Just as African American history does not begin with slavery, neither does Latinx history begin with Spanish colonization. For thousands of years before the first Europeans arrived in Central and South America in the 1490s, hundreds of indigenous communities thrived, numbering millions of people. “In 1491, on the eve [of] the Columbus voyages, there were some 123 distinct indigenous language families spoken in the Americas, with more than 260 different languages in Mexico alone. Perhaps as many as 20 million people were living in in the Valley of Mexico in 1519.”7 There is still a great deal of uncertainty as to the exact years of existence or numbers of distinct indigenous groups in Latin America prior to European colonization. New findings and interpretations by archeologists and historians continue to clarify this history. “Evidence suggests that human settlement existed in the Valley of Mexico—the central region of Mesoamerica—as early as 9000 BCE.”8 Below is a list of some of the indigenous groups, most of which are Mesoamerican, which students can choose to research as part of this unit:
Many students are familiar with stories of conquest and the names of Christopher Columbus and Hernan Cortes. These are the histories that are typically centered when students across the country are taught Latin American (or U.S.) history. Indeed Spanish control of half of the Caribbean, the present-day U.S. Southwest, Mexico, Central America, and most of South America lasted for hundreds of years. However, it is important to note that: “The process of European domination was never fully completed, as today, indigenous traditions and cultures still persist.”9 Indigenous resistance was a consistent response to colonization and domination in the Americas, some resistance movement more successful than others. We must acknowledge and perhaps even mourn the fact that many of these stories of resistance are not only untold, but also unknown. This curriculum will focus on three specific stories of indigenous resistance.
Since the Spanish landing in 1492 in what they called “Hispaniola” and what today we call Dominican Republic and Haiti, the Taínos resisted colonization. One of the leaders of this resistance was Hatuey, a Taíno cacique. Taíno resistance increased in 1502 when a fleet of Spanish ships arrived with more European settlers and approximately 100 enslaved Africans, the latter whom escaped and joined with the Taínos. Together, the Africans and Taínos resisted the European colonizers. “After about a decade of armed resistance in Hispaniola, in 1511 Hatuey and 400 of his followers climbed into canoes and headed to Cuba. His plan was to mobilize his fellow Caribbean islanders [ . . . ] Hatuey’s strategy to attack, guerilla fashion, and then disperse to the hills, and regroup for the next attack, kept the Spaniards pinned down and afraid at their fort at Baracoa for at least three months.”10 Although in the end, Hatuey and his fellow freedom fighters were conquered and Hatuey executed, this rebellion represents a significant multi-racial resistance, which spanned not only decades, but also stretched across multiple islands in Central America.
The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 in modern day New Mexico was an indigenous uprising against Spanish rule. Not only did the European settlers exploit the labor of the Pueblo, but they also attacked the Pueblo culture attempting to convert them to Catholicism, often violently. “The Pueblo Revolt was the most complete victory for Native Americans over Europeans and the only wholesale expulsion of settlers in the history of North America.”11 Eric Foner’s Voices of Freedom includes two powerful primary sources, which are declarations from two indigenous people, Josephe and Pedro Naranjo, explaining their rebellion.
In the 1700s, Spain instituted Bourbon Reforms, which involved increased taxes on poor and indigenous people. In response to this, from 1780-1782, one of the largest revolts against Spanish invasion took hold of the Andes region of South America, in what we now call Peru. Named after its leader, who was executed by the Spanish in 1781, it was called the Tupac Amaru Rebellion. This rebellion was “larger in terms of geographic area, combatants, and mortality than the American Revolution, which occurred at the same time.”12 Although occurring in the 18th century, this rebellion was a predecessor—and perhaps an inspiration or distant cause—of the movements for independence that would take hold of the continent in the following century, beginning less than thirty years after the Tupac Amaru Rebellion.