Mestizo - History


During the Spanish colonial period, the Spanish developed a complex caste system based on race, which was used for social control and which also determined a person's importance in society. There were four main categories of race: (1) Peninsular — a person of Spanish descent born in Spain, (2) Criollo (fem. criolla) — a person of Spanish descent born in the Americas, (3) Indio (fem. India) — a person who is a native of, or indigenous to the Americas, and (4) Negro (fem. Negra) — a person of African slave descent. Persons of mixed race were collectively referred to as castas. During this era, myriad other terms (such as mulatto and zambo) were used to differentiate racial mixtures. By the end of the colonial period in 1821, over one hundred categories of possible variations of mixture existed. In theory, Criollo status could also be attained by people of mixed origin who had the equivalent of a great grandparent with Amerindian ancestry. Such cases might include the offspring of a Castizo (3/4 Spanish, 1/4 Indian) parent and one Peninsular or Criollo parent. This one-eighth rule, also in theory, did not apply to African admixture. A person's legal racial classification in colonial Spanish America was closely tied to social status, wealth, culture and language use. Wealthy people paid to change or obscure their actual ancestry. Many indigenous people left their traditional villages and sought to be counted as mestizos to avoid tribute payments to the Spanish. Many indigenous people, and sometimes those with partial African descent, were classified as mestizo if they spoke Spanish and lived as mestizos.

Often, but only early on, the term mestizo was associated with llegitimacy; The term also has a pejorative use about something that is not "pure". However, it evolved in the ensuing centuries. According to historians Michael C. Meyer and William L. Sherman, early in the 16th century Spanish colonial usage of the term, mestizo "was almost synonymous with bastard" (illegitimate child).

Because the term had taken on a myriad of meanings, the designation "Mestizo" was removed from census counts in Mexico and is no longer in use.

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