Tag Archives: Navajo

The Indian Slaves of New Mexico!

“Lenny Trujillo made a startling discovery when he began researching his descent from one of New Mexico’s pioneering Hispanic families: One of his ancestors was a Native slave. ‘I didn’t know about New Mexico’s slave trade, so I was just stunned,’ said Mr. Trujillo, 66, a retired postal worker who lives in Los Angeles. ‘Then I discovered how slavery was a defining feature of my family’s history.’ Mr. Trujillo is one of many Latinos who are finding ancestral connections to a flourishing slave trade on the blood-soaked frontier now known as the American Southwest.” S. Romero, The New York Times

Floyd E. Trujillo, right, swabbed the inside of his mouth for a DNA sample as his son Virgil spoke with Miguel A.. Tórrez, a genealogist. Credit- A. Malcolm, NYT

Excerpt: Indian Slavery Once Thrived in New Mexico.Latinos Are Finding Family Ties to It. By Simon Romero, The New York Times

“Their captive forebears were Native Americans — slaves frequently known as Genízaros (pronounced heh-NEE-sah-ros) who were sold to Hispanic families when the region was under Spanish control from the 16th to 19th centuries. Many Indian slaves remained in bondage when Mexico and later the United States governed New Mexico. The revelations have prompted some painful personal reckonings over identity and heritage. But they have also fueled a larger, politically charged debate on what it means to be Hispanic and Native American.

St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Abiquiú, N.M., a village settled by former Indian slaves, or Genízaros, in the 18th century. A. Malcolm, NYT

A growing number of Latinos who have made such discoveries are embracing their indigenous backgrounds, challenging a long tradition in New Mexico in which families prize Spanish ancestry.

Some are starting to identify as Genízaros. Historians estimate that Genízaros accounted for as much as one-third of New Mexico’s population of 29,000 in the late 18th century.

‘We’re discovering things that complicate the hell out of our history, demanding that we reject the myths we’ve been taught,’ said Gregorio Gonzáles, 29, an anthropologist and self-described Genízaro who writes about the legacies of Indian enslavement.

Those legacies were born of a tortuous story of colonial conquest and forced assimilation.

New Mexico, which had the largest number of sedentary Indians north of central Mexico, emerged as a coveted domain for slavers almost as soon as the Spanish began settling here in the 16th century… Seeking to strengthen the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in 1865, Congress passed the Peonage Act of 1867 after learning of propertied New Mexicans owning hundreds and perhaps thousands of Indian slaves, mainly Navajo women and children.

Many Hispanic families in New Mexico have long known that they had indigenous ancestry, even though some here still call themselves ‘Spanish’ to emphasize their Iberian ties and to differentiate themselves from the state’s 23 federally recognized tribes, as well as from Mexican and other Latin American immigrants…Revelations about how Indian enslavement was a defining feature of colonial New Mexico can be unsettling for some in the state, where the authorities have often tried to perpetuate a narrative of relatively peaceful coexistence between Hispanics, Indians and Anglos, as non-Hispanic whites are generally called here.

Genízaros and their offspring sometimes escaped or served out their terms of service, then banded together to forge buffer settlements against Comanche raids… Moisés Gonzáles, a Genízaro professor of architecture at the University of New Mexico, has identified an array of Genízaro outposts that endure in the state, including the villages Las Trampas and San Miguel del Vado…’Some Natives say those in Abiquiú are pretend Indians,’ said Mr. Tórrez, the genealogist. ‘But who’s to say that the descendants of Genízaros, of people who were once slaves, can’t reclaim their culture?’

Some Native Americans also chafe at the gains some Hispanics here have sought by prioritizing their ancestral ties to European colonizers…The discovery of indigenous slave ancestry can be anything but straightforward, as Mr. Trujillo, the former postal worker, learned.

First, he found his connection to a Genízaro man in the village of Abiquiú. Delving further into 18th century baptismal records, he then found that his ancestor somehow broke away from forced servitude to purchase three slaves of his own.”

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