Honor, for 18th century Spanish colonists was first a value that determined one’s place and reputation in a public eye, and it was the basis of pride and precedence, but first it had to be acknowledged by others. Man could earn or win honor, whereas women could only maintain or lose it; being without honor was considered worse than dead, which is why Indians and slaves were invisible to public eye and constantly mocked.1
Honor determined one’s place in society for 18th century Spaniards of New Mexico, and it had two parts to it, honor-status and honor-virtue. Slavery defined boundaries and gave meaning to this honor society; Spanish were everything that Puebloans, slaves were not. Spaniards were conquerors, masters, noble and honest people; Spaniard with low level honor-status with no estate was still a man of honor and was considered above an Indian. Slave was a person who was invisible in the eyes of this society, as a defeated person, he or she was dishonored and faced with humiliation, mockery, and also the targets of racial hatred of the honor valued Spanish towns. As Ramon Gutierrez describes it, slaves were seen as irrational people, or “People lacking reason,” with satanic darkness in them, versus Spaniards were rational beings who were honorable, civilized, white, and mainly because they were Christians, or “people of reason.”2 As conquerors, Spanish conquistadores were awarded title of nobility, special privileges, and most important of all, social-status which was defined by the concepts honor; once more, it meant that the person is privileged, comes from white legitimate and honorable background and that he is not a slave.3
Furthermore, honor was something only man can earn, win, or enhance; and it was only first generation of conquistadors that won their honor and privileges through their achievement. But man also had to maintain and protect their honor-status, since other men could dishonor a family by seducing and deflowering a daughter or a sister. While man who seduced the woman enhances his honor, other one was dishonored. Therefore, it was important for woman to protect their purity because honor collectively belonged to the whole family, and one person’s shameful act could dishonor everybody in the family. Once family was dishonored, with such seduction by another man only way to restore honor was through marriage. Since, honor was male attribute, it could only be won or avenged by men; in this case woman could only bring shame to head of the household if woman did not protect their purity.4
To maintain social status, one had to marry equal status or person with better social status. Since, blood was considered essence of life; therefore, it was extremely important for Spanish aristocrats to guard marriages against Indians and slaves. Blood was thought to be only way to maintain one’s social honor that is why marrying a higher social status person was a;ways the first choice of people.5 Person’s skin color was automatic indicator of their social status, in addition to their clothing, many other visual features. Also, person’s social status determined court decisions because that was the first question that was asked in court and as a virtue of their honor, Spanish were not publicly punished if found guilty.
Ramon Gutierrez’s tells a tale about beautiful woman called La Constancia who lived with her husband. Naturally men wanted to seduce her, which demonstrates a case of being honorable and getting dishonored by another man with shameful act of woman or word of mouth. In the 18th century Spanish villages, rumors had an huge impact on persons honor, where woman could be faced with a situation that shames her and leaves family members dishonored. In La Constancia case, she dishonors her husband, and shames her family, loses its social-virtue. All was because of a man who wanted to have her, and word of mouth that shamed her through village gossip. Since woman could not avenge their honor, it had to be man who avenged the families honor. Therefore, she turns into a man and fights Moors to restore her families honor and defeats as many Moor as possible; church grateful for her services she did for them, awards her with honor and privileges. This way she returns to her husband with restored honor.6 Meaning that is behind tale is that, women are not capable of gaining or enhancing their honor, only men were capable of doing so, and women can only protect it or loss it. Since, in 18th century Spanish villages gossip spread fast, some men were extremely cautious about their women, and kept them under strict control.
In conclusion, 18th century Spanish culture was purely based on status levels, where house head had all the authority over it is members. He was also the responsible person for protecting families honor from other men, who are capable of dishonoring the family name. Unfortunately, women did not have much to say in the case of honor since they were not capable of avenging or gaining honor. Women were only capable of protecting her purity, or shaming her family by losing it. It was man’s duty to gain, enhance and protect the family honor.
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1 Gutierrez, Ramon. When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 1500-1846 . 1. Stanford University Press, 1991. p.177-179.
2 Gutierrez, Ramon. When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 1500-1846 . 1. Stanford University Press, 1991. p.195
3 Gutierrez, Ramon. When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 1500-1846 . 1. Stanford University Press, 1991. p.206.
4 Gutierrez, Ramon. When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 1500-1846 . 1. Stanford University Press, 1991. p.209.
5 Gutierrez, Ramon. When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 1500-1846 . 1. Stanford University Press, 1991.p.212
6 Gutierrez, Ramon. When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 1500-1846 . 1. Stanford University Press, 1991.p.176.