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Article

Convent and Family Property in New Spain  

Rosalva Loreto López

The process of establishing women’s convents in Hispanic America must be understood as the result of converging expectations from the crown, the church, and important laypeople who were interested in re-creating a Catholic world in the cities of the New World. The importance of women’s convents depended on the regular clergy as well as the secular, both of whom were invested in replicating their own religious identity. The role of families was also critical in the processes of establishing and populating the fifty-eight convents, as it was the nun’s families who expanded their networks of power, pedigree, and the reproduction of their own lineage by way of these institutions. Finally, the study of convent wealth is also essential to understanding the mutual dependence between the urban growth of cities and the expansion of these women’s institutions.

Article

Female Sterilization in Costa Rica, 1940 to 2020  

María Carranza

Sterilization is an increasingly familiar phenomenon to women worldwide, and it is the most prevalent contraceptive practice in the world. Costa Rica, where the use of contraceptives is generalized, is among those countries in the world with the highest prevalence of female sterilization. In Costa Rica, female sterilization is homogeneously distributed, common among women living in rural and urban zones, as well as among those of diverse educational levels. In contrast to what one may expect given the legacy of abusive birth control practices in Latin America, the “problem” of sterilization in Costa Rica has been framed by women and doctors alike not as the “need” for curbing its use but rather as a “struggle” for broadening access as much as possible. Interestingly, current rates of sterilization have been attained in the absence of a formal program offering sterilization for contraceptive purposes and in the context of a very restrictive legal framework for its provision. It was not until July 1999 that sterilization for contraceptive purposes was explicitly regulated and permitted. Before that year, it was only so-called therapeutic sterilization that was legally allowed. Sterilization was supposed to be offered only for health reasons. Notably, successive moves intended precisely to broaden access to this surgery within the state hospital system have been realized through regulation formally restricting its provision. This sometimes counterintuitive history of the provision and regulation of sterilization in Costa Rica is analyzed.

Article

Gabriel Vargas and La familia Burrón  

Maira Mayola Benítez Carrillo

Gabriel Vargas Bernal created one of the greatest examples of Mexican comic strips, The Burrón Family. He had a remarkable career as a prolific cartoonist, screenwriter, historian, and journalist, with many titles published throughout decades of work. His predominant topic is social criticism and his narrative style is that of journalistic humor. Self-taught, he worked for the country’s most important–newspapers. Over the years, he wrote pieces on sports and the most popular festivals in Mexico, completed comic strips to support literacy campaigns, and designed many types of comics: historical, religious, war, detective, ecological, didactic, humor, and adventure. In 1948, he created the comic La familia Burrón, a series that tells of a poor family’s daily life in a working-class neighborhood. The author’s sense of criticism was the key to allowing readers to identify with the almost one hundred characters who appeared on its pages. Many of them came from real life and were recreated on the pages of this comic, which was published for six decades. Vargas had a clear critical view of Mexican society. He incorporated costumbrist scenes and knew how to use idioms and popular expressions through his characters, adapting them to each decade in which the comic strip was published. His stories are full of humor and absurd situations, a mix of reality and fiction. The strip had a half-million printings per week and has been published in compilation books that are among the most sold at Mexico’s main book fairs. Vargas’s work is a necessary reference to learn and understand the idiosyncrasies of Mexicans—their customs, traditions, conflicts, and short-comings—in the urban environment.

Article

Everyday Life in Argentina in the 1960s  

Isabella Cosse

The 1960s in Argentina was a time convulsed by profound social, cultural, and political changes. Reflecting on the effect these processes had on the everyday, conceived as the spaces and routines involved in the reproduction of life that vary according to social class, generation, and gender, provides a valuable perspective for studying historical phenomena. It gives substance to and evidences the social nature of personal experience. Through that prism, the study of everyday life will be the gateway to understanding the turbulence produced by cultural effervescence, growing consumerism, the expansion of the media, the problems triggered by economic instability and escalating inflation, and the ruptures caused by political and social radicalization and the rise of repressive violence.

Article

The Three Faces of the Mexican Family, 1872 to the Present  

Elena Jackson Albarrán

The shape, function, and social meaning of the Mexican family changed alongside its relationship to the state, the Catholic Church, and popularly held beliefs and customs over the course of the 20th century. Liberal reforms of the 19th century, and in particular the Penal Code of 1871 and the Civil Code of 1884, accelerated the intentionally political function of the family, as policymakers sought to bring the domestic sphere into the service of the state. Although domestic policies aimed to wrest influence over the private sphere from the Catholic Church, both the secularizing effects and economic impact of these efforts resulted in markedly unequal gender standards. The Mexican Revolution of 1910 wrought some dramatic demographic changes that had a long-term impact on family structure, gender roles within the family, and, perhaps most significantly, the resulting revolutionary government’s conception of the role that the family unit ought to play in nationalist development projects. The post-revolutionary decades saw the reinterpretation of late-19th-century liberalizing tendencies to align the family more consciously with a vision of a modern, collectively identified economic nationalist vision of the future. Men, women, and children saw their social roles reimagined in the rhetorical ideal, even as agrarian and educational reforms revised individuals’ relationships to the labor and socializing institutions that had come to define their identities. By the 1940s, economic growth, political stability, and technological advances in medicine and healthcare all contributed to the beginning of a surge in population growth that continued until the early 1970s. Coupled with a radical shift in population density to the urban areas, these changes contributed to transformations in family residence patterns, the division of labor, and the role of children and young people. But events in the 1970s conspired to bring a radical end to the high birth rate. These included the conscious domestic-policy reform of the Luís Echeverría administration (1970–1976); the availability of contraception and its tacit approval by the Mexican Catholic Church; the transnational feminist movement, culminating in the 1975 meeting in Mexico City of the United Nations’ Conference on Women to commemorate International Women’s Year; and, not least of these, preventive measures taken by citizens themselves to reduce the strain on the family unit. By the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, transnational migrations and remittances came to define an increasing percentage of families and kinship structures.

Article

Transatlantic Family-Making: Jamaica and Great Britain  

Daniel Livesay

Forming and encouraging families in Jamaica was a struggle from the very beginning of English colonization there, making Caribbean households transatlantic in nature. The explosion of plantation slavery in the 17th century prioritized economic expansion over white family cultivation. Likewise, planters were more concerned with profits than they were with enslaved families. Constant migration from Europe and Africa was therefore needed to keep populations stable for the whole history of slavery in Jamaica. The island’s demographic and political security was always tenuous as a result of this, and officials attempted numerous strategies to encourage family growth, among both the free and enslaved communities. As the island transitioned to freedom, regulating the definition of “proper” families became a weapon from which English authorities wielded imperial power. Racist sentimental toward Caribbean households created social tension when thousands of black Jamaicans emigrated to Britain after the Second World War. Their arrival produced new British households that challenged some British conceptions of domestic family life. Throughout this whole history, migration defined the growth and character of families in the Jamaican-British Atlantic World.

Article

Spanish Diplomacy in the Age of Atlantic Revolutions  

Timothy Hawkins

Spain entered the Age of Atlantic Revolutions (1775–1825) motivated by a desire to re-establish its traditional status as a major European power, a position that its Habsburg monarchs gradually had relinquished over the course of the 17th century and that was lost in dramatic fashion during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1713). Over the first six decades of the 18th century, the newly installed Bourbon dynasty launched a series of administrative, military, clerical, and economic reforms designed to spark and then protect an imperial revival. As a regular participant in the colonial wars of the period, the Spanish crown relied heavily on military strength to signify its renewed standing vis-à-vis its international adversaries. Any gains won by force of arms also needed to be confirmed by treaty and reinforced by positive peacetime relationships with these same rivals. As a result, an assertive diplomacy played an important role in promoting Spanish interests during a tumultuous era that began with great hopes for the restoration of Spain’s historic preeminence in the Atlantic World but ended with the collapse of its American empire.

Article

Overpopulation Debates in Latin America during the Cold War  

Eve Buckley

From the 1950s to the 1970s, numerous academics and non-governmental organizations based in the United States generated alarm about political and ecological threats posed by human population growth. During the first half of the 20th century, improvements in nutrition, sanitation, and medical therapies had dramatically reduced infant mortality and contributed to increased life expectancy in many parts of the world. In the context of the Cold War, many leaders of Western industrialized nations viewed the rapid growth of poor Asian, African, and Latin American populations as a potential source of political instability. They feared that these poor masses would become fodder for revolutionary political movements, particularly communism. Combined with eugenicist views rooted in colonial racism, new understanding of ecological systems, and growing concern about overtaxing earth’s resources, these fears led many American and European scholars and activists to promote population reduction in the newly designated “Third World.” In Latin America, such efforts to curb human increase were met with skepticism or outright opposition by both Catholic Church leaders and many left-wing nationalists who saw the promotion of birth control as a form of racist imperialism. Although some physicians and even liberal priests viewed decreasing family size as important for public health and family welfare, the involvement of North American capitalists (such as the Rockefellers), U.S. government agencies, and former eugenicists in efforts to distribute contraceptive technologies made them deeply suspect in the eyes of many Latin Americans.

Article

The Birth Control Pill and Family Planning  

Karina Felitti

World population growth became a major topic of international discussion after World War II and in the context of the Cold War. According to some analysts, academics, politicians, and representatives of international organizations and private foundations, the fall in birth rates was essential to avoid the depletion of natural resources and, in geopolitical terms, would stimulate economic development in the developing world and thus prevent and mitigate social conflict. This analysis gained strong support and met with some resistance. In 1968, the United Nations defined access to family planning as a human right. That same year the encyclical entitled Humanae Vitae criticized family planning programs, not only in moral terms but also in defense of personal freedoms and the sovereignty of each country. Additionally, and contrary to the expectations of a large part of the Catholic community, the document only considered natural contraceptive methods legitimate, thus creating a deep division between those who supported the contraceptive pill and those who would abide by this decision. Studies of recent history that compare global and local dynamics, as well as new perspectives on the Cold War (in terms of the questions, sources, interpretative frameworks, and methodologies they propose), examine local organizations and the different ways in which each country negotiated and took on this issue. The United States played a key role in promoting family planning in different countries around the world and particularly in Latin America, given its geographical proximity and the anxiety caused by the success of the Cuban Revolution. In this region, the distribution of the birth control pill and the first family planning programs also sparked debates, support, and resistance at the governmental level and in different political, academic, activist, religious, and media contexts. In several countries, health professionals came together to develop family planning programs to reduce the high number of clandestine abortions in illegal contexts and their consequent effects on public health. This context also saw a budding recognition of the right women had to make decisions about their own pregnancies. The distribution of modern contraceptives was aligned with the agendas of Second Wave feminist groups, who demanded access to the means that would allow them to have a sexual life that was not tied to marriage or reproduction. In some cases, they faced the limits and repression of authoritarian governments and resistance from some left-wing writers, politicians, groups, and organizations who thought the current sexual revolution was a distraction imposed by imperialism. Given the importance of the Catholic Church in Latin America, the encyclical Humanae Vitae was welcomed by conservative actors who opposed the model of sexuality proposed by feminists, secularized enlightened middle classes, and other countercultural movements that supported the ideas of the sexual revolution. However, this document also found support in more radical sectors of the same Church that, in conjunction with some leftist groups, especially those involved in the armed struggle, rejected US interference in population issues. According to documents from these organizations and member testimonies, the sexual revolution, the pill, and feminisms hindered the birth of new generations of activists who could support the ongoing social and political revolution. Given these circumstances, the history of the birth control pill’s distribution and the implementation of family planning programs in Latin America must be considered in the context of regional and country-specific political, demographic, cultural, and religious issues.

Article

Gender and Sexuality in Colonial Brazil  

Ronaldo Vainfas

The topics of gender and sexuality in Brazilian historiography, though available from colonial chroniclers to the present, were notably absent in 19th-century historiography, which was constrained by the moral taboos and racial prejudices of that age. This was true until the early 20th-century turning point represented by the works of Paulo Prado with regard to language, and of Gilberto Freyre with regard to content, in their pioneering attempts to address the issue, emphasizing how interracial procreation and sexual desires shaped Brazilian history. Historical research at universities began in the 1980s, based on unpublished sources and international scholarship on new topics. This resulted in studies on marital relations, misogynist patriarchalism, accepted models of licit sexuality, and various other transgressions such as adultery, concubinage, male and female homosexuality, sexual imagery, libidinous behavior by members of the clergy, and acts considered deviant behavior or associated with heresy. Recently, sources have come into use from the Ecclesiastical Court and the Portuguese Inquisition, which assumed jurisdiction over accusations of bigamy, sodomy, priests who took advantage of the confessional to molest their parishioners, and declarations that contradicted Catholic moral theology with regard to chastity, celibacy, and fornication or were suspected of being heretical due to their association with Protestant doctrines. Additionally, there are important works inspired by French scholarship on the history of mentalities and the historical and philosophical contributions of Michel Foucault.

Article

The Women of Guadalajara in Mexico’s History  

María Teresa Fernández Aceves

From the War of Independence until the recognition of female suffrage in Mexico in 1953, the women of Guadalajara witnessed different forms of activism that touched upon national and local issues, causing them to take to the streets in order to defend their families, their neighborhoods, and their communities: their political and religious ideals. Their active participation upended traditional notions of femininity within the Catholic Church and the liberal state of the 19th century, as well as the postrevolutionary state (1920–1940). The tasks they undertook over this lengthy period of time were highly diversified and encompassed welfare, education, war, politics, religion, and social endeavors.

Article

Indigenous Portraits and Casta Paintings in the Spanish Americas  

Dana Leibsohn and Meha Priyadarshini

For historians of the Spanish Americas indigenous portraits and casta paintings offer two distinctive lenses for understanding the relationships between indigeneity and colonialism. Both genres of painting anchor indigenous bodies and subjectivities in the racialized practices that were constitutive of, and crucial to, colonialism in the Americas. Indigenous portraits record individual biographies and family histories, offering scholars of the present insights into the lives of people whose desires rarely surface in prose sources. Indigenous portraits also document the economic and material investments people were willing to make in preserving images of lives well lived. In the colonial past, as in the present, indigenous portraits therefore speak to the ways social ambitions fueled identity formation. Cuadros de castas, or casta paintings, are a genre of painting invented and painted in the Spanish Americas in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Casta paintings, like indigenous portraits, describe status and economic wealth; their main aim, however, was to portray the ethnic mixing and concomitant racialized thinking in colonial society. According to the iconography and composition of casta paintings, the mixing of people from Europe, Africa, and the Americas could be ordered and organized such that everyone seemed to have a place and appropriate ethnic designation. Today, casta paintings are understood as persuasive works of art that presented an idealized, hierarchical view of urban life. The painters and patrons of indigenous portraits and casta paintings participated in networks formed by habits of material exchange, patterns of urban mobility, and practices linked to Catholic religious beliefs. Some of these networks stretched across the Americas; others were bound to trade and travel across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The histories referenced in indigenous portraits and casta paintings should be understood, then, as tethered to local concerns, global economies, and cosmopolitan ambitions.

Article

Digital Resources: FamilySearch  

Rebecca Horn

FamilySearch, which constitutes the largest genealogical archival project and database in the world, offers rich online resources for research on the history of Latin America. FamilySearch constitutes an institutional arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the LDS Church, dedicated to genealogical research. It offers a wealth of resources with enormous potential for historical research on a broad range of topics and through diverse methods of investigation. The digital collection, which expands continuously, includes archival material from all the major regions of the world, including Latin America. For Latin America, the strength of the collection rests with parish and civil registers, censuses, and secondary sources on the genealogical and family history of the region.

Article

Family Planning and Reproductive Rights in Chile  

Jadwiga E. Pieper Mooney

The official histories of family planning and reproductive rights in Chile started in the 1960s, with initiatives by Chilean doctors to reduce maternal mortality due to self-induced abortions; Chilean women’s mobilization for rights surged in the 1970s, and the concept of reproductive rights became the focus within health policy debates only by the 1990s. Specific Chilean political developments shaped these trajectories, as did global paradigm changes, including the politicization of fertility regulation as a subject of the Cold War. These same trajectories also generated new understandings of reproductive rights and women’s rights. The goals of preventing abortions and maternal mortality, of controlling population size, and of protecting families all contributed to the public endorsement of family planning programs in the 1960s. Medical doctors and health officials in Chile collaborated with the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and founded the first Chilean family planning institution, the Association for the Protection of the Family (APROFA). Since 1965, APROFA, affiliated with the IPPF, has remained the primary institution that makes family planning available to Chilean women and couples. The concept of “reproductive rights” is relatively new, globally, and in its specific national representation in Chile; questions of women’s rights gained unprecedented international prominence after the United Nation’s designation of the International Women’s Year (IWY) in 1975. International conferences, and the extension of IWY to a Decade for Women between 1975 and 1985, stimulated debates about policy norms that linked human rights, women’s rights, and the right to health to nascent definitions of reproductive rights. Just as international gatherings provided platforms for debates about rights, unparalleled human rights violations under military rule (1973–1990) interrupted the lives of Chilean citizens. Women in Chile protested the dictatorship, mobilized for democracy in their country and their homes, and added reproductive rights to the list of demands for democratic restructuring after the end of dictatorship. While family planning programs largely survived the changes of political leadership in Chile, the dictatorship dealt a lasting blow to quests for reproductive rights. The military’s re-drafted Constitution of 1980 not only compromised effective political re-democratization, but also imposed such changes as the end of therapeutic abortions, which have remained at the center of political activism against reproductive rights violations in the 21st century.

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A Feminist History of Violence against Women and the LGBTQIA+ Community in Chile, 1964–2018  

Hillary Hiner

From a historical perspective, violence against women and the LGBTQIA+ community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual, and “+” for other possible associated identities) in Chile has presented itself and been understood in different ways. On the one hand, we have to take into consideration what Maria Lugones has named the “coloniality of gender” and how racism, sexism, and heteronormativity was installed from the colonial period onward, promoting specific violences against indigenous, black, lesbian, and trans women. Additionally, for a great deal of time, from roughly the colonial period until the 1990s, it was considered completely acceptable to use violence in the family and in intimate partner relationships to “correct” and punish women and girls. The Pinochet dictatorship (1973–1990) also adds another dimension to this discussion, as women were affected by gendered and sexualized state terrorism. However, the reappearance of strong women’s and feminist groups during the dictatorship also signaled a profound questioning of these types of gender violence, linking it to patriarchal structures and the need for democracy “in the country” and “in the home.” A similar effect was achieved by the emergence of LGBTQIA+ groups from the 1980s on, as they questioned the historic violence, hate crimes, and discrimination against gay men, lesbians, and, more recently, trans people. In both cases, then, pressures from social movement groups have forced the post-dictatorship Chilean state to pass laws and promote anti-violence public policy. For better and for worse, however, those anti-violence initiatives that have been most successful, in terms of visibility and public policy coverage, have generally centered on violences experienced by white-mestiza, cishet, urban women, particularly those that survive family violence. Historiographies on violence against women and the LGBTQIA+ community are relatively scarce, although there has been increased production in the last ten years, especially around the topics of women survivors of family or intimate partner violence and women survivors of torture and political prison.