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]

Subscribe today!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Must Read

U.S. citizen detained overnight by ICE – they thought he was undocumented

Victor Landa July 6, 2017

By Victor Landa, NewsTaco (1.5 minute read)  This is startling news. Up until last night at a dinner conversation I believed that the idea that an American citizen would be […]

Willie Velásquez documentary is a lesson for Latinos on the importance of voting

NewsTaco May 9, 2017

*Why you should read this: Because today is Willie Velasquez day and a quick search of his name turned up no news stories. This piece, by Mercedes Olivera, is from […]

DIECIOCHO Podcast: Texas Rep. Rafael Anchia – Trump, Gerrymandering and Money

NewsTaco June 8, 2017

By Victor Landa, NewsTaco (1 minute read, 34 minute listen)  It’s safe to say that the just-ended Texas legislative session was the most acrimonious in memory. We can talk for […]

Ted Cruz gets an earful in McAllen for July 4

Victor Landa July 5, 2017

*I’m posting this because it was mostly Latinos, organizing, protesting, making their voices heard. Everyone needs to know that Latinos in deep South Texas are standing up. VL By Patrick […]

Pence will host White House Cinco de Mayo party

NewsTaco May 4, 2017

*Why you should read this: Because there’ll be no Cinco de Mayo celebration at the White House (I know, big deal – we’ll be spared the taco-bowl). VL By Hadas […]

Vietnam War veteran fears he could be deported

Victor Landa July 7, 2017

*This Vietnam veteran, born in Mexico, was awarded two Purple Hearts and given U.S. citizenship after his service. He’s misplaced his documents and after paying $345 the government wants more […]

Castro will not run for U.S. Senate

NewsTaco May 1, 2017

By Victor Laneda, NewsTaco (i.5 minute read)    Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) says he will not be running for the U.S. Senate against Ted Cruz. Castro had promised to make […]

Henry Cisneros: Why Can’t Americans See Latinos Are Country’s ‘Saving Grace’?

Victor Landa July 7, 2017

*Good question. I think it’s because we’re not the ones telling our story. We need to fight for our narrative. VL By Suzanne Gamboa, NBC News (1.5 minute read)  SAN […]