Constructing Mexico City: Colonial Conflicts over Culture, by Sharon Bailey Glasco (auth.)

By Sharon Bailey Glasco (auth.)

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71 Nevertheless, church buildings, ever-present symbols monitoring the moral health and piety of colonial residents, dominated most plazas and main thoroughfares throughout the city. Although church buildings were one symbol of the institutional power of the Catholic Church in colonial Spanish America, they also ref lected the poverty that existed within urban society. According to prominent residents of the city, many of the dark recesses of church buildings were used by the poorer residents of the city as sheltered space to sleep, urinate, defecate, and commit other “vile and immoral” acts.

Drinking, gambling, dancing, gossiping, as well as participation in church celebrations and saint’s days, all marked popular culture. It was Baroque in its design and form: uninhibited, expressive, and reckless. While popular culture embraced the insecurity of life for the lower classes, it represented to elites the presence of social disorder and chaos. During the eighteenth century, elites began to adopt the Bourbon style of austerity, grandeur, simplicity, and order, when it came to cultural expression.

55 Several minor canals also remained throughout the colonial period, especially in Indian barrios, although these were not the focus of Spanish improvements. The city also contained a number of public spaces where people of all races and classes congregated for a host of activities: domestic tasks such as shopping, gathering water, and laundry, and leisure activities such as attending mass and other religious functions, as well as eating, drinking, and spending idle time. 56 The Plaza Mayor was historically the heart of the city and the scene of constant social, political, and economic activity.

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