The American Spaniards, also known as Criollos (Creoles) were the completely hispanicized people born in the New World. They were regarded as white and a few of them no doubt were, but most were descended from Mestizos who had been recognized by their Spanish fathers and brought up as Spaniards.
As the Colonies began to grow, the tendency for European Spaniards to seek spouses in this group led to a gradual “bleaching” of the Creoles, who thus became, for the most part, light Mestizos. The Creoles rapidly expanded through natural increase as well as “passing” from the lower groups.
In 1570, the newly emerging of the Criollo race constituted a mere 0.3 percent of the total; by 1646 they approached 10 percent; at the close of Spanish rule they comprised nearly 18 percent of the total (See Table 1.1 in Appendix with regards to race statistics.)
The Creoles owned most of the land not in possession of the European Spaniards, they monopolized much of commerce and craft production, and they occupied the lesser offices in the Colonial bureaucracy. Soon thereafter, they constituted a nascent bourgeoisie next to the Aristocratic European Spaniards. Like the European Spaniards, the Criollos were disproportionately represented in the urban centers, although they were sometimes owners or landlords of large plantations. Every so often a Creole was appointed to a high occupation such as that of viceroy or bishop.
When we make racial comparison between the Creole and the European Spaniards, on the surface it might seem that the criterion for distinguishing both groups was one of racial purity. However, although such phrases as “purity” or “cleanliness of blood” (as pointed out by Pierre L. Van den Berghe in his book
Race and Racism,
) testify to a mild form of racism among the Spaniards, the Creoles were regarded more as Provincials or Colonials whose cultural purity had been corrupted by contact with superstitious heathens and who spoke an unrefined dialect of New World Spanish.
Although the distinction between the two groups was thus at least as much cultural as racial, the Creoles nearly always married either endogamously or hypergamously with European Spaniards. They also engaged in extensive concubinage with the lower three groups, (Mulattos, Zambos, Cholos) and in the process blurred the distinction between themselves and the Mestizos.
As a new Criollo race, the Mestizo came next in descending order of prestige and privileges. They were the illegitimate products of unions between Spaniards and Indian, and between Indian and Negroes, as well as of the second and third generation mixtures between Mestizos and the other nonwhite groups.
Throughout the new Latin colonies, but most especially New Spain, the melting pot of Mestizos came to constitute a residual category, which included anyone who did not belong to the three other states (Cuba, West Indies and Mexico). Within that group which steadily grew from 0.1 percent in 1570 to 12 percent in 1646, to 21.6 percent in 1810, to about 85.0 percent today, internal distinctions were made. But most if not all such distinctions became obsolete by the time of Independence.
There was also much concern for physical appearance which gave rise to an elaborate nomenclature based on skin color, hair texture, and facial features. AfroMestizos were sometimes distinguished from Indianwhite mixtures by the term “Zambaigo.” Finer distinctions of shades of pigmentation and types of crossing between Indian and whites gave rise to such terms as “Mestizo blanco, castizo, Mestizo prieto, Mestizo pardo, and mestindio.”
By the late 18th Century passing had become common enough to blur the difference between Creoles and Mestizos and to make the casta system fairly nominal. At first, Mestizos were technically debarred from most nonmanual occupations. However, as time went on, such restrictions became less stringently applied. During such periods of development, many Mestizos were brought up by a single parent, usually the mothers, as Indians; and gradually they became increasingly hispanicized to the point of being culturally indistinguishable from the Criollos and European Spaniards. Unlike Indians and Negroes, Mestizos were exempt from payment of the capitalization tax, but their economic status or position was often little better.
Although much has been said about the Criollo concept under study, one cannot do a complete examination of it without covering some of the work done by two famous authors of Latin American Literature. These authors are Jose Juan Arron and José Vasconcelos.
In his book,
Certidumbre de America,
Arron described the Criollo concept as one who is born and raised on this side of the world (meaning the Americas or New World) from parent immigrants who came to America from the Old World. “Los criollos son, por tanto, los polluelos que en case—en geografia America les nacen a los imigrantes venidos del Viejo Mundo.” (The Criollos [born American] are somewhat the chicks [young people] that are at home in the American geography, born of immigrants that came from the Old World.) Therefore, for Arron, Criollo as a concept in the Spanish language, is a term with a great deal of cultural character. “Los criollos somos los que, sea cual sea el color de nuestra piel, nos hemos criado de este lado del charco y hablamos y pensamos en espa–ol con sutiles matices Americanos,” (“Criollos” are those of us without regard for the color of our skin who have been on this side of the Ocean and think and speak in Spanish with slight American inflections.)
José Vasconcelos in his book
La Raza Cósmica (Quinta Raza),
presented a very significant account about the emergence of a New Race in the New World, and the strong influences imposed upon it by both the Spanish and British immigrants. But, most of all, the mixtures of races and cultures that developed after the discovery of the New World, generation after generation. He called this mixture “la quinta raze,” or “the fifth race.” It is with this thought that we move to the discussion of our next topic, “Criollismo.”