In this distinguished contribution to Latin American colonial
history, Douglas Cope draws upon a wide variety of
sources--including Inquisition and court cases, notarial records
and parish registers--to challenge the traditional view of castas
(members of the caste system created by Spanish overlords) as
rootless, alienated, and dominated by a desire to improve their
racial status. On the contrary, the castas, Cope shows, were
neither passive nor ruled by feelings of racial inferiority;
indeed, they often modified or even rejected elite racial ideology.
Castas also sought ways to manipulate their social "superiors"
through astute use of the legal system. Cope shows that social
control by the Spaniards rested less on institutions than on
patron-client networks linking individual patricians and plebeians,
which enabled the elite class to co-opt the more successful
The book concludes with the most thorough account yet published of
the Mexico City riot of 1692. This account illuminates both the
shortcomings and strengths of the patron-client system. Spurred by
a corn shortage and subsequent famine, a plebeian mob laid waste
much of the central city. Cope demonstrates that the political
situation was not substantially altered, however; the patronage
system continued to control employment and plebeians were largely
left to bargain and adapt, as before.
A revealing look at the economic lives of the urban poor in the
colonial era, "The Limits of Racial Domination "examines a period
in which critical social changes were occurring. The book should
interest historians and ethnohistorians alike.
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