One of the most interesting aspects of sixteenth-century Mexico is the predominance of native languages, Nahuatl in particular, among all members of colonial society. Conquistadors, encomenderos, estancieros, missionaries, and even tradesmen learned native languages because it helped further their interests in a society divided between two cultural spheres, Hispanic and indigenous. This article highlights the unique position of sixteenth-century mestizos and mulatos as bearers of indigenous culture and language in colonial Mexico. These individuals born of mixed unions were often acculturated in both Hispanic and indigenous cultures. As people in the middle of colonial society, they were uniquely positioned to navigate within and between the two dominant cultural spheres of colonial Mexico. Using Inquisition documents, criminal records, and petitions to the crown, this article analyzes how these individuals served as more than just intermediaries between each cultural space. It suggests that mestizos and mulatos were much more prominent cultural actors than has generally been assumed. Their linguistic and cultural fluency helped shaped many aspects of New Spain's evolving culture and society.

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