The Criollo (Spanish pronunciation: ['k?jo?o]) are Latin Americans who are of full or near full Spanish descent, distinguishing them from both multi-racial Latin Americans and Latin Americans of post-colonial (and not necessarily Spanish) European immigrant origin.
Historically, they were a social class in the hierarchy of the overseas colonies established by Spain beginning in the 16th century, especially in Hispanic America, comprising the locally born people of Spanish ancestry. Although Criollos were legally Spaniards, in practice, they ranked below the Iberian-born Peninsulares. Nevertheless, they had preeminence over all the other populations: Amerindians, enslaved Africans and peoples of mixed descent. According to the Casta system, a criollo could have up to 1/8 (one great-grandparent or equivalent) Amerindian ancestry without losing social place (see Limpieza de sangre). In the 18th and early 19th centuries, changes in the Spanish Empire's policies towards its colonies led to tensions between Criollos and Peninsulares. The growth of local Criollo political and economic strength in their separate colonies coupled with their global geographic distribution led them to each evolve a separate (both from each other and Spain) organic national identity and viewpoint.
The word criollo and its Portuguese cognate crioulo are believed by some scholars, including the eminent Mexican anthropologist Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán, to derive from the Spanish/Portuguese verb criar, meaning "to breed" or "to raise"; however, no evidence supports this derivation in early Spanish literature discussing the origin of the word. Originally, the term was meant to distinguish the members of any foreign ethnic group who were born and "raised" locally, from those born in the group's homeland, as well as from persons of mixed ethnic ancestry. Thus, in the Portuguese colonies of Africa, português crioulo was a locally born white person of Portuguese descent; in the Americas, negro criollo or negro crioulo was a locally-born person of pure black ancestry. In Spanish colonies, an español criollo was an ethnic Spaniard who had been born in the colonies, as opposed to an español peninsular born in Spain. Whites born in colonial Brazil, with both parents born in the Iberian Peninsula, were known as mazombos.
Limpieza de sangre or "cleanness of blood" was a legal concept in use since the Spanish Reconquista, and introduced to the Spanish colonies in the Americas. In 15th-century Spain, the concept was used to distinguish old Christians of "pure" unmixed Iberian Christian ancestry (either Southern Spanish Mozarabs or Christians from the northern kingdoms of Spain) from new Christians descending from converted Moriscos (Iberian Muslims) and Sephardim (Iberian Jews), together known as conversos (converts), whose real allegiance was institutionally distrusted.
The English word "creole" was a loan from French créole, which in turn is believed to come from Spanish criollo or Portuguese crioulo.
Criollo status was attained by people of full Spanish origin, and in very few cases in some administrative divisions within some Viceroyalties to people of a slight mixed origin (Castizo) who had one-eighth or less (the equivalent of a great-grandparent) Amerindian ancestry, although in some cases individuals had more. Such cases might include the offspring of a Castizo parent and one Peninsular or Criollo parent. This one-eighth rule, also in theory, did not apply to African admixture. In reality, officials assigned various racial categories to mix-raced people depending on their social status, what they were told or due to testimony from friends and neighbors.
Starting from the 1940s, certain historians have argued that to preserve the Spanish Crown's power in the colonies, the Spanish colonial society was based on an elaborate caste system, which related to a person's degree of descent from Spaniards. The highest-ranking castes were the españoles, Spaniards by birth or descent. The Peninsulares were the persons born in Spain, while the Criollo comprised locally born people of proven unmixed Spanish ancestry, that is, the Americas-born child of two Spanish-born Spaniards or mainland Spaniards (peninsulares), of two Criollos, or a Spaniard and a Criollo. People of mixed ancestry were classified in other castes -- such as castizos, mestizos, cholos, mulatos, indios, zambos, and enslaved Africans, called blacks.
While the casta system was in force, the top ecclesiastical, military and administrative positions were reserved for crown-appointed Peninsulares, most of the local land-owning elite and nobility belonged to the Criollo caste.
Poole argues that the Virgin Mary, especially as Our Lady of Guadalupe, became the chief religious devotion of the criollos. They used the story to legitimize their own social position and infuse it with an almost messianic sense of mission and identity.
Until 1760, the Spanish colonies were ruled under laws designed by the Spanish Habsburgs which granted the American provinces great autonomy. That situation changed by the Bourbon Reforms during the reign of Charles III. Spain needed to extract increasing wealth from its colonies to support the European and global wars it needed to maintain the Spanish Empire. The Crown expanded the privileges of the Peninsulares, who took over many administrative offices which had been filled by Criollos. At the same time, reforms by the Catholic Church reduced the roles and privileges of the lower ranks of the clergy, who were mostly Criollos. By the 19th century, this discriminatory policy of the Spanish Crown and the examples of the American and French revolutions, led Criollo factions to rebel against the Peninsulares. With increasing support of the other castes, they engaged Spain in a fight for independence (1809-1826). The former Spanish Empire in the Americas separated into a number of independent republics.
The word criollo retains its original meaning in most Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas. In some countries, however, the word criollo has over time come to have additional meanings, such as "local" or "home-grown". For instance, comida criolla in Spanish-speaking countries refers to "local cuisine", not "cuisine of the criollos". In Portuguese, crioulo is also a racist slang term referring to blacks.
In some countries, the term is also used to describe people from particular regions, such as the countryside or mountain areas:
As early as the sixteenth century in the colonial period in New Spain, criollos, or the "descendants of Spanish colonists," began to "distinguish themselves from the richer and more powerful peninsulares," who they referred to as gachupines (wearer of spurs), as an insult. At the same time, Mexican-born Spaniards were referred to as criollos, initially as a term which was meant to insult. However, over time,"those insulted who were referred to as criollos began to reclaim the term as an identity for themselves. In 1563, the criollo sons of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, attempted to remove Mexico from Spanish-born rule and place Martín, their half-brother, in power. However, their plot failed and they, along with many others involved, were beheaded by the Spanish monarchy, which suppressed expressions of open resentment from the criollos towards peninsulares for a short period. By 1623, criollos were involved in open demonstrations and riots in Mexico in defiance of their second-class status. In response, a visiting Spaniard by the name of Martín Carrillo noted, "the hatred of the mother country's domination is deeply rooted, especially among the criollos."
By the seventeenth century, criollos had become "a distinct ethnic group within Mexico," with their own Spanish dialect, cuisine, and religious beliefs. Despite being descendants of Spanish colonizers, many criollos in the period peculiarly "regarded the Aztecs as their ancestors and increasingly identified with the Indians out of a sense of shared suffering at the hands of the Spanish." Many felt that the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe, published by criollo priest Miguel Sánchez in Imagen de la Virgin Maria (Appearance of the Virgin Mary) in 1648, "meant that God had blessed both Mexico and particularly criollos, as "God's new chosen people." By the eighteenth century, although restricted from holding elite posts in the colonial government, the criollos notably formed the "wealthy and influential" class of major agriculturalists, "miners, businessmen, physicians, lawyers, university professors, clerics, and military officers." Because criollos were not perceived as equals by the Spanish peninsulares, "they felt they were unjustly treated and their relationship with their mother country was unstable and ambiguous: Spain was, and was not, their homeland," as noted by Mexican writer Octavio Paz.
They [criollos] felt the same ambiguity in regard to their native land. It was difficult to consider themselves compatriots of the Indians and impossible to share their pre-Hispanic past. Even so, the best among them, if rather hazily, admired the past, even idealized it. It seemed to them that the ghost of the Roman empire had at times been embodied in the Aztec empire. The criollo dream was the creation of a Mexican empire, and its archetypes were Rome and Tenochtitlán. The criollos were aware of the bizarre nature of their situation but, as happens in such cases, they were unable to transcend it -- they were enmeshed in nets of their own weaving. Their situation was cause for pride and for scorn, for celebration and humiliation. The criollos adored and abhorred themselves. [...] They saw themselves as extraordinary, unique beings and were unsure whether to rejoice or weep before that self-image. They were bewitched by their own uniqueness.
As early as 1799, open riots against Spanish colonial rule were unfolding in Mexico City, foreshadowing the emergence of a fully-fledged independence movement. At the conspiración de los machetes, soldiers and criollo traders attacked colonial properties "in the name of Mexico and the Virgen de Guadalupe." As news of Napoleon I's armies occupying Spain reached Mexico, Spanish-born peninsulares such as Gabriel de Yermo strongly opposed criollo proposals of governance, deposed the viceroy, and assumed power. However, even though Spaniards maintained power in Mexico City, revolts in the countryside were quickly spreading.
Ongoing resentment between criollos and peninsulares erupted after Napoleon I deposed Charles IV of Spain of power, which, "led a group of peninsulares to take charge in Mexico City and arrest several officials, including criollos." This, in turn, motivated criollo priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla to begin a campaign for Mexican independence from Spanish colonial rule. Launched in Hidalgo's home city of Dolores, Guanajuato in 1810, Hidalgo's campaign gained support among many "Indians and mestizos, but despite seizing a number of cities," his forces failed to capture Mexico City. In the summer of 1811, Hidalgo was captured by the Spanish and executed. Despite being led by a criollo, many criollos did not initially join the Mexican independence movement and it was reported that "fewer than one hundred criollos fought with Hidalgo," despite their shared caste status. While many criollos in the period resented their "second-class status" compared to peninsulares, they were "afraid that the overthrow of the Spanish might mean sharing power with Indians and mestizos, whom they considered to be their inferiors." Additionally, due to their privileged social class position, "many criollos had prospered under Spanish rule and did not want to threaten their livelihoods."
Criollos only undertook direct action in the Mexican independence movement when new Spanish colonial rulers threatened their property rights and church power, an act which was "deplored by most criollos" and therefore brought many of them into the Mexican independence movement. Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821 under the coalitionary leadership of conservatives, former royalists, and criollos, who detested Emperor Ferdinand VII's adoption of a liberal constittuion which threatened their power. This coalition created the Plan de Iguala, which concentrated power in the hands of the criollo elite as well as the church under the authority of criollo Agustín de Iturbide who became Emperor Agustín I of the Mexican Empire. Iturbide was the son of a "wealthy Spanish landowner and a Mexican mother" who ascended through the ranks of the Spanish colonial army to become a colonel. Iturbide reportedly fought against "all the major Mexican independence leaders since 1810, including Hidalgo, José María Morelos y Pavón, and Vicente Guerrero," and according to some historians, his "reasons for supporting independence had more to do with personal ambition than radical notions of equality and freedom."
Mexican independence from Spain in 1821 resulted in the beginning of criollo rule in Mexico as they became "firmly in control of the newly independent state." Although direct Spanish rule was now gone, "by and large, Mexicans of primarily European descent governed the nation." The period was also marked by the expulsion of the peninsulares from Mexico, of which a substantial source of "criollo pro-expulsionist sentiment was mercantile rivalry between Mexicans and Spaniards during a period of severe economic decline," internal political turmoil, and substantial loss of territory. Leadership "changed hands 48 times between 1825 and 1855" alone "and the period witnessed both the Mexican-American War and the loss of Mexico's northern territories to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Gadsden Purchase." Some credit the "criollos' inexperience in government" and leadership as a cause for this turmoil. It was only "under the rule of noncriollos such as the Indian Benito Juárez and the mestizo Porfiro Díaz" that Mexico "experienced relative [periods of] calm."
By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the criollo identity "began to disappear," with the institution of mestizaje and Indigenismo policies by the national government, which stressed a uniform homogenization of the Mexican population under the "mestizo" identity. As a result, "although some Mexicans are closer to the ethnicity of criollos than others" in contemporary Mexico, "the distinction is rarely made." During the Chicano movement, when leaders promoted the ideology of the "ancient homeland of Aztlán as a symbol of unity for Mexican Americans, leaders of the 1960s Chicano movement argued that virtually all modern Mexicans are mestizos."
As the United States expanded westward, it annexed lands with a long-established population of Spanish-speaking settlers, who were overwhelmingly or exclusively of white Spanish ancestry (cf. White Mexican). This group became known as Hispanos. Prior to incorporation into the United States (and briefly, into Independent Texas), Hispanos had enjoyed a privileged status in the society of New Spain, and later in post-colonial Mexico.
Regional subgroups of Hispanos were named for their geographic location in the so-called "internal provinces" of New Spain:
Another group of Hispanos, the Isleños ("Islanders"), are named after their geographic origin in the Old World, namely the Canary Islands. In the US today, this group is primarily associated with the state of Louisiana.
|Casta terms for miscegenation in Spanish America|