Inca Garcilaso de la Vega · Porfirio Díaz
|Regions with significant populations|
|Predominantly Spanish, (with a minority of other languages), while Mestiço speaks Portuguese, and Métis speak French; English in the United States, Kriol and English in Belize; and English|
|Christianity (predominantly Roman Catholic, with a minority of Protestant); and other religions.|
|Related ethnic groups|
|European (mostly Spaniards, Portuguese, French) and Amerindian people|
Mestizo is a term traditionally used in Latin America for people of mixed European and Native American heritage or descent. The term originated as a racial category in the Casta system that was in use during the Spanish empire's control of their American colonies, it was used to describe those who had one European-born parent and one who was member of an indigenous American population. In the Casta system mestizos had fewer rights than European born persons called "Peninsular", and "Criollos" who were persons born in the new world of two European born parents, but more rights than "Indios" and "Negros".
During the colonial period, mestizos quickly became the majority group in most of Latin America; and when the colonies started achieving independence from Spain, the mestizo group often became dominant. In some Latin American countries, such as Mexico, the concept of the "mestizo" became central to the formation of a new independent identity that was neither wholly Spanish nor wholly indigenous and the word mestizo acquired its current meaning of mixed cultural heritage rather than racial descent.
During the Spanish colonial period, Spaniards developed a complex caste system based on race, which was used for social control and which also determined a person's importance in society. There were four main categories of race: (1) Peninsular - a Spaniard born in Spain, (2) Criollo (fem. criolla) - a person of Spanish descent born in Mesoamerica, (3) Indio (fem. India) - a person who is a native of, or indigenous to, Mesoamerica, and (4) Negro (fem. Negra) - a person of African slave descent. Persons of mixed race were collectively referred to as castas. During this era, a myriad of other terms (such as mulatto and zambo) were used to differentiate racial mixtures. By the end of the colonial period in 1821, over one hundred categories of possible variations of mixture existed.
In theory, Criollo status could also be attained by people of mixed origin who had the equivalent of a great grandparent with Amerindian ancestry. Such cases might include the offspring of a Castizo (3/4 Spanish, 1/4 Indian) parent and one Peninsular or Criollo parent. This one-eight rule, also in theory, did not apply to African admixture.
A person's legal racial classification in colonial Spanish America was closely tied to social status, wealth, culture and language use. Wealthy people paid to change or obscure their actual ancestry. Many indigenous people left their traditional villages and sought to be counted as mestizos to avoid tribute payments to the Spanish. Many indigenous people, and sometimes those with partial African descent, were classified as mestizo if they spoke Spanish and lived as mestizos.
Often, but only early on, the term mestizo was associated with illegitimacy; The term also has a pejorative use about something that is not "pure". However, it evolved in the ensuing centuries. According to historians Michael C. Meyer and William L. Sherman, early in the 16th century Spanish colonial usage of the term, mestizo "was almost synonymous with bastard" (illegitimate child).
Because the term had taken on a myriad of meanings, the designation "Mestizo" was removed from census counts in Mexico and is no longer in use.