Mexicans of European descent

Mexicans of European descent
Mexicans of European descent
Miguel Hidalgo.jpgSasha Rionda 1.png
Juana Inés de la Cruz.jpg
José Yves Limantour 1910.jpgAgustin de Iturbide.jpg
Notable European Mexicans:
Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla[1], Sasha Rionda[2]
Ilan Stavans[3], Juana Inés de la Cruz [4], José Yves Limantour[5], Agustin de Iturbide[6]

Mexicans of European descent, often called "güeros" (light-skinned) or blancos in Mexican Spanish, are generally those of light skin and predominantly European features which are most often associated with Mexico's upper and middle socioeconomic classes. The concept of "white" and race, in general, is defined in Mexico by ancestry and social class as much as it is by biological features. Another group in Mexico, "mestizos" also include people with varying amounts of European ancestry, and there is no clearly defined line between the racial groups of mestizos and güeros/blancos.

Europeans began arriving to Mexico with the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, with the descendents of the conquistadors, along with new arrivals from Spain formed an elite but never a majority of the population. Intermixing would produce a mestizo group which would become the majority by the time of Independence, but power remained firmly in the hands of the elite, called "criollo". While almost all European or Caucasian migration into Mexico during the colonial period was from Iberia, in the 19th and 20th century European and European derived populations from North and South America did immigrate to the country. However, at its height, the total immigrant population in Mexico never exceeded one percent of the total. Many of these immigrants came with money to invest and/or ties to allow them to become prominent in business and other aspects of Mexican society, but most either did not stay permanently or mix with Mexican society in general, except for some with the native criollo elite.

Today, most güeros are still associated with the Spanish colonial order. Although some would not be considered "white" by U.S. or European standards, one defining characteristic is that these people tend to keep themselves separate from the mestizo and other classes in Mexico. While the concept of race is relatively fluid, with large variation in skin color among mestizos, "white" or "European" looks are still strongly preferred in Mexican society, with lighter skin receiving more positive attention and foreign cultures considered to be "white", such as the United States, receiving deference.


Establishment of a European elite

Mexicans of European descent are among the three main groups in the country.

The main reason for the presence of European-descended people in Mexico is the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in the early 16th century.[7][8] Hernán Cortés and the conquistadors, with their light skin, brown or blonde hair and light-colored eyes, had never been seen before by the people of Mesoamerica. There are stories that Moctezuma took Cortés to be the return of the God Quetzalcoatl, but this has been disputed. Cortés managed to conquer the Aztecs through a series of alliances with enemy peoples which in the end made the Spanish dominant politically, although a very small minority numerically.[7][9] Further migration into Mexico from Spain supplemented the numbers of ethnic Europeans during the colonial period.[9] The conquest and subsequent domination by Europeans was justified by the Spanish as the indigenous were uncivilized and needed to be converted to Christianity. Spanish language and culture was imposed with indigenous ones suppressed.[10][7]

The Mexican experience mirrors much of that of the rest of Latin America, as attitudes towards race, including identification, were set by the conquistadors and Spanish who came soon after.[9] Through the colonial period, the Spanish and their descendents, called "criollos", remained vastly outnumbered by the indigenous and "mestizos", or those of mixed Spanish and indigenous parents.[10][7] To keep power, the Spanish and criollo elite perpetuated the idea of "Spanish" being equivalent to "civilized". The population of Mexico (or New Spain) was organized into a hierarchical class system with those from Spain being the most privileged, followed by criollos, then mestizos than the indigenous. Classification of this system was mostly by race, which was determined mostly by whom one descended from. The system was not completely rigid and elements such as social class and social relations did figure into it. However, the notion of "Spanishness" would remain at the top and "Indianness" would be at the bottom, with those mixed being somewhere in the middle. This idea remained officially in force through the rest of the colonial period.[7]

Criollo resentment to the privileges afforded the Spain-born or peninsulares was part of the reason behind the Mexican War of Independence. When the war ended in 1821, the new Mexican government expelled the peninsulares in the 1820s and 1830s. However, Independence did not do away with economic and social privilege based on race as the Criollos took over those of the Spain born. A division between "Spanish" and "indigenous" remained despite a majority mestizo or mixed race population. However, biological features were often not enough to distinguish between the two in many cases and some mixing occurred even in the upper classes. The main distinction between criollos and mestizos became money and social class and less about biological differences. The Criollos distinguished themselves from the rest of society as the guardians of Spanish culture as well as the Catholic religion.[11]

Those considered to be white/criollo/European were never the majority of the country's population, reaching a peak at around 18% during the early 19th century, according to census records. By 1921, the last time the official census took race into account, about ten percent were considered to be "white".[12] This is one reason why many of the political struggles of the latter 19th and early 20th centuries would be between these elite and the majority mestizos.[10]

White/European/Criollo vs Mestizo today

The concept of race in Mexico is subtle and the result of multiple cultural concepts which are in conflict. They not only include physical clues such as skin color but also cultural dispositions, morality and intellectual status. It is not static or well defined but rather is defined and redefined by situation. Descent is still one primary determiner of social status which is only loosely associated with biological traits. This makes racial distinctions different than those in other countries such as the United States.[8]

However, the concept of "white", called güero in Mexican Spanish, still existing.[13] with it basically referring to those of predominantly European heritage.[14] However, many of these would not be considered such by American, Canadian or European standards.[8] The reason for this is that those of European heritage with absolutely no indigenous or other features are rare in Mexico and the rest of Latin America.[9] However, those with the lightest skin in Mexico are generally associated with the well-educated and upper income social classes.[8] Racial and social distinctions are strongest in Mexico City, where the most powerful of the country's elite are located.[8]

One very distinctive element about the generally lighter skinned Mexican elite is their separateness from the rest of Mexican society. These upper classes fear the "common masses" even though they are supposed to be emblematic of the country.[8] There has been a long standing anxiety among the elite of Mexico that it never truly becomes modern because of something intrinsically wrong with Mexico. This usually focuses as either the inability for the masses to change.[8] The concept of civilization and modernity is strongly tied to assimilating as close as possible to the culture and economy of the United States and Europe, both idealized as white.[8]

Complicating the situation is the relationship between whites and European, and the mestizo population, racial and ethnic identification is strongly associated with Mexico's history, with descent more of a determining factor than biological traits.[8][12] Since Independence, the official identity promoted has been "mestizo" or a mix of Spanish and indigenous, which has affected social and political policy in the country. However, these policies contradict internally and between theory and reality, with European characteristics remaining in favor to this day.[12] Since 1930, the Mexican government has not included race as part of its census due to an ideology designed to stop making designations among "Mexicans".[12] Today, there are no official counts, but unofficial estimates put the "white" population at about nine or ten percent.[12][15] In one survey based on self-identification, percentages of "whites" varied from six to twenty percent depending on when one considered biology, customs and/or origins.[16] In theory, emphasis on mestizo identity was supposed to eliminate divisions and create a unified identity that would allow Mexico to modernize and integrate into the international community.[8]

The lack of a clear defining line between "white" and "mixed race" is further blurred by the fact that there is little homogeneity among mestizos, with the lighter skinned being favored, as associated with higher social class, power, money and modernity.[8][9] Being "dark" ("moreno" in Mexican Spanish) is associated with Indian origin with its inferior social class and implying submission.[7][12] There is some correlation between skin color, ethnicity and wealth, with those who mostly identified as "white" having higher socioeconomic indices such as ownership of durable goods and education levels.[16] Although on the surface, most Mexicans identify as a "mixed-race", the European side is still considered to be superior, with efforts to promote European culture and values over indigenous ones.[12]

Newspaper advertisements for employment ask for "Buena presentación", literally "good presentation", but it is interpreted as lighter skin along with class attributes such as certain types of dress. The same qualities distinguish "beauty" and "ugly" with expressions such as "he is very handsome, blond and with blue eyes" or "she's dark, but pretty."[8] Despite the fact that the vast majority of Mexicans have copper skin and dark hair, most advertising shows those with blond hair and white skin, including store mannequins, posters on subway trains and the television screen. Social critics blame television and other media for perpetuating the preference for light skin, but attempts to use darker skinned models and spokespeople have failed to sell products.[17] However, aside from these critics, there is little to no push to have television shows, music, news and other media have a more diversified presence.[18] This preference for lighter skin even extends into families with lighter skinned children favored over darker siblings.[7]

A more recent variation on this cultural and biological preference is "malinchismo" which means to indentify or favor a North American or European culture over the native one. It derives from La Malinche, the native interpreter who allied with Cortés during the Conquest. The story has strong domination and servitude elements and is still an important social imagery for Mexicans, with a strong preference to those with power. Today, it has morphed into a preference for English given names due to the influence of the United States.[7]

Idioms of race serve a mediating terms between social groups. "Güero" or "güerito" is used by street vendors to call out to potential customers, sometimes even when the person is not light-skinned. It is used in this instance to initiate a kind of familiarity, but in cases where social/racial tensions are relatively high, it can have the opposite effect.[8]

European immigration to Mexico

A photo of Italian immigrants in Monterrey in 1905

Mexicans of European descent are strongly associated with the history of the Spanish in the country as Mexico has not had the history of mass immigration that other New World countries such as the United States and Argentina have had.[8] The criollos began as the descendents of the conquistadors, which was the supplemented by further immigration from Spain in the colonial era and then from various parts of Europe and European descended peoples from other places in the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century—The term "criollo", to refer to very light skinned people, remained until the 20th century.[9] After Independence, the Criollos took over politics and economic areas formerly banned to them such as mining. They have remained dominant since, especially in Mexico City.[10][8] The expulsion of the Spanish between 1826 and 1833 kept the European ethnicity from growing as a percentage;[10] however, this expulsion did not lead to any permanent ban on European immigrants, even from Spain.[8]

Immigration to Mexico in the 19th and 20th century mostly came from Europe and other countries with European descended populations such as Argentina and the United States. However, at its height, the total immigrant population in Mexico never exceeded one percent.[8][10][11] One reason for this was that the country lacked large expanded of cultivable land on its mountainous terrain, and what existed was firmly in the hands of the criollo elite. Another was that European immigration after the Mexican War of Independence was both welcomed and feared, a combination of xenophilia and xenophobia, especially to Europeans and other "whites" existing to this day.[10][11]

The xenophilia toward European and European derived immigrants comes from the country's association of civilization with European characteristics. After Independence, Liberals among Mexico's elite blamed the country's indigenous heritage for its inability to keep up with the economic development of the rest of the world. However, embracing only Mexico's European heritage was not possible. This led to an effort to encourage European immigrants.[8] One of these efforts was the dispossession of large tracts of land from the Catholic Church with the aim of selling them to immigrants and others who would develop them. However, this did not have the desired effect mostly because of political instability. The Porfirio Díaz regime of the decades before the Mexican Revolution tried again, and expressly desired European immigration to promote modernization, instill Protestant work ethics and buttress what remained of Mexico's North from further U.S. expansionism. Díaz also expressed a desire to "whiten" Mexico's heavily racially mixed population, although this had more to do with culture than with biological traits. However, the Díaz regime had more success luring investors when permanent residents, even in rural areas despite government programs. No more than forty foreign farming colonies were ever formed during this time and of these only a few Italian and German ones survived.[11]

From the 19th to the early 20th century, most European foreigners in Mexico were in urban areas, especially the country's capital, living in enclaves and involved in business. These European immigrants would quickly adapt to the Mexican attitude that "whiter was better", and keep themselves separate from the host country. This and their status as foreigners offered them considerable social and economic advantages, blunting any inclination to assimilate. There was little incentive to integrate with the general Mexican population and when they did, it was limited to the criollo upper class. For this reason, one can find non-Spanish surnames among Mexico's elite, especially in Mexico City, to this day.[10][11]

However, even when generalized mixing did occur, such as with the Cornish miners in Hidalgo state around Pachuca and Real de Monte, their cultural influence remains strong. In these areas, English style houses can be found and the signature dish is the "paste" a variation of the English pasty.[19] In the early 20th century, a group of about 100 Russian immigrants, mostly Pryguny and some Molokane and Cossacks came to live in area near Ensenada, Baja California. The main colony is in the Valle de Guadalupe and locally known as the Colonia Rusa near the town of Francisco Zarco. Other smaller colonies include San Antonio, Mision del Orno and Punta Banda. There are an estimated 1000 descendents of these immigrants in Mexico, nearly all of whom have intermarried. The original settlements are now under the preservation of the Mexican government and have become tourist attractions.[20]

By the end of the Porfirian era, Americans, British, French, Germans and Spanish were the most conspicuous whites in Mexico, but they were limited to Mexico City in enclaves, failing to produce the "whitening" effect desired. This history would mean that Mexico would never become a nation of immigrants, but rather one where a few well-connected newcomers could make a great impact. Despite Diaz' early efforts at attracting foreign immigration, he reversed course near the end of his government, nationalizing industries dominated by foreigners such as trains. Foreigners were blamed for much of the country's economic problems leading to restriction. This would cause many foreigners to leave.[11] In the 20th century, especially after the Mexican Revolution, the mestizo was idealized, but it was still considered to be inferior to the European.[8]

One reason for the Mexico's xenophobia was that Europeans and Americans often quickly dominated various industries and commerce in the country. By the mid 19th century, there were only 30,000 to 40,000 Caucasian immigrants compared to an overall population of over eight million, but their impact was strongly felt. For example, the Spanish and French came to dominate the textile industry and various areas of commerce, pioneering the industrialization of the country.[10][11] Various Europeans and Americans also dominated mining, oil and cash crop agriculture. Many of these immigrants were not really immigrants at all, but rather "trade conquistadors" who remained in Mexico only long enough to make their fortunes to return to their home countries to retire.[11] Large numbers of Americans in Texas, would eventually lead to the succession of that territory.[10] These two experiences would strongly affect Mexico's immigration policy to this day, even though Mexico's total foreign population at its height in the 1930s, never exceeded one percent of the total.[11]

Legal vestiges of attempts to "whiten" the population ended with the 1947 "Ley General de Población" along with the blurring of the lines between most of Mexico immigrant colonies and the general population. This blurring was hastened by the rise of a Mexican middle class, who enrolled their children in schools for foreigners and foreign organizations such as the German Club having a majority of Mexican members. However, this assimilation still has been mostly limited to Mexico's lighter skinned peoples. Mass culture promoted the Spanish language and most other European languages have declined and almost disappeared. Restrictive immigration policies since the 1970s have further pushed the assimilation process. Since then there has been very little immigration with the overwhelming majority of foreigners it the country on temporary visas.[11]

Example of ethnic European groups in Mexico

One of the few Porfirian era European settlements to survive to this day is centered on the small town of Chipilo in the state of Puebla. They are the descendents of about 500 Italian immigrants which came over in the 1880s, keeping their Venetian derived dialect and distinct ethnic identity, even though many have intermarried with other Mexicans. Many still farm and raise livestock but economic changes have pushed many into industry.[21]

During the Mexican Revolution, Álvaro Obregón invited a group of German-speaking Mennonites in Canada to resettle in Chihuahua state. By the late 1920s, almost 10,000 had arrived from both Canada and Eastern Europe.[11][22] Today, Mexico accounts for about 42% of all Mennonites in Latin America.[9] Mennonites in the country stand out because of their light skin, hair and eyes. They keep to themselves keeping a form of German and traditional dress. They own their own businesses in various communities in Chihuahua, and account for about half of the state’s farm economy, standing out in cheese production .[22]

Immigration was restricted by governments after Diaz' but never stopped entirely during the 20th century. Between 1937 and 1948, more than 18,000 Spanish Republicans arrived as refugees from the Francisco Franco dictatorship. Their reception by the Mexican criollo elite was mixed but they manage to experience success as most of these newcomers were educated as scholars and artists. This group founded the Colegio de Mexico, the country’s top academic institution. Another, smaller group from this time period were Jewish immigrants fleeing Hitler. Despite attempts to assimilate these immigrant groups, especially the country’s already existing German population during World War II, they remain mostly separate to this day.[11]

The most recent mostly Caucasian immigrant group to Mexico has been the Argentines. The first arrived in the 1970s as political refugees along with some Chileans.[23] The Argentines continued to arrive, with the next wave after the economic crisis of 2001 (ArgenMex), with the Argentine population in Mexico doubling from 2001 to 2007.[24] Most of these immigrants are educated and from the country's professional classes. They are often found working in commercial centers, in publicity and many Mexican models are in fact of Argentine background.[24][25]

67% of Latin America's English speaking population lives in Mexico.[9] Most of these are American nationals, with in influx of people from the U.S. coming to live in Mexico since the 1930s, becoming the largest group of foreigners in the country since then. However, most Americans in Mexico are not immigrants in the traditional sense, as they are there living as retirees or otherwise do not consider themselves permanent residents.[11][26]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: selected writings By Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz, Pamela Kirk Rappaport P. 16
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Casa Imperial - Don Agustin de Iturbide" (in Spanish). Retrieved 2008-11-10. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Fortes de Leff, Jacqueline (Winter 2002). "Racism in Mexico: Cultural roots and clinical interventions". Family Process 41 (4): 619–23. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Alejandra M. Leal Martínez (2011). For The Enjoyment of All: Cosmopolitan Aspirations, Urban Encounters and Class Boundaries in Mexico City (PhD thesis). Columbia University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences 3453017. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Francisco Lizcano Fernández (2005). Composición Étnica de las Tres Áreas Culturales del Continente Americano al Comienzo del Siglo XXI (PhD thesis). Centro de Investigación en Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades, UAEM, Mexico. Retrieved July 19, 2011. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Martinez Montiel, Luz María. "Población inmigrante [Immigrant population]" (in Spanish). México Multicultural. Mexico: UNAM. Retrieved July 19, 2011. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Buchenau, Jurgen (Spring 2001). "Small numbers, great impact: Mexico and its immigrants, 1821-1973". Journal of American Ethnic History 20 (3): 23–49. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Navarrete, Federico. "El mestizaje y las culturas [Mixed race and cultures]" (in Spanish). México Multicultural. Mexico: UNAM. Retrieved July 19, 2011. 
  13. ^ Nutini, Hugo; Barry Isaac (2009). Social Stratification in central Mexico 1500 - 2000. University of Texas Press. p. 55. "There are basically four operational categories that may be termed ethnic or even racial in Mexico today: (1) güero or blanco (white), denoting European and Near East extraction; (2) criollo (creole), meaning light mestizo in this context but actually of varying complexion; (3) mestizo, an imprecise category that includes many phenotypic variations; and (4) indio, also an imprecise category."
  14. ^
  15. ^ "People". The World Factbook. USA: Central Intelligence Agency. June 14, 2011. Retrieved July 19, 2011. 
  16. ^ a b Schwartzman, Simon (2008). "II" (in Spanish). Étnia, condiciones de vida y discriminación [Ethnicity, lifestyles and discrimination]. 1. Brazil: Schwartzman. Retrieved July 19, 2011. 
  17. ^ Mary Williams Walsh (February 18, 1987). "Amid Dark-Haired Mexicans, Blonds Really Have More Fun". Wall Street Journal (New York): p. 1. 
  18. ^ "Y Tu Black Mama Tambien". Newsweek. June 19, 2003. Retrieved July 19, 2011. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Pryguny in Baja California, Mexico". January 21, 2011. Retrieved July 19, 2011. 
  21. ^ Montagner Anguiano, Eduardo. "El dialecto véneto de Chipilo [The Venician dialect of Chipilo]" (in Spanish). Orbis Latinus. Retrieved July 19, 2011. 
  22. ^ a b Avila, Oscar (November 22, 2008). "Mexico's insular Mennonites under siege, overlooked: The Tribune's Oscar Avila reports on Mexico's insular and targeted sect". McClatche-Tribune Business News (Washington): p. 8. 
  23. ^ Sarmiento, Sergio (July 5, 2007). "Jaque Mate / Indocumentados [Check mate/Undocumented]" (in Spanish). Palabra (Saltillo, Mexico): p. 4. 
  24. ^ a b Hernandez, Erika (July 30, 2007). "Duplican comunidad argentina en México [The Argentine community in Mexico doubles]" (in Spanish). Palabra (Saltillo, Mexico): p. 7. 
  25. ^ Armendariz, Alberto (February 21, 2011). "El legado 'argenmex' [The Argentine-Mexican legacy]" (in Spanish). Reforma (Mexico City): p. 8. 
  26. ^ Palma Mora, Monica (July-December 2005). "Asociaciones de Inmigrantes Extranjeras en la Ciudad de México Una Mirada a Fines del Siglo XX [Immigrant Associations in Mexico City A Look at the end of the 20th century]" (in Spanish). Migraciones Internacionales (Tijuana, Mexico: Colegio de la Frontera Norte) 3 (2): 29–57. ISSN 1665-8906. Retrieved July 19, 2011. 

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