Sistema de Castas and the Casta Paintings

Las Castas – Spanish Racial Classifications

Wikipedia:Casta: “A casta (Spanish: [ˈkasta], Portuguese: [ˈkastɐ, ˈkaʃtɐ]) was a hierarchical system of race classification created by Spanish elites (españoles) in Hispanic America during the eighteenth century. The sistema de castas or the sociedad de castas was used in 17th and 18th centuries in Spanish America and Spanish Philippines to describe as a whole and socially rank the mixed-race people who were born during the post-Conquest period. The process of mixing ancestries in the union of people of different races was known as mestizaje. A parallel system of categorization based on the degree of acculturation to Hispanic culture, which distinguished between gente de razón (Hispanics, literally, “people of reason”) and gente sin razón (non-acculturated natives), concurrently existed and supported the idea of the racial classification system.”



De negra é india sale lobo.



De mestizo é india sale Coiote



“muddied by simultaneous conflict and mixture of cultures … the Mexican finds himself in the middle” (Buitron)

Nowhere was this amalgamation of the races more evident than in the writings of Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, (1580-1648) a Hispanisized Mexica who became renowned for his histories of the Pre-Columbian and colonial eras. … [5] Most importantly, it is in the work of de Alva that we begin to see the ambiguity present in the Mexican identity, an identity torn between the values of the indigenous American and the Spaniard. The identity of the mestizo, and of all Mexicans, was muddied by simultaneous conflict and mixture of cultures. During the colonial era and for centuries afterward, status in Mexican society was determined by racial ancestry. People of Indian and mixed race were placed in a lesser rank, excluded from political power. This racial discrimination had a profound effect on the nation as a whole. “The Mexican,” writer Samuel Ramos postulated, “finds himself in the middle, and to be there is his destiny, for he is not really American [Indian] and no longer Spanish. Thus the Mexican, the compulsive imitator, considers himself an inferior being.” Paz described the history of the Mexican as a tragic quest for lost parentage, who desired “to go back beyond the catastrophe he suffered… to be a sun again, to return to the center of that life from which he was separated.” Just as the black thinkers like Langston Hughes and James Baldwin sought an identity which was not African but not yet white American, Mexicans and their descendants in the United States would be forced to grapple with the same critical issue.

Richard A. Buitron, Jr., The Quest for Tejano Identity in San Antonio, Texas, 1913-2000. New York: Routledge, 2004. 5-6.

A Struggle for Sovereignty: National Consolidation, Emancipation, and Free Labor in Texas, 1865

A Struggle for Sovereignty: National Consolidation, Emancipation, and Free Labor in Texas, 1865, Nancy Cohen-Lack

The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 58, No. 1 (Feb., 1992), pp. 57-98.

Development of new contract labor system in Texas agriculture post-emancipation.


“this race of men who, as the legitimate proprietors of this land, lost it together with their lives and their hopes” (Navarro)

Mexican independence, germinated in the blood of these martyrs, was finally declared in September 1821.

But what ingratitude! Not one single murmur ever crossed the mountains of Anahuac [Mexico City] to console the broken remnant of those brave patriots. Such is the end for heroes! Perhaps their renown would be more complete if they were to receive the miserable compensation due from their fellow men. To complete the picture of misfortune, the few descendants who survive in San Antonio are disappearing, murdered in full view of a people [un pueblo] who boast of their justice and excellence.

Consolación Leal, heroine of those days, died a few months ago, killed by a Spaniard, and Antonio Delgado was riddled by bullets from the rifle of an American bastard.

May Divine Providence use these historical commentaries to stir generous hearts to treat with more respect this race of men [esa raza de hombres] who, as the legitimate proprietors of this land, lost it together with their lives and their hopes, to follow in the footsteps of those very ones who now enjoy the land in the midst of peace and plenty.

Jose Antonio Navarro, “Commentaries of Historical Interest,” in Defending Mexican Valor in Texas: Jose Antonio Navarro’s Historical Writings, 1853-1857. Edited and translated by David R. McDonald and Timothy M. Matovina. Austin, Tex.: State House Press. 76.

“… a southern State, … the most southern State” (Capmbell)

John Henry Brown, the rabidly proslavery spokesman from Galveston, issued a public letter claiming that [Lorenzo] Sherwood had called slavery “a moral evil, a fleeting and temporary institution destined to gradually give way to some other institution.” Resolutions of censure were introduced in the house, but some felt that verbal condemnation was hardly enough. The Dallas Herald commented, “A man, a Texan, a southerner who could get up in the legislature of a southern State, of the most southern State, and deliberately outrage the feelings of the whole people without distinction of party, on a question so directly affecting their most vital interests, by uttering sentiments [223] that strike at the foundation of their social and political rights, possesses a heart too callous to be reached by votes of ensure.” Eighty or ninety pairs of boots should have kicked him out of the state capital, the Herald said.[22]

Randolph B. Campbell, An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821-1865. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. 222-223.

  1. [22]Fornell, Galveston Era, 165-74; Dallas Herald, December 8, 1855.

“The debate turned on both economic and racial convictions” (De Leon, Mexican Americans in Texas)

The debate turned on both economic and racial convictions. The antirestrictionists advanced the economic argument that U.S. agriculture [69] could not survive if government interrupted immigration. Growers maintained that immigrants worked hard and did not demand the high wages wanted by Anglos. Antirestrictionists also tried to assure those fearing social ruination that the “Mexican Problem” was manageable. They conceded that Mexicans were a degenerate people and posed some moral and political dangers to the country, but that Mexicans were, all in all, docile and law-abiding, and insisted that their presence could be controlled by restricting their employment opportunities to the fields, where they would not jeopardize the fabric of white society.[10]

Small-scale farmers and Anglo field hands, conversely, challenged the notion of free admittance into the country, for immigrants were willing to work for less, keeping American cotton pickers from making “honest” wages. Labor unions also sought to arrest easy entry into the country, fearing that Mexican immigrants might, once across the border, reject farm work and seek employment in industrial capacities. A cast of politicians, educators, concerned citizens, and racists further argued that racially backward Mexicans disrupted the American way of life and caused disease, crime, and other problems.[11]

By the end of the 1920s, the restrictionists triumphed over the antirestrictionists as the United States government directed consuls to exercise greater controls in granting passports to Mexicans. Though the number of entrance visas granted to Mexicans fell after 1929, by then the depression had begun to hamper immigration northward from Mexico.[12]

Arnoldo de Leon, Mexican Americans in Texas: A Brief History, 2nd ed. Wheeling, Illinois: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1993/1999. 68-69.

  1. [10]Ibid. [Montejano], pp. 183, 188.
  2. [11]Ibid., pp. 183, 189, 179, 190; Neil Foley, The White Scourge […] pp. 52-55
  3. [12]Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, pp. 182, 190; Corwin, Immigrants–and Immigrants, p. 146.

“Mixed Bloods” (De Leon, Mexican Americans in Texas)

[p. 17 previous also has some discussion of fluidity of categories based on money and prestige]

Mixed Bloods. […] While the news of Indian attacks in the province continued to discourage immigration from New Spain’s interior, demographic expansion still resulted principally from in-migration.[36]

Most Tejano pioneers during the colonial era were the product of mestizaje, or miscegenation among the native Indian populations, European Spaniards, and African slaves. By the seventeenth century, much of New Spain’s people were termed mestizos, a label applied to the product of unions between Spanish males and Indian women. Though this element composed the majority population in Texas, various other racial categories existed, including Christianized Indians, mulattoes, and Spaniards. All participated in further racial amalgamation in the province.[37]

Census taken in the 1780s actually enumerate more Spaniards than any other classification, but such figures distort actual ancestry. Demographers know that the term “Spanish” did not necessarily identify European, white-skinned Spaniards; instead it represented a social categorization. In fact, racial makeup could be upgraded on the frontier, as one’s racial constitution did not bar upward mobility. Realistically, the term “Spaniard” identified those worthy of a certain status because of accumulated wealth, family connections, military standing, or even distinguished service to the community. European Spaniards, therefore, included but a few government or church appointees. The rest of those labeled Spaniards by census enumerators were undoubtedly mixed-bloods who “passed” as Spaniards. As noted, the Canary Islanders of San Antonio themselves intermixed with the New Spain-born population, so within two generations following their arrival, no “islander” could claim undiluted blood.[38]

Arnoldo de Leon, Mexican Americans in Texas: A Brief History, 2nd ed. Wheeling, Illinois: Harlan Davidson Inc., 1993/1999. 18.

  1. [36]Jones, Los Paisanos, p. 60; Poyo, “Immigrants and Integration in Eighteenth-Century Bexar,” pp. 85-86; Cruz, Let There Be Towns, p. 129.
  2. [37]de la Teja, San Antonio de Bexar, pp. 25-26; Gerald F. Poyo, “The Canary Islands Immigrants of San Antonio: From Ethnic Exclusivity to Community in Eighteenth-Century Bexar,” in Poyo and Hinojosa, Tejano Origins in Eighteenth Century San Antonio, p. 47; de la Teja, “Forgotten Founders,” in ibid., pp. 32-33; Poyo, “Immigrants and Integration in Late Eighteenth Century Bexar,” in ibid., pp. 96-97; Gilberto M. Hinojosa and Anne E. Fox, “Indians and Their Culture in San Fernando de Bexar,” in ibid., pp. 106-107; and Alicia V. Tjarks, “Comparative Demographic Analysis of Texas, 1777-1793,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly LXXVII (January 1974), 322-338.
  3. [38]Tjarks, “Comparative Demographic Analaysis,” p. 294; de la Teja, San Antonio de Bexar, pp. 24-26, 28-29; Poyo, “Immigrants and Integration in Late Eighteenth-Century Bexar,” pp. 86-87.

“Americans in speaking of them constantly distinguish themselves as white folks.” (Olmsted)

Most adult Mexicans are voters by the organic law; but few take measures to make use of the right. … They are regarded by slaveholders with great contempt and suspicion, for their intimacy with slaves, and their competition with plantation labor.

Americans, in speaking of them, constantly distinguish themselves as “white folks.” I once heard a new comer informing another American, that he had seen a Mexican with a revolver. [164] “I shouldn’t think they ought to be allowed to carry fire-arms. It might be dangerous.” “It would be difficult to prevent it,” the other replied; “Oh, they think themselves just as good as white men.”

Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey Through Texas; or, a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier. New York: Dix, Edwards & Co, 1857. 163-164.

[context: long section devoted to “The Mexicans in Texas.” Most seemingly based on travel through Bexar (?)]

“They are white people, just as white as the Mexicans themselves, and just as much right to be free” (Olmsted, 1860)

… He spoke very angrily, and was excited. Perhaps he was indirectly addressing me, as a northern man, on the general subject of fugitive slaves. I said that it was necessary to have special treaty stipulations about such matters. The Mexicans lost their peons — bounden servants; they ran away to our side but the United States government never took any measures to restore them, nor did the Mexicans ask it. “But,” he answered, in a tone of indignation, “those are not niggers, are they? They are white people, just as white as the Mexicans themselves, and just as much right to be free.”

Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey in the Back Country. New York: Mason Brothers, 1860. 173.

[mid-1850s convo, 1860 publication, dialectical context: staying at a plantation in “The Interior Cotton Districts,” already speaking about fugitive black slaves across the U.S.-Mexico line and why slave-catchers cannot go there to capture them]