In 1530 the 42 year old judge Vasco de Quiroga arrived in Mexico City with More’s Utopia. This was three years after the Spanish Crown had established the new colony the ‘Vice-Royalty of New Spain and Mexico City’ in 1927 (Rivas 2018). Quiroga was dispatched to the Vice-Royalty by the Spanish Crown in order to address the various grievances including enforced slavery caused by the first colonial court, Audiencia, headed by Nuño de Guzmán (Woods 1964). Quiroga arrived with a very different approach to government (Rivas 2018). He was heavily influenced by the writings of Erasmus of Rotterdam and Thomas More and he would from the onset use his position as judge, oidór, to work against the abuse of the local population and for what we today would call indigenous rights (ibid.). Quiroga advocated the gathering of the indigenous population in villages modelled on Thomas More’s Utopia ‘to civilize the natives, and to instruct them in the Catholic faith’ (Woods 1964: 282). For him ‘to civilize’ meant training the indigenous population in different crafts and industries, and in self-government (ibid.).
Between 1531 and 1535 he founded two indigenous communities, one in Mexico City and the other in Michoacán where he was subsequent made Bishop (Peredo 2006). Both were called Pueblo Hospital de Santa Fe, both catered to the weakest in society (‘the orphaned and poverty stricken’(Woods 1964)), and both were modelled carefully on the principles for social organisation described in Utopia (Peredo 2006). Just like More, Quiroga wrote that the ideal size for a city was 6000 families, each family consisting of between ten to sixteen married adults (More 2015: 38; Rivas 2006: 167); just like More, Quiroga proposed the ideal working day should be six hours long (More 2015: 36; Rivas 2006: 168). As in More’s Utopia the work in the villages was centered on partly agriculture and partly craftsmanship. The goods yielded from this production were to be divided according to needs, and a shared pool of money ‘moneda del común’ were to be used for the common good (Rivas 2006: 169). The way the Pueblo Hospitales were governed were structured much in the same way as the villages in Utopia.
The villages and the production taking place in them quickly resulted in huge economic success and Quiroga repeatedly had to defend the communities against attempted land grabbing from the Spanish ‘encomenderos’ – that is colonialists rewarded with land. Up through history the villages continued to be known for their artisanship and remained among the economically better of centers in Mexico (Warren 1963).
Image: attributed Alonzo de Santa Cruz, app. 1550-55