May 26, 2010

What's the difference between Indian and Latino?

This is something I've always wondered but never dared never to ask. If an Indian and a Latino both have, say, 50% white and 50% Indian ancestors, what's the difference between them? Finally I came across a good answer to the question.

First, some basic facts:

All About MexicoMexico's cultural mix is a result of its long and colorful history. Hundreds of years ago, Mexico was the home of great Indian civilizations. The people built cities and temples. They developed a calendar, a counting system and a form of writing. The last of these Indian empires fell to Spanish invaders in 1521. Following this conquest, Mexico remained a Spanish colony for the next 300 years. This led to widespread intermarriage and racial mixing between Spaniards and Native Americans. As late as the early 19th century, Native Americans accounted for nearly two-thirds of the population in the region. During that century, however, the racial composition of the country began to change from one that featured distinct European (Spanish) and indigenous populations, to one made up largely of mestizos--people of mixed Spanish and Native American descent. By the end of the 19th century, mestizos, who were discriminated against during three centuries of Spanish colonization, had become the largest population group in Mexico. Mestizos now account for about 60 percent of Mexicans.

Indigenous peoples account for 30 percent of the population, and people of European ancestry, primarily Spanish, account for about nine percent of the population.
Now, the answer:

Ethnicity and LanguageOriginally racial designators, the terms mestizo and Indian have lost almost all of their previous racial connotation and are now used entirely to designate cultural groups. Historically, the term mestizo described someone with mixed European and indigenous heritage. Mestizos occupied a middle social stratum between whites and pure-blooded indigenous people. Whites themselves were divided into criollo (those born in the New World) and peninsular (those born in Spain) subgroups. In contemporary usage, however, the word mestizo refers to anyone who has adopted Mexican Hispanic culture. Seen in this cultural context, both those with a solely European background and those with a mixed European-indigenous background are automatically referred to as mestizos. Mestizo, then, has become a synonym for culturally Mexican, much as ladino is used in many Latin American countries for those who are culturally Hispanic. Members of indigenous groups also may be called (and may call themselves) mestizos if they have the dominant Hispanic societal cultural values.

If an indigenous person can become a mestizo, who, then, is an Indian? Anthropologist Alan Sandstorm lists minimum criteria that compose a definition of Indian ethnicity. According to Sandstorm, an Indian is someone who identifies himself as such; chooses to use an indigenous language in daily speech; remains actively involved in village communal affairs; participates in religious ceremonies rooted in native American traditions; and attempts to achieve a harmony with, rather than control over, the social and natural worlds. Should one or more criteria become absent over time, the individual probably has begun the transition to becoming a mestizo.

Although mestizos and Indians may both reside in rural areas and have relatively comparable levels of income, they maintain different lives. Such differences can lead to highly negative perceptions about each other. Mestizos often contend that Indians are too unmotivated and constrained by tradition to deal appropriately with the demands of modern society. Indians, in turn, frequently complain that mestizos are aggressive, impatient, and disrespectful toward nature.
Comment:  So the differences are mostly cultural, not biological. That's kind of what I thought, but I'm glad to see it confirmed.

For more on the subject, see "Most Mexicans Are Indians" and Hispanics Have Native Roots.

Below:  Latinos or Indians?


Melissa said...

Although your post is pretty accurate, the way it is written may reinforce the mistaken belief that Latino, Hispanic, and Mexican refer to the same thing. Latino refers to the root of your language, so Brazilians, Italians, or French would fit into this category, for example. Hispanics are all peoples who speak Spanish, and of course does not refer to Mexicans only. The racial composition of other Latin American countries is very different from Mexico, as are the terms used to describe them. Please be careful when using these definitions interchangeably.

dmarks said...

"Latino refers to the root of your language, so Brazilians, Italians, or French would fit into this category,"

I disagree on this. It would make sense, but in practice, Quebecoi are not Latino, nor or Romanians. Yet, both have Latin-based languages.

I understand this term to be related to Latin America. And to the Spanish or Portuguese-speaking parts, only, not all of Central America and South America. Haitians are not Latinos.

It should also be pointed out that, in practice, there is usually little difference between how the terms "Hispanic" and "Latino" are used in the US. People look at you funny if you point out that a person from Madrid is technically Hispanic, just as they will look at you funny if you point out that a white guy whose parents are Afrikaaers is technically an African-American.

Melissa said...

Yes, you are correct if you are talking about the common usage of the words in the US. That doesn't mean that most people in this country use the words correctly. That's why I'm explaining that these words are not understood to be synonyms among Latin Americans. And yes, we do consider Romanians to be Latinos. I had an Italian friend who constantly complained about not being understood to be a Latino here in the US.
Rob's post referred to Mexicans specifically, but then he used the words Latino and Hispanic as synonyms for Mexicans. As a Venezuelan, my racial composition is quite different from that of a Mexican, even though I am of course both Hispanic and Latina, an even though I share a lot of cultural commonalities with Mexicans. So I feel the need to clarify these differences, which have been long misunderstood by most non-Hispanic Americans.

dmarks said...

Do Romanians consider themselves to be Latino?

Melissa said...

Unfortunately I don't know any Romanians personally, but I'm sure they are aware that their language is Latin-based. That's the good part about using words with their correct meaning.

Anonymous said...

The hierarchy in Latin America is something like


Asians, such as Peru's former president Alberto Fujimori, count as white. Rapanui (indigenous people of Easter Island) are counted as Indians.

Of course, the Spanish made the smart move of allying with the local Indians through marriage, so 'pure' whites are rare. Ultimately, most Mexicans at least are indistinguishable from Southwestern Indians, but have the usual differences from, say, plains Indians.

Urban Indians are apparently aware of all this, and typically run with a Latino crowd. Also, it's the Aztecs, not the Spanish, that drive Mexican nationalism.

Rob said...

I just posted the information I found, Melissa. I didn't want to get into a big discussion about Mexicans, Latinos, and Hispanics. I thought the point was clear without it.

But if you insist....

Until the 1800s, the Viceroyalty of New Spain included all of Mexico and Central America except Panama. New Spain's inhabitants were considered Mexicans until the territory split into separate countries. When we talk about Mexicans, we're talking about the descendants of these people.

I didn't make it clear, but this posting is mainly about the Latinos of North America--primarily the US, Mexico, and Central America. In the US, about 75% of these Latinos are Mexicans or Central Americans. (The rest are from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and South America.) When you add the people of Mexico and Central America, most North American Latinos are Mexicans or former Mexicans.

Referring to "Mexicans" in this context wouldn't have been accurate because I meant to include other Central Americans as well. "Latino" is a good synonym for "Mexicans or former Mexicans." It's not totally accurate, but in a US-based discussion, it's reasonably accurate. Especially since Puerto Ricans and Cubans also have Indian blood.

Rob said...

Yes, "Latino" derives from Latin languages, but a derivation isn't a definition. According to the dictionary, "Latino" does not include the French, Italians, or Romanians.

1. A Latin American.

2. A person of Hispanic, especially Latin-American, descent, often one living in the United States.

As employed by the Census Bureau, Hispanic or Latino does not include Brazilian Americans, and specifically refers to "Spanish culture or origin"; Brazilian Americans appear as a separate ancestry group.