In Their Own Words

New book on 19th century Mexican community proves a composed tradition, previously assumed to have ended around the battle for independence, continued beyond.

Research study| Aug 31, 2017|By

Kelly S. McDonough

Editor’s Note: Miriam Melton-Villanueva is an assistant professor of history at UNLV and the author of The Aztecs at Independence: Nahua Culture Makers in Central Mexico, 1799-1832. Her research study explores Latin-American native writing and culture. The Aztecs at Self-reliance utilizes brand-new main source files Melton-Villanueva collected from main Mexican Nahua indigenous communities to explore a composed custom formerly thought to have ended prior to the Nahua’s 19th century defend independence from Spain. The book enables readers a peek into the Nahua experience from their viewpoint throughout a transitional time in their history.

Kelly S. McDonough, assistant teacher of Spanish and Portuguese and faculty affiliate for the Native American and Indigenous Studies Program at the University of Texas at Austin, read Melton-Villanueva’s work and shared her ideas on this contribution to the field.

Melton-Villanueva’s meticulously looked into and highly available book, The Aztecs at Self-reliance: Nahua Culture Makers in Central Mexico, 1799-1832, takes us down a course we believed to be impossible to trace: a journey towards comprehending Nahua life in the 19th century, utilizing sources developed by indigenous individuals themselves. This much-needed book is the outcome of the author’s unexpected discovery, transcription, translation, and painstaking analysis of more than 150 Nahuatl-language testimonies that basically “weren’t expected to exist,” because the previous general agreement was that Nahuatl-language writing had actually ceased by the turn of the 19th century.

Melton-Villanueva’s exploration of the civic cultures of ritual and writing in 4 altepetl (city-states) in the Toluca Valley provides an unprecedented look into the imaginative methods which Nahua culture in reality endured and adjusted over 3 centuries of colonization and, later, its self-reliance from Spain.

Showing the interpretive power of New Philological methods for understanding daily human experience through the eyes and language of indigenous individuals, Milton-Villanueva educates readers about the Nahua’s regional cultures of composing through the identification and analysis of schools/lineages of native scribes. Milton-Villanueva’s careful study of the changes and connections in language usage throughout the collection of texts she used to compose this book accentuates the scribes’ vital function as multilingual intermediaries– essential interpreters of “language, laws, and devotions” (page 65)– in between native individuals and Spaniards.

Milton-Villanueva’s work discards any remaining vestiges of the notion that the Nahua passively sent to Spanish styles. The archival materials following the lives of native males who participated in the fiscalĂ­a (the governing body of the parish churches) paint a new image of indigenous fiscales, formerly thought about irrelevant assistants to priests. Rather, we discover that these native men were important lead characters in church activities, laboring from inside the Catholic organization to carve out a space that supported the needs and survival of their neighborhood. Additionally, Milton-Villanueva reveals that not only did the fiscales originate from a wide array of backgrounds, but they also turned through positions in a highly organized succession, which disrupts an old story that framed Nahua culture as controlled by closed elite factions.

Milton-Villanueva also teases out females’s crucial contribution to native self-determination in the Toluca Valley during this duration. Through her astute mining of the texts, Milton-Villanueva shines light on the essential role ladies played in preserving and adapting routine both within and outside the house. The book provides proof that most of residential or commercial property holders in the neighborhood were females who wove culture-keeping and culture-making into pacts of land inheritance.

Among the significant strengths of The Aztecs at Self-reliance is Milton-Villanueva’s refusal to fetishize indigenous continuity or change by talking about only resistance to or only assimilation into dominant culture. Instead, she lets the newly found archive tell us about a vibrant community that kept and innovated elements of their culture as best served them in their particular space and time.

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