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A DIFFERENT KIND OF CASTE: Origins of the Color Complex in Latin America

50 Shades of Black - The Latin American Casta system

“Casta” is Spanish for caste and the “casta paintings” existed in colonial Latin America during the 17th and 18th century. They were race based social hierarchy and established to enforce social power, importance, and control. The system was inspired by the belief that the character and quality of people varied according to their birth, color, race and origin of ethnic types.

There were four main categories of race were Peninsular, a Spaniard born in Spain, Criollo, a person of Spanish descent born in the New World; Indio, a person who is descendent of the original inhabitants of the Americas; and Negro, a person of African descent, usually enslave or their free descendants.

The system also impacted economics. The Spanish colonial state and the Church taxed those of lower socio-racial categories. These are the main classifications with more to indicate first, second and third generation mixing. Casta-painting series usually identify 16 racial taxonomies, including zoologically inspired terms.

Terms such as mestizo (literally meaning 'half-caste) tente en el aire ("hold-yourself-in-midair") torna atrás ("turns back") and no te entiendo ("I don't understand you")—and those based on animals: mulato (mule) and lobo (wolf),chino (derived from cochino meaning "pig") “coyote and “wolf”—, children born of mulatto and mestizo couples are called “lobo tente en el ayre” (Wolf-Hold- Yourself-in-Mid-Air). reflect reductive attitudes on those with mixed ancestry. There were ethnic distinctions made between people of African descent such as those born in Africa (negros bozales) and therefore less acculturated, those born in the Iberian Peninsula (Black Ladinos) and those born in the colonies, sometimes referred to as negros criollos. However they were low on the social scale because of their association with slavery.

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