Catarina's most elaborate visions took the form of demonic fiestas
November 28, 2014 4:46 PM   Subscribe

There is little trace of the presence of the South Asians who lived and worked in Mexico during the colonial period except for one woman whose legend lives on even today. She was purportedly born Mira in the kingdom of the Gran Mogol, or the Great Mughals, where she was captured by the Portuguese who eventually sold her to the Spanish at the port of Manila.
The 'Mughal Princess' of Mexico: At the South Asian American Digital Archive, Meha Priyadarshini briefly explores the myths and realities of Catarina de San Juan (1606-1688), a religious mystic/visionary who sailed on the Manila galleon to Mexico nearly four hundred years ago and over time became associated in popular legend with a well-known style of dress. The etymological complexity of one keyword involved should not be underestimated and itself tells another story about the history of colonialism.
posted by Monsieur Caution (12 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Intriguing tale!
posted by Renoroc at 5:06 PM on November 28, 2014

Pdf warning on the "visionary" and "galleon" link, please.
posted by benzenedream at 5:33 PM on November 28, 2014

The etymology of the word chino is interesting to me since in present day Mexico I hear many Mexicans referring to Asians of origin as chinos. Sometimes even going so far as to say chino de japón or chino de tailandia. I had thought originally that people were using chino for Asian people much like people in the US in the past used Oriental.

So it is not overly surprising that an actual woman from the Indian subcontinent gets to Nueva España and is referred to as china. It is sort of odd that afrodescendents were also called chino in that time period. But we're also talking about a hemisphere where the indigenous people were (and still are by many) referred to as indio. Columbus and the other Europeans knew the American indigenous people were not Indian but they stuck with the name and here we are.
posted by birdherder at 5:48 PM on November 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I first became aware of the China Poblana through the writings of Octavio Paz. Tangentially, Paz-- an ambassador to India-- noted the similarities between molé and curry and thus began investigating the surprisingly lengthy history between Mexico and India through food. Really, it shouldn't come as much of a shock, given that chiles-- so central to so much asian cuisine nowadays that it seems as if it was always so- is an exclusively New World food stuff.

Let us also not forget that the Spanish influence on Mexico were themselves influenced by the Arab world, who themselves were influenced by their trading in south and southeast asia. With influence from both Europe and Asia, Mexico can almost be seen as another nexus of east and west, not unlike Istanbul.
posted by Perko at 6:15 PM on November 28, 2014 [10 favorites]

Strange, I was just editing the China Poblana wikipedia page a few days ago and created a separate article for Catarina de San Juan. Both pages could do with more work if anyone is up for it.
posted by bhnyc at 12:03 AM on November 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Gosh, what a story! All utterly fascinating, the person, the etymology, the cuisine ("china cocina"?), don't even know where to start.

Learning Spanish now in Barcelona, and about to cook myself some DIY curry and rice that I bought at the local Pakistani corner-shop; perhaps I should make a [secular, figurative] offering to the spirit of Catarina de San Juan as well.
posted by the cydonian at 3:29 AM on November 29, 2014

Artes de Mexico has a special issue dedicated to La China Poblana.
posted by dhruva at 8:22 AM on November 29, 2014

The etymology of the word chino is interesting to me

The word is a nightmare. For example here in Mexico, they refer to curly hair as pelo chino, but as far as I remember, it comes from a quechua(?) word for curly rather than the country.
posted by dhruva at 8:24 AM on November 29, 2014

similarities between molé and curry a
I made a post about this a while ago.
posted by dhruva at 8:26 AM on November 29, 2014

Another area of inquiry would be comparing the functionalist similarities between the China Poblana archetype and that of the Virgin of Guadalupe (whom it should be noted Catarina de San Juan had visions of). Both can be interpreted from a functionalist perspective as cultural bridges between Christianity and Central American Native beliefs (in the case of The Virgin of Guadalupe) and Christianity and South Asian culturel (in the case of Catarina de San Juan/China Poblana). When two cultures meet, they often create new archetypes which buffer and synthesize the traditions of both.
posted by Perko at 1:43 PM on November 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Along the whole route from Mendocino to Acapulco one can find traces of the Nao de China, or Galeon de Manila. My favorite is a small town in Sinaloa that produces some of the worlds best lychee fruit. It is so good that it is all exported to Japan as premium quality fruit. The story is that a few Filipino slaves escaped the Galleon de Manila some time in the late 1700s or early 1800, and found work in an hacienda where they planted the first Lychee tree.

Regarding the word Chino in Mexico, I refer you to this image, a simple guide to some of the castes in colonial Mexico. It clearly shows how someone who is 7/8 Spanish and 1/8 Moor is of course Chinese.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 10:19 PM on November 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Always wondered why American stores never have lychees. Now it all makes sense! One of my favorite meals when I went to India was buying a kilo of lychees for the equivalent of a buck or two, and just going crazy.
posted by Perko at 8:13 AM on December 1, 2014

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