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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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2. Exploring Borders   

2. Exploring

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Activities: Author Activities

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca - Teaching Tips

Back Back to Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca Activities
  • At the conclusion of the excerpt from the Relation in The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Cabeza de Vaca explains that the Indians refused to believe that he and his group were of the same race as the "Christian slavers" they encountered in Mexico. Their "naked and barefoot" appearance as well as their gentleness and generosity seemed to separate them, in the Indians' minds, from other Spaniards. Ask your students to look at this segment of the narrative carefully, examining it for indications of Cabeza de Vaca's own racial and national identification. Does he see himself as "of the same people" as the Christian slavers? How has his identity as a European and as a conquistador altered over the course of his time among the Indians? To get at the issue of Cabeza de Vaca's hybrid identity, you might ask your students to chart his interesting use of pronouns in this concluding section of the Relation. When does he use "we" and "they"? Whom does he include when he refers to "we" and "us"?

  • In the section entitled "Our Life among the Avavares and Arbadaos," Cabeza de Vaca explains that exposure to the southwestern sun caused the members of the European group to "shed our skins twice a year like snakes." After pointing out the physical and mental transformation implied in this image of skin-shedding, ask your students to find other moments where Cabeza de Vaca symbolically indicates that he is undergoing a kind of metamorphosis. His accounts of acquiring a taste for native foods and his use of birth imagery might be good places to start this discussion.

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