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Mestizo is a term traditionally used in Latin America, Philippines and Spain for people of mixed European and Native American heritage or descent. The term originated as a racial category in the Casta system that was in use during the Spanish empire's control of their American colonies; it was used to describe those who had one European-born parent and one who was a member of an indigenous American population. In the Casta system mestizos had fewer rights than European born persons called "Peninsular", and "Criollos" who were persons born in the New World of two European-born parents, but more rights than "Indios" and "Negros".

During the colonial period, mestizos quickly became the majority group in much of what is today Latin America, and when the colonies started achieving independence from Spain, the mestizo group often became dominant. In some Latin American countries, such as Mexico, the concept of the "mestizo" became central to the formation of a new independent identity that was neither wholly Spanish nor wholly indigenous and the word mestizo acquired its current double meaning of mixed cultural heritage and actual racial descent.




The Spanish word Mestizo is from the Romance / Latin word mixticius, meaning mixed.[1][2] This term was first documented in English in 1582.[3]


Mestizo (Spanish), and Mix (English) are all cognates of the Latin word mixticius.


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.[4] 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.[4] Persons of mixed race were collectively referred to as castas.[5][6]During this era, myriad other terms (such as mulatto and zambo) were used to differentiate racial mixtures.[6] 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.[7] This one-eighth rule, also in theory, did not apply to African admixture.[7]

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.[8] 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 illegitimacy; 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).[9]

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.[3]

A representation of a Mestizo, in a Pintura de Castasfrom Mexico during the Spanish colonial period. The painting's caption states "Spanish and Indian produce Mestizo".

Spanish-speaking Latin America


The large majority of Mexicans can be classified as "Mestizos", meaning in modern Mexican usage that they identify fully neither with any indigenous culture nor with a particular non-Mexican heritage, but rather identify as having cultural traits and heritage incorporating elements from indigenous and European traditions. By the deliberate efforts of post-revolutionary governments the "Mestizo identity" was constructed as the base of the modern Mexican national identity, through a process of cultural synthesis referred to as mestizaje. Mexican politicians and reformers such as José Vasconcelos and Manuel Gamio were instrumental in building a Mexican national identity on the concept of mestizaje.[10][11]Cultural policies in early post-revolutionary Mexico were paternalistic towards the indigenous people, with efforts designed to "help" indigenous peoples achieve the same level of progress as the rest of society, eventually assimilating indigenous peoples completely to Mestizo Mexican culture, working toward the goal of eventually solving the "Indian problem" by transforming indigenous communities into mestizo communities.[12]

The term "Mestizo" is not in wide use in Mexican society today and has been dropped as a category in population censuses; it is, however, still used in social and cultural studies when referring to the non-indigenous part of the Mexican population. The word has somewhat pejorative connotations and most of the Mexican citizens who would be defined as mestizos in the sociological literature would probably self-identify primarily as Mexicans. In the Yucatán peninsula the word Mestizo is even used about Maya-speaking populations living in traditional communities, because during the caste war of the late 19th century those Maya who did not join the rebellion were classified as mestizos.[13] In Chiapas the word "Ladino" is used instead of mestizo.[14]

Map : Countries with dominant Mestizo population. Based on: Population Estimates from the CIA World Factbook

Sometimes, particularly outside of Mexico, the word "mestizo" is used with the meaning of Mexican persons with mixed Indigenous and European blood. This usage does not conform to the Mexican social reality where a person of pure indigenous genetic heritage would be considered Mestizo either by rejecting his indigenous culture or by not speaking an indigenous language,[13] and a person with a very low percentage of indigenous genetic heritage would be considered fully indigenous either by speaking an indigenous language or by identifying with a particular indigenous cultural heritage.[15]

El Salvador

In Central America intermixing and intermarriages between European men and the indigenous women in Cuzcatlán of what is now (El Salvador) happened almost immediately during the arrival of the European Spanish by Pedro de Alvarado. The majority of Salvadorans in El Salvador identify themselves as 90% Mestizo with heavy Meso-American indigenous and European-Spanish traditions, leaving the 12% White and 1% indigenous Salvadoran population as a minority. The mixing between the Europeans and the Native American indigenous people in El Salvador was so extensive that it is the only country in Latin America to be composed almost entirely of the Mestizo population and dominates completely in numbers above the other racial population that contribute in the small nation. In the Mestizo population, Salvadorans who are racially European, especially Mediterranean, the indigenous people in El Salvador who do not speak indigenous languages or have and indigenous culture also identify themselves as Mestizo culturally. El Salvador is the only Country in Central America that does not have a significant African population due to many factors including El Salvador not having a Caribbean coast and president of El Salvador Maximiliano Hernández Martínez who put racial laws to keep blacks out of El Salvador, although Salvadorans with partial African ancestry do exist. Maximiliano was also responsible for La matanza ("The Slaughter"), in which indigenous people were murdered lowering the indigenous population in an effort to wipe out the indigenous people in El Salvador during 1932 Salvadoran peasant uprising. The indigenous people mostly of Mayan, Pipil, Lenca and Kakawira (Cacaopera) are still present in El Salvador in small communities, conserving their languages, customs, and traditions.


During the reign of José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, the first consul of Paraguay from 1811 to 1840, he imposed a law that no Spaniard may intermarry, and that they may only wed blacks, mulattoes or Indians. This was introduced to eliminate any sense of racial superiority, and also to end the predominately Spanish influence in Paraguay. De Francia himself was not a mestizo (although his grandfather of his father's side was Afro-Brazilian), but feared that racial superiority would create class division which would threaten his absolute rule. As a result of this, today 90% of Paraguay's population are mestizo, and the main language is the native Guaraní, spoken by 90% of the population as a first language, with Spanish spoken as a first language by 10% of the population, and fluently spoken by a further 75%, making Paraguay one of the most bilingual countries in the world.


According to Alberto Flores Galindo, "By the 1940 census, the last that utilized racial categories, mestizos were grouped with whites, and the two constituted more than 53 percent of the population. Mestizos likely outnumbered Indians and were the largest population group."[16]

Noted mestizos migrating to Europe

Martín Cortés, son of the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés and of the Nahuatl–Maya indigenous Mexican interpreter Malinche, was one of the first documented mestizos to arrive in Spain. His first trip occurred in 1528, when he accompanied his father, Hernán Cortés, who sought to have him legitimized by the Pope.

There is also verified evidence of the grandchildren of Moctezuma II, Aztec emperor, whose royal descent the Spanish crown acknowledged, willingly having set foot on European soil. Among these descendants are the Counts of Miravalle, and the Dukes of Moctezuma de Tultengo, who became part of the Spanish peerage and left many descendants in Europe.[17] The Counts of Miravalle, residing in Andalucía, Spain, demanded in 2003 that the government of Mexico recommence payment of the so called 'Moctezuma pensions' it had cancelled in 1934.

The mestizo historian Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, son of Spanish conquistador Sebastián Garcilaso de la Vega and of the Inca princess Isabel Chimpo Oclloun arrived in Spain from Peru. He lived in the town of Montilla, Andalucía, where he died in 1616. Also, the mestizo children of Francisco Pizarro were also military leaders because of their famous father.

Starting in the early 1970s and throughout the 1980s, Europe saw the arrival of thousands of Chileans, many of whom were mestizos, seeking political refuge during the dictatorial government of Augusto Pinochet. Today, there is a growing number of mestizo immigrants in Western Europe, primarily from Ecuador, Peru and Colombia.

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