Andean Cosmopolitans

Seeking Justice and Reward at the Spanish Royal Court

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José Carlos de la Puente Luna
  • Austin, TX: 
    University of Texas Press
    , February
     360 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The transatlantic journeys of native Amerindians have received critical attention from historians and literary scholars since the late 1990s. Recent works on this topic include Esteban Mira’s Indios y mestizos americanos en la España del siglo XVI (Iberoamericana Vervuert, 2000), Alcira Dueñas’s Indians and Mestizos in the Lettered City: Reshaping Justine, Social Hierarchy, and Political Culture in Colonial Peru (University Press of Colorado, 2010), Nancy van Deusen’s Global Indios: The Indigenous Struggle for Justice in Sixteenth-Century Spain (Duke University Press, 2015), and Coll Thrush’s Indigenous London: Native Travelers at the Heart of the Empire (Yale University Press, 2016). José Carlos de la Puente Luna’s Andean Cosmopolitans: Seeking Justice and Reward at the Spanish Royal Courtjoins these works on early modern and colonial migration studies that examine transoceanic and hemispheric movements by Indigenous travelers of the world. This book follows their geographical and cultural journeys, and looks into the impact of their experiences on the mid-colonial emergence of the “República de Indios” and the “Nación Índica.” The text also studies various forms of the Indigenous leadership that would displace the power and influence of Cuzco Inca royalty, and the reconfiguration of identities as time passed and the world expanded in many possible directions: “the vast ocean had this power to reconfigure identities and elevate social statuses” (184). In addition, de la Puente Luna’s book provides glimpses into the perceptions and interpretations of Spain by colonial Indigenous subjects, and the ways in which they represented the former for themselves and their contemporaries in America.

The book’s seven chapters are based on a significant corpus of primary case study, and after examination of the stories and documents related to more than 100 Andean transatlantic travelers between 1530 and 1690. Chapter 1 offers an introduction to the topic of Indigenous travelers and includes a review of the state-of-the-field in the early modern period. Chapter 7 is an epilogue that shows the effects of these travelers’ experiences and actions into 18th-century Peru, and the rise of Indigenous scholars (letrados) who, travelers or not, wrote extensively to the king on behalf of all Indians in Spanish America. In this way, Andean Cosmopolitans engages with Dueñas’s work on late 17th- and 18th-century Andean intellectuals, some of whom crossed the Atlantic to speak with the King, and fought their way into the lettered city and the republic of letters that excluded Indigenous subjects. Chapters 2-5 take the reader into different facets of the journey of Andean travelers to Spain. These chapters focus on the cultural, legal, and political processes and elements of the journey in itself, along with the transformations that travelers experienced and which shaped them, as well as their impact on those left in the homeland, and those they met in Spain and the royal court. Chapter 2 departs from a case study of one Andean cosmopolitan whose intentions and gains at the royal court were questioned by his community upon his return to Peru. This case provides an example of a communal judicial system (litigation-as-sapcimodel) that started as a local Andean legal experience and eventually contributed to imperial debates and colonial policies on litigation. Chapter 3 brings us to look at Indigenous people who ventured into the cities, especially the viceregal capital, and their impact on an urban culture of legal advocacy and networks of representation. The addition of Andean actors in the cities and their ports not only provided these individuals with opportunities for negotiation, but also influenced the terms of communications and networking between Spain and Peru. The viceregal city redefined itself according to new ways of legal communication between the center and its colonies. In this space, travelers and legal intermediaries interacted to address the important question, “Who speaks for the Indians?” At this point, chapter 4 examines the rise of new forms of Indigenous leadership which will represent those Indians, and will eventually give rise to the “Nación Índica.” To understand these new colonial actors, the author discusses all of the possible pieces that the Andean subject put together when embarking in a transatlantic journey. In this context, networks of patronage, connections with members of the Catholic Church, and the ability to read, write, and produce legal documents play a role in providing the means to move between Peru and Spain. This chapter sets the stage to learn about the fate of Andean cosmopolitans once they reached their desired destination. Chapter 5 analyzes the royal court as space where networking and negotiations took place. It was also a place where Indigenous travelers used interdependence with the Spanish king as a rhetorical strategy to obtain support during their transit—sometimes extended for many years—in Spain. Once in the Spanish court, Andean travelers were also subject to politics of identification, self-fashioning, and representation that are examined closely in chapter 6. Once again literacy played a powerful role in positioning Andeans above commoners. In this way, the royal place of support and networking for Indigenous travelers also became a battleground where the Andeans  negotiated their self-identification from the categories that others imposed upon them as legal individuals. De la Puente Luna’s work establishes here a connection with Joanne Rappaport’s examination of the mestizo’s propensity to stand in for something else, and its “disappearing” nature. Those classified as mestizos could pass for others and become invisible, although they were everywhere in the colonies to see. This scholar chooses to talk about “identification” instead of “identity” given that the former’s dynamic and relational nature pays attention to the place of enunciation of those creating racial and ethnic classifications. In addition, Andean Cosmopolitans also establishes a dialogue with van Deusen’s work that pays attention to those Indians who were enslaved and brought to Iberia against their will in the 16th century. There, they tried to seek justice and freedom, and one of the most important points to achieve their goals was proving their Indianness. Van Deusen’s study uncovers an early stage of differentiation in the identification and construction of what it meant to be Indioin early modern Spain, and how to categorize it in legal terms. I finalize this review pointing to a link between de la Puente’s book and Thrush’s Indigenous London—a study that focuses on the English city marked by the descendants of native people of British colonies since the 16th century. Seen as an invisible diversity, Thrush examines their impact on the urban site, and their role in the construction of a global city over the centuries. 

Prior to the works cited here, most historical studies looked at statistical data about Amerindian people as travelers who seemed to have been invisible to European eyes. Andean Cosmopolitans departs from these data dumps and digs deeper in the textual production of the journeys of Indigenous travelers across the continent and the Atlantic, not only to let them tell their stories in their own voices but also to demonstrate their impact on the legal and judiciary systems of Spain and its colonies, and the deconstruction of their identities throughout those 200 years.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Rocio Quispe-Agnoli is Professor of Hispanic Studies at Michigan State University.

Date of Review: 
July 25, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

José Carlos de la Puente Luna is Associate Professor of History at Texas State University. He is the author of Los curacas hechiceros de Jauja: Batallas mágicas y legales en el Perú colonial and coeditor of El quipu colonial: estudios y materiales.



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