Would we have coffee with Cabeza de Vaca?
Cammy: But of course! Let’s start with the fact that Cabeza de Vaca literally means “Head of a cow.” That alone pretty much seals the awesomeness deal for a coffee get together. But even if he didn’t have a bad-ass name, I’d still be game. He’s actually the first Conquistador I ever remember learning about. Sure, Columbus got some lip service, but we hadn’t seriously studied him before I got my first round of Texas history in 2nd grade. And since de Vaca and his fellow shipwreck survivors landed on what’s now Galveston Island, that means Texas claims him as its own personal Spanish Conquistador (even though he was in Florida first. Whatever) and he gets first billing in the Texas history books. But most intriguing of all is the amount of time and time and the circumstances under which de Vaca interacted with the native populations. He and his fellow ship-wreckers were wandering around Texas, the Southwest US and Mexico for 8 years. At times he was a slave, at other times he was a trader. He actually developed some respect for the native peoples of the Americas and seemed to see them as something more than people to be, well, conquered. That makes him, quite possibly, the only really cool Spanish explorer ever. How could I not want to talk to him about THAT? He saw that part of the world in the way no other European got to witness it, so a straight-up data dump would be worth a lot of coffee.
Kristy: Certainly. For all the reasons Cammy mentioned. Except the Texas history class stuff, because I was in Florida in 2nd grade. The man was essentially a proto-anthropologist. At some point while stranded with a bunch of Native peoples, he apparently decided, “Wow. These people have interesting customs. I should document them.” And yes, his writings are clearly influenced by the biases that went along with being a white male Catholic in the sixteenth-century, but he tried. And he stood up for the people who saved him from certain death; albeit unsuccessfully, but he tried. Also, I used to teach him in my American literature class. The guidelines for the curriculum didn’t require me to teach anything before the Puritans, but I objected because a) it left out Virginia, b) it left out indigenous populations, c) it assumed “American”=”English speaking”. And Cabeza de Vaca was in our textbook, so in he went to my syllabus. So in gratitude, I feel I should buy him a cup of coffee.