Recently I did a post on Thomas Jefferson & his wife's mixed-race siblings & Jefferson's own mixed-race children. And then I turned to a review of the paintings of Louisiana & New Orleans. These 2 seemingly unconnected posts kept reminding me of the social hierarchy of 18th century Latin America, where status depended on skin color.
There was an exhibit in New York City, "New World Orders: Casta Painting & Colonial Latin America" at the Americas Society in 1996. Shown there were intimate, family portrayals of the racial mixing of the melting pot of the Americas forged from New World colonialism & Spanish Catholicism. Generally Latin America is defined as the region of the Americas where Romance languages (i.e., those derived from Latin) – particularly Spanish and Portuguese, & variably French – are primarily spoken.
And then, a couple of years ago, I read the curator of that exhibit Ilona Katzew's book called Casta Painting: Images of Race in 18th-Century Mexico. It was published by the Yale University Press, in New Haven in 2004, and focused on the paintings of Miguel Cabrera c 1695-1768.
Katzew used this primary source to help explain the need for the caste system in Mexico. In 1770 Francisco Antonio Lorenzana, a Spanish prelate and archbishop of Mexico from 1766 to 1772, remarked on the diversity of Mexico's population as opposed to Spain's: "Two worlds God has placed in the hands of our Catholic Monarch, and the New does not resemble the Old, not in its climate, its customs, nor its inhabitants; it has another legislative body, another council for governing, yet always with the end of making them alike: In the Old Spain only a single caste of men is recognized, in the New many and different."
Colonial Mexico was home to a vast array of ethnoracial groups. In the first years following the Spanish conquest, most people fell into one of 3 distinct ethnoracial categories. They were either indigenous Nahuas, peninsular Spaniards, or Africans (both enslaved and free). Sexual contact between Spaniards, Indians, & Blacks occurred from the 16th-century on, resulting in a growing group of racially-mixed people known collectively as castas-a term used by Spaniards & creoles (Spaniards born in the Americas) to distinguish themselves from racially-mixed people. By the end of the 18th century, about 1/4 of the population of Mexico was racially mixed.
A series of depictions of families called casta paintings emerged as a way of illustrating the proper classification of the various mixing of races that determined rank in that society. For historians, they are a treasure trove of costumes & home settings & even shops & employments. But they are much more than that.
Maria Elena Martinex's Genealogical Fictions: Limpieza de Sangre, Religion and Gender in Colonial Mexico (Stanford University Press, 2008) based on her 2002 PhD dissertation at the Univeristy of Chicago, is a fine in-depth study of the interplay between the Spanish concept of limpieza de sangre (purity of blood) & colonial Mexico's sistema de castas, a hierarchical system of social classification based primarily on ancestry. She examines how this notion surfaced amid socio-religious tensions in early modern Spain, & was initially used against Jewish & Muslim converts to Christianity. It was then exported to the Americas, adapted to colonial conditions, & employed to create & reproduce identity categories according to descent. Martínez also examines how the state, church, Inquisition, & other institutions in colonial Mexico used the notion of purity of blood over time to shape the region's patriotic & racial ideologies.
In these family scenes, husbands & wives from different races are shown with their offspring & ranked according to their place in Mexico's social structure.
These paintings were very popular in 18th-century Spain as well as other parts of Europe. Peru & the French colonies also classified society according to racial mixes.
In colonial Latin America the racial caste system was so overt that a baby's social identity as white, indigenous, African, or mixed was officially assigned in the church baptismal register.
According to the European racial notions of the day in Spain, "purity of blood" was considered a virtue; consequently, Africans and Indians are nobly rendered.
Mixed-race couples depicted in these paintings are clearly poorer, wearing shabbier clothes in starker circumstances, than their purer-blooded ancestors. Spaniards & their Indian or African brides sport rich European costumes, while Lobo- Mestizo couples wear plain or even ragged dress.
Paintings depicting exact mixes of races were commissioned by on-site colonial administrative & religious officials in the 1700s, often meant to serve as instructive souvenirs to be sent back to Spain. Because these paintings were a form of propaganda & social control generated by the colonial elite, it is impossible to tell from their content how these subordinate groups of people understood, accomodated, or resisted the process of domination by the colonial administrations.
Europeans did not regard these casta paintings as art objects but as proof of their wealth & power & as insturctive ethnographic illustrations.
These casta paintings were depictions by the colonial intruder trying to establish a means of retaing power using New World gene pools that were quickly merging.
Colonial powers assigned different castes with different privileges & obligations. These visual representations made it easy for all to understand, whether they could read or not.
"Casta" is Spanish for caste. These "casta paintings" are incredibly frank documents of the race-based social hierarchy that existed in colonial Latin America during the 17th & 18th century.
On the other hand, however, these paintings also depict a rather harmonious coexistence of Indian, Spaniard & Black, in 18th-century Mexico.
Some of the terms denoting the mix of races had zoological meanings.The lowest among the mixes of races were often denigrated with animal names like Lobo (Wolf) & Coyote.
As the mixing further dilutes the pure gene pools, negative terms such as “Tente en el aire” meaning "throw in the air" suggest something that is worth nothing.
Many of the names/terms used to describe the identity of an individuals racial heritage within the casta paintings were made up of common slang terms. Some of these terms are still in use today, mulatto is has the widest usage.
Albarazado = Cambujo + Mulatto
Albino/Ochavado = Spanish + African or Morisco
Allí te estás = Chamizo + Mestiza
Barcino = Albarazado + Mutlata
Barnocino = Albarazado + Mestiza
Calpamulato = Zambaigo + Loba
Cambujo = Zambaigo + Indian
Cambur = African, Spanish, + Indian
Cambuto/a = Spanish + African
Castizo = Spanish + Mestizo (Spanish & a person 1/2 Spanish & 1/2 indigenous)
Chamizo = Coyote + Indian
Chino or Albino = Spanish + Morisca
Cimarrón = African, Spanish, + Indian
Coyote = African, Spanish, + Indian
Coyote = Indian + Metiza
Jíbaro/Jabaro = Lobo + China /Spanish, Indian, or African
Lobo = Indian, African + Salta atrás
Mestizo = Spanish + Indian
Morisco or Cuarterón = Spanish + Mulatto
Mulato = Spanish + African
Negro fino = African + Spanish
No te entiendo = Tente en el aire + Mulatta
Nometoques = Parts of many races, including African
Pardo = Spanish, Indian, + African
Prieto = African + Spanish
Salta atrás/Tornatras = Spanish, African, + Albina
Sambahigo = Cambujo + Indian or Spanish or African
Spanish = Castiza + Spanish
Tente en el aire = Calpamulatto + Cambuja
Torna atrás = No te entiendo + Indian
Tresalvo = Spanish + African
Zambaigo = Lobo + Indian
Zambo = Indian + African
Castes in Peru:
Mestizo = Spaniard + Indian,
Quadroon, Quinterón = Spaniard + Mestiza or Mulatto
Mulatto = Spaniard + Black,
Quinterona, Requinterona = Spaniard + Mulatto,
Requinterona = Spaniard + Mulatto,
Cholo = Mestizo + Indian,
Chinese = Mulatto + Indian,
Chinese Quadroon = Spaniard + Chinese,
Zambo = Black + Indian, or Black + Mulatto
French Colonial castes:
Sacatra = Griffe + Black,
Griffe = Black + Mulatto
Marabon = Mulatto + Griffe,
Mulatto = White + Black,
Quarteron = White + Mulatto,
Metif = White + Quarteron,
Meamelouc = White + Metif,
Quarteron = White + Meamelouc,
Sang-mele = White + Quarteron
Hierarchy of the Casta Paintings Miguel Cabrera, 1763
1. De Español y d’India; Mestisa
2. De Español y Mestiza, Castiza
3. De Español y Castiza, Español
4. De Español y Negra, Mulata
5. De Español y Mulata; Morisca
6. De Español y Morisca; Albina
7. De Español y Albina; Torna atrás
8. De Español y Torna atrás; Tente en el aire
9. De Negro y d’India, China cambuja.
10. De Chino cambujo y d’India; Loba
11. De Lobo y d’India, Albarazado
12. De Albarazado y Mestiza, Barcino
13 De Indio y Barcina; Zambuigua
14. De Castizo y Mestiza; Chamizo
15. De Mestizo y d’India; Coyote
16. Indios gentiles (Heathen Indians)
Although the artists creating many of the paintings in this post are unidentified, painters commissioned to work in this genre included Juan Rodriguez Juarez, Miguel Cabrera, Jose de Paex, Jose Alfaro, Ignacio Maria Barreda, Andres de Islas, Mariano Guerrero, Luis Berruecco, Ignacio de Castro, Jose de Bustos, and Jose Joaquin Magon.