Book Review of 'New Spain'
Mexico and colonial rule
Mexico to the uninitiated is a far off land in a little known continent. Latin America doesn't figure very high in news reports in South Asia. Yet the continent shares many commonalities with South Asia apart from a common initial nomenclature.
Commonalities and dissimilarities
From a political and developmental perspective Latin America and South Asia have been plagued with military rule and civil wars. These characteristics along with others have led them to be described as 'the third world.' In the context of this review of N. Cheetham's book 'New Spain' however what I'm seeking to examine are the similarities and dissimilarities between colonialism in both continents.
In New Spain or Mexico as it subsequently became known as, the Spanish colonial enterprise was imbued with Catholic evangelism. That was however not the case necessarily with the British colonial endeavor in South Asia which essentially began as a commercial venture under the East India Company. The failure of political authority in both areas, vis-a-vis the Aztecs in Mexico and the Mughals in South Asia enabled foreigners to extend political hegemony.
Considering the centrality of the military endeavor in both cases, I wouldn't necessarily agree with his contention that the conquistadores in Mexico came to be overshadowed by the friars. I disagree because in the ultimate analysis evangelizing efforts would have been short changed without an overriding military guarantee in the background. This is all the more relevant in that native religions in Mexico succumbed to Spanish Catholicism unlike in South Asia where evangelizing attempts and concomitant social reform attempts were neglected; particularly after the Revolt of 1857.
The fundamental dissimilarity between the Spaniards in Mexico and the British in South Asia or for that matter Americans in Afghanistan are that the latter two projects were primarily military endeavors. On the other hand the Spaniards in Mexico attempted a far more all encompassing project. There is also the fundamental difference that the Spaniards were themselves originally under Moorish rule. This has been explored exhaustively in books like 'The Splendor of Moorish Spain' by Joseph McCabe.
Therefore we have to acknowledge that the veneer of colonial rule was only surface deep in South Asia compared to Mexico.
This book would have been better if it had been accompanied by comparing the Mexican colonial experience with that of Afro-Asian countries. It would also have benefited by a more thorough discussion of local terminology which would be unfamiliar to non-Hispanic readers. For example some terms like 'Pulque' a local liquor have only been explained near the end of the book after having been used extensively throughout . Nevertheless this book is as good as any in understanding the Hispanic world of the sixteenth century and the birth of Mexico.
© 2015 Siddhartha S Bhadrakumar