Date of Award

January 2012

Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Department Name when Degree Awarded


First Advisor

David Coleman

Department Affiliation



The material, symbolic and social forces that colonists and certain indigenous groups selectively reinforced manipulated and reshaped ethnic identity in New Spain. Examining pre-conquest and post-conquest perceptions of the maguey (or American agave) and pulque, the maguey's alcoholic by-product, underscores how race, ethnicity and food influenced social change after Cortes marched on Mexico. The socio-political discourse and food cultures that engulfed pulque and the maguey developed under combustible contexts. Paternalistic Spanish ideologies combined with prevailing indigenous elite strategies to create identity membership categories that defined the major negative influences in colonial culture. The deeply seated, and often misunderstood, pre-conquest symbolism inherent in the sacred maguey and pulque spearheaded many Spaniards' attacks on Indian culture. Pulque initially differentiated Indian from Spaniard and "good" Indian from "bad" Indian. However, once de facto domination progressed into the middle colonial period the pulque identities that "pulque politics" produced collapsed additional ethnic groups into a singular concept. This M.A. thesis will examine the limited historiography, translated codices, and numerous contemporary accounts that address pulque during the colonial period. Cross-examining these sources will detangle the complex forces that influenced not only "pulque politics" and its resulting identities, but also the whole gamut of ethnic identities that New Spain came to represent.