Diego Javier Luis

Diego Javier Luis

Rohrbaugh Family Assistant Professor

Contact Information

Research Interests: Colonial Latin America, Spanish Pacific, Early Philippines, Global Diasporas, Race-Making, History of Slavery

Education: PhD, Brown University

I am a historian of Latin America specializing in the connections between Mexico and the Philippines during the Manila galleon period (1565-1815). My work focuses on the global scope of the early modern Spanish empire by examining the movement of people across the Pacific Ocean and how that movement transformed societies at both the eastern and western termini of the galleon trade.

My first book, The First Asians in the Americas: A Transpacific History, has just come out with Harvard University Press. It is the first book to examine the full scope of free and enslaved early modern Asian mobility to and through the Americas during the entirety of the Manila galleon period. I adopt a global microhistorical orientation to exemplify both the inviolable importance of the Pacific World to the colonial Americas and how the emergence of the "chino/a" (Asian) category became central to the lived realities of colonial racialization and the articulation of new identities. 

I am also working on three other book-length projects. The first, Manila and Acapulco: A Tale of Two Cities in the Early Modern Black Pacific, traces the development of colonial categories of Blackness in the Pacific as broad referents to Africans and Afro-descendants, South Asians, and Pacific Islanders. In particular, it locates the two nodes of transpacific galleon trade, Manila and Acapulco, as sites with large, socially mobile Black populations deeply integrated with Indigenous communities in their respective locales. The second is a history of early modern Spanish fencing called "la verdadera destreza" (the true skill). My research explores how ideas about fencing, which was then considered a science, informed colonial ethnography across the global Spanish empire and became an important form of social mobility and colonial contestation for non-Spanish subjects. As a practitioner of early modern fencing, this project blends experiential methodologies and self-writing with archival research. The third book-length project is a published edition of my grandmother's memoir manuscript that traces the history of our family from enslavement in Cuba during the nineteenth century to migration to the U.S. from the 1940s to the 1980s.

I am also a public historian on the Advisory Board of the East Coast's first Asian American history museum in Rhode Island, a published photographer, and a scholar of historical game studies.

I welcome applications from prospective graduate students interested in studying colonial Latin America, global Iberian empire, race-making, and early modern enslavement.

Articles and Book Chapters:

"The Deportation of Free Black People from Seventeenth-Century Manila," in The Spanish Pacific 1521-1815: A Reader of Primary Sources, vol. 2, Christina H. Lee and Ricard Padrón, eds., (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2024).

"Galleon Anxiety: How Afro-Mexican Women Shaped Colonial Spirituality in Acapulco," The Americas: A Quarterly Review of Latin American History 78:3 (2021).

"Diasporic Convergences: Tracing Knowledge Production and Transmission among Enslaved Chinos in New Spain, Ethnohistory 68:2 (2021).

"Rethinking the Battle of Otumba: Entangled Narrations and the Digitization of Colonial Violence," Rethinking History 23:3 (2019).

"The Armed Chino: Licensing Fear in New Spain," Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 20:1 (2019).


"Latin America's Colonial Period Was Far Less Catholic Than It Might Seem – Despite the Inquisition's Attempts to Police Religion," The Conversation, 2024.

"A Forgotten Asian History of Oregon in No-No Boy's '1603,'" Smithsonian Folklife, 2024.

"From South Asia to Mexico, from Slave to Spiritual Icon, This Woman's Life is a Snapshot of Spain's Colonization – and the Pacific​ Slave Trade History Books Often Leave Out," The Conversation, 2024.

"Asians in Early America," Aeon, 2023.

"Racing Games: Choice and History in Videogames," Perspectives on History, 2022.

"Anti-Asian Violence and Sexual Deviance, from Manila 1603 to Atlanta 2021: An Historical Overview," A-id: Agenda for International Development, 2021.

"A Retrospective on 500 Years Since the Fall of Tenochtitlan," Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, 2021.