One of the most remarkable processes that took place in colonial Latin America was the mixing of the various components of the population: African, American native, European, and even, as time went on, a few Asians who crossed the Pacific on the Spanish galleons returning from Manila to the west coast of Mexico. As a result of this colonial mixing, the population of modern Latin America is blended to a striking degree, both genetically and culturally.
In the eighteenth century, particularly in Mexico (where mixing seems to
have advanced more quickly than in any other large region), sets of
paintings were made showing the various possible ethnic combinations, or
castas. The basic castas were mestizo (American native and European), mulatto (African and European), and lobo (American native and African). But the mixing of existing mixtures produced many intermediate categories, which are illustrated in the paintings
stored here. In reality, by the eighteenth century the ethnic situation had grown so complex, and it was so difficult in practice to tell by appearance what an individual's parentage was, that only a few basic terms for castas were used in practice. The
paintings, illustrating as they do many subcategories, therefore represent a sort of theory of ethnic mixing. They also show some intriguing details of the everyday life of people at various social levels. Look at them to get an idea of the ethnic compo
sition and material culture of Mexico in the eighteenth century. Also included here are brief written comments on mixing, and mestizos, the first by José de Acosta, a Jesuit chronicler of Spanish South America in the late sixteenth century, and the second by Jorge Juan and Antonio d
e Ulloa, Spanish commentators on the South American colonies in the mid-eighteenth century. What do these comments reveal about the attitude of Spaniards toward the large mixed component of the colonial populations?