Wandering Peoples recounts the persistence of indigenous peasant nations
in Sonora during the transition from the Spanish Imperium to the Mexi-
can Republic. The principal storieS it weaves concern the defense of
native polities, ethnic and cultural mixtures, and the material and sym-
bolic foundations of community life. It engages in both narrative and
historical analysis and represents a dialogue among different subjects
and points of view. This work explores the multilayered meanings of
culture, community, and ecology, even as it brings to light the parallel
production of colonial and subaltern texts in the course of more than a
century of struggles for power and survival.
On one important level Wandering Peoples represents a qualitative shift in
the historiography of northwestern New Spain. Responding to the call
for "a new mission history," it transcends the institutional perspective
of the colonial mission associated with Herbert Eugene Bolton and his
figure of "the rim of Christendom" and undertakes an ethnohistorical
approach centered on the native peoples of Sonora.! It views the mission
not merely as an instrument of Iberian expansion but as a site of cul-
tural and political confrontation. This alternative vision of the colonial
mission underscores the biological consequences
of Spanish poliCies of
forced congregaci6n, the economic linkages between mission communities
and Spanish mercantilist poliCies, and the cultural and ecological dis-
placements set in motion by the practices of diScipline and surveillance
established by the religiOUS orders. My purpose is not to demean either
the mission or the missionaries; rather, it is to focus centrally on the
native subjects of this history, who built and maintained their commu-
nities under the duress of Spanish colonialism and articulated an alter-
native vision of polity to the expansionist project of the early nineteenth-
century Mexican nation-state.
By historical convention and geographic location Wandering Peoples cor-
responds to the "borderlands" of territories and populations suspended
between Spanish and British America, destined to be divided by the bi-
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