Mestizos, Indígenas, Criollos, and African Mexicans
Although by 1950 Mexico’s population had recovered, it was completely transformed. The mestizo, a Spanish-speaking person of mixed blood, had replaced the pure Native American, the indígena (een-DEE-hay-nah), as the typical Mexican.
The trend continues. Perhaps three of four Mexicans would identify themselves as mestizo: that class whose part-European blood elevates them, in the Mexican mind, to the level of gente de razón (people of reason or right). And there’s the rub. The indígenas (or, mistakenly but much more commonly, Indians), by the usual measurements of income, health, or education, squat at the bottom of the Mexican social ladder.
The typical indígena family lives in a small adobe house in a remote valley, subsisting on corn, beans, and vegetables from its small, unirrigated milpa (cornfield). They usually have chickens, a few pigs, and sometimes a cow, but no electricity; their few hundred dollars a year in cash income isn’t enough to buy even a small refrigerator, much less a truck.
The usual mestizo family, on the other hand, enjoys most of the benefits of the 20th century. They typically own a modest concrete house in town. Their furnishings, simple by developed-world standards, will often include an electric refrigerator, washing machine, propane stove, television, and car or truck. The children go to school every day, and the eldest son sometimes looks forward to college.
Sizable negro communities, descendants of 18th-century African slaves, live in the Gulf states and along the Guerrero-Oaxaca Pacific coastline. Last to arrive, the negros experience discrimination at the hands of everyone else and are integrating very slowly into the mestizo mainstream.
Above the mestizos, a small criollo (Mexican-born white) minority, a few percent of the total population, inherits the privileges—wealth, education, and political power—of its colonial Spanish ancestors.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Puerto Vallarta, 7th edition