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[Detail] Discovery of the Mississippi: By Ferdinand De Soto

The Literature of Cross-Cultural Contact

Garcilaso de la Vega was a 16th-century writer, the son of a conquistador captain and an Incan princess. Although Garcilaso de la Vega never traveled to Florida, his most noted work is La Florida del Inca, which relates numerous stories of the Hernando de Soto expedition and the Spanish and Indians who accompanied de Soto. The work is based on writings and oral narratives of de Soto and such others as Alvar Nunez Cabez de Vaca, a survivor of the Panfilo de Narvaez expedition who spent several years exploring what is now the American Southwest. Garcilaso de la Vega also gathered information from his mother’s family and friends in Peru. Scholars regard the book as a valuable resource, albeit somewhat romanticized and fictionalized.

Several chapters in Book II of La Florida del Inca relate the experiences of Juan Ortiz, a young man on the Naváez expedition, who had been captured and held as a slave before being freed by one of the daughters of his captor. The dramatic story describes the torturous captivity and his escape with the help of the daughter of Cacique Hirrihigua (a leader of the Native people), who had held him in captivity. If you read Spanish, read Chapters 1-4 of Book Two, which recounts the story of Juan Ortiz or ask a friend who reads Spanish to read it with you. As an alternative, search the Web for a translation of La Florida del Inca.

  • Describe the treatment Ortiz received at the hands of the cacique. Why did the cacique treat Ortiz in such a brutal manner?
  • What adjectives would you use to describe Juan Ortiz? Why do you think the cacique’s daughter intervened on his behalf?
  • How does the author use the story of Juan Ortiz to comment on Christianity and morality?
  • What are the similarities of the Ortiz story to that of the popular legend of Pocahontas and John Smith in the English Chesapeake colony some years later? What might account for the existence of two such similar stories?

In an online course titled American Passages: A Literary Survey, developed by a team of scholars working with Annenberg Media/Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the authors of a unit on “Exploring Borderlands” say:

. . . the contact zone between present-day Mexico and the southwestern United States evolved into a hybrid border region that continues to be influenced by the legacies of the different groups who first struggled there for dominance in the sixteenth century. After hundreds of years of war, intermarriage, trade, slavery, and religious struggles, a complex, syncretic culture has flourished in the space that marks the current U.S./Mexico border. As conquerors and conquered merged, a new mestizo identity (a blending of Indian, European, and African heritage) was created and continues to find expression in the work of contemporary Chicano and Chicana writers of the “borderland” region.

From “Exploring Borderlands: Instructor Overview,” American Passages: A Literary Survey, Annenberg/CPB. Retrieved October 7, 2005, from http://www.learner.org/amerpass/unit02/instructor.html.

In what ways could Garcilaso de la Vega be seen as the first writer in the “new mestizo identity”? How does his work reflect such themes identified in “Exploring Borderlands” as (1) gender’s role in power relations in cross-cultural contact and (2) the “metaphors of romance and eroticism that are common to conquest narratives”? Find more recent examples of literature that represent the “new mestizo identity.” How do themes from Garcilaso de la Vega’s work reemerge in these pieces of literature?