H-Net Review [H-NewMexico]: Brückmann on Gonzales and Lamadrid, 'Nación Genízara: Ethnogenesis, Place, and Identity in New Mexico (Querencias Series)'

Andrew Stewart

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Moises Gonzales, Enrique R. Lamadrid, eds.  Nación Genízara:
Ethnogenesis, Place, and Identity in New Mexico (Querencias Series). 
Albuquerque  University of New Mexico Press, 2019.  xxviii + 359 pp. 
$65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8263-6107-3.

Reviewed by Rebecca Brückmann (Ruhr-Universität)
Published on H-NewMexico (July, 2020)
Commissioned by Tomas Jaehn

The Endurance of Memory: Genízaro Identity and Culture through the

On June 15, 2020, Rio Arriba county authorities removed the Juan de
Oñate statue in Alcalde, New Mexico. The statue of New Mexico's
first governor was taken down to prevent a potential toppling during
antiracist protests. Indeed, the conquistador's bronze rendition has
been attacked multiple times since its installation in 1991.
Mirroring Oñate's method of torture against indigenous male captives
in the 1598-99 Acoma War, the statue's right foot was cut off in
1998. As colonial governor, he enslaved Acoma Pueblo men and women
over the age of twelve for twenty years. Eight years after his first
arrival, Spanish colonial authorities banished him for life from New
Mexico. They considered the violence against indigenous communities
extreme, even by late sixteenth-century standards. Questions of New
Mexico's precolonial and colonial heritage, of ancestry and
belonging, and of racialization and transculturation are entwined
with the history of the state's settlement and its memorialization.
In recent years, the narrative of New Mexico's and the Southwest's
duality--combining a distinct Spanish heritage and a distinct Native
American heritage--has come under scrutiny.

In _Nación Genízara_, Moises Gonzales (associate professor in the
Community and Regional Planning Program) and Enrique R. Lamadrid
(professor emeritus of Spanish) from the University of New Mexico
assembled the works of eighteen "activist scholars" (p. 6) to bridge
this duality. The edited volume provides multi- and interdisciplinary
approaches to the history, memorialization, cultural practices, art,
language, socioeconomic status, and archaeology of Genízaros in New
Mexico and southern Colorado from the eighteenth century until the
present day. As such, the volume is the first collection that focuses
exclusively on excavating and explicating the history and identity of
a social group who made up a third of New Mexico's population by the
early nineteenth century. Genízaros' self-consciousness as a
sociocultural group, so the volume argues, persisted under Spanish,
Mexican, and US-American rule. _Nación Genízara_ developed out of
an advanced seminar in Santa Fe and community symposium in Abiquiú
in 2016. Its editors understand the book as "a new _resolana_, a
collective forum on the plaza" to debate and contest "hegemonic
Hispanophile or 'Spanish American' identity" through an examination
of Genízaros, whose history "blurs the line of distinction between
Native and Hispanic frameworks of race and cultural affiliation" (p.

The volume starts with a foreword by Estevan Rael-Gálvez, New
Mexico's former state historian who in 2007 authored the state
Senate's Memorial No. 59 in recognition of Genízaros. His opening
statement is followed by the editors' introduction of the
etymological origin of the term Genízaro and its people's early
history, and thirteen topical chapters. The epilogue draws out the
anthology's personal and political implications. The structure is
roughly chronological and topically organized in three parts. The
volume first offers historical, anthropological, sociological, and
archaeological approaches to Genízaro history and multidimensional,
hybrid identity, which analyze census data, colonial and territorial
papers (particularly petitions and land grants), maps, church
records, and other genealogical sources, including birth and marriage
records. The anthology's second part features cultural and
ethnographical studies, including examinations of religious practices
and folk rituals, such as the _Matachines_ dance, attire and cultural
practices, novels and poetry, and songs. Finally, there are
autobiographical and genealogical pieces, introduced as
"_testimonio_, the testimonial narrative of family and community
memoir" (p. 6). Overall, the volume serves as a compilation of
Genízaro history, identity, culture, and memorialization. _Nación
Genízara_ "recapitulates" (p. 6) the Genízaro scholarship from the
previous century, offering a number of reevaluations and additional
insights, and serves as an introduction to Genízaro history as well
as a contribution to ongoing debates on cultural identities in the

The book's first part introduces the reader to the emergence and
early history of the term and the formation and consolidation of a
Nación Genízara in New Mexico in the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries. Derived from "yeniçeri," a fourteenth-century description
of captive children who later served as soldiers in the Ottoman
Empire (p. xvi), the term evolved to Janissaries and, finally, the
Hispanicized title Genízaros in the New World. Alongside the term
_criado_, the term served not only as an identifier for a caste of
enslaved indigenous people but developed into an "ethnonym" for a
"low-caste" group of mixed-race people, "the racially and culturally
hybrid" (p. 1). The term and the caste system were officially
abolished with Mexico's independence from Spain in 1821, but the use
of the term persisted, often as a racialized slur that was supposed
to denote a combination of poverty and indigeneity. Gonzales and
Lamadrid argue in their introduction in reference to sociologist
Tomás Atencio's work that "a distinct 'genízaro consciousness'
emerged in the early 19th century as a political and cultural
identity" (p. 4), which directly counters earlier historiographical
claims that with the disappearance of the term Genízaro,
self-awareness had disappeared as well.

Gonzales and Lamadrid remind the reader that the social group called
Genízaros was established through the abduction of children from
diverse indigenous communities, including the Apache, Navajo, Ute,
Kiowa, Comanche, and Pawnee, who were enslaved to serve in households
or as farmhands. Genízaros' indigenous kinship ties were severed,
they were Christianized, and they took on Spanish names. After the
New Laws of the Indies abolished indigenous enslavement, "the
doctrine of _guerra justa_ (just war) enabled the taking of
insurgents as captives" while describing them as "rescues" (p. 1). In
New Mexico, Rael-Gálvez argues in his foreword, "an entire parallel
vocabulary ... was used as a euphemism for slavery" which disguised
the plight of thousands of indigenous enslaved people in the
Southwest (pp. xvi-xvii).

Genízaros gained their freedom upon marriage or after fifteen years
of enslavement, and their children were freeborn. Cut off from their
indigenous kin, free Genízaros established their own communities,
and many became soldiers, scouts, and guides for expeditions.
Genízaro settlements often served as "buffer zones" between nomadic
tribes and Spanish settlements, and thus served "a strategic military
function for the province" (pp. 3-4). The first Genízaro land grant
was established in Belén in 1741, and a number of the volume's
authors stress that Genízaros' communal action evidenced in group
petitions for land show their self-conscious agency as a community.
Ethnogenesis, Charles M. Carillo states, is "a process by which a
social group comes to regard itself or be regarded as a distinct
people," and, referring to Marshall Sahlins, while this process is
"externally introduced," it can be "indigenously orchestrated" (p.

The examinations of seventeenth-century agricultural practices of
Tlaxcalans and other non-Pueblo natives near Santa Fe by Ladmadrid,
Tomás Martinez Saldaña, and José A. Rivera, the eighteenth-century
settlement of Belén and its connections to pueblos by Samuel E.
Sisneros, and Ramón A. Guiterrez's study of the Genízaro roots of
the nineteenth-century fraternal organizations Hermanos Penitentes
offer a long trajectory of transcultural space and identity
formations in the region. The crux of the matter often lies in the
fragmentary sources, however, which lead to a number of factual
repetitions throughout the volume because of the authors' inevitable
reliance on similar material and historical context. The volume also
treats some topics too briefly. For example, the experiences of
Genízaras are only introduced by Christina Durán and Virginia
Sànchez with essays on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Genízera
women in New Mexico and enslaved indigenous women in southern
Colorado. Indeed, there is a lot of speculation going on in some of
the essays. Moises Gonzales, in contrast, pieces together a
differentiated, riveting narrative of Genízaro communities in the
Sandía Mountains through an interdisciplinary approach and source

The volume's second part, which emphasizes cultural and folklore
approaches to historical and present-day Genízaro identity, is also
fruitful. Through visual sources of Miguel A. Gandert's photo essay,
Michael L. Trujillo's analysis of G. Benito Córdova's work, and Levi
Romero's examination of Nuevomexicano poetry and songs, the volume
connects its first part's historical, anthropological, and
sociopolitical approach to the immediacy of cultural practices and
experiences, including their present-day expressions in Genízaro
communities. The authors introduce the reader to artistic expressions
and long-practiced rituals, including the Matachines and the Comanche
dances that express the community's understanding of history,
identity, and spirituality.

The book's third part delivers testimonies in the form of an
(auto)biographical narrative by Susan M. Gandert as well as a report
of the use of genetic testing for genealogical research by Miguel A.
Tórrez, research technologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Laudably, Tórrez introduces both advantages and criticisms of DNA
"evidence" to reconstruct tribal affiliation and identity, and he
states that genetic testing should work in tandem with ethnography
and personal narratives to establish identities. At the same time,
the idea of "blood" and supposed "Native" looks, which occasionally
reverberates through the volume, is contestable. DNA testing does not
reveal "race" or ethnicity, because there are no biological markers
for either. Instead, it offers ideas about geographical ancestry;
other implications border on biological essentialism. There is also a
type of romanticization that crops up sporadically, as for example in
Levi Romero's description of "interrelationships that bore a new
Indo-Hispano mestizaje" and his assertion that "these two cultures
created a model of coexistence that can serve as an example for
cultures across the world today" (pp. 289, 292). Such statements
belie the descriptions of power relations, violence, and sexual
assault explicated in other essays in the volume. In his essay on
"Cultural Systems of Slavery in the Hispanic Southwest," William S.
Kiser astutely observes similarities and differences between forms of
slavery in the New World, but some passing remarks throughout the
volume seem to trivialize chattel slavery. In his foreword,
Rael-Gálvez states that "the story of enslaved and emancipated
Africans" had "largely defined nearly every aspect of our nation's
history, including the various racial constructions that render
nonwhites and nonblacks invisible to this day" (p. xvii). There is
something to be said about the historical and present-day impacts of
Black hypervisibility, the supposed dichotomy between Hispano and
indigenous heritages in New Mexico, and the narrative of separate
"triculturalism" of the Spanish, mestizo, and indigenous that
Genízaro identities contradict, and yet they perpetuate the assumed
division in another form. Only in Teresa Córdova's epilogue on the
political implications for organizing, the power of Atzlàn, and the
twentieth- and twenty-first-century Chicana/o movement are
Afro-Latinas/os mentioned (p. 341). Given the centrality of the
experience of enslavement, it seems curious that the enslavement of
Black people (and indigenous forms of the enslavement of Black
people) either remains a footnote or, with the exception of Kiser's
contribution, is used as a distancing tool. In addition, connecting
the volume's analyses with the history and identity formation of the
mixed-ancestry North Carolinian Lumbee tribe would have also been

Nonetheless, this volume is a valuable, multidimensional,
comprehensive, and yet accessible contribution to the history of
Genízaros in New Mexico. It offers a variety of perspectives and
differentiates the memorialization of New Mexico's heritage, bridging
the artificial divide between Hispanic and indigenous ancestry. Most
importantly, the volume clearly shows that prior claims that
Genízaro identity and culture were lost after 1821 are false and,
instead, documents a complicated, and vibrant ongoing history and an
active present-day community. _Nación Genízara_ portrays processes
of transculturation in colonial and territorial history and adds a
significant aspect to the historiography of different forms of
slavery in the "New World." Finally, the volume not only offers a
variety of multi- and interdisciplinary methods, it also provides
source excerpts, including maps, tables, and substantial lists of
people named Genízaros, which affords valuable insights and
information for students and researchers alike. _Nación Genízara_
tells a story of sociocultural resilience and, indeed, the "amazing
endurance of memory" (p. 338).

Citation: Rebecca Brückmann. Review of Gonzales, Moises; Lamadrid,
Enrique R., eds., _Nación Genízara: Ethnogenesis, Place, and
Identity in New Mexico (Querencias Series)_. H-NewMexico, H-Net
Reviews. July, 2020.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=55187

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Best regards,

Andrew Stewart