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January 6, 2009

Mestizaje: a few basic definitions

To ethnics and mixture in Ecuador is to speak of something which is commonplace and which we come across on a day-to-day basis.

Understanding this process is complex, since it covers social, political and biological aspects, including
genetics. We will discuss the genetic diversity of Ecuadorians and a few implications on current society on the beginning of the new millennium.

Ethnic Admixt “mestizaje ”= mixed races) is the biological and cultural coming together of different ethnic
groups, in which these crossbreeding together, giving rise to new ones. This term is frequently used to describe the historic process which came about in Latin America (currently called in USA Hispano-America or Ibero-America in Spain) and which led to its current ethnic and cultural state. However, it can also refer to other peoples who have passed through this process of the coming together of various ethnic groups, races or cultures, each case in a different context and measure. This process has been defined as transculturation, which has defined the Latin American identity. The process of admixture in Latin America came about with the arrival of Europeans to the continent, followed by African slaves who lived amongst them. In this coming together of cultures, three types of crossbreeding came about:

Mestizos: mix of Native Americans (indigenous) and European; Mulatos: mix of African and European; Zambos: mix of African with Native Americans (indigenous).

Ethnic admixture has been one of the fundamental issues on the American subcontinents, in particular in Latin America. This characteristic merging of cultures has been used over the last two decades to explain the phenomenon of plurality in Latin America. Moreover, this same ideology has given strength to the theory that behind the perception of society as a product of admixture there is a hidden phenomenon of exclusion. In this work, the term "racism" is understood in its most wide ranging sense of "racial prejudice". This final point can be seen in the fact that recent studies tend to point to the need to reform the law in order to deal with an inexistent or ignored reality: the plurality of society.

The idea of admixed races, according to some authors, has been used by different governments to hide evidence of discrimination on the continent. Through the discourse of equality on the continent, the perception that we all belong to a single "Mestizo" group which has the same ancestors helps to reinforce the image that racism cannot exist since different races do not exist. Ethnic admixture is not the result of a need, but rather responds to the historic structures of peoples, their geography and even their climate. This is why different regions within a single country may present different levels and types of admixtures. The Latin American example is notable, since it exemplifies an ethnic mix spread through large part of the territory.

Ethnic, the term "ethnic" is occasionally used wrongly as a euphemism for a race, or as a synonym for minority group. The difference between these terms can be found in that the term ethnic includes cultural factors (nationality, tribal affiliation, religion, faith, language and traditions) and biological factors of an specific human group (this includes genotype aspects), whilst race alludes specifically to the distinctive phenotype and morphological factors of these human groups (skin color, physique, stature, facial characteristics, etc) developed in their process of adaptation to a specific geographical area and ecosystem (climate, altitude, flora, fauna, etc) over several generations. Thus, the word "race" is only a concept which has been associated to that of ethnic. Historically the term "ethnic" means "gentile", from the Greek adjective ethnikos. The adjective derives from the noun ethnos, which means foreign people or nation. The noun ceased to be related to "pagan" at the beginning of the 18th century. The modern sense of the word began in the mid-20th century.

Language has been used as the first classification factor of ethnic groups, although this tool has not been exempt from political manipulation and error. We should emphasize that there is a large number of multi-ethnic languages, whilst specific ethnics are multilingual.

Mestizo (from the vulgar Latin mixticius, from the Latin mixtus, participle of miscere, "mix") is the term used to designate individuals whose origin is composed of two different ethnics or cultures. However, the term "race" is being used in line with the suppositions of classic anthropology. A more current conception is to consider Mestizos as people whose ancestors are members both of the Oceanic/Eurasian branches and the African branch, including special consideration to combinations of sub-branches such as Native Americans and Europeans.

Mestizo was also considered a racist term from the social structure imposed during the historic period of the Spanish colonialisation of America. The term is used mainly in America for the admixture of Caucasian and Native American, found throughout the American continent, from the Canadian prairies in the North through to Patagonia in Argentina and Chile in the south. In other regions and countries previously under Spanish, Portuguese or French colonial rule, different variants of the term could also be used to designate people of other racial admixes in which one is an indigenous group and the other a European colonial origin. In the Philippines the term Mestizo is a generic reference which designates all individuals of admixed ancestry, of indigenous Philippine group and any foreign lineage (Spanish and Mexican).

Amerindian is an ambiguous term which has been given to the descendants of any of the native peoples of America (commonly excepting Eskimos, whose ethnic origin is different) in order to distinguish them from the later immigrants (Europeans, Africans, etc), along with Mestizos and Creoles and all these ethnics. The terms American Indian or simply Indian are also used. As with "Amerindian", the use of these terms is ambiguous, referring to the word Indian. The term Amerind or Indo-American is not ambiguous, when referring to the children of Hindu parents born in America. The term Afro-American is used in the same manner.

Indigenous is a term which, in the widest sense, is applied to everything regarding a population which originates from the territory it inhabits and which predates other populations, and whose presence is sufficiently prolonged and stable as to be considered native. The equivalent term native is more frequently used in the same sense, such as in expressions like "native language". It is also common to talk of Originary peoples. In the strictest sense, it is most common to apply the name Indigenous to the ethnics which preserve traditional non-European cultures. Within this scope, Indigenous refers to the human groups which present characteristics such as: belong to organizational traditions prior to the appearance of the modern state, belong to cultures which survived the planetary expansion of European civilization.

The Indigenous peoples frequently constitute a minority (although in some specific cases they are a majority) within national states of European nature, organized in line with cultural, religious, political, economic, racial, etc, norms typical of a mainly Europeanized environment. In this manner, in the strictest sense using the term "indigenous" refers to a pre-European remnant which represents in itself the antithesis of European culture. Following this use, it is not uncommon to speak of indigenous peoples in different parts of the world. In an even stricter sense, the term Indigenous is usually applied to indigenous Native Americans, also known as Amerindians, Native Indians, original peoples or first nations.

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