09 October 2006


The term ladino deserves an explanation. The very existence of a race known as ladino truly drives at the reality that race is not based on genetic makeup, but arbitrary social constructs and a crude alchemy based on cheekbone structure and melanin.When I first heard the term I thought it was just a variation of latino, but it is different than how I understand that word. Many people equate it with the term mestizo. Mestizo technically refers to people of descent from both Europeans and indigenous (North, South, or Central) Americans. Historically, mestizos were the people that the Spaniards trusted to serve as underlings -- not considered smart enough to learn as a scholar but smart enough to be trained like a Labrador. Mestizos were given preferential treatment and absorbed the culture of their oppressors as a means to better their own lives. The most interesting thing is that ladino culture has evolved itself into something qualitatively distinct from both Spanish culture and Mayan culture. Even though as a race it was borne as a mixture, it developed into something that considers itself qualitatively distinct and not truly attributing its history and culture to Mayans and Spaniards, but more as if they have no cultural ancestry before 1600.Other racial groups such as mulattoes and other cleaves can be found in textbooks. There was a final rung, however, that often played little role in Spanish colonies due to their avoidance of anything colonial. They were seen more solely as occupants of land that had to be cleared away like trees with shallow roots. Those were the indigenous groups. While generally considered one race, it cannot be forgotten of the enormous variation among indigenous peoples. The primary characteristic of groups usually labeled indigenous is separatism -- an avoidance of absorption of a dominating culture. While mestizos mimicked, the maya avoided. As time progressed in Spanish colonies, often groups were subdivided into subgroups -- those of pure Spanish blood born in colonies in some parts eventually were considered second to European blood born on European soil. Though as unsustainable as such a separation sounds, it was indeed maintained. The image of these biologically separate groups is completely unsupported by reality. While it is unlikely that Spaniards tolerated much mixed blood at the highest racial rung, the genes of black slaves, mixed ladinos, and indigenous groups was mixed greatly and your social attainment resulted more in what you appeared to be, what your parents were considered to be, or, also of great importance, your willingness to mimic the ruling class.An aside on the idea of hypodescent. As anyone who took sociology 101 will happily tell you, hypodescent is a rule commonly used to weed out the difficult questions about biological race. The basic idea is that if someone of the dominant race and a another race bear a child, that child is of the other race. During over half of the 20th century laws were maintained in many states in the US that if a white person bore a child with someone of another race, that child was not white. One long-lost grandparent was enough. The idea still holds true in our minds, if not on our birth certificates. Just as something more similar than different can still be different, something clean than dirty can still be dirty, something more white than black could still be black. While many mestizos were clearly victims of hypodescent, Mayans maintained their own form of hypodescent. Ladino, according to what I have read, was used by Mayans to refer to anyone that didn't maintain Mayan practices. A person could have even 100% Mayan blood, if they had moved to a town and given up their traditional Mayan ways, they were ladino, and no longer Mayan. There was no returning for them or their children.The chasm of hatred between ladino and maya was very wide. Ladinos were essentially considered traitors and, once no Spanish were left, oppressors to Mayans, while Mayans were in turn considered poor (which always walks in hand with lazy), drunk and untrustworthy. Even the poorest of ladinos could be proud that at least they weren't Mayans, and Mayans maintained that ladinos shamed their ancestors and took all they could from Mayans. No one benefited from these ideas. The Mayans naturally were harmed the most by racism because they held the least power, but both groups focused their hatred borne of misery on the other, occupying them both well enough to prevent them from fighting anyone who actually had any control over the misery of the poor.One last interesting note on power structures of race is how common the story is of two dominated groups pitted against each other. In Rwanda, indigenous groups were picked on arbitrary physical qualities by the colonists -- to hire a class of Rwandans to be administrators, managers, and mediators between the masses and the actually colonists. These people absorbed more of the culture of their colonists but developed a unique cultural identity from either group. The Tutsis grew to believe themselves better than the Hutus. In a historical anomaly, the Hutus were left in control of the country upon the colonists' exeunt, which resulted in the mass exterminations known of today.In what is now known as Guinea-Bissau, a colony was started. Natives of the nearby islands of Cape Verde, who had been long been in contact with Westerners, were shipped to mainland and treated as a superior race. Again, not smart enough to rule, but smart enough to fetch the morning paper. Even as generations of descendants of Cape Verdians lived on the mainland, they maintained themselves drastically different -- more intelligent and industrious -- than those of Guinea Bissau.The ladinos of the past served well as the administrators, and ladinos still dominate the political scene ten-to-one. However, barriers between the two appear to be falling quickly. Several people have told me that there has been so much intermarriage between ladinos and mayans that they find it very hard to tell the difference between the two anymore. There's still a number of barriers between them, but I'll write about that another time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I remember reading many years ago about how the 'ladinos' (around about the time of the conquista) were considered outcasts and were often found destitute and living on the side to the road. I am still searching for that book - can't remember the name - but I'm sure it was written sometime in the 1930's.

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