Columbus may not have found silk or spices when he sailed across the ocean blue, but he did find slave labor. This is the multi-generational story of a girl from Mexico who found herself living as a slave in Spain in the 16th century. The law was on her side, but unfortunately, the courts were not. Her daughter, Catalina, did get herself and all of her remaining family out of slavery.
I follow up Catalina’s story with a little overview of Native American slavery in the New World. It was a large scale operation, despite the fact that it gets less attention than the African-American counterpart.
This episode is part of the series “A Slave, but Now I’m Free.”
My major source was The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America by Andrés Reséndez. Translators without Borders had some interesting maps and facts about the languages of the Mexico. This German site on city populations had information on Malacatán. The tragic story of Violante comes from Nancy E. van Deusen’s, 2017 article “Passing in sixteenth-century Castile,” published in the Colonial Latin American Review, 26:1, 85-103.
Unsurprisingly, there are no existing images of Catalina or her mother. The feature image is an unidentified woman from the Aztec Codex Tudela from about this time period. It is likely that Catalina would have worn Spanish clothes, rather than meso-American, but perhaps this would have looked familiar to her mother. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.