Event — Webinar

Enslaved people from Asia in Mexican merchant networks

An online interactive lecture by Norah Gharala, IIAS Research Fellow and an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of Houston in Texas, USA.

This lecture will take place from 11:00 - 12:00 a.m. Amsterdam Time (Central European Summer Time, CEST).

The Lecture

“Bring an Indian from Calicut”, to serve as an interpreter, was the advice of the conquistador Hernando Cortés to the captain of an expedition to Indonesia from Mexico in 1527. People from Asia and Indian Ocean Africa held prominent positions in the merchant networks and households of Mexico City, even though they were enslaved. Their work made possible the celebrated transpacific galleon trade. This talk uses probate records to explain the kinds of tasks people from the Indo-Pacific undertook in Manila and Mexico. Such individuals handled sizeable amounts of cash, silks, and spices in the service of merchants and their families, leading to complex entanglements between enslavers and enslaved.

Although some Asians went freely to New Spain, many thousands more were sold into slavery in Manila and then Acapulco in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Religious trials in Mexico and the Philippines provide rich details about this population. But these extraordinary documents did not always reveal the everyday lives of the people under scrutiny. Civil records are just as important for understanding how enslaved people lived in Mexico. Lawsuits and probate records yield valuable information about the occupations, networks, and families of people identified with Asia in New Spain.

The Speaker

N. L. A. Gharala is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of Houston in Texas, USA, and holds a PhD from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA. Professor Gharala has published peer-reviewed articles and a monograph, Taxing Blackness: Free Afromexican Tribute in Bourbon New Spain (University of Alabama Press, 2019). Building on these research interests in social and fiscal categories, Dr Gharala’s current work explores social difference and legal status using biographical methods and New Spain’s global connections. The project asks how people of East African origin experienced slavery and formulated ideas about freedom as they moved among the port cities of the early modern Iberian empires.

The Webinar

There will be time for questions after the talk.


You can join this live webinar by sending us your contact information via the registration form on this page. Two days before the start of the webinar, we will get in touch with you and provide you with access information and other necessary details. 

NOTE: Please check your spam box if you can't find our email in your inbox.