July 10, 2015

‘Mestizo’ and ‘mulatto’: Mixed-race identities among U.S. Hispanics

A Third of Hispanics Identify as Mixed RaceFor many Americans, the term “mixed race” brings to mind a biracial experience of having one parent black and another white, or perhaps one white and the other Asian.

But for many U.S. Latinos, mixed-race identity takes on a different meaning – one that is tied to Latin America’s colonial history and commonly includes having a white and indigenous, or “mestizo,” background somewhere in their ancestry.

When asked if they identify as “mestizo,” “mulatto” or some other mixed-race combination, one-third of U.S. Hispanics say they do, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey of Hispanic adults.

The term mestizo means mixed in Spanish, and is generally used throughout Latin America to describe people of mixed ancestry with a white European and an indigenous background. Similarly, the term “mulatto” – mulato in Spanish – commonly refers to a mixed-race ancestry that includes white European and black African roots.

Across Latin America, these are the two terms most commonly used to describe people of mixed-race background. For example, mestizos represent a racial majority in Mexico, most of Central America and the Andean countries of South America.

Mulattos make up smaller shares of the populations in those countries – at most 4%, according to national censuses or other surveys. In Caribbean countries and Brazil, where populations with African ancestry are larger, mulattos make up a larger share of the population – 11% in the Dominican Republic and 47% in Brazil. (A 68% majority in the Dominican Republic identifies as “mestizo/indio.”)

Concepts of multiracial identity have been present in Latin America since colonial times. The Spanish caste system outlined all the different ways the native peoples in New Spain had mixed with Africans and Europeans – and the names and rights associated with each combination. In the early to mid-20th century, a number of countries in Latin America adopted the concept of “mestizaje,” or mixing and blending, and declared their populations mestizo in an effort to eliminate racial conflict and promote national identity.

According to the Pew Research survey of U.S. Hispanics, those who identify as mixed race, mestizo or mulatto are more likely to be U.S. born than those who do not (44% vs. 37%). They are also more likely than Latino adults who do not identify as mixed race to be non-Mexican (45% vs. 36%) and to have a higher educational attainment (45% have some college or more, versus 27%).

How Mixed-Race, 'Mestizo,' 'Mulatto' Hispanics Report Their RaceThe use of these labels to describe mixed-race ancestry is an example of how racial identity among Hispanics often defies conventional classifications used in the U.S. For example, among Hispanic adults we surveyed who say they consider themselves mixed race, mestizo or mulatto, only 13% explicitly select two or more races or volunteer that they are “mixed race” when asked about their racial background in a standard race question (like those asked on U.S. census forms). Instead, about four-in-ten of Hispanic respondents identifying as mestizo/mulatto say their race is white, while one-in-five volunteered their race as Hispanic.

These findings reflect the challenges the U.S. Census Bureau faces when measuring Hispanic racial identity. When asked about their race in census forms, a significant number of Hispanics do not choose a standard census race category such as white, black or Asian. Instead, about four-in-ten select the “some other race” category. This is coupled with the fact that two-thirds of U.S. Hispanic adults consider being Hispanic as part of their racial background, not just an ethnicity.

Topics: Hispanic/Latino Identity, Race and Ethnicity

  1. Photo of Ana Gonzalez-Barrera

    is a senior researcher focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.

37 Comments

  1. Roxy Ever10 months ago

    Mulatos are 47% in Brazil. So stupid! Brazilians mixed race are not just mixed black and white. Ignorants. Many brazilians are mixed indigenous and white. Multiracial are many races not just black and white.

  2. jd14312 months ago

    Truth is. Us Hispanics are mutts. Recently DNA tests have proved a lot of Hispanics have Jewish ancestry as well. My father was born in the Dominican republic to a white Puerto Rican mother and a Dominican father of white British and African roots.

    My father did not come out looking like a mulatto at all. He came out very white with red hair, freckles, and green eyes just like his mom. You never know what mix will over power your features.

    My mother was born in Colombia. She’s definitely a native and European(Spaniard) mix. She has indigenous features, but she is very white.

    My daughters father is Dominican….mulatto. He is dark tan. His mom is a black Dominican and his father is a white Dominican.

    Our daughter came out with wavy hair and she’s whiter then me. She also has light brown hair with blondish highlights. Her father has nappy hair. Mine is very curly and dark brown.

    You just never know.

    I can’t wait to see my ancestry DNA results.

    I’m a mutt.

    1. Rod Rioza7 months ago

      Awesome mix JD! I personally don’t care what anyone is. If you’re a good person you’re in my circle. However, I wouldn’t use the term, “mutt”. The dictionary’s definition of the word pretty much indicates it was used and still is as a derogatory expression towards a person.

  3. west African warrior1 year ago

    @filipe I feel your remarks are tending towards mestizo supremacy…. deal wit it now….

    1. Dominicanita Linda11 months ago

      Am Dominican and saying 68% identify as Indio or Mestizo is no true. The government is the one who identify the color of the people. It happens to be that “indio” means a color or having Indian looking skin tons which many Triracials & Mulatos actually have. Dominican dont think themselves as pure Tainos.
      The vast majority of Dominicans when asked about our mixture, we always say ” somos mescla de Españoles, Africano y Tainos” this is the common answer you hear.
      There havent been a Racial Census in the DR since the 60’s thats half century ago.
      This is why in the last United States Hispanic Census 2010, 1.5 Millions Dominicans (which 60% born in D.R.) marked their Race as:
      59% Other/Mixed
      28% White
      12% Black
      0% Indian
      Why? Because Indio means lot of thing for Dominicans, but mostly Skin Color description, when we refer to the actual people, we always say Tainos.
      I hope these Facts clarify any misconception.
      (Source: google Hispanic US Census 2010)

  4. Filipe1 year ago

    You’re giving up wrong information about Brazil here. Only 8% of people in Brazil are black, and you can’t tell the REAL number of mulattos in Brazil, since in order to brainwash the population and the international media, the government grouped together (a sociological blasphemy) mestizzos AND mulattos into the same group, going even further on the conceptual aberration and classifying mestizzos and mulattos into one group called Blacks (Negros in br-portuguese).

    Having that said, i am mixed race, or mestizzo, having one ascendant as native american (which i’m proud of), but, of the rest, NONE is black in at least the last 250 years so, no, me, and the majority of brazilian population, are NOT mulattos.

    (PS: Trustful link published by UOL, one of the most reliable resources for web media: “http://noticias.uol.com.br/cotidiano/ultimas-noticias/2014/09/18/ibge-n-de-autodeclarados-pretos-e-pardos-sobe-e-negros-sao-45-no-pais.htm”).

  5. PhillyRican1 year ago

    Im 100%Puerto Rican, born in Guayama , raiced in NY nn now in Philadelphia. i identify as mixed white n black. I have white skin wit nappy ass hair , and some white n black facial features. Little of my ancestry is Taino, its mostly only the ignorant Ricans who claim extinct taino ancestry. I am mulatto , nothing like mexicans n central americans who are white n aztec/maya mixed mestizo , very similar to dominicans n cubans tho who are also mostly mulatto

  6. Kelly1 year ago

    I personally think Mestizo is a good word for bi-racial people. My own son is bi-racial and I really didn’t know how to describe how he can be identified. His father is Mexican. And my son was born in Mexico so by birth right hes mexican but hes also an American citizen so hes also american. As am I. So how can one put it in a nutshell when you grow up in both worlds? You arent really one nor the other race entirely. So do we say mestizos? How would one describe in one kind word this race?

    1. Filipe1 year ago

      If it’s mixed with natives, it is mestizzo, and if it’s mixed with blacks, mulatto. It’s important to differ them, specially in Brazil for instance, because we, as mestizzos, were never victims of racism as blacks were, and our ancestors, even if they have lost the majority of battles, were never culturally submissive as to subject themselves to slavery as blacks were (from the beginning even, ’cause they were submissive even to other Africans who sold them).

  7. Tonia Flamingo1 year ago

    I am a Jamaicn Brown/Mulatto or as most commonly used term is Brown or affectionately Browning. Im lways being mistaken for Latina or Italian and I always say im Mulatto with pride. The only people who objective to my self identity are African Americans. I see it as a crab mentality. Theyvoften try to demonize the term Mulatto so America n Mulattoes dont use that identity. The common sayinf is Mule; that evolved centuries ago and the world does not go by the 1 drop slave master rule which is quite archaic. America needs to have that check box fir those of us who are of OBVIOUS Mulattoe /Creole orancestry once again.

  8. minzee1 year ago

    This is all nonsense. I have cousin who were born in Mexico because two of my aunts married Mexican nationals when the U.S. “Repatriated” Mexican-Americans during the depression of the 1930s. Although my aunts were American (at the time 2nd generation) this government discriminated against them send Americans of Mexican ancestry to Mexico. In any event, their children who are Mexican, because they were born in Mexico, describe themselves as Mexican nationals of European Ancestry. And the Mexican Americans born in the U.S.A and that don’t even speak Spanish fluently describe themselves American of Mexican ancestry…More Mexican than the “real” Mexicans. Why? Because this country tells you who you are and where you fit in and we just say Okay…Ridiculous..All of these social constructs …there is one race …the human race but according to Chomsky..this is natural for human beings to create hierarchies so that some groups feel more superior over others…all it does is cause problems

    1. Anonymous7 months ago

      Well spoken.

  9. minzee1 year ago

    I just don’t understand how “Hispanic” could be considered a race when it is a combination of “all races” not just one. The “Hispanic” population is not one ethnic group and not one race. They are all social construct anyway, but for purposes of classification, Mexican-Americans and Latinos are a Cosmic Race…why not use “Cosmic Race” Cosmic, White, Black, Asian, Middle East??? Don’t know.. Although I am 3rd generation Mex-Amer on my mother’s side, I have cousin in Mexico, because 2 of my mother’s sisters married Mexican Nationals when they ended up in Mexico during the U.S. repatriation of Mexican-Americans in the 1930’s. There kids when asked identify as Mexican of European ancestry and Mexicans-Americans claim they are more “Mexican” than the Mexicans and most don’t even speak fluent Spanish? How does that happen? It happens because we have always been told you we are and we don’t question it. Ridiculous

    1. rb181 year ago

      What does that have to do with the fact that lighter skin Hispanics and Latinos however mixed practice discrimination against Afro Latinos and Afro Mexicans. Because of this they are living a marginalize existence in Cuba, South America and Mexico. In Mexico they are mostly in Veracruz and Oaxaca Mexico. They have been pushed out of Yaga, a town found by an slave that started the rebellion that freed Mexico from Spanish rule. These people don’t have the rights of lighter skin Mexican citizens and are not even counted in the Census. They are now fighting for their rights to be included in all opportunities. Racism exists in all these South and Central American Countries and you have brought your ingrained racism to America. Mexicans especially move into Black neighborhoods and practice racism outwardly. If they become supervisors or managers on jobs they interject racism in hiring, promotion, and use racists language against Black employees. This is happening in high incidences in California where Mexicans are now 38% of the population. There are a uncanny amount of EEOC Lawsuits field against Employers of U.S. Corporations because of this by Black workers and they have won. These are listed online as well as everything I have stated. So please to don’t go there with the denial. There is too much documentation to prove what this article is tip toeing around. Other Journalist, and Professors have been to Mexico and other South American Countries and done Documentaries on this subject. This was ingrained by the Spanish with the Caste System and these people relish in this behavior even now while coming to America and asking for equality that they don’t give themselves. I question the wisdom and motives of Barrack Obama. Because African Americans in the States will never accept this.

      1. Black Spanish1 year ago

        Well said, I was born in British Honduras now which is now Belize and I’m of Mestizo decent and I’ve seen the
        favoritism by these Mexicans of
        lighter skin pigmentation towards their own kind. These people always look down the black Mexicans whom they call Negritos.

  10. nada1 year ago

    I used to hate that hispanic didnt have to conform and call themselves by their race but they got to mark hispanic. But to be honest as ive gotten older it is the smartest thing ever. Not to seperate yourself by race(which isnt real ) , so separate your self by ethnicity. I know their is a color issue in latin america but they still always stick together and have alot of pride. its smart and the u.s needs to pick up on it.

  11. Dominican1 year ago

    Am Dominican and saying 68% identify as Indio or Mestizo is no true. The government is the one who identify the color of the people. It happens to be that “indio” means a color or having Indian looking skin tons which many Triracials & Mulatos actually have. Dominican dont think themselves as pure Tainos.

    The vast majority of Dominicans when asked about our mixture, we always say ” somos mescla de Españoles, Africano y Tainos” this is the common answer you hear.

    There havent been a Racial Census in the DR since the 60’s thats half century ago.

    This is why in the last United States Hispanic Census 2010, 1.5 Millions Dominicans (which 60% born in D.R.) marked their Race as:

    59% Other/Mixed
    28% White
    12% Black
    0% Indian

    Why? Because Indio means lot of thing for Dominicans, but mostly Skin Color description, when we refer to the actual people, we always say Tainos.

    I hope these Facts clarify any misconception.

    (Source: google Hispanic US Census 2010)

  12. JOSEPH1 year ago

    I AM FROM BELIZE AND WE ARE CONSIDERED OR WE ARE CALLED MESTIZO. FOR US IS A VERY COMMON NAME. WE WERE MIXED WITH THE MAYAS, SPANAIRDS AND AFRICANS. I AM SO GLAD THAT THE WORD MESTIZO IS BECOMING A WORD OF MAINSTREAM.

  13. Valentino Official1 year ago

    I’m Dominican and I identify as Bi-racial. African (probably west africa) and European (spanish and french). Even thought I heard I MIGHT have Taino, I will have to take a DNA test just to make sure.

  14. Cecilia Rodriguez-Bush1 year ago

    In the 70’s, it was based on your surname. Ergo, my maiden name was Rodriguez and so it was natural I identified as Hispanic…actually a “high-bred” taking on the best of each race! Even if my father was white and my mother were Hispanic, I would still consider myself a Chicana; no one orders plain vanilla ice cream when they can order a swirl!
    I am tan and it is grand.

    Interesting though. I recently read where, in Texas, if you have any “white” blood, then they classified you as “White” on the census. Ego, once Hispanics come out and vote, a lot of cities are going to find that there are 2/3 more Hispanics than they had counted. Get ready because here we come!

  15. Ed Hinojosa1 year ago

    what i,m /we are finding out is we re lipan apache/ anglo /espaniol/ddads dna /come sback native american usa we go back to 1743 inthe northern border of the rio grane an southern emaning camargo and reynoa and hidalgo county and duvl and jimwells the bordr crossed us we disdnt cross the border and my great grand father dds grand apw ws us citizen by annexation of texas in1848 on his voter registration card and my great 7 grand father is from jalisco mejico and his dad was anglo from boston Massachusetts british america washington eayrs

  16. B.Kamayo1 year ago

    How the hell is Pew Research Center going to go and include an historically offensive term “mulatto,” in which the last usage of this term in the U.S. was used to perpetuate and classify the “one drop” rule? The U.S. Census doesn’t even use the term, which is still highly offensive to people. If you are looking to classify people as “bi-racial” then use that. If you are looking for “multi-racial” than use that. But to resort to pulling in old, offensive, and racist classification of terms, is just not right.

    1. Man of Sin1 year ago

      Residents of Spain, Latin America, the Caribbean and some countries in Africa use the term freely, usually without suggesting any insult. The article is about Latinos, which makes you entire post pointless.

    2. Man of Sin1 year ago

      Uh, the term mulatto is still used outside of the U.S. Like Latin America and African. Where it is considered non-offensive.

      And no, the one-drop rule got rid of the term mulatto and just classed people as black.

  17. Melissa1 year ago

    It’s a little strange that a Hispanic would not identify as mixed race, because that’s what the Hispanic population consists of….mixed races. What’s more disturbing in this article is that the majority of the people saying this are the more educated individuals. Either the educated individuals are being taught that they are something more prestigious if they are not mixed race, or they just are not that smart at all.

    1. No name1 year ago

      Hispanics can be of any race, including mixed race. There are plenty of white and black Hispanics in the United States in addition to mixed race knee. They might just not be noticeablely different from non Hispanics since we as a country usually think of mestizos as the Hispanic archetype.

    2. Edgar Rodriguez-Betancourt1 year ago

      Studies have shown that in the U.S. many English speaking whites are mixed. But they identify as white, They tend to identify as the other race that they are mixed with if they have 28% or more of the other race. (nytimes.com/2014/12/25/science/2…)
      People Identify as what they predominately are. Some Hispanic’s are mixed, not all. If someone and their family looks Indian they will probably self identify as Indian, If they’re white they will identify as white. If black they will identify as black. Just like anywhere else.

    3. Edgar Rodriguez-Betancourt1 year ago

      That’s akin to saying:
      It’s a little strange that a Anglo/English speaking people would not identify as mixed race, because that’s what the Anglo/English speaking population consists of….mixed races. What’s more disturbing in this article is that the majority of the people saying these are the more educated individuals. Either the educated individuals are being taught that they are something more prestigious if they are not mixed race, or they just are not that smart at all.

    4. Filipe1 year ago

      Technically everyone besides a tiny bit of Africans are mixed race, and most even carry Neanderthal genes but…I think that we who are of brown/brownish skin, and are mixed race with Indians, have to unite as one group and get romantically distant from whites, and only respect socially the whites in our families.

      There is much hatred growing in my opinion, and people are starting to realize that race really doesn’t matter and that we are all equals but, socially and romantically, people are breeding racism just for the sake of hating others, because hate, as contradictory as it seems, IS empowering.

      An example of this is religions and it’s subdivisions for instance, or nationality, or social class (or sports, or music, or anything really), where people of the same skin color and same ethnic background will try and think of themselves as better just because that is empowering.

      So, things being this way and this being an unchangeable thing, i think all of us mestizos should identify as one race, socially interact amongst ourselves, marry amongst ourselves, and only maintain peace and bureaucratic respect with other races in the work place.

  18. Mary Helen1 year ago

    Race is an obsolete concept; such old-century classification go by the waysides and this is just another example of how/why. Some man/men decided to categorize humans, along with the plant and animal kingdoms and based it on physiology-skull, facial features, skin color etc. We need to stop using it, then Hispanics would stop insisting the WE ARE a race.

    1. Kochevnik1 year ago

      Race is a social construct, and one that differs from one society to the next (black or white in the US aren’t the same as in Brazil, for example). Any alleged scientific basis to race is bogus.

      BUT: race is not an “obsolete concept”. It’s very much a real thing in the societies that have racial categories. Maybe if and when the US can get to the point where there are no racial disparities in education, wealth, political influence, incarceration and police violence and in hiring/promotion preferences, *maybe* we can start talking about it finally being an “obsolete concept”.

  19. Edgar Rodriguez-Betancourt1 year ago

    Hispanic/Latino is not a race. However the media usually compares apples to oranges when they use the terms Hispanic/Latino in comparison to “races” such as black (African American) or white European American. Normally they exclude White Hispanic/Latinos and tend to give the Hispanic/Latino a “colored” value. This is confuses many younger and less educated Hispanics/Latinos and the general public that Hispanic/Latino is a colored race.

  20. Allen1 year ago

    I encounter this problem all the time. I have worked for a public school district and currently work for a Head Start agency. Both require parents to choose a race in addition to identifying themselves as Hispanic or not. As a fluent Spanish-speaker, I have helped a lot of people fill out the forms. Most people I talk to look at the choices and almost shrug their shoulders. They simply don’t see themselves on the list. I have always said that “Mestizo” ought to be a choice under the racial categories.

    By the way, most people I talk to choose “white” or occasionally “other”, when that has been a possibility.

  21. Edgar Rodriguez-Betancourt1 year ago

    While Hispanic/Latino is not a racial category, the media attempts to use the terms as a “Colored” category, thereby racializing the terms. This confuses the general non-Hispanic population as well as the younger generations. The categories are not explained well in the census forms and leads some to choose the other race category. The media should stop comparing apple to oranges when using the term Hispanic in contrast to black or white and the census should be very clear to the less educated Hispanics that Hispanic/Latino is not a race and should not be chosen as a race. Taking into account that most Hispanics are either European or Native American ancestry (or both) we are a very important piece of the portrait that makes up the history in the Americas including the U.S. Our heritage should not be contaminated or made confusing by contemporary pop labels.

  22. Jose Luis Rodriguez1 year ago

    If about two third of Hispanics considered it a race, how can we expect non Hispanics to understand our racial makeup? People we are not a race! We are a fusion. We are like the Borg. We upsorb all races and cultures and make it Hispanic.

  23. Pati1 year ago

    Most Hispanics are mestizos. If they dont identify themselves as such, its just that they haven’t been taught ( lack of schooling/ education)
    I’m amazed that the US Census still considers Latinos a race.
    My suggestion is to offer a brief explanation of the term mestizo or mulatto, and I’m sure we will have more accurate statistics next time.

    1. Edgar Rodriguez-Betancourt1 year ago

      Mestizo is not a race onto itself but is “bi-racial” or of “dual heritage”. Mestizo is someone who has both European Ancestry (especially Spanish) and Native American (pre-Columbian) ancestry. They are an important part of the American portrait and early history of the Americas including the U.S. By using the term Mestizo as “mixed” you start losing the important historical relevance that “Mestizo” people have in the Americas.