System of castas/Latin American History
Among many contributions of Mexico to the present American culture few are considered more significant than the concept of Mestizaje referring to the racial and cultural and synthesis. Mexico came out to be a fusion of the old and new world, particularly after the Spanish invasion during 16th century. Ever since the inception of the conquest the interracial sexual unions among Indians, Europeans, Africans and Asians appeared common, however, interracial marriage was allowed only during the later half of the 17th century. The frightened white elite treatened of the growing tide of Castas -- many racially mixed people- during 18th century formulated a caste system in order to institute status distinctions between the sub-groups so as to divide them and strengthen the Spaniards' sense of their own exclusivity. (An Unsettling Racial Score Card)
The commissioned paintings of many groups of castas have remained to be the evidence illustrating this. Presently the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is representing more than hundreds of the genre including a rare complete set in the gallery- 'Inventing Race: Casta Painting and Eighteenth-Century Mexico'. The Casta paintings are mostly perverse family portraits representing the race of the mother, father and offspring. The paintings are regarded instruments of racial oppression and considered the creation of white supremacist ideology that strives to regulate and entail a hierarchy for rampant racial mixing. The paintings isolated racially mixed Mexicans as per their distance from the purity of European whiteness. They afford to influence the viewers on the social consequences of counterfeit interracial alliances. (An Unsettling Racial Score Card)
Certain combinations could assist the mixed families regain a resemblance of whiteness. Others appear to have declined their family status. To illustrate when a woman of Spanish-Indian heritage got married an Indian man, the off springs would be downgraded in the social scale and might be labeled as a Salta atras- or a jump backward. The children of such mixed unions from mestizos and the mulattoes to the zambos and chinos were compelled to sustain in the society in-between spaces. The racially mixed had to find the ways to thrive amidst social, racial and cultural ambiguity being deprived of stability in the social order and in absence of any firm roots in any one heritage. Eric Wolf opined that the mestizo's chances of survival rest neither in collection of cultural furniture nor in cleaving to cultural norms, however, in an ability to change, to adapt, and to improvise.
The persistently changing nature of his social conditions compelled him to move with astuteness and pace through the subtle passage of society without committing himself to any one position or to any one spot. The extensive mixture made enforcement of a true caste system unfeasible, while the concept of racial hierarchy could have a profound impact on the self-image of the nation. Presently, the comparative absence of dark-skinned actors on Mexican television is a legacy of this convention. The resentment, the rivalry and the persistent ridicule for the position inherent in a racially fluid 500-year-old civilization that have not yet started to coagulate, are left unexplored. (An Unsettling Racial Score Card)
The African inhabitation in the Americas became considerably important while the ten million slaves, 95% of all those who survived the middle passage from Africa arrived at ports of call. At the initiation in Mexico, when it was estimated that about 200,000 Africans landed, the society come out with free, hospitable relation among the races. The Spaniards in authority contributed to the mestizo and mulatto mix frankly. The tradition of miscegenation was ridiculed and mixed race children were seen as threats to that of civility and the social order afterwards when European women reached in greater numbers. In this manner the Spaniards tailored the prevailing racial dynamics into a stratified caste system with placing themselves on priority and the Indians and Africans at the bottom level. The inter-caste competition generated envy and hostility as caste was brought against caste system. This process resulted in consolidation of power with the elites. (Danzon and Mexico's Caste System)
One of the encouragements in the process of their participation in the system was the objective of racial whitening or blanqueaminento. The mixing and producing of lighter children is seen as an improvement in the social status and improvement in the race. The power of the colonizers to utter cultural standards generated a preference for Spaniards over that of the Indians and Indians over that of the Africans. People emphasized much on looking and behaving like Europeans. As a result of this, the process permanently fixed phenotype to social status and disparaged non-European appearance. However, the whitening many a times gave rise to brown hues because the mixture rarely succeeded in accomplishing the ideal white purity that was being sought. Moreover, the social arrangement was not like other caste systems that were safeguarded by religious belief or legal structure and protected believers forever in their echelon. (Danzon and Mexico's Caste System)
Contrary to this, the caste system continued to be flexible and many succeeded in manipulating their identity and those of their children to their benefit as a survival approach. Out of the 18th century paintings of Las Castas Mexanas, one series represented the caste's hierarchy which was arranged on the basis of the progeny of the three major interracial relations: Spanish-Indian, African-Spanish and African-Indian. This revealed four major evidences such as:- Spaniards indicated the confinements on whitening by deciding regarding those race mixtures which were acceptable and which were not, secondly, Indian heritage had a recessive role with regard to unions with Spanish and black castes, thirdly the Indian blood became whiter following persistent union with Spaniards, and finally, African unions degenerated the whitening of all offspring. It was pertinent to note that it took only three generations for the Spanish Indian unions to generate the higher-caste Spaniard children.
Similarly, the unions between the Africans and Spaniards resulted in degeneration of the caste status throwing back to black children- lower caste torna atras within the five generations and the unions between the Indians and Africans generated the black skinned children cambujo/a in about six generations. The openness in the attitudes in Mexico permitted for race mixing, however, embedded within them a ladder of racial priorities. In the process the indigenous Indians became declined in number and the marginalized and Afro Latinos disappeared from the collective consciousness that considered being one of the objectives of las castas. (Danzon and Mexico's Caste System)
All of the American Nations appeared to have been multiracial to some extent. Biologically, the people of New world consists of three racial formulations such as the derivation of Amerindian of Mongoloid, the African Negroid and the European Caucasoid. The dominance of Amerindians is noticed in the highland countries from Mexico to the south Chile, while the Negroes constituted the most populous factor of the lowland areas from U.S. into the Caribbean and the Caucasoid have contributed in largest amounts in the northern and southern most boarders of the two continents. The miscegenation of the races Caucasoid, Amerindians and Negroes generated mixing race throughout the Americas. It also generated a complex social hierarchy in that racial appearance or ancestry was probably the most significant aspect of ranking. Brazil normally embodies 'brancos' -- the whites, 'Indios' or 'Indigenas'- the Indians and 'pretos', however, it also embraces 'mamelucos the mixing race between Portuguese-Indian, mulattoes the mixture of Portuguese and Negro, cafusos the mixture of Negro and Indian. (Latin America and the Concept of Social Race)
A series of systems of social race classification in Mexico, known as 'castas' is seen as a long ancestral types and degrees of intermixture, each with its relative position in line with its proximity to the full Spanish ancestry. The abolition of slavery during the 19th century witnessed a severe conflict between the classification of people simultaneously by physical appearance, ancestry and socio-cultural status. Innumerable hybrid types on the basis of ancestry and color vanished from official usage, but not entirely from the population concepts in many regions and countries. In Spanish America and also in Brazil all such hybrid types of the castas are not generally found and instead broad mixed groups like mestizo, ladino and cholo, pardo and cabodo were instituted in turn. (Latin America and the Concept of Social Race)
The categorization of social race continues to be a root for social, economic and even legal discrimination in American societies through out and many a times such classifications are bases of discrimination against the whole group. Taking into consideration the widespread miscegenation between people of all such major racial traits and particularly in view of the criteria utilized to indicate such social races it is transparent that the categories like mulatto, Negro, Mestizo, and White have no genetic legitimacy. Such racial terms, however, become highly attached with the social and cultural meanings and they continue to be unhealed signs out of the history of insensitive colonization, domination by force, slavery and peonage. (Latin…[continue]
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60). Why did the Spaniards bring so many slaves into Mexico? Because many of the native Indians had suffered and died from many diseases brought over by the Spaniards (the Indians did not have resistance to those new diseases), there was a need for cheap labor, and the Black slaves served that purpose. The slaves were sold in many areas of Mexico, but the author explains that the four main