This is a highly significant contribution to Mexican historical demography. It represents a major step forward in our understanding of the form, functions, and evolution of a Mexico City parish during the entire colonial period.
The study is divided into five interrelated sections. First, it introduces the parish world of Mexico City; in this case, the parish of Santa Catarina, which lay at the city’s northeastern edge in the late sixteenth century. This parish world centered on the local plaza, the church, and its symbolic saints and icons. Residents (some seven hundred in 1570) worked where they lived. Rivalries over parish boundaries and burial grounds reflected the microgeography of the period and the people’s attachment to their locality. Meanwhile, the separate parish registers and cofradías reflected racial divisions and ethnic tensions.
Part 2 provides a detailed analysis of the changing demographic structures of the parish through three hundred years. Fluctuations in conceptions, marriages, and deaths are correlated for each ethnic group (in a nonstatistical manner) with seasonalities of farming and religious taboos. The better to understand the evolving patterns, Juan Javier Pescador is diligent enough to provide comparative sample data from three rural parishes. The early significance of cuaresma is seen to decline with the abandonment of sexual abstinence in the eighteenth century. Mortality rates provide ample evidence of the repeated impact of contagious diseases, especially the major crises, here measured using Dupâquier’s index. The significance of fluctuations in maize prices, climate, and local environmental conditions are all assiduously addressed.
To reinforce his analysis, Pescador compares his Mexico City data with those of Puebla, demonstrating the vulnerability of urban residence under subsistence crisis conditions. Separated from the land, residents had nothing to fall back on except often-inefficient urban relief. The highly significant migration into this urban periphery is carefully exposed by means of three distinctive measures. By the mideighteenth century, more than 40 percent of the ten thousand parishioners had been born outside the city.
Part 3 moves on to examine what are termed sociodemographic structures, essentially marriage practices in the eighteenth century. Using a database of more than seven thousand expedientes matrimoniales, the author describes the marriage market for each ethnic group, first for males and then for females, noting the differential ages at marriage and the probability of remarriage. In Santa Catarina, as elsewhere in the city, the surfeit of women (eight solteros for every ten solteras) affected marriageways, as did race, class, occupation, and marital status. Both spatial and ethnic homogamy prevailed, except for the mestizos, who slowly but surely blurred racial lines.
Part 4 analyzes home, family, marriage, and kin. Here certain problems for the reader emerge. The meaning of the terms hogar and familia, used interchangeably in the text and some tables, and also the term unidades domésticas, is not clear. The English equivalents, home, household, and kinship-based family, are difficult to discern, a particular drawback in assessing the average size of these quite distinct units. Even more surprising is the absence of any tabulation of households by family structure. The number of residents by sex is of interest, but what of kin relationships? The book does, however, provide evidence of the frequency of fragmented families and of the large number of young women who found employment outside the home (most in the tobacco factory) an attractive alternative to marriage. A genealogical reconstruction of one elite family, the Fagoagas, is provided to demonstrate the marriage alliance system of the fortunate few.
The last major section, titled “Estructuras mentales,” attempts to go beyond the facts and figures of population and enter the world of meaning and expression. Here the author utilizes baptismal naming patterns, various cofradía practices, and accounts of the protection offered by parish saints to illuminate how parishioners acted on their beliefs. While it is fascinating to monitor the rise and fall in popularity of specific names, it would have been helpful to know the frequencies of the top ten given names. Especially worrisome is the lack of any mention of the occurrence of multiple given names, a usual practice throughout Spanish America to this day, and one that clearly affects any ranking methodology. Intergenerational naming might also have been responsible for naming patterns, though it is not mentioned either.
In an epilogue, the author describes the fading fortunes of the parish as an institution and the replacement of parish life with the urbanism of metropolitan expansion, The parish lost its many rights: the right of burial and of asylum, the right to sanction marriages and to influence mass behavior. It slowly regressed to little more than a physical church for parishioners for whom the bell tolled, but it meant little amid the new secular world of individualized faith and mass urban life. After the closing of the tobacco factory and the outmigration of the elite, the last vestiges of Santa Catarina’s colonial past were the vecindades.
We are greatly indebted to Pescador for providing such a remarkable analysis based on such a diversity of sources. Only those who have survived months of work with parish records will be fully able to appreciate the work entailed by this attractive volume. Excellent maps and graphics complement a text full of insights. What a pity there is no index or any list of the figures and tables; the latter are not even sequentially numbered throughout. Still, Padre Juan Antonio Bruno would have been proud of the use to which his carefully catalogued volumes have been put. This is a major work that all colonialists will need to consult.