Las Castas

Image Courtesy of

Image Courtesy of

Quadroon is a term used to describe the amount of African ancestry a person has. It stems from the Casta system of colonial Spain in the 17th and 18th centuries in the Americas. The casta (caste) system was used to delineate a person’s racial identity. In Spanish America, it was believed a person’s character was based on their birth, color, race, and ethnic origin. Concomitantly, the castas system was used to determine a person’s place in society and controlled several aspects of their social and economic life (including taxation). Charts, like the one pictured above, were created to illustrate a social hierarchy, with “Peninsulars,” Spanish-born Spaniards, at the top of the social ladder, and “Negroes,” people of pure African decent, at the bottom.

Africans were first brought to “New Spain” to work on plantations and ranches. Their long history in Mexico includes notable figures like Gaspar Yanga, leader of the slave rebellion that started the first freed slave colony; José María Morelos, a freedom fighter during the War for Independence; and Vincente Guerrero, the first Black president of the Americas (Mexico 1828-1829). Guerrero abolished slavery in 1829 and was also a hero in the fight for independence.

Today in Mexico, the ancestors of colonial slavery, now referred to as AfroMexican, or the “Third Root,” live mostly in the coastal areas of Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Veracruz. AfroMexicans, a population of about ten percent, comprise a group that consists of the poorest population in these areas. They remain unrecognized on Mexico’s national list of ethnic groups. While there may no longer be an official castas system, the AfroMexican population remains a part of the largely forgotten struggle for recognition.

by Sophia La Valley

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1 Comment

  1. Jesús Reyes

     /  September 16, 2014

    It’s amazing how knowledge of these historical facts is often downplayed or dismissed to the past-tense of reality, when in fact the racialized caste system is alive and well in the seams of most Latin American countries. Whether it’s for the sake of protecting the status quo without calling it so, or just plain delusion, when people deny the role of race in our class structure, it’s one dangerous act of erasure. We can’t pretend that with the abolition of slavery and gaining political independence, centuries of inhuman racial conceptions were left behind too. To this day you hear comments among some Latinos about how how biracial kids are “improving the race” and such. You can also clearly pinpoint how, coincidentally-on-purpose, the poorest regions or communities happen to be of black African descent. I think we must acknowledge that the ties of imperialism did not break entirely when American countries gained independence, that the colonial class and race conceptions still live on, and that, in understanding this as a reality, we will move beyond fireworks every independence day into hands-on inclusion and justice.



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