A casta (Spanish: ['kasta]) is a term which has been interpreted by historians during the 20th century to describe mixed-race individuals in Spanish America, resulting from unions of Spaniards (españoles), Amerindians (Indios), and Africans (Negros). Basic mixed-race categories that appeared in official colonial documentation include Mestizo, generally offspring of a Spaniard and an India; Castizo, offspring of a Spaniard and a Mestiza; Mulatto, offspring of a Spaniard and a Negra; Morisco was the offspring of a Spaniard and a Mulatta. There were a plethora of terms for mixed-race persons of indigenous and African ancestry, some of which appear in official documentation, but many do not.
Racial category labels had legal and social consequences, since racial status was a key organizing principle of Spanish colonial rule. Often called the sistema de castas or the sociedad de castas, there was, in fact, no fixed system of classification for individuals, as careful archival research has shown. There was considerable fluidity in society, with individuals being identified by different categories simultaneously or over time. Individuals self-identified by particular terms, often to shift their status from one category to another to their advantage. For example, Mestizos were exempt from tribute obligations, but were subject to the Inquisition, unlike Indios, who paid tribute and were exempt from the Inquisition. A Mestizo might try to "pass" as an Indio to escape the Inquisition. An Indio might try to pass as a Mestizo to escape tribute obligations.
A number of historians have explicitly questioned the actual existence of this phenomenon, considering it a fabrication of Historians starting from the 1940s. Pilar Gonzalbo, in her study "La trampa de las castas" discards the idea of the existence of a caste society in New Spain, understood as a "social organization based on the race and supported by coercive power». A recent study by Ben Vinson III based on Mexican archives shows how racial diversity operated in Mexico and how it affect both Mexico and imperial Spain. Joanne Rappaport, in her book on colonial New Granada, rejects the caste system as an interpretative framework for that time, discussing both the legitimacy of a model valid for the entire colonial world and the usual association between "caste" and "race".
The process of mixing ancestries in the union of people of different races is known in the modern era as mestizaje (Portuguese: mestiçagem [me?t?i'saj], [mti'saj]). In Spanish colonial law, mixed-race castas were classified as part of the república de españoles and not the república de indios, which set Amerindians outside the Hispanic sphere. Other terminology for classification is categorization based on the degree of acculturation to Hispanic culture, which distinguished between gente de razón (Hispanics, literally, "people of reason") and gente sin razón (non-acculturated natives), concurrently existed and supported the idea of the racial classification system. Created by Hispanic elites, the sistema de castas or the sociedad de castas, varied largely due to their birth, color, race and origin of ethnic types.
From the colonial period, when the Spanish imposed control, many wealthy persons and high government officials were of peninsular (Iberian) and/or European background, while African or indigenous ancestry, or dark skin, generally was correlated with inferiority and poverty. The "whiter" the heritage a person could claim, the higher in status they could climb; conversely, darker features meant less opportunity.
Casta paintings in produced largely in eighteenth-century Mexico have influenced modern understandings of race in Spanish America. They purport to show a fixed "system" of racial hierarchy. These paintings should be evaluated as the production by elites in New Spain for an elite viewership in New Spain and Spain, with pejorative portrayals of mixed-race groupings outside of mixtures with Spaniards. They are useful for understanding elites and their attitudes toward non-elites, and quite valuable as illustrations of aspects of material culture in the colonial era.
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|History of New Spain|
Casta is an Iberian word (existing in Spanish, Portuguese and other Iberian languages since the Middle Ages), meaning "lineage", "breed" or "race". It is derived from the older Latin word castus, "chaste", implying that the lineage has been kept pure. Casta gave rise to the English word caste during the Early Modern Period.
The very idea of racial difference existed and the extent of their legal and social consequences has recently come under intense academic debate. In the historical literature, how racial distinction, hierarchy, and social status functioned over time in colonial Spanish America has been an evolving and contested discussion. Although the term sistema de castas (system of castes) or sociedad de castas ("society of castes") are utilized in modern historical analyses to describe the social hierarchy based on race, with Spaniards at the apex, archival research shows that there is not a rigid "system" with fixed places for individuals. rather, a more fluid social structure where individuals could move from one category to another, or maintain or be given different labels depending on the context. In the eighteenth century, "casta paintings," imply a fixed racial hierarchy, but this genre may well have been an attempt to bring order into a system that was more fluid. "For colonial elites, casta paintings might well have been an attempt to fix in place rigid divisions based on race, even as they were disappearing in social reality."
In New Spain (colonial Mexico) during the Mexican War of Independence race and racial distinctions were an important issue and the end of imperial had a strong appeal for non-whites. Insurgent priest José María Morelos called for the abolition of the formal distinctions the imperial regime made between racial groups, advocating for "calling them one and all Americans." As leader of a large mixed-race insurgent force in southern Mexico, Morelos issued regulations in 1810 to prevent disturbances between Indians and castas, black against whites, and whites against mulattos. "He who raises his voice should be immediately punished." In 1821 race was an issue in the negotiations resulting in the Plan of Iguala. Royalist military officer-turned insurgent, Agustín de Iturbide, and Vicente Guerrero, a mixed-race leader of the insurgency in the south, differed on the matter. Iturbide and other American-born Spaniards, who saw political independence from Spain increasingly a viable option, did not want to grant legal equality to Afro-Mexicans. Guerrero held his ground for equality, since he would have been unable to convince fellow insurgents to support the plan if equality were not explicitly written into it. Article 11 of the Plan reads: "The distinction of castes is abolished, which was made by the Spanish law, excluding them from the rights of citizenship. All the inhabitants of the country are citizens, and equal, and the door of advancement is open to virtue and merit."
The idea of "purity of blood", limpieza de sangre, originating under Moorish rule, developed in Christian Spain to denote those without the "taint" of Jewish (or, later Muslim/Moorish) heritage ("blood"). It was directly linked to religion and notions of legitimacy, lineage and honor following Spain's reconquest of Moorish territory. It was institutionalized during the Inquisition. The Inquisition only allowed those Spaniards who could demonstrate not to have Jewish and Moorish blood to emigrate to Latin America. Both in Spain and in the New World crypto-Jews (converts who continued to secretly practice Judaism) were aggressively prosecuted. Some emigrated as Portuguese merchants to Mexico City and Lima, following the successful revolt of Portugal in 1640 against the Castillian Crown. Several spectacular autos de fe in New Spain in the mid-seventeenth century featured the public punishment of those convicted of being "Judaizers" (judaizantes).
In Spanish America, the idea of purity of blood was in a complex fashion linked to ideas of race, particularly pertaining to mixing of whites ("españoles") and non-whites (Indians and mixed-race castas). Spaniards had become obsessed with lineage, following the expulsion of Moors and Jews, and forced conversion of those who chose to remain. Evidence of lack of purity of blood had consequences for marriage, eligibility for office, entrance into the priesthood, and emigration to Spain's overseas territories. Having to produce genealogical records to prove one's pure ancestry gave rise to a trade in the creation of false genealogies.
When the concept of purity of blood was transferred overseas, it retained the concerns about tainted ancestry of Jews or Muslims in a family line. During the early colonial decades, the Spanish in the New World had unions and marriages with indigenous women, resulting in generations of mixed-race children. In the late sixteenth century, some investigations of ancestry classified as "stains" any connection with Black Africans ("negros", which resulted in "mulatos") and sometimes mixtures with indigenous that produced Mestizos. While some illustrations from the period show men of African descent dressed in fashionable clothing and as aristocrats in upper-class surroundings, the idea that any hint of black ancestry was a stain developed by the end of the colonial period. It was illustrated in eighteenth-century paintings of racial hierarchy, known as casta paintings.
The idea in New Spain that native or "Indian" (indio) blood in a lineage was an impurity may well have come about as the optimism of the early Franciscans faded about creating Indian priests trained at the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco, which ceased that function in the mid-sixteenth century. In addition, the Indian nobility, which was recognized by the Spanish colonists, had declined in importance, and there were fewer formal marriages between Spaniards and indigenous women than during the early decades of the colonial era. In the seventeenth century in New Spain, the ideas of purity of blood became associated with "Spanishness and whiteness, but it came to work together with socio-economic categories", such that a lineage with someone engaged in work with their hands was tainted by that connection.
Indians in Central Mexico were affected by ideas of purity of blood from the other side. Crown decrees on purity of blood were affirmed by indigenous communities, which barred Indians from holding office who had any non-Indians (Spaniards and/or Blacks) in their lineage. In indigenous communities "local caciques [rulers] and principales were granted a set of privileges and rights on the basis of their pre-Hispanic noble bloodlines and acceptance of the Catholic faith." Indigenous nobles submitted proofs (probanzas) of their purity of blood to affirm their rights and privileges that were extended to themselves and their communities. This supported the república de indios, a legal division of society that separated indigenous from non-Indians (república de españoles).
In the mid to late eighteenth century, the pace of race mixture (mestizaje),a term coined in the modern era, increased in New Spain, political changes of the Bourbon Reforms privileged peninsular Spaniards over American-born Spaniards, and casta paintings began to be produced in great numbers in Mexico. It was also the period when the power of racial classifications declined significantly.
In Spanish America (and many other places), racial categories were formal legal classifications. Initially in Spanish America there were three racial categories. They generally referred to the multiplicity of indigenous American peoples as "Indians" (indios), a Spanish term applied to, but seldom used by Amerinds themselves. Those from Spain called themselves españoles, which in the late colonial period was further refined to those born in Iberia, called politely peninsulares, while American-born españoles were called Criollos. The third group were black Africans, called negros ("Blacks"), brought as slaves from the earliest days of Spanish empire in the Caribbean.
There were fewer Spanish women than men who immigrated to the New World and fewer black women than men, so that mixed-race offspring of Spaniards and of Blacks were often the product of liaisons with indigenous women. The process of race mixture is now termed mestizaje, a term coined in the modern era.
In the sixteenth century, the term casta, a collective category for mixed-race individuals, came into existence as the numbers grew, particularly in urban areas. The crown had divided the population of its overseas empire into two categories, separating Indians from non-Indians. Indigenous were the República de Indios, the other the República de Españoles, essentially the Hispanic sphere, so that Spaniards, Blacks, and mixed-race castas were lumped into this category. Official censuses and ecclesiastical records noted an individual's racial category, so that these sources can be used to chart socio-economic standard, residence patterns, and other important data.
General racial groupings had their own set of privileges and restrictions, both legal and customary. So, for example, only Spaniards and indigenous, who were deemed to be the original societies of the Spanish dominions, had recognized aristocracies. Also, in America and other overseas possessions, all Spaniards, regardless of their family's class background in Europe, came to consider themselves equal to the Peninsular hidalgía and expected to be treated as such. Access to these privileges and even a person's perceived and accepted racial classification, however, were also determined by that person's socioeconomic standing in society.
Official censuses and ecclesiastical records noted an individual's racial category, so that these sources can be used to chart socio-economic standards, residence patterns, and other important data. Parish registers, where baptism, marriage, and burial were recorded, had three basic categories: Español (European whites), Indio, and Color Quebrado ("broken color", indicating a mixed-race person). In some parishes in colonial Mexico, Indios were recorded with other non-Spaniards in the Color quebrado register. Españoles and mestizos could be ordained as priests and were exempt from payment of tribute to the crown. Free blacks, Amerindians, and mixed-race castas were required to pay tribute and barred from the priesthood. Being designated as an Español or mestizo conferred social and financial advantages. Men of color began to apply to the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico, but in 1688 Bishop Juan de Palafox y Mendoza attempted to prevent their entrance by drafting new regulations barring blacks and mulattoes. In small Mexican parishes, dark complected priests served while their mixed-race heritage was left unacknowledged. In 1776, the crown attempted to prevent marriages between racially unequal partners by issuing the Royal Pragmatic on Marriage, taking approval of marriages away from the couple and placing it in their parents' hands. The marriage between Luisa de Abrego, a free black domestic servant from Seville and Miguel Rodríguez, a white Segovian conquistador in 1565 in St. Augustine (Spanish Florida), is the first known and recorded Christian marriage anywhere in the continental United States.
Long lists of different terms found in casta paintings do not appear in official documentation; only counts of Spaniards, mestizos, Blacks and mulattoes, and indigenous (indios) were found in censuses. By the end of the colonial period in 1821, over one hundred categories of possible variations of mixture existed.
In his analysis of the 1790 census of Mexico City and its surrounding area, Dennis Nodin Valdés shows that the major colonial metropolis had a higher proportion of Spaniards and castas than Indians. In addition, there were higher rates of persons of mixed race, or mestizaje, than in the surrounding countryside, which was dominated by indios. He compared the population of the capital of New Spain with the census of the Intendancy of Mexico in 1794. The total number of Mexico City residents counted in 1793 was 104,760 (which excludes 8,166 officials) and in the intendancy as a whole 1,043,223, excluding 2,299 officials. In both the capital and the intendancy, the European population was the smallest percentage, with 2,335 in the capital (2.2%) and the intendancy 1,330 (.1%). The listing for Spaniard (español) was 50,371 (48.1%), with the intendancy showing 134,695 (12.9%). For mestizos (in which he has merged the castizos), in the capital there were 19,357 (18.5%) and in the intendancy 112,113 (10.7%). For the mulatto category, the capital listed 7,094 (6.8%) with the intendancy showing 52,629 (5.0%). There is apparently no separate category for blacks (Negros). The category Indian showed 25,603 (24.4%) in the capital, with the intendancy having 742,186 (71.1). The capital had the largest concentration of Spaniards and castas, and the countryside was overwhelmingly Indian. The population of the capital "indicates that conditions favoring mestizaje were more favorable in the city than the outlying area". In the 1811 census of Mexico City by residential sectors, there is no evidence of absolute segregation by race, an important finding. The highest concentration of Spaniards was around the traza, the central sector of the city where the civil and religious institutions were based and where there was the highest concentration of wealthy merchants. But non-Spaniards also lived there. Indians were found in higher concentrations in the sectors on the fringes of the capital. Castas appear as residents in all sectors of the capital.
Artwork created mainly in eighteenth-century Mexico purports to show race mixture as a hierarchy. These paintings have had tremendous influence in how scholars have approached difference in the colonial era, but should not be taken as definitive description of racial difference. For approximately a century, casta paintings are by elite artists for an elite viewership. They ceased to be produced following Mexico's independence in 1821 when casta designations were abolished. The vast majority of casta paintings were produced in Mexico, by a variety of artists, with a single group of canvases clearly identified for eighteenth-century Peru. In the colonial era, artists primary painted religious art and portraits, but in the eighteenth century, casta paintings emerged as a completely secular genre of art. An exception to that is the painting by Luis de Mena, a single canvas that has the central figure of the Virgin of Guadalupe and a set of casta groupings. Most sets of casta paintings have 16 separate canvases, but a few, such as Mena's, Ignacio María Barreda, and the anonymous painting in the Museo de Virreinato in Tepozotlan, Mexico, are frequently reproduced as examples of the genre, likely because their composition gives a single, tidy image of the racial classification (from the elite viewpoint).
It is unclear why casta paintings emerged as a genre, why they became such a popular genre of artwork, who commissioned them, and who collected them. One scholar suggests they can be seen as "proud renditions of the local," at a point when American-born Spaniards began forming a clearer identification with their place of birth rather than the metropole of Spain. The single-canvas casta artwork could well have been as a curiosity or souvenir for Spaniards to take home to Spain; two frequently reproduced casta paintings are Mena's and Barreda's, both of which are in Madrid museums. There is only one set of casta paintings definitively done in Peru, commissioned by Viceroy Manuel Amat y Junyent (1770), and sent to Spain for the Cabinet of Natural History of the Prince of Asturias.
The interest of the Spanish Enlightenment in organizing knowledge and scientific description might have resulted in the commission of many series of pictures that document the racial combinations that existed in the exotic lands that Spain possessed on the other side of the world. Many sets of these paintings still exist (around one hundred complete sets in museums and private collections and many more individual paintings), of varying artistic quality, usually consisting of sixteen paintings representing as many racial combinations. It must be emphasized that these paintings reflected the views of the economically established Criollo society and officialdom, but not all Criollos were pleased with casta paintings. One remarked that they show "what harms us, not what benefits us, what dishonors us, not what ennobles us." Many paintings are in Spain in major museums, but many remain in private collections in Mexico, perhaps commissioned and kept because they show the character of late colonial Mexico and a source of pride.
Some of the finer sets were done by prominent Mexican artists, such as José de Alcíbar, Miguel Cabrera, José de Ibarra, José Joaquín Magón, (who painted two sets); Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz, José de Páez, and Juan Rodríguez Juárez. One of Magón's sets includes descriptions of the "character and moral standing" of his subjects. These artists worked together in the painting guilds of New Spain. They were important transitional artists in 18th-century casta painting. At least one Spaniard, Francisco Clapera, also contributed to the casta genre. In general, little is known of most artists who did sign their work; most casta paintings are unsigned.
The overall themes that emerge in these paintings are the "supremacy of the Spaniards", the possibility that mixtures of Spaniards and Spanish-Indian offspring could return to the status of Spaniards through marriage to Spaniards over generations, what can be considered "restoration of racial purity," or "racial mending" was seen visually in many sets of casta paintings. It was also articulated by a visitor to Mexico, Don Pedro Alonso O'Crouley, in 1774. "If the mixed-blood is the offspring of a Spaniard and an Indian, the stigma [of race mixture] disappears at the third step in descent because it is held as systematic that a Spaniard and an Indian produce a mestizo; a mestizo and a Spaniard, a castizo; and a castizo and a Spaniard, a Spaniard. The admixture of Indian blood should not indeed be regarded as a blemish, since the provisions of law give the Indian all that he could wish for, and Philip II granted to mestizos the privilege of becoming priests. On this consideration is based the common estimation of descent from a union of Indian and European or creole Spaniard."
O'Crouley states that the same process of restoration of racial purity does not occur over generations for European-African offspring marrying whites. "From the union of a Spaniard and a Negro the mixed-blood retains the stigma for generations without losing the original quality of a mulato." Casta paintings show increasing whitening over generations with the mixes of Spaniards and Africans. The sequence is the offspring of a Spaniard + Negra, Mulatto; Spaniard with a Mulatta, Morisco; Spaniard with a Morisca, Albino (a racial category, derived from Alba, "white"); Spaniard with an Albina, Torna atrás, or "throw back" black. Negro, Mulatto, and Morisco were labels found in colonial-era documentation, but Albino and Torna atrás exist only as fairly standard categories in casta paintings.
In contrast, mixtures with Blacks, both by Indians and Spaniards, led to a bewildering number of combinations, with "fanciful terms" to describe them. Instead of leading to a new racial type or equilibrium, they led to apparent disorder. Terms such as the above-mentioned tente en el aire ("floating in mid air") and no te entiendo ("I don't understand you")--and others based on terms used for animals: coyote and lobo (wolf).--reflect the fear and mistrust that Spanish officials, society and those who commissioned these paintings saw these new racial types.[page needed]
Castas defined themselves in different ways, and how they were recorded in official records was a process of negotiation between the casta and the person creating the document, whether it was a birth certificate, a marriage certificate or a court deposition. In real life, many casta individuals were assigned different racial categories in different documents, revealing the malleable nature of racial identity in colonial, Spanish American society.
In New Spain, one of the Viceroyalties of the Spanish Empire, casta paintings illustrated where each person in the New World ranked in the system. These paintings from 18th and 19th centuries were popular in Spain and other parts of Europe. They reflected the Spaniards' sense of racial superiority by illustrating an orderly hierarchical society where socio-economic status depended on skin color and limpieza de sangre (purity of blood).
Some paintings depicted the supposed "innate" character and quality of people because of their birth and ethnic origin. For example, according to one painting by José Joaquín Magón, a mestizo (mixed Indian + Spanish) was considered generally humble, tranquil, and straightforward; while another painting claims "from Lobo and Indian woman is born the Cambujo, one usually slow, lazy, and cumbersome." Ultimately, the casta paintings are reminders of the colonial biases in modern human history that linked a caste/ethnic society based on descent, skin color, social status, and one's birth.
Often, casta paintings depicted commodity items from Latin America like pulque, the fermented alcohol drink of the lower classes. Painters depicted interpretations of pulque that were attributed to specific castas. Pulque abuse was shown in some casta paintings as a social criticism of the lower castas, and the Spanish desire for regulation over pulque consumption and distribution.
The Indias in casta paintings depict them as partners to Spaniards, Blacks, and castas, and thus part of Hispanic society. But in a number of casta paintings, they are also shown apart from "civilized society," such as Miguel Cabrera's Indios Gentiles, or indios bárbaros or Chichimecas barely clothed indigenous in a wild, setting. In the single-canvas casta painting by José María Barreda, there are a canonical 16 casta groupings and then in a separate cell below are "Mecos". Although the so-called "barbarian Indians" (indios bárbaros) were fierce warriors on horseback, indios in casta paintings are not shown as bellicose, but as weak, a trope that developed in the colonial era. A casta painting by Luis de Mena that is often reproduced as an example of the genre shows an unusual couple with a pale, well-dressed Spanish woman paired with a nearly naked indio, producing a Mestizo offspring. "The aberrant combination not only mocks social protocol but also seems to underscore the very artificiality of a casta system that pretends to circumscribe social fluidity and economic mobility." The image "would have seemed frankly bizarre and offensive by eighteenth-century Creole elites, if taken literally", but if the pair were considered allegorical figures, the Spanish woman represents "Europe" and the indio "America." The image "functions as an allegory for the 'civilizing' and Christianizing process."
Presented here are casta lists from three sets of paintings. Note that they only agree on the first five combinations, which are essentially the Indian-White ones. There is no agreement on the Black mixtures, however. Also, no one list should be taken as "authoritative". These terms would have varied from region to region and across time periods. The lists here probably reflect the names that the artist knew or preferred, the ones the patron requested to be painted, or a combination of both.
|Miguel Cabrera, 1763||Andrés de Islas, 1774||Anonymous (Museo del Virreinato)|
De español y mulata, morisca. Miguel Cabrera, 1763, oil on canvas, 136x105 cm, private collection.
"From Mulatto and Mestiza, produce Mulatto, he is Torna Atrás" attributed to Juan Rodríguez Juárez (ca.1713)
De mestizo e india, sale coiote (From a Mestizo man and an Amerindian woman, a Coyote is begotten).
De negro e india, sale lobo (From a Black man and an Amerindian woman, a Lobo is begotten).
Mestizaje is a term that came into usage in the twentieth century for racial mixing and was not a colonial-era term. In the modern era, is used to denote the positive unity of race mixtures in modern Latin America. This is ideological stance is in contrast to the term miscegenation, which usually has negative connotations. The main ideological advocate of mestizaje was José Vasconcelos (1882-1959), the Mexican Minister of Education in the 1920s. The term was in circulation in Mexico in the late nineteenth century, along with similar terms, cruzamiento ("crossing") and mestización (process of "mestizo-izing"). In Spanish America, the colonial-era system of castas sought to differentiate between individuals and groups on the basis of a hierarchical classification by ancestry, skin color, and status (calidad), giving separate labels to the perceived categorical differences and privileging whiteness. In contrast, the idea of modern mestizaje is the positive unity of a nation's citizenry based on racial mixture. "Mestizaje placed greater emphasis [than the casta system] on commonality and hybridity to engineer order and unity... [it] operated within the context of the nation-state and sought to derive meaning from Latin America's own internal experiences rather than the dictates and necessities of empire... ultimately [it] embraced racial mixture."
The ideology of mestizaje sought to reverse the longstanding prejudice against darker skinned, mixed race individuals, which in the colonial era was enshrined in Spanish law. Although in post-independence Mexico, legal distinctions based on race were abolished, urban elites' racial prejudice remained.
At independence in Mexico, the casta classifications were abolished, but discrimination based on skin color and socioeconomic status continued. Liberal intellectuals grappled with the "Indian Problem," that is the Indians' lack of cultural assimilation to Mexican national life as citizens of the nation rather than members of their indigenous communities. Urban elites spurned mixed-race urban plebeians and Indians along with their traditional popular culture. In the late nineteenth century during the rule of Porfirio Díaz, elites' sought to be, act, and look like modern Europeans, that is, different from the majority of the Mexican population. Díaz was mixed race himself, but powdered his dark skin to hide his Mixtec indigenous ancestry. At the end of the nineteenth century, however, as social and economic tensions increased in Mexico, two major works by Mexican intellectuals sought to rehabilitate the assessment of the mestizo. Díaz's Minister of Education, Justo Sierra published The Political Evolution of the Mexican People (1902), which situated Mexican identity in the mixing of European whites and Indians. Mexicans are "the sons of two peoples, of two races. [This fact] dominates our whole history; to this we owe our soul." Intellectul Andrés Molina Enríquez also took a revisionist stance on mestizos in his work Los grandes problemas nacionales (The Great National Problems) (1909). The Mexican state after the Mexican Revolution (1910-20) embraced the ideology of mestizaje as a nation-building tool, aimed at integrating Indians culturally and politically in the construction of national identity. As such it has meant a systematic effort to eliminate indigenous culture, in the name of integrating them into a supposedly inclusive mestizo identity. For Afro-Mexicans, the ideology has denied their historical contributions to Mexico and their current place in Mexican political life. In recent years, "The mestizos' sole claim to Mexican national identity has begun to erode, at least rhetorically."  A constitutional changes to Article 4 that now says that the "Mexican Nation has a pluricultural composition, originally based on its indigenous peoples. The law will protect and promote the development of their languages, cultures, uses, customs, resources, and specific forms of social organization and will guarantee their members effective access to the jurisdiction of the State."
[I]n the New World all Spaniards, no matter how poor, claimed hidalgo status. This unprecedented expansion of the privileged segment of society could be tolerated by the Crown because in Mexico the indigenous population assumed the burden of personal tribute.
The Spaniards generally regarded [local Indian lords/caciques] as hidalgos, and used the honorific 'don' with the more eminent of them. [...] Broadly speaking, Spaniards in the Indies in the sixteenth century arranged themselves socially less and less by Iberian criteria or frank, and increasingly by new American standards. [...] simple wealth gained from using America's human and natural resources soon became a strong influence on social standing.
|Casta terms for miscegenation in Spanish America|