views updated May 18 2018


Mestizo, a term used in the colonial era to refer to a person of evenly mixed Indian and Hispanic ancestry. The first generation of mestizos were the sons and daughters of Spanish soldiers and settlers who had sexual relationships with Indian women but rarely married them. The most famous mestizo of the sixteenth century was the accomplished writer Garcilaso De La Vega, the son of a lesser Spanish noble and an Inca royal princess. So many mestizos were illegitimate that the terms "mestizo" and "illegitimate" were at times used interchangeably throughout the colonial era.

The Spanish crown found it necessary to determine whether the numerous offspring of Spanish men and Indian women were to be treated as Indians and made to pay tribute, or exempted as were Spaniards. While Spanish authorities opted not to class them as tribute payers, they nevertheless gradually developed a series of discriminatory measures that barred them from access to the priesthood, the university, and political posts on local councils, and excluded them from membership in the most exclusive artisan guilds, those of gold- and silversmiths. Unlike many of the other terms for racial groups in colonial Latin America, mestizo was an official designation for purposes of tribute collection or exemption, which came to be used on both christening and marriage records as well.

During the colonial era, mestizo came to designate any person with both Spanish and Indian ancestry. Such persons were often identified as much by social and economic criteria as by physical ones. Although rarely wealthy, mestizos tended to belong to skilled occupations, lived in Spanish-style housing, and adopted Hispanic dress, which distinguished them from natives.

With independence, particularly in Mexico, the category became a term of pride, indicating that the nation was the product of both native and European civilization. In the contemporary era the term has lost its connection to biology and biography and has come to reflect a variety of different activities. In sociological and anthropological studies a mestizo is a person who mediates between indigenous and regional or national markets or bureaucracies. Mestizo and similar terms such as Ladino and Cholo commonly denote people who sell the textile and agricultural products of native communities to local markets. In art history, architecture, and literature, the term mestizo has become widely used to refer to any art form or writing style that incorporates indigenous as well as Hispanic elements. In this usage it refers not to the creator's biography, as it would have in the colonial era, but to the artistic or literary object created. What the word has retained is the sense of being neither Spanish, nor Indian, but somewhere in between.

See alsoRace and Ethnicity .


Nicolás León, Las castas del México colonial (1924).

Lyle McAlister, "Social Structure and Social Change in New Spain," in Hispanic American Historical Review 43, no. 3 (1963): 349-370.

Magnus Mörner, Race Mixture in the History of Latin America (1967).

John K. Chance, Race and Class in Colonial Oaxaca (1978).

Patricia Seed, "Social Dimensions of Race: Mexico City, 1753," in Hispanic American Historical Review 62, no. 4 (1982): 569-606.

Patricia Seed and Philip Rust, "Estate and Class in Colonial Oaxaca Revisited," in Comparative Studies in Society and History 25 (1983): 703-709, 721-724.

Rodney Anderson, "Race and Social Stratification: A Comparison of Working-Class Spaniards, Indians, and Castas in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1821," in Hispanic American Historical Review 68, no. 2 (1988): 209-243.

Douglas Cope, Limits of Racial Domination (1993).

Additional Bibliography

Appelbaum, Nancy P., Anne S Macpherson and Karin Alejandra Rosemblatt, eds. Race and Nation in Modern Latin America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Basave Benítez, Agustín F. México mestizo: Análisis del nacionalismo mexicano en torno a la mestizofilia de Andrés Molina Enríquez. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1992.

De la Cadena, Marisol.Indigenous Mestizos: The Politics of Race and Culture in Cuzco, Peru, 1919–1991. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.

Gould, Jeffrey L. To Die in This Way: Nicaraguan Indians and the Myth of Mestizaje, 1880–1965. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998.

Hedrick, Tace. Mestizo Modernism: Race, Nation, and Identity in Latin American Culture, 1900–1940. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003.

Miller, Marilyn Grace. Rise and Fall of the Cosmic Race: The Cult of Mestizaje in Latin America. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004.

                                              Patricia Seed


views updated May 11 2018


A Mestizo is a person of American Indian and (usually white) European ancestry. The word comes from the Spanish and means "mixed," but it can also refer to a person of French-Indian, Portuguese-Indian, or Dutch-Indian heritage. A race of Mestizos emerged in Latin America by the mid-1500s and changed the character of the region. Historian Arturo Rosales wrote (in The Hispanic-American Almanac, 1993) that in central Mexico the "sexual appetite of the Spaniards led to numerous liaisons with the native women. . . . The consequence was a large progeny of children who were half Spaniard and half Indian." By 1821, and the end of colonial rule of Mexico, the possible variations of Mestizo numbered more than 100. Mestizo populations spread northward from Mexico during the colonial era. They also emerged elsewhere, as Europeans arrived in new territories around the world and subjugated native populations. In Latin and North America Mestizos entered the rank-and-file of armies and were wage laborers who worked in mines and in the fields. It was a race that was created and, during colonial times, dominated by European incursion.

See also: New Spain (Viceroyalty of)


views updated Jun 11 2018

mes·ti·zo / meˈstēzō/ • n. (pl. -zos) (in Latin America) a man of mixed race, esp. the offspring of a Spaniard and an American Indian.


views updated May 21 2018

mestizo Sp. or Pg. half-caste; offspring of a Spaniard and an American Indian. XVI. — Sp.:- Rom. *mixtīcius, f. L. mixtus, pp. of miscēre MIX.