Mestizo is probably one of the most abused words in our country today because many use it without really knowing what it really means. The word is often used to refer to white-skinned Filipinos. The likes of 80s actor Ian Veneración, who is currently enjoying a career comeback, is a perfect example of what a mestizo is in the eyes of Filipinos. On the other hand, Bea Alonzo, his leading lady in a popular soap opera in ABS-CBN, is the perfect model for a mestiza, the mestizo’s feminine counterpart. Filipinos also tend to relate mestizos to having Spanish blood. But little does anybody know that mestizo and mestiza technically mean more than just skin color. They have something to do with racial mixture, and it’s not necessarily just Spanish blood.
Ian Veneración and Bea Alonzo are the stereotypes of a mestizo and a mestiza, respectively (photo: Bandera).
During the Spanish times, our country’s population was classified according to the following racial structure (in alphabetical order):
1. CHINO CRISTIANO — Christianized full-blooded Chinese. Example: Co Yu Hwan (許玉寰), the ancestor of President Benigno Simeón “Noynoy” Aquino III and the rest of the Cojuangco clan. He changed his name to José when he was baptized.
2. ESPAÑOL INSULAR — Full-blooded Spaniard born in Filipinas. Also known as “Filipino”. Best example is Luis Rodríguez Varela of Tondo Manila, the first man to use the term FILIPINO. He even called himself “El Conde Filipino“.
3. ESPAÑOL PENINSULAR — Full-blooded Spaniard born in Spain. Example: Governor General Ramón Blanco and Pablo Feced (Quioquiap).
4. INDIO — Full-blooded native (Austronesian). Example: Apolinario Mabini.
5. MESTIZO ESPAÑOL — Half Spaniard, half native. Also known as “criollo”. Example: Fr. Pedro Peláez, one of the first priests who supported secularization (he died when the Manila Cathedral collapsed upon him during the devastating earthquake of 1863).
6. MESTIZO SANGLEY — Half Chinese, half native. Example: Saint Lorenzo Ruiz.
7. MESTIZO TERCIADO — Part Chinese, part native, part Spanish. Also known as “tornatrás”. Best examples are Dr. José Rizal and Fr. José Burgos.
8. NEGRITO — Aeta.
As can be gleaned above, there are actually three types of mestizos, and one of them, the mestizo sangley, doesn’t even have Spanish blood.
The reader should be cautioned that this racial classification system had no disciminatory undertones whatsoever. This was used for taxation purposes only. When I first blogged about this three years ago, I made the mistake of using the title Racial caste system during the Spanish times. Upon seeing the word “caste”, a Spanish blogger angrily castigated me and even went so far as to call me a racist. He thought that I was making similarities to the caste system in India which was the one that was truly discriminatory and endogamous.
Despite the racial classification, racism in Filipinas was almost non-existent during the Spanish times. John Bowring, then Governor of Hong Kong who visited our country, was impressed with the lack of racial barriers:
Generally speaking, I have seen at the same table Spaniard, mestizo and Indian—priest, civilian and soldier. No doubt a common religion forms a common bond ; but to him who has observed the alienations and repulsions of caste in many parts of the Eastern world—caste, the great social curse—the blending and free intercourse of man with man in the Philippines is a contrast worth admiring.
Whatever discrimination that existed during the Spanish times had little or nothing to do with race but with social status. In Spanish, this is called clacismo, or rich vs poor. So ingrained was clacismo to the Filipino psyche that it has become the usual plot in many memorable films, whether they be romance, action, or comedy. The poor-boy-falls-in-love-with-rich-girl and vice versa has been a tried and tested formula. Its most recent reincarnation was on TV and even became a global phenomenon: AlDub.
Today, racial classification among Filipinos is already difficult to determine as the world is fast becoming populous, cosmopolitan, and multinational. Unlike during the Spanish times, when people were still few, Filipinos have intermarried not only with Europeans but with virtually all races all over the world. New intermarriages have produced new breeds. We now have Fil-Australians, Fil-Nigerians, Fil-Colombians, Fil-Nepalese, etc. Alonzo, therefore, cannot be typecast as a mestiza because she has British blood. I’m just not sure about Veneración, but I heard that he does have ample Spanish blood to be called a mestizo. However, he’s already generations away from the time the above classification was set, and his Spanish forebears who had lived closest to his time must have had intermarried with varied other races, as with many other Filipinos who also look as “mestizo” as him, in which case the term mestizo should already be rendered obsolete.