Fray Carlos José Delgado (1677--post-1750)

    Contributing Editor: Carla Mulford

    Classroom Issues and Strategies

    Delgado's report provides teachers a wonderful opportunity to show students several aspects of colonization: the frequency and necessity of reports not just on civil affairs but on ecclesiastical ones; the ability of some colonists (in this instance, some of the missionaries in New Spain) to have empathy for Native peoples; the extent to which missionaries followed what they understood as Christ's injunctions to walk simply and stalwartly with love for all peoples; insight into the suffering and confusion that Native peoples must have felt between their imposed ties (both civil and spiritual) to the Spanish Crown.

    Many students might want to see this text stereotypically as another example of the cruel Spanish colonizers exploiting the Native peoples. It is perhaps best to let that stereotype get aired early in class discussion so that the class can move on to a more thorough discussion of the problems of colonization when it would seem as if there was no turning away from it.

    Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues

    Taking the four concepts identified above as a guide, teachers might formulate a class and lead class discussion on these themes. First, it should be emphasized that this text is merely one example of thousands of texts--in the form of letters, reports, diaries, and logs--common to colonization, not just of the Americas but of, for example, Africa and the Middle East. Indeed, even the journal-histories of the English colonies--most notably those written by William Bradford (Of Plymouth Plantation) and John Winthrop (his voluminous diaries) but even the diary of Samuel Sewall much later on--attest to the issues and problems of colonization in territory unfamiliar both geophysically and interpersonally. The text is merely one paradigmatic example, it should be noted, of the experience of many national groups that have taken over territories held natively by others.

    Next, to counterbalance the stereotypical assumptions that have accrued about Spanish colonization, teachers should emphasize the empathy with which the report is constructed. Delgado was himself a Spanish "colonizer," who was interested in what he considered the souls of the colonized. This empathy is clearly a function of what must have been real spiritual belief on the part of Fray Carlos José Delgado but it also is a mark of the "true Christian" motif common in the writings of devout missionaries (the third point made in the opening paragraph above). This motif takes different forms in different cultures--the "Christianity" of John Eliot among the Indians takes a different form from that of Delgado, just as that of French Catholic (and Protestant) missionaries might differ from this text and from John Eliot's. Nonetheless, clear marks of "true Christian" practice are available in the text: Delgado's emphasis upon his own humility, his acceptance of the paternal relation of Spain to New Spain, his discussion of events in terms of "persecution" both of missionaries and Indians, his compassion for the hunger, physical suffering, and personal degradation (especially of women) the Natives experience. In all of these areas, Delgado walks like Christ, serving as a living model of Christ and Christian teachings.

    Finally, the report provides remarkable evidence of the treatment Native peoples received at the hands of the Spanish colonizers. Reports like this document abuses the Indian peoples experienced even as they show the extent to which Indians even acquiescent to colonization faced clearly mixed signals from and conflicting loyalties to their oppressors. Surely the conflictedness of the situation complicates students' easy assumptions, voiced (at the outset) in more than one of my classes, that the "Indians should somehow have banded together." Against whom, I ask, and to what end, given the fact that there were always more Spanish people arriving in the land.

    Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions

    In light of classroom discussion about the motif of the "true Christian" as it becomes apparent in this text, students could be asked to discuss the different ways in which this motif is manifest in biography (as in Palou's hagiography of Serra and Mather's biographies of, say, Bradford, Winthrop, and Eliot), autobiography (Winthrop's diary, Roger Williams's letters, Elizabeth Ashbridge's narrative, John Woolman's journal), reports (this text), and narratives (such as the captivity narratives of Rowlandson or Williams).

    Original Audience

    Students might misunderstand Delgado's religious and political position within the colony and, though highlighting his empathy for Native peoples, think him a "traitor" or "tattletale" of the Spanish colonizing effort. Such students will need to be assured that missionaries were often at odds with civil leaders because missionaries were charged with the defense of the converted peoples, a defense accountable not only to the Spanish Crown and ultimately the Pope but also, for the devout, to God. In addition, the converts were assigned to the mission as workers within a familial--but ultimately economic-- unit that was, in theory, supposed to function in a cooperative manner and thus teach its members to integrate themselves as equals within the larger paternal system. Civil officials, however, wanted to exploit labor at less than market value, and to do so they sought ways to circumvent the protective organization of the mission. The only voice of opposition--that is, a voice that could receive official hearing, for surely the Indians protested their abuses--came from the missionaries, who had recourse to a separate line of communication to centralized powers.

    How this particular report was received is difficult to determine. As Ramón Gutiérrez has commented, "Church-state relations had been rather calm during the first half of the eighteenth century. But in 1761, the scabs were torn off what were now old wounds" (When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 1500-1846 [Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991], p. 306). Civil officials, who wanted the Franciscans removed so that they could claim full control of Native Americans, avowed that the friars were remiss in their duties; missionaries claimed, to the contrary, that the majority of friars were Christian models of virtue.

    The complicated rhetorical situation that both missionaries and civil authorities faced--with authorities so far away and mail passage so irregular--no doubt compromised their situations, and probably left hard feelings on both sides, not to mention the conflict that must have been experienced by Native Americans. What is clear is that by the end of the eighteenth century, the pueblos of New Mexico evolved quite independently of each other (Gutiérrez, p. 309), thus suggesting that civil authorities succeeded in breaking down the missionary aim of having an abiding and faithful populace separated merely geographically but not spiritually.

    Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections

    This text can be usefully compared to Roger Williams's accounts of Native Americans and his experiences of conflict with Puritan authorities. In terms of a comparison of its motifs, see the section, "Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions" above.

    To make the text seem more "contemporary," if students have problems with its accessibility, teachers might compare it to the kind of investigative report common today in the news media. As different newspapers and news stations seem to operate as checks and balances in news reportage, some more "conservative" and favoring certain agendas and others more "liberal" and favoring other agendas, just so the differing reports sent back to Spain betrayed the biases of the reporters. Perhaps most telling about this text, its most teachable feature, is that "history" is not "pure," that texts like this that seem like mere dry and dusty documents are clearly "literary" in their rhetorical methods and evident goals to persuade.