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Community Formation in the Spanish Colonial Borderlands: San José de las Huertas, New Mexico

Atherton, Heather

This work is centered on the archaeological site of San José de las Huertas, occupied from 1765-1826 and excavated in 2002-2004. In my historical study of this 18th-century village, I draw upon archaeological evidence, archived documents, and oral historical accounts in order to explore processes of community formation and maintenance as they are revealed through the reciprocal relationship of structure and agency, otherwise known as structuration. Since the performance of social identity is a consequence of community creation, its investigation provides one means through which structuration may be accessed. Through the analysis and integration of the various lines of information, my research contributes to our understanding of the complex relationships that connect objects and places to people and community. Located in the northern Borderlands of New Spain, Las Huertas was one of several outpost communities established in the mid-1700s to deter American Indian raids on the capital and principal settlements of New Mexico. As a buffer settlement, the village was founded by people with diverse and complex personal histories. The landless colonists who established the community were comprised of families who considered themselves to be culturally Spanish as well as those who were labeled as genizaros (war captives taken from various native groups who were then placed as servants in the homes of Spanish settlers and missionaries). As such, the crafting of a local community and its accompanying identity amidst a diverse mix of ethnic, class, gender, and kinship relations was an important part of negotiating daily life on this frontier, where remote communities faced many challenges and hardships that were particular to their locations. The range of data sources utilized by this project illustrate that the community of Las Huertas was constructed through social discourses of difference and similarity among informed and strategic social actors as they navigated different contexts: that of the community itself, in their dealings with colonial administrators, in their contacts with the Pueblo and Spanish-American settlements that neighbored the village, and when nomadic peoples attacked their homes and property. Kinship, age, gender, and religion comprised the principal vectors of social identity crucial in community formation, while status and ethnic affiliation (as defined by casta categories) seemed to be of greater concern to colonial officials and clerics. Las Huertasanas' associations with their neighbors also tended to be shaped through kin networks, in addition to economic transactions. But it was membership within the community of Las Huertas that served to contextualize social identities as they were enacted in all situations.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Anthropology
Thesis Advisors
Rothschild, Nan
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 7, 2013
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