In the times of New Spain, society was highly stratified, a situation that conditioned people’s daily lives. (Photo: Alonso Sánchez Coello)
The way in which people lived their daily lives in the times of New Spain depended entirely on their economic and social position, since, after the conquest, societies were divided according to their “race”.
This social classification system served the authorities of the Spanish Crown to assign the inhabitants specific roles. As expected, the highest classes were the most benefited and those who most enjoyed rides and endless privileges.
The Mexican politician and military officer Vicente Riva Palacio exposes in his text Mexico through the centuries that shortly after the official formation of New Spain, multiple wealthy Spaniards began to arrive in the former Mexica territory. Later they began to found their homes and implant their Spanish customs in the indigenous societies.
This class enjoyed showing off their ostentatious accessories that came from France. His luxuries became so scandalous that the Spanish Crown had to decree the so-called Royal Pragmatic of Dresses. It was a law that established the dress codes of the privileged classes to avoid “great annoyances and disturbances”.
Women in New Spain had only two options: they got married or went to the convent. (Photo: UNAM Gazette)
The Mexican author comments that the main reason why this decision was made was because the nobles who belonged to the court did not agree with the fact that the clothing of the peninsular overshadowed their appearance.
However, after multiple agreements, it was established that this law was only aimed at Creoles and mestizos, so they were prohibited from wearing “clothes made of silk, chamelot, woven or spun gold embroidery.” For this reason, when people saw people with extravagant clothing, they knew that it was someone who had been born in Europe.
Shortly after, the Creoles rebelled and decided not to abide by these rules, since they argued that Spanish blood ran through their veins and therefore, they had the same rights as those of European nationality.
Map of New Spain (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were characterized by “the hypocrisy of the rich”, the reason for this statement is because the elite’s favorite tasks were to found hospitals, build temples and they poured money into charitable works, however, their actions with mestizos and indigenous people were totally inhumane.
On the other hand, the magazine Mexican Archeology mentions that the daily life of indigenous society was relegated to oblivion. They were not allowed to approach the areas most frequented by the peninsulars and they had to show respect at all times to their encomendero, this was the person -Spanish- who was in charge of supervising that the surrounding lands were worked.
Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, who was in charge of writing for a long time about the life of this social class, said that they regularly got drunk with pulque and were transformed by “eating mushrooms.” This type of description only caused this sector to be further stigmatized and there were “arguments” to relegate them to the background.
Those who were also relegated were women, since their social position depended on their roots and their economic level. If they were European, they could attend important events, elite parties, without neglecting their housework and with their husbands.
If they were mestizas or criollas they only had two possible destinations: marriage or the convent. Most of the time they couldn’t even choose and their future depended on their parents, who decided to hand them over to some “good match” or force them to leave home to be educated in a religious institution.
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was one of the most outstanding women of this time because she managed to defy numerous standards of that time. In fact, she became the example to follow for many young women who believed that their existence was limited solely to serving God and men.
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz decided to challenge different stereotypes of the time and inspired other women to do the same. (Photo: UNAM Gazette)
It should be noted that, like most Western societies, the Church and the upper classes were the authorities that imposed all kinds of customs and beliefs. To ensure their control, they established coercive mechanisms that prevented the people from revolting, as an example is the Inquisition, the ecclesiastical institution in charge of punishing all those who did not want to abide by the rules.
People were accused of “heretics” and under that pretext they were punished with the death penalty. Although it was lived like this for a long time, little by little the minorities were organizing themselves until in 1810 Independence broke out, the armed movement that demanded better living conditions for the Creoles, the indigenous and the castes.
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