Mestizaje is a major source of racial attitudes in Latin America

Despite clues from ethnographic research, we lack nationally representative evidence on the general population’s feelings about mestizaje

Manos con distintos tonos de piel

LatinAmerican Post Staff

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Ideas of mestizaje, or race mixture, are central to the formation of many Latin American nations and are assumed to predominate in much of the region today. Concepts of mestizaje stress racial fusion and the inclusion of diverse racial elements as essential to the nation; hence mestizos, or mixed-race people, are considered the prototypical citizens.

Leer en español: El mestizaje no debe pasar desapercibido en América Latina

Although racial hierarchies characterize Latin American socioeconomic structures, ideas of mestizaje have stood in contrast to ideas of white racial purity and anti-miscegenation historically held in the United States. While ideas of mestizaje emerged as Latin American state projects in the early twentieth century, they are often hailed as widely shared ideologies that are central to Latin Americans’ understanding of race and race relations.

Despite Latin America’s diverse racial composition and the fact that an estimated 133 million Afro-descendant and 34 million indigenous people reside there, according to recent data—numbers far higher than in the United States —racial attitudes in Latin America have, surprisingly, been understudied. Despite clues from ethnographic research, we lack nationally representative evidence on the general population’s feelings about mestizaje.

In an article published in the Latin American Research Review, a group of researchers examined support for mestizaje and its variations across nation and ethnicity in eight Latin American countries with large nonwhite populations: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru. These countries represent more than 70 percent of Latin America’s population and are home to the vast majority of both Afro-descendants and indigenous people in the region. The researchers found that, in general, most Latin Americans support mestizaje, although support varies by country and ethnicity.

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Brazilians were most supportive of mestizaje, followed by Colombia and “midlevel” support for mestizaje in Mexico (and in Ecuador and Peru). It is likely that the lower levels of support for mestizaje in Mexico, compared to Brazil and Colombia, might relate to the absence of strong policies promoting minorities. Brazil has pursued the most aggressive ethnoracial promotion policies, particularly affirmative action in higher education, and Brazilian society has a relatively high level of popular awareness and discussion of minority disadvantage. In contrast, Mexican policies in support of minorities are relatively weak. In any case, Latin American ideology of mestizaje is a major source of racial attitudes in the region and must not be go unnoticed.

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