views updated


Zambo, the lowest of a series of derogatory names by which Spaniards referred to members of the racially mixed groups called castas (castes). While the so-called castas could refer to any person of racially mixed origin, Spaniards reserved their most derogatory terms, some of which were zoological, such as "wolf" and "coyote," for those of mixed Indian and black ancestry. These terms originated in the eighteenth century and became best known through a series of paintings that depicted the various racial mixtures in a variety of settings, showing their dress, food, and family lives. In these paintings zambo is the label for the lowest form of racially mixed person. These derogatory terms were rarely used on official records of either a religious or government nature but were usually used as epithets; they are found most frequently in criminal records, which reveal that their use triggered brawls, and in records of civil suits over matters of social status.

See alsoCaste and Class Structure in Colonial Spanish America; Race and Ethnicity.


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

Lyle Mc Alister, "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

Carrera, Magali M. Imagining Identity in New Spain: Race, Lineage, and the Colonial Body in Portraiture and Casta Paintings. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003.

Katzew, Ilona. Casta Painting: Images of Race in Eighteenth-century Mexico. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004.

Katzew, Ilona, ed. New World Orders: Casta Painting and Colonial Latin America. New York: Americas Society, 1996.

Stephens, Thomas M. Dictionary of Latin American Racial and Ethnic Terminology. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1989.

                                          Patricia Seed