Comments by Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa on castas in Spanish South America, c.1749


It has already been shown in other parts of this report [their Discourse and Political Reflections on the Kingdoms of Peru] that the largest proportion of the population consists of mestizos and castes. In some cities they are mixtures of Indians and Spaniards; in others of Spaniards and Negroes; in still others of Spaniards, Indians, and Negroes; and finally of various mixtures of different castes. Over time Spaniards and Indians mix in a way that transforms the offspring completely into whites with coloring, in the second generation, that cannot be distinguished from that of Spaniards, yet they are not called Spaniards until the fourth generation. In mixing Spaniards and Negroes, dark skin color lasts longer and is distinguishable through the third and fourth generations. The latter group has the generic name of mulattoes, although later on they are placed in special categories such as tercerones or quarterones, depending upon their place in the hierarchy. Mestizo or mulatto women from the second to the fourth or fifth generation normally are the ones who give themselves up to this licentious life [prostitution or concubinage], although they do not view it in this way. Indifferent toward legal marriage, they feel equal to any married woman. Because they live in a corrupt area of the world, they would rather choose this latter alternative. They also see the advantages to be obtained as mistresses which are not present when they are legal mates. But mulatto and mestizo women are not the only ones who take up this sort of existence. Involved also are those who have left the Indian and Negro race completely and are now known as Spanish. Depending on their social status, they try to become mistresses to members of the upper class, distinguished political or civil administrators, laymen, or clergy. Normally these men are more inclined toward Spanish women, but they never consider the offense they give to their distinguished family lineage. Other men, however, who have not attained such high status, are content with attaching themselves to women whose individual attributes do not even bring them close to being Spanish. In this regard two factors are clear. First, as we have already pointed out, a mestizo woman of the third degree will be stigmatized by taking up with a mestizo male also of the third degree, but this is not so if her alliance is with a white man, particularly one of European origin. She will be better off in the latter situation because these men have the qualities which will raise her in the social scale. Second, she looks for possibilities among males who can best support her, in order to elevate herself more or less. Accordingly, if these two factors are considered, she has no further difficulties. She lives as a mistress in an illicit state that lasts ten, fifteen, or twenty years until the male changes his mind, decides to follow a new course, or decides to alter his ways by taking another woman, which occurs all the time.