1. And a couple of days later, she let me know it would be fine by her if I married her daughter—a girl as black and ugly as the devil himself, quite the opposite of my taste, which has always run to pretty faces.
Many critics believe that this passage, from Chapter 7, offers evidence of Catalina’s sexual preference for women. However, the phrase pretty faces does not necessarily refer to women, and all the line really proves is that Catalina has a predilection for attractive faces, whether they be men or women. Better evidence of Catalina’s possible preference for women lies in the tone she uses to talk about her relationships with women, which are much more playful and flirtatious than her relationships with men. Otherwise, Catalina is deliberately coy about her sexuality and erotic life. This reticence is not surprising, given the time and place that her memoir was written, and the line about pretty faces stands out because such an idea was taboo. At the very least, this line is Catalina’s way of admitting that despite how she portrays herself, she is not unaffected by desire.
This passage also reveals Catalina’s racism, but this, too, must be understood within the context of her era. She describes the half-Indian woman’s daughter as being “as black and ugly as the devil himself,” which suggests that her skin color is as much an impediment to their marriage as Catalina’s sex. Catalina’s descriptions of the Indians are no different from her descriptions of her horses. She describes them in terms of whether they serve her purposes or impede them, but she does not name them or give them any human characteristics. Such attitudes were not unusually in seventeenth-century Spain. The Spaniards who helped colonize South America used a system of land distribution called encomiendas that rendered the local Indians virtual slaves. In this context, Catalina’s view of the Indians as little more than animals is not surprising.