Memories of Conquest

Becoming Mexicano in Colonial Guatemala

By Laura E. Matthew

336 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 20 halftones, 4 maps, 1 tables, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2197-5
    Published: December 2014
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-8258-0
    Published: April 2012

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Awards & distinctions

2013 Murdo MacLeod Prize, Latin American and Caribbean Section, Southern Historical Association

2013 Howard Cline Memorial Prize, Conference on Latin American History

Indigenous allies helped the Spanish gain a foothold in the Americas. What did these Indian conquistadors expect from the partnership, and what were the implications of their involvement in Spain's New World empire? Laura Matthew's study of Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala--the first study to focus on a single allied colony over the entire colonial period--places the Nahua, Zapotec, and Mixtec conquistadors of Guatemala and their descendants within a deeply Mesoamerican historical context. Drawing on archives, ethnography, and colonial Mesoamerican maps, Matthew argues that the conquest cannot be fully understood without considering how these Indian conquistadors first invaded and then, of their own accord and largely by their own rules, settled in Central America.

Shaped by pre-Columbian patterns of empire, alliance, warfare, and migration, the members of this diverse indigenous community became unified as the Mexicanos--descendants of Indian conquistadors in their adopted homeland. Their identity and higher status in Guatemalan society derived from their continued pride in their heritage, says Matthew, but also depended on Spanish colonialism's willingness to honor them. Throughout Memories of Conquest, Matthew charts the power of colonialism to reshape and restrict Mesoamerican society--even for those most favored by colonial policy and despite powerful continuities in Mesoamerican culture.

Sponsored by First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies

About the Author

Laura E. Matthew is associate professor of history at Marquette University.
For more information about Laura E. Matthew, visit the Author Page.


“A unique perspective on the history of the conquest of Guatemala, and as such is a welcome addition to the colonial history of Latin America. Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.”--Choice

"A welcome addition to the classroom and to the field. [Memories of Conquest] significantly advances our understanding of New Conquest history."--The Americas

"An impressive scholarly study."--Journal of Historical Geography

“Skillful. . . . Reinforces our understanding of the Spanish practice of forming alliances with native groups for the purpose of conquest.”--The Historian

"This fine-grained study of a Mexican indigenous immigrant community in Guatemala breaks new ground. Ranging widely over central Mexico and Oaxaca, history and anthropology, Laura Matthew deftly shows how Mexicano identity in colonial Guatemala was shaped both by the Mesoamerican past and by European colonization. This is a work of prodigious scholarship that challenges the longstanding--and problematic--dichotomies of conquerors versus conquered and pre-Hispanic versus colonial eras. Matthew's portrayal of the self-ascribed Indian conquistadors exposes the shortcomings of the Eurocentric 'conquest paradigm' and points the way to an alternative Mesoamerican-centered timeline. This original and provocative book will be a touchstone for understanding colonial Mesoamerica for a long time to come."--John K. Chance, professor emeritus of anthropology, Arizona State University

"Built upon her impressive expertise in the field, and supported by an original and thorough analysis of archival documents, Laura Matthew's book makes significant contributions to our understanding of the Spanish Conquest, the colonial histories of Mexico and Guatemala, and the nature of the Guatemalan nation."--Matthew Restall, author of The Black Middle: Africans, Mayas, and Spaniards in Colonial Yucatan