y central concern in this book has been to determine how mesti-
and mulattos in the Nuevo Reino de Granada navigated their
social worlds in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: who they
thought they were and how they were viewed by others; what they
felt it meant to be a person of mixed parentage; whom they associated
with, and how their social networks shaped their processes of identi-
fication; how they moved in and out of the mestizo slot. I responded
to these questions by constructing ethnographic scenarios based on
close readings of the archival documentation. These vignettes feature
a small number of individuals whose stories elucidate the textured
nature of early colonial mestizaje. As I immersed myself in the lives
of these individuals, I discovered that their indeterminate status and
the far- ranging heterogeneity that characterized early colonial society
unsettle our impression of a stable, systematic, and clearly delineated
socioracial hierarchy in the provinces of Santafé and Tunja. That is to
say, my research revealed that it would be a misnomer to speak of a
“casta system” in early colonial Nuevo Reino. If we wish to compre-
hend how difference was negotiated by colonial people, we must be
willing to set aside predetermined models and, instead, interpret their
experience in context.
Unlike most scholars of race in colonial Spanish America, who pro-
vide a bird’s- eye view of how hierarchy and difference were negoti-
ated across a given region— the vast majority of these authors focus-
ing on New Spain, with its rich documentation and extensive corpus
of historical writing— I have chosen instead to write an ethnographic
history. I dwell in considerable depth on a small number of historical
actors, following their paper trails when possible and endeavoring to
construct detailed ethnographic interpretations of key life moments in
which they were forced to classify themselves in one way or another.
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