Sovereign Joy

Afro-Mexican Kings and Queens, 1539-1640

“Sovereign Joy” explores the performance of festive black kings and queens among Afro-Mexicans between 1539 and 1640. This fascinating study illustrates how the first African and Afro-creole people in colonial Mexico transformed their ancestral culture into a shared identity among Afro-Mexicans, with particular focus on how public festival participation expressed their culture and subjectivities, as well as redefined their colonial condition and social standing. By analyzing this hitherto understudied aspect of Afro-Mexican Catholic confraternities in both literary texts and visual culture, Miguel A. Valerio teases out the deeply ambivalent and contradictory meanings behind these public processions and festivities that often re-inscribed structures of race and hierarchy. Were they markers of Catholic subjecthood, and what sort of corporate structures did they create to project standing and respectability? Sovereign Joy examines many of these possibilities, and in the process highlights the central place occupied by Africans and their descendants in colonial culture. Through performance, Afro-Mexicans affirmed their being: the sovereignty of joy, and the joy of sovereignty.


“Insightful and provocative, ‘Sovereign Joy’ amplifies the sonorous and accentuates the performative so that sound and play consume every page as they surely did Black and Colonial life. Valerio’s nuanced reading engages but also disrupts the analytically staid field of Afro-Mexican Studies with its focus on structure, institutional expressions, and ideology. Truly rewarding.”
— Herman Bennett, author of “African Kings and Black Slaves: Sovereignty and Dispossession in the Early Modern Atlantic”

“‘Sovereign Joy’ ushers in a vibrant era of scholarship on Afro-Mexican communal organizations. Emphasizing participant subjectivities, Valerio’s elegant prose guides readers through these royally inflected spectacles. Readers will breathe in the sights, smells, and sounds of these joyful Baroque events.”
— Nicole von Germeten, author of “The Enlightened Patrolman: Early Law Enforcement in Mexico City”

“‘Sovereign Joy’ demonstrates the ways Afro-Mexicans plotted within colonial structures to form and perform their festive culture as a powerful act of collective agency and defiance.”
— Mariselle Meléndez, author of “Deviant and Useful Citizens: The Cultural Production of the Female Body in Eighteenth-Century Peru”

“Valerio’s ‘Sovereign Joy’ is an extraordinary book—meticulously researched, brilliantly argued, and beautifully illustrated. The histories of Afro-Mexican presence and of the festivities that sustained Black joy and survival have too long been obscured. Valerio’s timely intervention changes that. Essential reading for Black and performance studies.”
— Diana Taylor, author of “¡Presente! The Politics of Presence”

“A phenomenal book of scholarly detective work that painstakingly reconstructs Afro-Mexican cultural practices and legacies that have been long-lost, misinterpreted, and obscured over time. ‘Sovereign Joy’ is a rich testament to how expanding our interpretive toolset can lead us to recover the very sounds, emotions, feel, and texture of colonial life that have long been considered ephemeral and fleeting. An absolutely amazing work.”
— Ben Vinson III, author of “Before Mestizaje: The Frontiers of Race and Caste in Colonial Mexico”

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