The Mestizo Concept: A Product of European Imperialism
By Jack Forbes
The terms mestizo and metis (as well as such comparable words a half-caste, half-breed, ladino, cholo, coyote, and so on) have been and are now frequently used in Anishinabe-waki (the Americas) to refer to large numbers of people who are either of mixed European and Anishinabe (Native American) racial background or who poses a so-called mixed culture.
In Canada, people of mixed European and Anishinabe background are ordinarily referred to as metis, that is, “mixed.” In the United States, terms such as half-breed, half-blood and quarter-blood are most commonly used but, mustee (derived from mestizo) and even mulatto have been used in the South. From Mexico through Argentina mestizo (“mixed”) is the standard term, but cholo, ladino, coyote, and other words are also commonly used. In Brazil, caboclo, mameluco and a variety of other terms are used, along with mestizo. The concept of mestizo has also been introduced into the United States scholarly literature and is becoming accepted among anthropologists and sociologists as a technical term replacing half-breed and similar words.
For the purposes of this article the word mestizo will be used as the equivalent of all such words. It should be kept in mind that there are several distinct ways in which the term mestizo is used:
(1) As a simple description- a person, or a group, who possesses a recent mixed background;
(2) As a kind permanent ethnic or caste categorization- a person, or a group, who is not only of mixed background but whose ethnic nature, or social status, is also mixed;
(3) As a strictly biological concept, referring only to mixture through sexual reproduction;
(4) As a cultural concept, referring to a mixture of customs, ways of behaving, and so on.
The first usage does not concern us here to any great extent, but the other three are of critical importance to the current status of native peoples in Anishinabe-waki.
Mestizo Peoples Who Are Not Mestizo
Today, virtually all of the peoples who are categorized as half-caste or mestizo live in zones where European imperialism has been active during the past several centuries (the South Pacific, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Macao, Vietnam, India, Singapore, South Africa, and throughout Anishinabewaki).
Peoples categorized as “half-caste” or “mestizo” tend to have several characteristics in common: they reside in areas subjected to recent European colonialism and imperialism; they seldom possess the power or resources to determine their own destiny (either political or intellectual psychological); their existence is usually a direct byproduct of European imperialism and colonial policy; and they are primarily people with both European and non-European ancestry, almost never with mixed European national backgrounds.
To place this discussion in proper perspective, let us contrast the situations in Mexico and Spain. North American social scientists and intellectuals and the ruling elite of Mexico commonly seem to agree that Mexico is a mestizo nation, that not only are most of its people racially mixed but that its dominant culture is also mestizo. North American Anglo-Saxon scholars, in particular, delight in using the mestizo and Indo-Hispano concept when discussing Mexico and Chicanos (persons of Mexican background in the United States). It is very clear that Anglo scholars (and the Mexicans and Chicanos influenced by them) regard the very essence of the Mexican-Chicano people as mestizo (except for the perhaps ten percent of the Mexican people who are regarded as indio).
Now, is this mestization of the Mexican-Chicano people a concrete social reality or is it primarily the Europeans’ imposition of alien descriptive categories upon the Mexican-Chicano masses? Let us look at the situation of Spain and Mexico with this question in mind. Spain is, clearly, far more of a mestizo nation (if that term is ever properly to be used) than is Mexico.
(1) The Spanish people speak a totally borrowed language, a dialect or branch of Italo-Latin mixed with many thousands of Arabic words. Very few words of the indigenous Hispano-Iberic language remain in use.
(2) The culture of Spain is a complex mixture of Latin-Italic, North African, Middle Eastern, Greek, Gitano (Gypsy), and other characteristics, with very few indigenous (pre-Roman) traits remaining, except among the Basques and Gallegos.
(3) Racially, the modern Spaniard probably carries relatively few indigenous genes, the latter having been greatly overwhelmed by Carthaginian, Celtic, Latin-Roman, Germanic, Arab, Moorish, Berber, Jewish, black African, and Gitano intermixture.
In both a racial and culture sense, then, the Spaniard is profoundly a mestizo. In fact, it is safe to say that (except among the Basques) the Spanish culture of modern times is almost wholly non-Spanish in origin (in terms, at least, of specific traits) and is thoroughly mixed. Surprisingly, however, one never finds Anglo-Saxon social scientists categorizing the Spaniards as a mestizo. One never finds scholars describing a Spanish subgroup as part Gitano or as a North African physical type. One never finds social scientists attempting to dissect the Spanish people and then to tell them who they are!
Why is this so? We know that during the fifteenth century, for example, there were many subgroups (such as maranos, mozarabes, moriscos, and so on) among the population. We know also that even today regional variations can probably be identified in Spain.
Why is the Castillian-speaking Spaniard allowed to have dignity and security of being simply a Spaniard, of possessing an ethnic identity, a nationality, while the Mexican and the Chicano are even now dissected and categorized, first, as mestizos and only second as Mexicans orChicanos?
Indisputably the Spaniard is a mestizo in the sense that he is mixed and has a mixed culture. But he is never categorized as a mestizo, but always as a Spaniard (or an Andalucian, Malagueno, Catalan, and soon), because since 1491 the Castellano-Spaniard has not been subjected to political and intellectual colonization.
The Spanish people have been free to develop themselves without having any alien government officials classifying individuals as one-quarter Gitano, one-eighth Jewish, one-half Arab, and so on. They have not had foreign scholars investigating them (trying to “understand” them) and then developing conceptualization which dominate the thinking of even native intellectuals. In short, the Spaniard has been free to define his own nationality and categories of existence.
It is true, of course, that Spain possesses minority ethnic groups, but neither the minorities nor the majority are classified as mestizo even though all are of mixed origin. It is also true that the Christian Spanish hierarchy did, for a time, keep records of converted Jews and Muslims and their descendants, but this was not to permanently categorize people, but instead to root out any secret Jewish or Islamic religious practices. The records concerned religion rather than race (in fact, many Hispanic Jews and especially Muslims were Christian Spanish, not North African, descent).
The same kind of analysis can be made about England, Scotland, Russia, and a number of other nations. The English are clearly mestizos- a mixture of Celtic (and pre-Celtic), Angle, Saxon, Danish, Norman-French, Flemish, and other descent. Likewise, English cultures highly mixed (for example, half of the words in these-called English language are of Latin origin, the English practice a “foreign” religion- Christianity-and the great bulk of contemporary English characteristics are of foreign origin- including even tea drinking!) It is safe to say that the modern Englishman has very little in common with the Britons and pre-Roman times or even with the Anglo-Saxons before Christianity.
The Scots are, of course, a mixture of Pictish, Gaelic (Scottish), Norse, Norman-French, Flemish, English (Anglic), Saxon, and other stocks. Culturally, little remains (except for a few place names) from the indigenous Picts. Even the culture of the invading Scots (coming from Ireland) had been eroded to such an extent that the Scottish language is spoken only in a few remote regions and is officially ignored by the government. Except for some “colorful” Highland characteristics here is little left of purely Celtic origin, although many Celtic, Germanic, and Latin traits have mixed together to produce modern Scottish culture.
The Russians continue to speak their native Slavic language, but their culture is extremely mixed (showing Greek, Turkish, Mongol, and German influences). Racially the Russians have absorbed large quantities of Finish, Kahzar, Turkic, Mongol, Greek and other alien ancestry.
Interestingly, the English, Scots, and Russians (like the Spanish) are never categorized as mestizos. Seldom does one ever ask a Scotsman if he is part Norman-French, nor indeed, does anyone ever ask a Scotsman if he has even a drop of Celtic (Pictish-Scottish) blood. Such questions are seemingly only asked of knocked-down, conquered, colonized, and powerless peoples.
The same kind of analysis can be made of almost all major ethnic groups- Chinese, Japanese, East Indians, Arabs, Turks, and so on. Almost all such peoples possess a mixed racial heritage and a mixed culture. But they are not mestizos (even when their ancient “race” and culture have been almost totally erased or altered). Furthermore modern Mexican and Chicano people possess far greater connection with their ancient Mexican past than many European groups do with their respective past.
(1) The Mexicans and Chicanos of today are perhaps eighty percent native Anishinabe descent, while only twenty percent of their ancestry is of European-North African, African, and Asian descent. In contrast, it is likely that Spaniards possess relatively little pre-Roman ancestry (native Iberian), certainly less than eighty percent.
(2) The Mexican and Chicano peoples’ modern language, Spanish, possesses several thousand native Mexican words, while the Spanish is wholly non-Iberian in origin.
(3) The native religions of Spain have almost, if not completely, disappeared. In Mexico, however, the native religion has survived in many regions and has modified Christianity. Furthermore, Christianity is as foreign to Spain as it is to Mexico.
(4) The modern culture of Spain is almost entirely non-Iberian in origin. In contrast, the culture of Mexico, even among Spanish-speaking people, is, to a significant degree, of native Mexican origin.
In short, the Mexicans and Chicanos possess far greater continuity with their native past than do the Spaniards, and yet the Spanish are categorized as “unified” people (in spite of great regional variations), while the Mexicans and Chicanos must perpetually carry the burden of genuflecting before the idol of mestisaje.
Ethnicity and Integration
Many social scientists have written about Mexican villages as mestizo villages and Indian villages. In point of fact there is often no racial difference existing between such villages, but even if there were, I would challenge the idea that there are mestizo villages in Mexico.
It is true, of course, that one can find many pueblos in Mexico where the culture of the people can be traced to Spain, North Africa, and the Middle East, as well as to Native Mexico. But this historical fact of mixture does not in and itself produce a mestizo village.
If we were to visit such a pueblo, we would find that the people possess an integrated culture perceived as being their very own. They have no conscious concept of being “mixed,” but instead have a sense of unity and wholeness. To categorize them as living in a mestizo village is as nonsensical as it would be to say that Davis, California, is a mestizo town because of the people’s diverse ethnic origins and historically mixed culture.
Most people possess a mixed culture and mixed ethnic background. To say, therefore, that a village is mixed when it is an integrated community, is either to lie or to add nothing new to our knowledge of that village. It is true that there are cities, villages, and even entire regions where peoples of different ethnic loyalties and cultures are living in close juxtaposition (as the Greeks and Turks in Istanbul). Such a place can be regarded as being multiethnic or biethnic, but it is not truly mixed precisely because the different ethnic groups are separate, although geographically intermingled. Mestizo and such comparable terms imply outcast (i.e., belonging to no ethnic group or casta). People who possess a national or ethnic identity, no matter how much they have mixed historically with other peoples, can never be mestizo.
A people who possess an integrated culture, especially a gradually changing, relatively stable one, are also not mestizo culturally. Since all known cultures are of diverse, mixed origin, it follows that the Mexican culture of today is precisely that, i.e., Mexican culture and not a mestizo culture. Change, with borrowing, no matter how much, does not by itself produce a mestizo culture.
The Bulgarian people, for example, have shifted their homeland, changed their language, changed their religion, changed their physical appearance (through interethnic marriage), and changed almost their total culture, but the Bulgarians are not mestizos, they are not outcasts, they are not a new nation, they are simply Bulgarians.
Why? Because as a people, as a collection of related village-groups together forming a nationality, they have a historical bond of continuity with their past. The ethnic continuity implied by Bulgarian-ness and the gradual nature of change have ensured that the Bulgarians are not mestizos (although the Turks, and other former rulers, tried to erase that continuity).
The Mestizo as Outcast
Historically speaking, Europeans have often used such terms as mestizo, half-breed, half-caste, and so on, to refer to no-caste, out-caste, or groupless individuals- that is, to a person of mixed race having no clear ethnic affiliation.
A mestizo without a nationality or ethnic group to belong to is indeed an outcast. There is no doubt but what there are individuals or mixed race in Anishinabe-waki who are loners, without ethnic affiliation. But such individuals are relatively few in numbers in comparison with the broad masses of mixed-bloods who commonly possessed a group, an ethnic affiliation, or a community. For example, the mixed Cherokees of the nineteenth century were, for the greater part, Cherokee-speaking people who were citizens of, and emotionally a part of, the Cherokee Nation. In no sense could most racially mixed Cherokees be regarded as outcasts. Neither could they be regarded as mestizos, except in a purely descriptive sense.
In most regions of Anishinabe-waki there has been a gradual, imperceptible transition of a village (or tribe) from being composed of people of purely indigenous descent to being composed of people of mixed racial descent. In many cases the group has experienced no sharpchange in ethnic identity. Thus, many North American Anishinabe groups have changed from being racially Indian to being racially mixed. However, they have retained their identity as Cherokees, Powhatans, Mohawks, and so on. Similarly, many Mexican, Central American, and South American villages have gradually acquired European or African admixture without any sharp transition, although in some instances the people have come to regard themselves as no longer being indios, because the government (and racist custom) regards the term indio as a derogatory one.
An example of the latter trend is the gradual “disappearance” of the Opata people of eastern Sonora. It is quite clear from the historical evidence that the Opatas imperceptibly changed as a result of missionization, serving in the Spanish army (against the Apaches), fighting in the many post-1821 civil wars and rebellion in Sonora, and perhaps to a lesser degree, intermarrying with Spanish-speaking Mexicans. In 1821 most Opata towns were still “Indian,” although undoubtedly many residents were bilingual in Opata and Spanish, and virtually all were Catholics. By about1900 the grandparents were still speaking Opata, but their grandchildren had shifted largely to Spanish and wanted to be thought of as Mexicans.
The Opata towns had, in effect, ceased being Opata and had become simply Mexican (or mestizo, as the Anglo-Saxon researcher and Mexican census-taker might assert). In this area, as in many others throughout Anishinabe-waki, the change from tribal loyalty to a new national loyalty was not primarily a biological-racial change but simply a gradual, imperceptible change in self-definition by others.
Thus, we see that some native nationalities have become racially mixed while retaining their old identity, while other native nationalities have been absorbed into a larger nationality without significant race mixture. In neither case, however, did the bulk of the people become no-caste or out-caste or half-caste in the process. Whether changing because of acculturation, race mixture, or both, they always have retained a community, an identity, and a sense of peoplehood. It is interesting, of course, to study such persons as Garcilaso de la Vega el Inca, the Inca-Spanish mestizo who was torn between native and Iberian loyalties, but it seems very unlikely that most persons of native descent in Anishinabe-waki ever went through such a process. And it is very unlikely that such a split identity, when it occurred, extended far beyond the first generation.
The mestizo as outcast is simply not a significant reality in Anishinabe-waki. Instead of inventing collections of no-caste individuals, we should concentrate our attention upon the history of real “peoples”- tribes, villages, bands, towns, regions, and nations.
The Mestizo Concept and the Strategy of Colonialism
One of the fundamental principles of the European invaders, and especially of the Spaniards, was to follow the policy of divide and conquer, or keep divided and control. This policy pitted native against native, and tribe against tribe, until Spanish control was established. Later this same policy prevented a common front of oppressed people from developing, by creating tensions and jealousies between the different sectors of the population.
The Spaniards were shrewd colonialists. They gave minor privileges (uniforms, batons of office, and the right to collect tribute) to caciques (chiefs), in order that the native leadership would prevent their people from rebelling. They also gave privileges (of a minor nature) to each different caste (indios living in villages sometimes were exempt from certain taxes, while mestizos, mulattos, and others were able to obtain minor positions in the army, move about freely, except in Indian villages and so on). People with some degree of European ancestry were ordinarily able to wear European-style clothing and obtain concessions not available to most Anishinabe (Indians). A racist system was created by the Spaniards which favored light skin and European descent. Natives were regarded as inferior or childlike beings, and almost all who were ambitious sought to deny nonwhite ancestry or at least to be as white as possible.
This system, which saw each minor caste or class trying to curry favor from above at the expense of those below, served very well to keep the masses divided and distrustful of each other. It also resulted in many people of predominantly native descent pretending to be either mestizo or criollo (white or near-white) in order to be considered “una persona de razon” (a rational person). To the Spaniards, the native generally was not “de razón,” but mixed-bloods could be!
The concepts of mestizo, coyote, lobo, cholo, pardo, color quebrado, and many others, were invented by the Spaniards, and Spanish policy kept these categories alive throughout the colonial epoch. Were those concepts of any real objective value, apart from being useful to the ruling class? It is extremely doubtful if the differences between a coyote (three-quarters Anishinabe), a mestizo (one-half Anishinabe), a lobo (Anishinabe-African), a pardo (Anishinabe-African European), and so on were at all significant except in so far as the Spanish rulers sought to make them significant. It is true that there may have been cultural differences between natives and mixed-bloods speaking a native language and living in a native village, on the one hand, and Spanish-speaking person (of whatever ancestry) on the other hand. But those differences relate to political loyalty and culture and not directly to mestisaje as such.
The colonial documents mention several cases where mestizos, mulattos, and so on, took part in Indian rebellions on the native side. The documents (padrones or censuses in particular) also reveal that some Spanish soldiers of lower rank were “indios,” at least when first recruited. Therefore, it is clear that the differences between indio and mestizo were not necessarily even of political significance.
On the other hand, if there were cultural differences and antagonisms existing between mestizos and indios, whose fault was it? Who created the conditions of exploitation which caused Anishinabeg to rebel? Who created a system wherein one could rise upward only by repudiating one’s native blood and exploiting native people? In short, the Spaniards created the system that created castes that were different one from another. They also created such rankings to accomplish their selfish purposes.
Let us dwell on this point for a moment by contrasting the development of Aberdeen, Scotland, with Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The people of Aberdeen have a mixed origin, being of Scottish (Gaelic-speaking), Scandinavian, Norman-French, Flemish, and Anglo-Saxon descent. But this fact of biological mixture is of little ultimate significance in the history of Aberdeen. Of much greater importance is the fact that Aberdeen became a Broad Scotch and English language enclave in what have been a Gaelic-speaking region and that Aberdeen was a royal burg, a town loyal to the Scottish crown rather than to any Highland clan (tribal) chief. Of greater significance, also in the history of Aberdeen is the fact of socioeconomic and religious tensions within the city, totally unrelated (it would seem) to ethnic origins. In sum, whether an Aberdonian is one-fourth Gaelic of one-half Scandinavian or all Anglo-Saxon is of only passing interest. Loyalties to Aberdeen, to religion, to economic classes, to Scotland, are all of infinitely greater significance. Finally, all native-born Aberdonians are, and have been considered Scots, whether of Scottish or non-Scottish descent.
Similarly, Santa Fe was a Spanish royal settlement established in the far north of the Spanish Empire (Aberdeen was established to control and civilize the unruly Gaelic Scots, as Santa Fe was created to control and civilize the unruly Anishinabeg). The bulk of the initial settlers of Santa Fe, who lived in the barrio of Analco, were Mexicans, that is, Aztec-speaking people of Anishinabe blood. As time went by, the people became mixed, with Spanish, Anglo-Saxon, African, Pueblo Indian, Apache, Navajo, Plains Indian, and Paiute ancestry being absorbed into the community. Likewise, the Mexican language was gradually replaced by Spanish, religion changed, and so on. Whether or not a person of Santa Fe, by say1848, was all-native, three-quarters native, one-half native or one-eighth native is utterly without intrinsic significance. What is important is whether he was rich or poor, ruler or ruled, Catholic or fold religion, Spanish-speaking or native-speaking, and soon.
Ah, but there is a difference between Aberdeen and Santa Fe. In Santa Fe, the racist colonialist, strategy of the Spaniard and implanted the notion of nonwhite inferiority. Therefore, whether one was dark or light or classed as mestizo, blanco, o’indio did make a difference! The difference is not, however, due to the intrinsic significance of mestisaje but only to a racist-colonialist stratification based upon racial descent.
The French pursued a policy somewhat different from that of the Spanish, (except in Louisiana where part-blacks were classified as quadroons, octoroons, and so forth). The French were never able to recruit many settlers to come to Anishinabe-waki, so the interests of the empire (and of the fur trade) demanded that the Metis, the mixed-blood, be incorporated into the French system wherever possible. It appears that prior to 1763 no distinct class of mixed-bloods developed, since the Metis was absorbed into French Canadian society (albeit initially as a fur trader, canoe man, or trapper) or into a particular native group. It seems highly likely that most French-Canadians have some degree of native descent, while many Anishinabeg in the northern United States and Canada are part-French.
During the nineteenth century, however, along the banks of the Red River, Lake Winnipeg, and the Saskatchewan River, there developed a group who came to be known as Metis, and most of their descendants (now spread all over western Canada) are still known by that term. These people, sometimes called Red River Metis fought against the Canadian government on several occasions between 1860 and 1890, in alliance with Cree, Assiniboin, and Chippewa groups.
Who are these Metis? Initially some were French-native hybrids, some were Scottish-native hybrids, and a few were English-native hybrids. Generally speaking, they were closely connected with Cree and other Anishinabeg both in terms of annual migrations, alliances, marriages, and language. (Modern studies have shown that a large majority of Metis people speak Cree in their homes, at least in certain provinces.) The culture of the Metis was (and often still is) basically of a native character modified by European influence. (For example, they observed an annual buffalo-hunting migration cycle similar to that of the Cree and Assiniboin, with whom they frequently lived).
My tentative analysis is as follows: The so-called Metis were nothing more nor less than a partially Europeanized sector of the Cree-Chippewa-Assiniboin confederation (or alliance system). (It may well be that having a European father or grandfather was of crucial importance in becoming Europeanized, but that is not at all surprising [intermarriage is often a key element in an acculturation process].) If left alone, the so-called Metis would have been to the Cree people what the mixed-bloods were to the Cherokee Nation: an influential subgroup within the overall nationality. To some degree this undoubtedly occurred in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, since the line between Indian and Metis even today is ethnically obscure in many areas.
The Anishinabeg of the Canadian prairies were not left alone, however. British imperialism (in particular, the Hudson Bay Company) attempted to distinguish between Metis and Indian. The Metis, being somewhat more European in orientation and usually bilingual, were favored over Indians for certain purposes, but were never recognized as being the equal of whites. Later the British and white Canadians recognized “Indian tribal” land rights and rights to special federal services but denied these to Metis. In point of fact, however, may people whom the Canadian government chose to regard as Metis were distinguishable from Indians. They simply were left out of treaty negotiations, were ignored, or were too mobile to live on a reserve.
Are the Metis truly mestizo, or is their present status a result of current British-Canadian policy? Some Metis call themselves non-status Indians, and perhaps that is a good description of some of them. Perhaps overall they represent simply an Europeanized, partly landless sector of the native population, confused about their identity by years of being denied Indian status. Or perhaps some of them are a distinct people for whom the name Metis does not mean mestizo but has become an ethnic (national) appellation.
In any case, the Red River Metis did not, and do not, exist as a no-caste collection of half-breeds. They seem to have always lived in communities or groups they considered home. Whenever they are to be known as Anishinabe is a matter for them to decide and not the Canadian government.
The United States and the Atlantic seaboard British colonies approached the Spanish system of caste categorization (mulattos, half-breeds, quarter-bloods, eight-bloods, mustees, high yellows, quadroons, sixteenth-bloods, and so on), but extreme racism somewhat altered the nature of colonialist policy.
Generally, the lighter the skin color the more acceptable a person was in colonial Atlantic seaboard society. Elaborate government records were not kept, but it would appear that visual inspection and local white opinion was utilized to determine whether or not a person was sufficiently white to vote, bear arms, hold office, or marry a white person (the laws varied from area to area, requiring anywhere from one-half to seven-eighths white blood to qualify as a white). The Anglo-Americans very definitely adopted a system of giving different rewards to different castes and keeping nonwhite groups at odds with each other whenever possible. This was especially true in keeping Indians, free coloreds, and blacks (mostly slaves) from associating with each other (the fear of combined Indian-slave rebellions or raids was great in certain regions). After being militarily subdued, Indians generally became except from being enslaved (although many were enslaved before ca. 1750). They also were sometimes able to preserve a small tract of land in return for paying tribute. Free coloreds (mixed-bloods of all shades and free blacks) were able to move about more than tributary Indians and sometimes were able to vote and bear arms in the militia. Light-skinned mixed-bloods, who were able to prove they met the admission standards, could become white.
This system did several things:
(1) it forced many mixed-bloods to identify as tributary Indians in order to live on a reservation and be safe from the possibility of enslavement;
(2) it forced all visibly nonwhite people, no matter what the degree of blood, to become a part of a free-colored caste if they wished to live away from an Indian reservation;
(3) it accentuated notions of white supremacy and encouraged people to try to be as white as possible (except for those who chose to be a tributary Indian and even the latter were affected psychologically); and
(4) it made people caste conscious and encouraged disunity among the oppressed nonwhites.
It may well be that many of the free colored were initially mestizos, that is, in between, no-caste people. Soon, however, the free colored began together (frequently clustering together with a remnant Indian group), and they developed a community of their own. The nature of this community is, however, too complicated a subject for us to pursue here.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (the United States’ colonial office for Indians) at a later date became (and still is) the government’s most ancestry-oriented agency. The bureau keeps records on ever Indian, recording the supposed exact degree of blood in detailed manner undreamed of even by the Spaniards. Furthermore, the bureau also decides who is an Indian and who is not an Indian and which Indians are eligible for Indian services.
One can well ask if there is any significant reason for keeping records of five-eighths Indians, one-quarter Indians, one-tenth Indians, “full-bloods,” “half-bloods” and so on. What purpose does it serve? The categorization of Anishinabeg by degree of blood serves to transform the Anishinabe people from a group of nationalities into a series of castes.
The overall objective of United States native policy has been to liquidate the Anishinabe people entirely (a subject discussed below). One step in liquidation is to prevent Indians from assimilating (absorbing) outsiders and even to prevent them from retaining the loyalty of their own racially mixed children or grandchildren. A second step is to get the people of native descent to think of themselves as full-bloods, quarter-bloods, and so on, to keep them from thinking of themselves as Comanches, Cherokees, or other tribal groups, and to introduce jealousy and disunity.
This attempt to divide the Anishinabe into subcastes and to make much of the degree of blood may be useful to the bureau, but it does not really reflect the truly significant divisions within the native community. For example, from the 1820s through the1860s the Cherokee people were at times divided into two major factions. One group was highly Indian in loyalty and was composed of full bloods, but it also included many mixed-bloods, and its official leader was John Ross (seven-eighths white, one-eighth Cherokee, by blood). The other group was oriented toward the slave-owning, plantation economy of the south and was composed primarily of mixed-bloods. However, its leaders included full-bloods such as Stand Watie. The key difference between these two Cherokee groups was the degree to which they were oriented toward Anglo-American values. One was quite interested in Southern-style wealth acquisition while the other was more traditionally Cherokee in its values. Mixed-bloods and full-bloods were found in both groups. Therefore, we again see that being biologically mixes is less significant than other factors, such as ethnic loyalty and values.
White writers often make much of the fact that Sequoyah was part-white. But since Sequoyah was raised as conservative Cherokee, thinking and speaking in Cherokee rather than English, is his white blood of any actual significance? Clearly, Sequoyah was a complete Cherokee nationalist, and he died seeking out lost Cherokees in northern Mexico. Quite obviously he was not mestizo, confused or split in his ethnic-cultural loyalties. To the Bureau of Indian Affairs, however, he would be regarded as a half-blood or a half-Cherokee, whatever that means! The same can be said of such racially mixed native leaders as Cornplanter, Quanah Parker, and Alexander McGillivray.
No general class or caste of Anishinabe-white mestizos has actually developed in the United States for several reasons:
(1) most of the mixed groups who have lost their specific native identity (such as these-called Mestizos of South Carolina or the Lumbees of North Carolina) have developed a new identity of their own (the “Lumee” identity, for example, is a new invented identity- the name is a local pronunciation of “Lumbar River”);
(2) white racism has usually forced recognizable mixed-bloods to remain in the nonwhite community, where they originated, or at least to remain loyal to it;
(3) because native national (tribal) loyalties have remained strong. It may be that there are Anishinabe-white-black mixed-bloods in the South and East who possess almost no group pride and who would choose to become white if they could. (Too dark to become white, many are being absorbed into the black population.) Such people perhaps come closest to the concept of being mestizo or out-caste.
The colonial policies of Spain, Britain, and the United States have invented the concept of mestizo and given reality to the concept through racist, caste-oriented policies that favor white persons over nonwhites while distinguishing grades of people within the nonwhite world. Isn’t time that this grading system is halted forever?
The Plan to Liquidate the Anishinabe Peoples
In Mexico an indio who puts on shoes, learns Spanish, and moves to a larger city becomes a non-Indian (he becomes mestizo or a Mexicano).
In Peru an Anishinabe woman who sets up a small shop becomes a chola. She is no longer an india.
In Guatemala a Cakchiquel who learns Spanish and moves to the city becomes a ladino. He is no longer indio.
In Peru, Bolivia, Mexico, and elsewhere, millions of people who were indios just a few years ago are now officially campesinos. Bolivia has no more Anishinabegs, only peasants.
In Brazil an Indian who takes up farming away from a tribal village becomes a caboclo or perhaps a mestizo or simply a Brazilian peasant.
In the United States an Indian whose reservation is terminated becomes officially a non-Indian.
In Canada an Indian whose group never signed a treaty or received a reservation is a metis.
In the United States many Chicanos of unmixed physical appearance are classified as whites with Spanish surnames. In Mexico, a man of complete Indian appearance who wears a suit, has a college education, and speaks Spanish has to be mestizo, since he could never be an indio.
Throughout the Americas a strange phenomena exists. Almost every country in the hemisphere is doing away with Indians, either by genocide (as in Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador) or by legislation and custom. The computers of the minds who dominate Anishinabe-waki have decided that the Anishinabe is programmed to disappear, but, of course, this disappearance is completely imaginary and exists only in the minds of the European-oriented ruling class.
The plan to liquidate the native people originated with the Spanish, English, and Portuguese imperialists. It involved several components:
(1) killing Anishinabe in wars of conquest;
(2) forcibly destroying native identity and culture in programs of missionization of “civilizing”;
(3) transforming economically independent native into serfs, slaves, or urban proletariat and thereby making them part of the imperial economy;
(4) making native (indio) ways of life a bad thing and encouraging, via racism, everyone to try to become espanol, white, portuguesa or at least mestizo;
(5) discouraging the association of mixed-bloods with people still identified as Indian and developing jealousy and shame on the part of the various castes; and
(6) doing everything possible to be sure that all people, whether of European ancestry, mixed ancestry, or native ancestry, regard everything European as good (civilized) and everything Anishinabe as bad (uncivilized or, at best, rustic).
This European colonial policy, so vicious and one-sided, has had the effect of making it literally impossible, in most of Anishinabe-waki, for an Indian to be anything other than a rural peasant or inhabitant of some remote region. By definition, no Indian can be a professor, a doctor, an engineer, a statesman, or even an industrial worker, a sailor, a miner, a cowboy, or a truck driver. Since Indians are defined as rural peasants (or jungle dwellers), they cannot be a part of modern society. As soon as Indians become part of society they are given the “courtesy” of being regarded as cholos, ladinos, mestizos, caboclos, or Peruanos, Bolivianos, Brasilenos, Mexicanos, Chilenos, or Guatemaltecos, or campesinos, trabajadores, and so on. This is true to some degree even in the United States, where tourists and white children want to see “real” Indians in war bonnets and feathers and where anthropology has stereotyped Indian culture, such as the pre-white contact period.
European imperialists thinking has denied Anishinabeg the right to possess large (mass) nationalities. The anthropologists and colonialists generally have decided that Indians are tribal forever. Whereas other peoples have had the right to merge tribes together and form large nation-states, Anishinabe become something else whenever they leave their village.
For instance, the Paraguayans, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, and El Salvadoreans, are not Indians. How could they be? They belong to nation-states! But why not? Have they magically changed their race merely because of intertribal mixture and the absorption of a few aliens? Are the Germans no longer Germans because they merged different tribes, changed their religion, and social system? If Europeans can remain Europeans while going through processes of tremendous social change, Anishinabeg can remain Anishinabeg while doing the same thing (no matter what white social scientists want to tell us)!
Since 1492 the conscious European colonialists policy has been to transform Anishinabe into an urban or rural proletariat. To accomplish this, tribes and villages had to be destroyed or uprooted, millions had to be killed, ancient values had to be destroyed, and a whole new mass of landless, economically dependent people had to be created. In the United States this policy has determined much of the present circumstances of the urban Indian, the landless Chicano migrant, the urban Chicano worker, and of course, the landless black population. South of the Unite States the result of this policy has been the creation of the mestizo-ladino-cholo-caboclo population.
Basically and fundamentally, the so-called mestizos of Anishinabe-waki are nothing more nor less than proletarianized Anishinabe. They are simply the descendants of Indians forced off their land, forced to mix with divergent tribes and languages, forced to learn Spanish or Portuguese, forced to become Christians, and forced to become an impoverished mass of rural or urban wage laborers. Of course, in the process of being proletarianized, European, African, and even Asiatic genes have been absorbed. But the fact of race mixture is of no real significance-whether the proletarianized, detribalized mass is of pure Anishinabe or mixed descent is inconsequential. What real difference can be shown between the predominantly Indian, Spanish-speaking proletariat of Mexico and the somewhat more mixed proletariat of El Salvador, aside from the fact that one is Mexicano in its specific history and the other is Salvadorian?
The Spanish-speaking Peruano is every bit as Anishinabe as the Quechua-speaking Peruano. The differences between the two groups are due to specific cultural characteristics and not the race. (Essentially these differences derive from the way colonialism affected the two groups. Both are equally pawns and victims of white manipulation and white-oriented thinking.)
In this connection, it should be stressed that the colonial policies of Spain, Portugal, Britain, and the United States have never been assimilationist. It was not the intention of the white invaders to absorb nonwhites into their own superior race. On the otherhand, it was, and is, the policy of the white ruling groups of Anishinabe-waki to proletarianize nonwhites!
Let us not confuse these two processes. Both assimilation and proletarianization would demand that the native Anishinabe (or African) cultures and tribes be destroyed. Both would demand that the conquered groups learn new skills, learn European language, and become part of the cash economy. But there the similarity ends. An assimilation policy would require the liquidation of racism, color consciousness, and resistance to intermarriage. Clearly, the white ruling groups of the Americas (even in the so-called relaxed Latin countries) have had no intention of doing that.
We might ask also, how is it that the white-oriented ruling groups stay in power in such overwhelmingly non-white countries as Ecuador, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala, and so on? Perhaps these rulers have learned to use the Spaniard’s old trick of pitting cholo against indio, caste against caste, and city against countryside. Doesn’t the policy of liquidating the Indian fit into this nicely? For example, an Inca-oriented Quechua revolution cannot probably occurring Peru as long as the cholos are led to believe that they are different and better than indios. No real revolution can take place in Guatemala as long as indios distrust ladinos and ladinos look down upon indios. It all seems so clever and (thus far) so successful. Divide and conquer. Keep divided and control.
The Mestizo As a Cop Out
Before 1910 it was common for the Mexican intelligentsia to refer to themselves as blancos in contrast to los indios. Until very recently also it was common for Mexican-Americans to refer to themselves as whites, Latinos, Spanish-Americans, or Hispanos. More recently, first in Mexico and now in the United States, the mestizo concept has come to be used (along with the ambiguous la raza terminology and de habla español in the United States).
This movement from whiteism and Spanishism to mestizoism can be as a progressive step, in that apparently the presence of Anishinabe ancestry is being acknowledged. In that sense perhaps it should be encouraged.
On the other hand, to be a mestizo is to be a nothing in particular (as discussed above). All people are mestizos to one degree or another, so for the Mexicano or Chicano to say he is a mestizo is to say, in effect, “I am a human being.” Moreover, in its usage it says, “I am an out-caste, a confused in between person.” (It may well be that many Chicanos are confused about the clash between Mexican and Anglo-American values, but mestizo is not used to refer to that cultural conflict). The traditional culture of most Chicanos is not mixed. It is a well-blended, fully integrated culture that has been evolving and changing for thousands of years.
More significantly, to be a mestizo is to cop-out. It is to accept the Spaniard’s colonialist-racist ideology. It is to fall supine before the European’s racial grading system instead of struggling for psychological liberation. It is to deny one’s own people’s history in order to have a masochistic, obscene relationship with the invaders and conquerors.
It is to be suspected that many Chicanos, Mexicans, and other nonwhite groups in Anishinabe waki grasp at being called mestizo, not because of a desire to acknowledge Anishinabe descent, but quite the opposite reason, to affirm white descent. A mestizo (according to the racist caste system) is, after all, not a lowly indio. He is at least part-white and, therefore, part-civilized, una persona de razón.
The affirmation of being mestizo is, therefore, a counter-productive, neocolonialist stage of thinking. It is based upon a continued subjection to white categories of denigration and racism.
The mestizo-ladino-cholo-caboclo syndrome is also a major weapon in the arsenal of the white or near-white ruling cliques of many regions of Anishinabe-waki. It prevents the unification of the oppressed nonwhite masses in a common liberation struggle. Who are the Mexicans? The Mexicans are what they always have been- Mexicans. Since (and before) 1520 they have absorbed many non-Mexicans (including other Anishinabeg as well as Asiatics, Africans, Spaniards, and so on); and their culture has changed (as do all cultures). Fundamentally, the Mexican people go back into history as far as we can see into the past. They have no need to explain their present status by denying their continuous past or by genuflecting before the shrine of mestisaje! The word Mexican historically means Aztec-Nahuan. Isn’t that enough?
Basically, the peoples of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Paraguay are, at one and the same time, both Mexicans, Guatemaltecos, Salvadoreans, et cetera, and Anishinabeg.
A clear distinction must be made between the use of the term mestizo as a purely descriptive statement of fact and the use of the term to categorize an entire community or people forever. For example, Winston Churchill could (I suppose) have been classed as a mestizo, that is, a person of mixed ethnic descent (since he was part-Indian). His identity was not that of a mestizo, however, since he was clearly and completely British.
It follows that when the term mestizo is merely used as a descriptive term, a person can be both mestizo and Indian, or both mestizo and French, or both mestizo and Filipino. For example, Cornplanter can be described as a mestizo (i.e., as an individual of known ethnic intermixture) and also as a Seneca. His nationality was, however, Seneca.
Similarly, individual Chicanos can be described as mestizo if they look part-European or know of anon-Indian ancestor. Their identity, however, is Chicano, and the Chicano group, by virtue of its cultural, racial, and historical continuity, cannot be categorized as mestizo.
Liberation from Colonialism
The oppressed peoples of the world are struggling to liberate themselves from both the material and the psychological forces of imperialism. Unfortunately, a “Brown is beautiful” movement has not yet penetrated many sections of Anishnabe-waki. Many people are still castrated by feelings of racial and cultural inferiority implanted by European colonialists and their neocolonialists successors. The mestizo concept, as used by the Spaniards, by white ruling cliques, and by social scientists, is an anti-Indian, psychologically paralyzing tool of colonialism. It must be exposed and replaced by concepts rooted in the realities of American life.
See Notes at In Xinachtli In Milpa
Image: San Francisco, California, Aztec dancer Xochi Peña. Credit: Rod Yip, The Chronicle.
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