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Castes in New Spain (CEC)

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The purity of Spanish blood, or Limpieza de Sangre, was a concept imported from Europe to Mexico in the 1500s. Originally, this concept helped identify persons of Jewish or Muslim descent during the violent and turbulent Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula.

When the Spanish conquered the Mexica (Aztecs) and expanded their new world empire, they applied the practice to the conquered populations. Before long the idea of ethnic and religious purity became blended with concepts of racial purity as well with the addition of Africans and Asians to the mix. Eventually every race on earth had some representation in the Americas.

This reality resulted in a staggering and bewildering system of castes in colonial New Spain as people of different heritages mixed and mingled. There were large stratifications:
• Penisulares (Europeans born in Spain)
• Criollos (Europeans born in New Spain)
• Mestizos (Mixed Indian and European)
• Indios (Indians)
• African Slaves

The first two categories accounted for about 10% of the population. Within the remaining 90%, however, there was a rainbow array of combinations. This diversity led to widespread stereotypes and prejudices about various racial and ethnic combinations. Poetry, literature, and politics all became tinted with caste issues with people of purely European ancestry become increasingly rare as New Spain matured.