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Varias pinturas de la época Colonial illustrando el sistema de castas en el México.

Several period paintings depicting the caste system in Colonial Mexico.

The following is an expert from "Casta Paintings: The Construction and Depiction of Race in Colonial Mexico by Christa Johanna Olson" located at

Colonial Mexico was home to a vast array of ethnoracial groups. In the first years following the conquest, most people fell into one of three distinct ethnoracial categories. They were either indigenous Nahuas, peninsular Spaniards, or Africans (both enslaved and free). However, the three "original" categories broke down quite quickly and by the early 17th Century the castas were being defined. The term castas referred originally to people of mixed ethnoracial heritage and was generally derogatory. The Spanish brought a fanatical fascination about race with them when they arrived in the "New World." Throughout the reconquest of Spain, a person's identity as a cristiano viejo (old Christian) guaranteed social position. Any hint of Jewish or Moorish blood was considered a stain that limited access to high ranking positions. Following this racial hierarchy in New Spain, peninsular and New World born Spaniards of so-called pure blood looked down on members of the castas and considered them dangerous and prone to immorality and incivility (Cope 1994, 6). Together, the castas, the Spanish, the Natives, and the Africans formed a rigid caste system that governed the ethnoracial and class based hierarchy of New Spain. The Spaniards used their elaborate system of classification to maintain social and political control. "Pureblooded" Spaniards held the top position in their constructed social and racial hierarchy, and Africans were considered most inferior. Members of the mixed classes fit into the hierarchy depending on the quantity of "tainted" blood found in their genealogy.


Some estimates place the total number of castas in use in colonial Mexico at sixty or more. The table below describes some of the most common castas and provides links to other websites that feature casta paintings. As can be seen even in this abbreviated list, many of the castas overlap and contradict one another. The system of castas was never fully codified. Different terminologies grew up in different regions, among different ethnic groups, and among different occupations. Many researchers have found that often a change in classifying official (priest, government clerk, etc.) resulted in an abrupt shift in the system of racial classification used.

Caste Origin or meaning Ethnic Makeup

Spanish/Criollo**** A Criollo was a Spaniard born in the colonies Two "white" Spanish Parents* or one Spanish parent and one Castizo parent

Mestizo** Literally, a person of "mixed" ethnic heritage Offspring of one (white) Spanish parent and one Indian parent

Castizo& From the word "casta" or caste Offspring of one Spanish parent and one Mestizo parent

Mulatto** From "mule": a reference to the interbreeding of horses and donkeys. At one time, people believed Mulattos (like the animal with which they were compared) would be sterile. Offspring of one Spanish parent and one African/Black parent

Morisco** From Spanish moro, "Moor" Offspring of one Mulatto parent and one Spanish parent

Albino From albino: total or partial absence of pigmentation Offspring of one Morisco parent and one Spanish parent

Ahi te estas Mexican localism: "stay where you are" Offspring of one Mulatto parent and one Coyote parent

Coyote** From Nahuatl: coyotl, "coyote" Offspring of either one Mestizo parent and one Indian parent

Lobo** From Latin lupus, "wolf" Offspring of:
Black/African and Indian
Mulatto and Indian
Torna-atras and Mulatto
or several others***

Zambo From Latin strambus: "bowlegged" Offspring of one Black or Mulatto parent and one Indian parent

Torna-atras "turn back," a throw back to the African/Black "race" Offspring of one Spanish parent and one Albino parent, one Lobo parent and one Indian parent, or one Mestiso parent and one Mulatto parent

*Although Spanairds and Criollos often referred to themselves as "pure blooded" and white, the facts of miscegenation in Medieval Spain make wholly "white" heritage quite unlikely.
**Casta Painting appears on this website
***For a complete list, see Garcia Saiz, Maria Concepcion. 1989. Las Castas Mexicans. Milan: Olivetti
****"Spanish and Castizo produce Spanish" Picture cited from: Ilona Katzew, 1996. Casta Painting and Social Stratification in Colonial Mexico.
& "Mestiso and Spanish produce Castiso" Originally from El Museo Nacional de Etnologia (Madrid), located at


The following terminology, used in Colonial Mexico, indicates the complex pattern of interbreeding in the new World and the complex pattern of social recognition of "racial" types. This reflects the social structure and the nomenclature itself gives clues to the hierarchical nature of the social structure. (source: originally from the work of Nicolas Leon, 1924, Las Castas Mestizaje Del Mexico Colonial o Nueva España, reported in M.D. Olien, 1973, Latin Americans: Contemporary Peoples and Their Cultural Traditions, pp. 94).

*Español (Spaniard) male mates with India (Amerind) woman, produces a mestizo
*Mestizo male mates with an Española woman and produces a castizo.
*Castizo male mates with an Española woman and produces an español.
*Español male mates with a Negra woman and produces a mulato.
*Mulato male mates with an Española woman and produces a morisco.
*Morisco male mates with an Española woman and produces a chino.
*Chino male mates with an India woman and produces a salta atrás.
*Salta atrás male mates with a Mulata woman and produces a lobo.
*Lobo male mates with a China woman and produces a jíbaro (hick).
*Jíbaro male mates with a Mulata woman and produces an albarazado.
*Albarazado male mates with a Negra woman and produces a cambujo.
*Cambujo male mates with an India woman and produces a sambaigo.
*Sambaigo male mates with a Loba woman and produces a calpamulato.
*Calpamulato male mates with a Cambuja woman and produces a tente en el aire.
*tente en el aire male mates with Mulata woman, produces no te entiendo.No te entiendo male mates with *India woman and produces a torna atras.