Saturday, April 21, 2012

I am 1/4 Indian, 1/8 Spanish, 1/5 Black, & The Rest Eskimo.

I remember somewhere back when I was a kid my mom telling me "Mexicans are part Indian and part Spanish." "How much of each?" I asked. "Half and half". And so I went on to tell people I was a Mexican. I had no particular pride then in being Indian. Indians were killed in the old cowboy movies. "Don't stand in the sun too long", my mom said "Or you get black like and Indian."

Only later when I began to learn about Mexico's history did I begin to get a sense of the great significance of blood lines to people. Indian was bad. Spanish, or European was good. It meant to be "white skinned", not "prieto" or "dark-skinned", and that was good.

When I learned the word "Meztizo", my world changed. It was the term the Spanish Conquerors of the New World called those born of a Spanish Father and an Indian mother (Spanish women did not play  around, I suppose). It was synonymous with "half breed", a person despised by the indigenous for having European blood, and hated by the Europeans for having Indian blood.

More amazing was to learn of all the terms the Spanish invented for the incredible mixing of blood lines which were to come in the New World and they had a word for each and every one:

Peninsular = Spaniard born on the Iberian Peninsula (Spain)
Meztizo = One born of a Spanish father and Indian mother
Creole (Criollo) = Child of a Peninsular but born in Mexico (New World)
Caztizo = A Meztizo + a Creole
Cholo = An Indian + a Meztizo
Mulatto = A Peninsular + a Black
Zambo = A Black + an Indian
Euromeztizo = Indian with Spanish characteristics dominating
Indomeztizo = A Spaniard with Indian characteristics dominating.

In Henry Parkes' A History of Mexico he adds one final absurd footnote to this unholy mixture of bloods: a saltapatras' or "throwback", all the way to the start! How in the world, at the end of this stew of bloodlines, could one return to being a Peninsular?!

But even more incredulous is how the term Meztizo came to mean Mexican; this word that for 300 years of Spanish domination in Mexico was uttered with indignation. But it did.

Its origins are fodder for debate but a prevailing theory is that the people we currently refer to as Aztecs, never called themselves by that term, but called themselves the Mexica (Meshica) or the Mexicans (Meshicans)

After Mexico's War of Independence (1810-1821), the word Mexican would be proudly used for the first time to define the Meztizo, a person born of the bloods of two great civilizations, the European and the Native American.

Strange bedfellow, que no?

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