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Mestizo is a Spanish and Portuguese (Mestiço) term that was used in the Spanish Empire and Portuguese Empire in Latin America to refer to Latin people of mixed European and Amerindian ancestry.

The term is specifically for those people of the particular racial mixture of European and American Indian who inhabit and comprise much of the population of Latin America, however it is used, somewhat incorrectly, in other parts of the world.


The word mestizo originated from the Romance / Latin word mixticius, meaning mixed. In the Portuguese and French languages, the words caboclo and métis were also used in the Portuguese and French Empires to identify individuals of mixed European and Native ancestry.


Spanish-speaking Latin America

Under the casta system of Spanish America and Spainmarker, the term originally applied to the children resulting from the union of one European and one Amerindian parent or the children of two mestizo parents. During this era, a myriad of other terms including castizo (three-quarters European and one-quarter Amerindian), cuarterón de indio, and cholo (one-quarter European and three-quarters Amerindian), were in use to denote other individuals of European-Amerindian ancestry in ratios smaller or greater than the 50:50 of mestizos.

Mestizos form the majority of the population in most of Latin America; however, it would be difficult to know with any reasonable "biological" precision how extensive the mestizo population is, except through genetic studies. Various censuses since colonial times have tracked the race of inhabitants of the Spanish American countries, but these statistics are only generally indicative of what could be considered biological race, since they really captured the "social" race of a person. A person's legal racial classification in colonial Spanish America was closely tied to social status, wealth, culture and language use. Wealthy people paid to change or obscure their actual ancestry. Many indigenous people left their traditional villages and sought to be counted as mestizos to avoid tribute payments to the Spanish. Many indigenous people, and sometimes those with partial African descent, were classified as mestizo if they spoke Spanish and lived as mestizos.

In general, the countries believed to have a majority mestizo population today are Mexicomarker, with the largest population , Colombiamarker, Ecuadormarker, El Salvadormarker, Hondurasmarker,Nicaraguamarker, Panamamarker, Guatemalamarker, Paraguaymarker, and Venezuelamarker. In Boliviamarker and Perumarker, mestizos form the second largest group.

In some countries like Costa Ricamarker and Chilemarker, sources such as the CIA classify the population into a single "White and mestizo" or "White and 'white-Amerindian'" group respectively, leading to a combined figure of over 95% in each country, as whites and mestizos are not tallied separately. In Argentinamarker and Uruguaymarker, the official mestizo population form a small minority of 3% to 8% of the population.

In Mexico, the degree of admixture varies with region, although population mobility in recent decades has changed this somewhat. Generally, the degree of indigenous Amerindian ancestry among Mexican mestizos increases as one goes south, and conversely, decreases the more one goes north. This pattern reflects both the preferential trend of Spanish settlement (actual settlers, not concentration of cities founded by Spaniards) in central and northern regions during the colony and also the greater concentration of Amerindians that inhabited the central to southern regions.

A representation of a Mestizo, in a Pintura de Castas from Mexico during the Spanish colonial period.
The painting illustrates "A Spaniard and Amerindian, produce a Mestizo".

Noted mestizos migrating to Europe

Martín Cortés, son of the Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés and of the Nahuatl-Maya indigenous Mexican interpreter Malinche, was the first mestizo to arrive in Spain, though he did so against his will after being exiled in punishment for leading a rebellion with his younger brother to form a new government in Mexico.

The first mestizos of whom there is verified evidence of willingly having set foot on European soil are the grandchildren of Moctezuma II, Aztec emperor of Mexico, whose royal descent the Spanish crown acknowledged. Of this family, the most publicized descendants are the Acosta family and the Spanish Count Miravalle, in Andalucíamarker, Spain, who in 2003 demanded that Mexico recommence payment of the so called 'Moctezuma pensions' the government cancelled in 1934. The interest alone of such pensions is said to be enough for every single one of Moctezuma's modern descendants to live comfortable lives.

From Perumarker also arrived the mestizo historian Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, son of Spanish Conquistador Sebastián Garcilaso de la Vega and of the Inca princess Isabel Chimpo Oclloun. He lived in the town of Montillamarker, Andalucía, where he died in 1616.

Starting from the early 1970s and throughout all of the 1980s, Europe saw the arrival of thousands of Chileansmarker, both whites and mestizos, seeking political refuge during the dictatorial government of Augusto Pinochet. Today, there is a growing number of mestizo immigrants in Western Europe, primarily from Ecuadormarker and Colombiamarker.


In Brazilmarker, the word mestiço is used to describe individuals born from any mixture of different ethnicities. Individuals that fit the specific case of having Portuguese and Amerindian parents are commonly known as caboclo or, more commonly in the past, mameluco. Individuals of European and African ancestry are described as mulato. Cafuzos (known as zambo in the English language) are the production of Amerindian and African ancestors.


In Canada, the Métis are regarded as an independent ethnic group. This community of descent consists of individuals descended from marriages of First Nation women, specifically Cree, Ojibway, and Saulteaux with Europeans, usually French, English, and Scottish laborers or merchants employed in the North American Fur Trade. Their history dates to the mid 17th century, and they have been recognized as a people since the early 18th century.

Their territory roughly includes the three Prairie Provinces (Manitobamarker, Albertamarker and Saskatchewanmarker), parts of Ontariomarker, British Columbiamarker and the Northwest Territoriesmarker, as well as parts of the northern United Statesmarker (including North Dakotamarker and Montanamarker).

Traditionally, the Métis spoke a mixed language called Michif (with various regional dialects). Michif (a phonetic spelling of the Métis pronunciation of "Métif", a variant of Métis) is also used as the name of the Métis people. The name is most commonly applied to descendants of communities in what is now southern Manitobamarker. The name is also applied to the descendants of similar communities in what are now Ontariomarker, Quebecmarker, Labrador, and the Northwest Territoriesmarker, although these groups' histories are different from that of the western Métis. In Northern Manitoba some communities spoke Bungee, a combination of Gaelic, Cree, and Ojibwe. Bungee is now extinct.

Estimates of the number of Métis vary from 300,000 to 700,000 or more. In September 2002, the Métis people adopted a national definition of Métis for citizenship within the "Métis Nation." Based on this definition, it is estimated that there are 350,000 to 400,000 Métis Nation citizens in Canada, although many Métis classify anyone as Métis who can prove that an ancestor applied for money scrip or land scrip as part of nineteenth-century treaties with the Canadian government. However, Labrador, Quebec, and even some Acadian Metis communities are not accepted by the Metis National Council and are represented nationally by the "Congress of Aboriginal Peoples."

The Métis are not recognized as a First Nation by the Canadian government and do not receive the benefits granted to First Nation peoples. However, the 1982 amendments to the Canadian constitution recognize the Métis as an Aboriginal people and have enabled individual Métis to sue successfully for recognition of their traditional rights such as rights to hunt and trap. In 2003, a court ruling in Ontariomarker found that the Métis deserve the same rights as other aboriginal communities in Canada.

The United States

In the United Statesmarker, the term "Multiracial" is used to indentify individuals of mixed racial heritages. "Mixed-blood" is the most common term for Native Americans mixed with any other race. Thus, "mestizo" is used only by a select few.

The old English language cognate of mestizo is "Mestee", a word originating from the Middle French term "Mestis", which is translated to Métis in the modern French language. It was widely used by people of mixed White and Native American ancestry before the American Civil War in the 19th century. After the Civil War, the One-drop rule started to include Black people, and the word fell into disuse — except for members of the old tri–racial ethnic groups such as Melungeons, Brass Ankles, Chestnut Ridge people (or Mayles), and Redbones.

Nearly half (48%) of the 35 million Hispanic and Latino Americans counted in the Federal 2000 Census self-identified as "White", and another 3/7 (42%) as "Other". Multiracials came in at 6%.There are many multiracial people of different ethnicities living in the United States. An explorer by the name of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau was perhaps the most notable person of mixed ancestry in the region. His father, Toussaint Charbonneau, was a French Canadian interpreter, and his mother Sacagawea was a Native American Shoshone guide of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Jean Baptiste can be found depicted on the United States dollar coin along with his mother, Sacagawea. Prior to 1848 it was unclear where the Canada-US border lay, and later still before it was enforced. Many Metis lived in Montanamarker and North Dakotamarker.

Other Non-specific Uses


Filipino mestizo is a term used in the Philippines to denote Filipinos of mixed indigenous Filipino (Austronesian/Malay/Malayo-Polynesian), European and/or Chinese ancestry.

The official percentage of Filipinos of mixed ancestry, although thought to be small, is still unknown and the Philippine government does not honor any surveys or studies done by various institutions since most of them are only considered "guestimates". Racial intermixture occurred, on a small scale, during the Spanish colonial era, as well as in the 20th century with Americans of all races. Before and during these periods, significant Chinese admixture has also been introduced into the Filipino population. There is also a popiulation of Filipino mestizos in the Philippines who have ancestries from various Middle Eastern countries. Because most Filipinos were given Spanish surnames (see:Alphabetical Catalog of Surnames) during their occupation by the Spanish crown via Mexico Citymarker and Madridmarker, Eurasians of non-Spanish descent with Spanish surnames may be mistaken as Filipino mestizos of such descent.

Sri Lanka

Mestiços are known collectively as Burghers and are the descendents of mixed Sri Lankanmarker and Portuguesemarker/Dutchmarker/Britishmarker colonists, Sri Lanka Indo-Portuguese language and Dutch Creole are still spoken on the island.

Guam and Northern Mariana Islands

In the former Spanish colonies of Guammarker and Northern Mariana Islandsmarker, the term "Mestizo" was formerly used to identify people of mixed Pacific Islander and Spanish ancestry; however, as the United States gained control of these islands after the Spanish American War in 1898, the term "Multiracial" became the contemporary term used to designate individuals of mixed indigenous and American or European descent. They currently form a small minority of the population.


  • Wang S, Ray N, Rojas W, Parra MV, Bedoya G, et al. (2008) Geographic Patterns of Genome Admixture in Latin American Mestizos. PLoS Genet 4(3): e1000037. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000037
  • "Genetic Study Of Latin Americans Sheds Light On A Troubled History" - Science Daily
  • Duno Gottberg, Luis, Solventando las diferencias: la ideología del mestizaje en Cuba. Madrid, Iberoamericana – Frankfurt am Main, Vervuert, 2003


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