestry, even though some here still call themselves 
“Spanish” to emphasize their Iberian ties and to differentiate 
themselves from the state’s 23 federally recognized tribes, as well as 
from Mexican and other Latin American immigrants.

But genetic testing is offering a glimpse into a more complex story. The 
DNA of Hispanic people from New Mexico is often in the range of 30 to 40 
percent Native American, according to Miguel A. Tórrez, 42, a research 
technologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and one of New Mexico’s 
most prominent genealogists.

He and other researchers cross-reference DNA tests with baptismal 
records, marriage certificates, census reports, oral histories, 
ethnomusicology findings, land titles and other archival documents.

Mr. Tórrez’s own look into his origins shows how these searches can 
produce unexpected results. He found one ancestor who was probably 
Ojibwe, from lands around the Great Lakes, roughly a thousand miles 
away, and another of Greek origin among the early colonizers claiming 
New Mexico for Spain.

“I have Navajo, Chippewa, Greek and Spanish blood lines,” said Mr. 
Tórrez, who calls himself a mestizo, a term referring to mixed ancestry. 
“I can’t say I’m indigenous any more than I can say I’m Greek, but it’s 
both fascinating and disturbing to see how various cultures came 
together in New Mexico.”

Revelations about how Indian enslavement was a defining feature of 
colonial New Mexico can be unsettling for some in the state, where the 
authorities have often tried to perpetuate a narrative of relatively 
peaceful coexistence between Hispanics, Indians and Anglos, as 
non-Hispanic whites are generally called here.

Pointing to their history, some descendants of Genízaros are coming 
together to argue that they deserve the same recognition as Native 
tribes in the United States. One such group in Colorado, the 200-member 
Genízaro Affiliated Nations, organizes annual dances to commemorate 
their heritage.

“It’s not about blood quantum or DNA testing for us, since those things 
can be inaccurate measuring sticks,” said David Atekpatzin Young, 62, 
the organization’s tribal chairman, who traces his ancestry to Apache 
and Pueblo peoples. “We know who we are, and what we want is sovereignty 
and our land back.”

Some here object to calling Genízaros slaves, arguing that the 
authorities in New Mexico were relatively flexible in absorbing Indian 
captives. In an important distinction with African slavery in parts of 
the Americas, Genízaros could sometimes attain economic independence and 
even assimilate into the dominant Hispanic classes, taking the surnames 
of their masters and embracing Roman Catholicism.

Genízaros and their offspring sometimes escaped or served out their 
terms of service, then banded together to forge buffer settlements 
against Comanche raids. Offering insight into how Indian captives sought 
to escape their debased status, linguists trace the origins of the word 
Genízaro to the Ottoman Empire’s janissaries, the special soldier class 
of Christians from the Balkans who converted to Islam, and were 
sometimes referred to as slaves.

Moisés Gonzáles, a Genízaro professor of architecture at the University 
of New Mexico, has identified an array of Genízaro outposts that endure 
in the state, including the villages Las Trampas and San Miguel del 
Vado. Some preserve traditions that reflect their Genízaro origins, and 
like other products of colonialism, many are cultural amalgams of 
customs and motifs from sharply disparate worlds.

Each December in the village of Alcalde, for instance, performers in 
headdresses stage the Matachines dance, thought by scholars to fuse the 
theme of Moorish-Christian conflict in medieval Spain with indigenous 
symbolism evoking the Spanish conquest of the New World.

In Abiquiú, settled by Genízaros in the 18th century, people don face 
paint and feathers every November to perform a “captive dance” about the 
village’s Indian origins — on a day honoring a Catholic saint.

“Some Natives say those in Abiquiú are pretend Indians,” said Mr. 
Tórrez, the genealogist. “But who’s to say that the descendants of 
Genízaros, of people who were once slaves, can’t reclaim their culture?”

Efforts by some Genízaro descendants to call themselves Indians instead 
of Latinos point to a broader debate over how Native Americans are 
identified, involving often contentious factors like tribal membership, 
what constitutes indigenous cultural practices and the light skin color 
of some Hispanics with Native ancestry. Some Native Americans also chafe 
at the gains some Hispanics here have sought by prioritizing their 
ancestral ties to European colonizers.

Pointing to the breadth of the Southwest’s slave trade, some historians 
have also documented how Hispanic settlers were captured and enslaved by 
Native American traffickers, and sometimes went on to embrace the 
cultures of their Comanche, Pueblo or Navajo masters.

Kim TallBear, an anthropologist at the University of Alberta, cautioned 
against using DNA testing alone to determine indigenous identity. She 
emphasized that such tests can point generally to Native ancestry 
somewhere in the Americas while failing to pinpoint specific tribal origins.

“There’s a conflation of race and tribe that’s infuriating, really,” 
said Ms. TallBear, a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe of 
South Dakota who writes about tribal belonging and genetic testing. “I 
don’t think ancestry alone is sufficient to define someone as indigenous.”

The discovery of indigenous slave ancestry can be anything but 
straightforward, as Mr. Trujillo, the former postal worker, learned.

First, he found his connection to a Genízaro man in the village of 
Abiquiú. Delving further into 18th century baptismal records, he then 
found that his ancestor somehow broke away from forced servitude to 
purchase three slaves of his own.

“I was just blown away to find that I had a slaver and slaves in my 
family tree,” Mr. Trujillo said. “That level of complexity is too much 
for some people, but it’s part of the story of who I am.”



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