As the conquistadores made their way in 1519 into what would one day become Mexico, they were adamant about several things: the need to conquer, seek gold, and spread Christianity to “pagan” peoples. In the process of plundering, pillaging and eradicating the “barbaric” world, as many Spaniards described it, they also created a new race of people: los mestizos – half European and half Indian.
The conquistadores’ virility and proof of manhood, influenced by the Moors who had settled in Spain, found free reign in their sexual relationships with Indian women. Women were often presented to them as “gifts” or as pawns in political negotiations; however, the easiest and most common way for the Spaniards to possess the Indian women was by force. Rape was something widely accepted by the Spanish government and the Church, and it was not uncommon for priests to father several children, and continue serving as priests. Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the Father of Mexican Independence, also a priest, fathered two children, and was eventually excommunicated, not for disobeying the vow of chastity, but for his leadership in winning independence for Mexico. Spanish owners of haciendas had their pick of women, and reserved the right to have sexual intercourse with a young woman on the eve of her wedding day. The song La Borrachita is a sad song of a young woman who leaves her groom-to-be to fulfill her obligations to her criollo master.
The first generation of mestizos born to the original conquistadores were accepted into white society because of the elite positions of their fathers. They mixed easily with the criollos, the white-skinned Europeans, and usually married Europeans. The half-Indian, half-Spanish children of illegitimate unions came to bear the name mestizos, which is a Yucatecan word referring to a traditional costume consisting of two main garments, one white and one dark. Those born with darker skin where described as Indians and became part of the lower class, forced to live as subjects of the lighter-skinned ruling class. Thus was born the caste system that to this day exists in Mexico.
Mestizos evolved into several mixed-bloods such as, African, Arab and Chinese, always taking the lowest jobs, living in ghettos and suffering discrimination at all levels of society. After Mexico attained its independence from Spain in 1821, mestizo men were allowed to become craftsmen, clerks and have positions of authority. Some joined the military and distinguished themselves in Mexico’s numerous revolutions. Others became bandits, such as the famous Pancho Villa. Perhaps the best-known mestizo artists born in Mexico were Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.
Mestizos developed the ability to survive brutality, contempt, and endure slavery and discrimination, rising again and again, increasing in numbers, and winning political power. Over the years, mestizos have developed into the backbone of America’s economic system, enlisting in the military, working in mines, agriculture, and serving in industries that helped build up American cities from coast to coast. The pleasure-loving criollo, whose sense of superiority and entitlement led to the conquest of subordinate classes and established a new nation, in combination with the mystical, fatalistic spirit of the Indian, have forged a population that America today refuses to recognize at many levels. The words Chicano and Latino permeate our culture, and the protection of our borders has been seen as one way to stop the exchange of peoples, which has been ongoing for centuries. In this climate, the mestizo nation in America, now in the millions, faces its greatest challenge, which, in true mestizo fashion, will be just one more obstacle to overcome.
Stella Pope Duarte was born and raised in South Phoenix. She began her writing career in 1995 after she had a dream in which her deceased father told her that her destiny was to become a writer. Her work has won awards and honors nationwide.