Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca is a famous Spanish explorer who managed to form two or even three identities to survive in different settings. Cabeza de Vaca’s experiences are often regarded as “the cross-cultural transformations” (Railton 25). The explorer had to face various challenges in the new world as he and his compatriots had to make their way through swamps, deserted villages, woods where they were prone to numerous attacks.
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Living among indigenous people and being their slave and later diplomat and healer, de Vaca gave up some of his European traits and adopted some indigenous ways. However, he had to undergo the reverse process when he was back in his homeland. The ability to transform and develop multiple identities enabled the explorer to survive and even occupy a privileged position in the new and old worlds.
As has been mentioned above, Cabeza de Vaca was left with no food and barely dressed after a shipwreck. They found themselves in a “pitiful” country (De Vaca 5). He and several Spaniards were an easy target for numerous tribes that dwelt in the territories of present-day Texas and Mexico (Adorno 276). The Spanish explorer found himself among indigenous people who ‘enslaved’ them. He chose the way of transformation as his survival strategy.
He partially assimilated and started sharing some of the ways typical of the indigenous people who inhabited those lands (Lima 92). He found that some European values, traditions, and stereotypes were groundless, useless, and even dangerous in the new world (Elahi 9). He became partially indigenous, which helped him survive and occupy quite a privileged position.
When Cabeza de Vaca returned to Spain, he had to become a European again. However, he never gave up on some of the indigenous traits he acquired. He acquired a broader perspective on the world, which helped him in European society. Of course, the story of the explorer impressed everyone, including the Spanish king, as Cabeza de Vaca managed to earn the trust of the indigenous people and even spread his religious beliefs in the new world (Brickhouse 222).
The Spanish king needed people who could build the bridge between European civilization and the new world, which was crucial for exploration and new conquests. Of course, it is not stated explicitly in the book, but the explorer felt he was superior to both indigenous and Spanish people (Brickhouse 222). He saw the inner barriers Europeans and indigenous people had while he managed to get rid of these barriers, at least partially.
On balance, it is necessary to note that Cabeza de Vaca was one of the most remarkable figures of the epoch of exploration. He managed to develop multiple cultural identities, which helped him survive and earn high positions in both the new and old worlds. The explorer gave up some of his European ways, which made him closer to the indigenous population. His cross-cultural development was also important for his life in Spain, where he stressed the value of his experience and ability to interact with indigenous people.
The experiences of Cabeza de Vaca can also illustrate the importance of cross-cultural development and interaction with people of other backgrounds. These interactions make people stronger and more capable. The interaction of different cultures can broaden people’s horizons, which is crucial for the contemporary globalized world.
Adorno, Rolena. Polemics of Possession in Spanish American Narrative. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. Print.
Brickhouse, Anna. “Cabeza de Vaca, Lope de Oviedo, and Americas Exceptionalism.” A Companion to American Studies. Ed. Caroline F. Levander and Robert S. Levine. Malden: John Wiley & Sons, 2011. 211-228. Print.
De Vaca, Alvar. The Shipwrecked Men. New York: Penguin, 2007. Print.
Elahi, Babak. The Fabric of American Literary Realism: Readymade Clothing, Social Mobility and Assimilation. Jefferson: McFarland, 2009. Print.
Lima, Lazaro. The Latino Body: Crisis Identities in American Literary and Cultural Memory. New York: NYU Press, 2007. Print.
Railton, Ben. Redefining American Identity: From Cabeza de Vaca to Barack Obama. New York: Springer, 2011. Print.