Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



From Textiles in Daily Life: Proceedings of the Third Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–26, 1992 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1993).


Copyright © 1992 by the author(s).



The history of peasant peoples all too often is sparsely recorded and poorly understood. This paper suggests that sometimes there are clues in the clothing of certain present day groups that can provide insight into their past experience. To demonstrate the point, a group of contemporary Mexican costumes are examined that reflect the sixteenth century collision of the Old and New Worlds and the subsequent melding of these two disparate civilizations. This, then, is a study of the acculturation process through an analysis of peasant clothing viewed against a time line extending over almost 500 years, from Spanish Conquest to the present day. Seven acculturative principles are discussed: 1) Replacement, 2) Adaptation, 3) Persistence, 4) Introduction, 5) Innovation, 6.) Mimicry and 7) Survival.



When, in 1519, the conquistador Hernan Cortes first came ashore in the New World he entered the area scholars now refer to as Mesoamerica, that region of Mexico and Central America where the great pre-Hispanic high cultures flourished. At the time of Spanish contact, Central Mexico alone contained more than twenty million people. By 1620, due principally to the devastating impact of newly-introduced European diseases, this number had declined to around one million, the most dramatic population loss in recorded history.

Faced with a rapidly declining labor pool, the Spaniards instigated a new settlement policy, congregacion: relocation of surviving ethnic groups "...within the sound of the bell," the better for missionary conversion and control. The effects of this resettlement are to some extent still evident in that portion of Central Mexico known today as the Sierra Norte de Puebla, a rugged, mountainous region where the present-day states of Veracruz, Hidalgo and Puebla join (Figure 1). This remote, outlying area was slow to feel the full impact of European contact. Following Spanish Conquest, the Sierra initially received Franciscan and Augustinian missionaries whose task was conversion of the "heathen". However, due to the almost continual conflict between the two mendicant orders, the natives were spared much of the friars' proselytizing zeal. Colonization of the Sierra by Hispanics did not begin until the last decades of the seventeenth century.