September 03, 2007

Mexicans reclassified themselves upward

Shades of Mexican

Mexicans have historically used and manipulated race to improve their social status.Unlike in the United States, where race is understood as purely biological, in Mexico it's defined by culture and class as much as it is by DNA. An Indian, for example, is not simply someone with Indian blood, but an individual who behaves, dresses and speaks "like an Indian." Someone of wholly Indian heritage who speaks Spanish and lives according to Hispanic (as opposed to indigenous) customs would be considered mestizo, or mixed. Not surprisingly, when race is a question of culture, it is a fluid and even changeable category.

This isn't to say that race has had no social meaning in Mexican history. From the 16th to the 19th centuries, Spain imposed a hierarchical racial order in colonial Mexico, one that favored those with European heritage and lighter skin. Whites, blacks, mestizos and Indians were assigned different levels of access to property, power and prestige. But through the years, racial mixing eroded the categories and weakened that social order. As the categories loosened, upwardly mobile Mexicans gamed the system and climbed the racial ladder by creative categorization. This was most common on Mexico's northern frontier--the contemporary American Southwest--where government control was weak and most pioneers were mestizo. In California and Texas, settlers routinely reclassified themselves to improve their social standing. The first two census surveys of the pueblo of Los Angeles are full of instances of racial re-classification.

In 1781, a certain Jose Vanegas was classified as Indian. Nine years later, however, he is listed as a mestizo. Similarly, while the first census lists Jose Navarro as mestizo, in 1790, he has become a Spaniard instead.


Anonymous said...

Anything "racial" just boils down to one thing: Person A trying to gain an advantage over Person B - By any means necessary.

People who play the race card are just as bad as those who spout hatred based on race - two sides of the same coin.

Rob said...

Your argument implies that there's no such thing as racism, objectively speaking. Millions of real-world experiences, not to mention academic studies, prove you wrong on that point.

Anonymous said...

This article was also found in the LA Times under the byline, Rodriguez. Whose is it?

Rob said...

Gregory Rodriguez wrote it. I merely quoted an excerpt from his column.

You can tell that by how I indented the text (standard literary practice for a quotation). And how I linked to the original so you could read it and check the bibliographic info yourself.

All clear? I don't claim the authorship of anything in my blog except the few postings that are flush left.