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HISTORY

Creole, Spaniard, Mulatto and many more: The caste system in Colonial Mexico

With the arrival of the Spaniards in America, society was divided into a caste system.

During the conquest and the colonial period in America, one of the most important effects was the mixture between ‘races’ that occurred when Spaniards, Indians, and Afro-Mexicans mixed, resulting in a caste system that, more than being a scientific classification, was a racial system to administer the colony.

What exactly did they seek to administer? Well, through this new system, the rights and possessions of each new ‘caste’ that appeared in the colony were defined, and it became so complex that there were up to 16 classifications. However, after a certain stratum, none of them had any rights.

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Spaniards or “Peninsulares”

Let’s start with those who were at the top of the pyramid: the Spaniards, who were also differentiated into two large groups called “Peninsulares” and “Criollos” (creoles).

The “Peninsulares” were Spaniards, born in Spain or the peninsula, who arrived in America, and they were the ones who had all the rights and power: land, education, health, and the possibility of becoming viceroys.

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“Criollos”

On the other hand, “Criollos” were the children of Spaniards born in the colony, and had almost all the same rights as the peninsulares except for the possibility of being part of the government. In fact, many of Mexico’s Independence heroes were “Criollos.”

“Mestizos”

The “Mestizos” are the best-known caste of that time and perhaps the most numerous group during the colony. They were those children that came from Spanish and Indian parents.

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Here, only “Mestizos” who were children of the “Criollo” or “Peninsular” elites had the right to education, but none had the opportunity to become a ruler, much less a viceroy. Meanwhile, “Mestizos” who were not children of these elites had no right to education, so they were practically on the same ‘level’ as the indigenous, receiving the same faculties and rights.

“Castizos”

Finally, we come to the “Castizos.” From this mixture or caste ‘down’ in the system, people didn’t have the right to study, health access, land ownership, and of course, no possibility of being a ruler.

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We say that it is from this mixture because, with each new ‘caste’ that appeared, a new descendant would develop who would be a totally different group from those that already existed. Although none of them would have any rights, the classification of these groups did not fulfill any practical objective.

Thus many more castes were named: The son of a “Castizo” with a Spanish woman was called Spanish, but despite the name they had no rights as the “Peninsulars.”

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“Zambos,” “Jarochos,” “Mulattos,” and “Moriscos”

The native population merged with the newly arrived black people, whose children were known as Zambos or Jarochos, and so on until there were at least 16 castes. Although there were probably more, among which were the “Zambos,” the “Mulattos,” the “Moriscos,” etc.

With the Independence, this caste system disappeared, although its repercussions still persist in Mexico’s society to this day. There are still sectors of the Spanish-descended population that remained for a long time in the upper sphere of Mexican society, and although the difference is not so obvious today, it is still quite marked.

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Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva

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