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.
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De la Cadena, Marisol.Indigenous Mestizos: The Politics of Race and Culture in Cuzco, Peru, 1919–1991. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.
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Miller, Marilyn Grace. Rise and Fall of the Cosmic Race: The Cult of Mestizaje in Latin America. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004.
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)
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.