Javiera Jaque Hidalgo will conduct research on the ways in which death was once used as a means of resistance and social mobility.

Jaque Hidalgo, an assistant professor of Spanish in the Virginia Tech Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, is a 2022 recipient of a prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend. The $6,000 grant was awarded for her project proposal, “Funeral Rituals, Community, and Mobility in the Colonial City of Santiago, Chile.”

Jaque Hidalgo said the grant will allow her to travel to Santiago for eight weeks to conduct research for a book-length project analyzing the cultural and political implications of death. While there, she plans to visit the Archivo Nacional Histórico de Chile and area churches to scour through and digitize as many primary sources as she can.

“I’ve been waiting for this, and eight weeks devoted to full-time research is amazing,” Jaque Hidalgo said. “I’m going to be swimming in documents.”

During years of research, Jaque Hidalgo has analyzed dozens of Indigenous testaments, and she noticed a common thread: the mention of specific funeral rites and practices. Funeral rites were crucial during the colonial time period, she said. Not only were the rituals an indicator of social status, but they also served as a form of resistance.

“Just try to imagine it, if you were an Indigenous person, and you walk into the cathedral in the center of the city,” Jaque Hidalgo said. “It’s so important to see yourself in a central space. It gives you agency, control, and power. It’s a way of resistance for Indigenous people to adapt European funeral practices in order to better represent and position themselves in the colonial urban context.”

Many Indigenous people of the time believed a proper burial created a path to the afterlife, and they requested a priest carry a high cross through their funeral processions, or demanded in their testaments to be buried in a privileged area of the cathedral, which was a form of symbolic and social mobility.

“Sometimes they had very little,” Jaque Hidalgo said. “And they sold everything they had in order to pay for those rituals. Requesting in their testaments to have a sung mass with candles and many people participating for sometimes several days in the processions — it was important.”

Jaque Hidalgo anticipates her manuscript will take three years to complete. The next stage will include transcribing sources and extending the multicultural social map that scholars have already traced.

Jaque Hidalgo became interested in unveiling marginalized voices — especially those of Indigenous people from the southern frontier who were forced to move to urban centers under colonial order — while working on her dissertation. She said traditional education does not tell the full stories of Indigenous people.

“You’re raised with this narrative of Indigenous people as victims, that they’re powerless and always being abused by the colonial power,” she said. “But it was way more complex than that. The violence of these colonial encounters was true, but there were also instances of negotiation and resistance, since the beginning, that created a space of agency for subaltern subjects.”

Jaque Hidalgo’s research is situated in what is known as the “archival turn” in the field of colonial Latin American studies. Since the 1980s, she said, scholars have worked to unveil varied voices and identities. This research has demonstrated the ways in which Indigenous people not only survived, but also succeeded in urban centers and negotiated with Spaniards to gain and maintain status.

Jaque Hidalgo received a Niles Research Grant in the fall of 2020 and was recognized as a Juneteenth Faculty Scholar in the summer of 2021. She also co-edited a book, “Indigenous and Black Confraternities in Latin America: Negotiating Status through Religious Practices,” which the Amsterdam University Press published earlier this year.

“Summer fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities are highly competitive,” said Janell Watson, a professor of French and chair of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures. “We are proud of Professor Jaque Hidalgo and congratulate her on this national distinction.”

The National Endowment for the Humanities funds only about 11 percent of the 800 applications it receives each year, noted E. Thomas Ewing, a professor in the Department of History and the associate dean for graduate studies and research in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Virginia Tech has an internal search committee, since each university is allowed to nominate only two scholars.

“Dr. Jaque Hidalgo’s research on funeral rituals, community, and mobility in colonial Santiago connects several research priorities in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences,” Ewing said, “including international scholarship, deep engagement with humanities questions, and scholarly outcomes appropriate to research fields.”

Written by Kelsey Bartlett