Though poverty and vagrancy as social phenomena greatly preoccupied authorities of Colonial Mexico, the social and individual lives of vagabonds and strangers of Spanish American early modernity remain elusive to the historian. In his new book, Fugitive Freedom: The Improbable Lives of Two Impostors in Late Colonial Mexico (University of California Press, 2021), William B. Taylor uncovers the fascinating stories of two wanderers in Colonial Mexico. Joseph Aguayo and Juan Atondo were priest impersonators and serial liers whose lives of deceit are recorded in archives of the Spanish Inquisition. Through their encounters with ecclesiastical authorities, Taylor shows how these two common men navigated colonial law, subversively shaped their identity in Mexican society as Spanish rule was coming to an end.
How do we make sense of historical agents such as Aguayo and Atondo who have left few traces in the archive? Taylor turns to literary sources, specifically to Spanish picaresque novels. By engaging social history with works such as Mateo Alemán's Guzmán de Alfarache, Francisco de Quevedo's La vida del buscón and José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi's El periquillo sarniento, Fugitive Freedom considers these cases through the lens of the cultural myth of the pícaro.
William B. Taylor is Muriel McKevitt Sonne Professor Emeritus of Latin American History, University of California Berkeley.
Daniela Gutierrez is a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago