How The Spanish Caste System Is Absent From U.S. History

By Richard G. Santos

I used to tell my students and now tell audiences when the occasion arises, that U. S. history is written and taught in black and white images from the East Coast and east of the Mississippi.

This automatically means that the anti-Spanish, anti-Mediterranean black Legend is subtlety taught to students who do not know they are being brainwashed. Without them knowing, they are miseducated to believe that everything Spanish, Mediterranean and Roman Catholic is inferior to the White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) culture.  The history text books reflect this approach as all Spaniards are depicted as bloodthirty, gold-hungry, murdering Catholics who killed and/or enslaved the Native American cultures.

The textbooks and WASP perspective on history, never teach or discuss Spanish legislation such as Las Nuevas Leyes of the 1540s or the more important Recopilación de Leyes de Indias of the mid-1600s, that recognized the civil rights of the Native Americans as citizens of the Spanish Empire.  Other than listing and illustrating the textbooks with photographs of the Franciscan missions, the textbooks never discuss the evangelization program of the Spanish Catholic Church and the Religious Orders (ie. Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits et. al.) who, through bilingual education, assimilated many Native American cultures to Spanish North American society. Simply put, at one point a Spanish speaking Native American was baptized a Catholic, given a Spanish name, and socially transferred from being considered a government-protected neophyte to a Spanish citizen.  Once assimilated, the Spanish speaking, Roman Catholic Native American had all civil and religious rights within Spanish society.

The socio-political-economic limitations experienced by the assimilated Native Americans were ruled by the Spanish caste system.  Both Spanish Church and state identified 28 social castas with the Spanish-born citizen at top of the social structure. They were called Gachupín.  Spanish citizens born on the Iberian peninsula (ie. Spain, Portugal, Viscaya, Navarre, Provance, Galicia) were called “peninsular.”  These first two groups represented the ruling class of the Spanish Empire.  They were the viceroys, generals, admirals, archbishops, bishops and religious missionaries who tried their best to enforce Spanish law and policy.

A person born in the New World of European stock without Native American, Asian or Black ancestry were called españoles or criollos.  They were the second-class citizens of the Spanish Empire. As such they were the military officers from colonel down to alferez (lieutenants), vicars, monsignors, parish priests, local merchants, cattle barons, hacendados (large property owners) and encomenderos, who were vast property owners charged with the protection, maintenance and religious instruction of the Native Americans on their estates.

The founding families of townships and communities of Nuevo León, Coahuila, Tamaulipas and South Texas were españoles and criollos with Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Sephardic Jewish, Basque, as well as devout “Old Christian” and converso (“New Christians”) ancestry.  The only exception were the 15 families (59 people) from the Canary Islands who founded the Villa San Fernando de Bexar (now San Antonio) in 1731.  However, they themselves were of Sephardic, Old Christian and New Christian background.

The children of a union of a European and Native American were the third-class citizens. 

Originally (1500s to mid 1600s), if the father was of European stock and the mother Native American, the children were called castizos. If the father was Native American and the mother of European ancestry, then the children were called mestizo. By the late 1600s the term and social designation of castizo was dropped and all children of such unions are commonly referred to as mestizos.  This was probably brought about by the marriages of castizos and mestizos, which did not produce an alternate social identification tag. This social casta represented the majordomos, clerks, domestics, ranch hands, cattle hands, farmers, masons, and local militia members.

The fourth class casta were the Native Americans divided into two groups. First and foremost were the Spanish-speaking, Roman Catholic, “mission Indians” and their land-owning descendants. They represented the manual intensive labor force of the Spanish American colonies. The totally assimilated Native Americans (such as the Tlaxcaltecans) were usually referred to as “gente de razón,” as they were frequently employed as colonists in new areas to serve as an example to the local Native Americans of the benefits of becoming a Spanish-speaking, Roman Catholic, land-owning person who dressed and lived like their mestizo and criollo neighbors.  The 200 Tlaxcaltecans who founded San Esteban de Tlaxcala opposite the river from Saltillo, Coahuila in 1598 are a good example. Some of their descendants were among the settlers of the third founding of Monclova, Coahuila in the 1680s and the original Villa de Bexar in 1716 – 1718 (now San Antonio, Texas).

Not all Native Americans went through the missions.  On October 12, 1837, Jose Francisco Ruiz presented a Resolution to the Senate of the Republic of Texas stating “the people called Lipan (Apache), Karankawa (Texas Gulf Coast) and Tonkowa (south-central Texas from Waco to Atascosa, Wilson, Medina and Frio counties) your committee considers part of the Mexican Nation and are no longer to be distinguished from that Nation.  They occupy the western part of Texas”.  In 1837, “West Texas” began at Colorado River and extended to the Rio Grande. Hence, the Native Americans family clans of diverse tribes and nations not killed by the recently arrived settlers from the United States, were socially and legally declared “Mexican” but not Mexican citizens.  Many eventually moved into the communities of South Texas where in time they became part of the Tejano and Mexican American population.

It is unfortunate that the standard U. S. and Texas history textbooks do not include any of this historical information and insights as it is very important to understanding the cultural diversity of the Tejano and Mexican American population of South Texas.  Not knowing any of this and brainwashed with the WASP Black Legend version of U. S. and Texas history, many reach out for a false identity they consider more positive than their cultural identity, or succumb to an inferiority complex due to not knowing their respective family background.

Richard G. Santos is a writer who lives in Pearsall, Texas.

[Photo By The Library of Congress]

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