Celebrating the African contribution to Mexican culture, this book shows how religious brotherhoods in New Spain both preserved a distinctive African identity and helped facilitate Afro-Mexican integration into colonial society. Called confraternities, these groups provided social connections, charity, and status for Africans and their descendants for over two centuries. Often organized by African women and dedicated to popular European and African saints, the confraternities enjoyed prestige in the Baroque religious milieu of 17th-century New Spain. One group, founded by Africans called Zapes, preserved their ethnic identity for decades even after they were enslaved and brought to the Americas. Despite ongoing legal divisions and racial hierarchies, by the end of the colonial era many descendants from African slaves had achieved a degree of status that enabled them to move up the social ladder in Hispanic society. Von Germeten reveals details of the organization and practices of more than 60 Afro-Mexican brotherhoods and examines changes in the social, family, and religious lives of their members. She presents the stories of individual Africans and their descendants - including many African women and the famous Baroque artist Juan Correa - almost entirely from evidence they themselves generated. Moving the historical focus away from negative stereotypes that have persisted for almost 500 years, this study is the first in English to deal with Afro-Mexican religious organizations.
Nicole von Germeten, assistant professor of history at Oregon State University, is the author of an article in Colonial Latin American Historical Review and a contributor to an edited volume on local religion in New Spain.