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A Free Reading Passage on Genízaros for AP U.S. History

Cate O'Donnell

2 min read

May 22

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Genízaros are a referenced topic in the European Colonization topic in Period 2 of AP U.S. History. You could reference this example on your AP U.S. History test.



weaver of New Mexico
Weaver of New Mexico/public domain


In the colonial history of New Mexico, a unique group known as Genízaros played a significant role in shaping the region’s culture and society. The term “Genízaro” was used in the 18th and 19th centuries to describe “detribalized Indians,” individuals of mixed Native American parentage who had adopted some Hispanic lifestyles.


Genízaros were Native American women and children captured during warfare or purchased from native tribes. They were converted to Catholicism, taught Spanish, and integrated into Hispanic society, often serving as laborers and servants. Officially designated as under the protection of Spanish households to circumvent the legal ban on slavery, Genízaros were, in practice, often treated as slaves.

The origins of the term “Genízaro” are debated. One theory suggests it derives from the Turkish word “janissary,” referring to Christian captives converted to Islam and serving in the Turkish army, due to the similar roles played by Genízaros in New Mexico. Another theory posits that the term comes from the Spanish root “geno-” (lineage or race) with suffixes “-izo” and “-aro,” referring to individuals of mixed parentage, such as Comanches and Pawnees, who were born among nomadic groups but lived in New Mexico.


Genízaros were typically obtained through two main sources: captured in conflicts with surrounding nomadic groups or traded from friendly Indigenous groups who had taken them captive in raids. They were highly desirable due to labor shortages, especially in frontier areas, and often occupied the lowest social strata in Hispanic society.


Over time, some Genízaros earned their freedom and became day laborers, landowners, or craftsmen. They could also improve their status by settling new areas where the Spanish government sought to expand control or by serving in militia units to fight hostile tribes. Their military role, skills, and rudimentary knowledge of nomadic languages made them valuable in frontier defense and trade with Plains Indians.


As they gained prominence in battles and frontier settlements, Genízaros could own land and enter various occupations. Land grants to Genízaro settlers were often along frontiers where conflicts were intense. Over time, individuals of ambiguous ancestry joined these communities, broadening the definition of Genízaro to encompass anyone of ambiguous ancestry and/or lower status. By the late 19th century, the term gradually fell into disuse, and today it is mainly used by historians and genealogists studying New Mexico’s history.


Determining the number or proportion of Genízaros is challenging due to their hidden status, changing social definitions, and evolving group identities. Estimates suggest they comprised between 10% to one-third of the settled population, making them a significant social component of colonial New Mexico, especially in interactions with Native Americans of the Great Plains. As the flow of native captives ceased, the group gradually disappeared, blending into the broader Hispanic population.



PRINTABLE READING PASSAGE ON THE GENIZAROS

Would you prefer to share a printable passage with your students? Click the image below to grab it!



Genízaros Free Reading Passage


Do you want to watch a video about the Genízaros?


European Colonization


Period 2


AP U.S. History




Genízaros



#Genízaros #janissary #Spanish

Cate O'Donnell

2 min read

May 22

9

0

0

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