Casta Paintings


From the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, folks back in Iberia were fascinated by the exotic intermingling of the three great flows of humanity going on, across the Atlantic in the Americas. Europeans, Africans, and Indians were blending together, creating a whole spectrum of new people for a New World. Artists made a living catering to this interest. Hence, the genre of “casta” paintings. Historians and re-enactors may take note of the details depicted: clothing, utensils, even children’s toys.

Incidentally, U.S. college students are warned that the current academic canon sees these paintings of loving parents and their children as showing the cruelty of Spanish “racism.” According to Ilona Katzew, the paintings are, “not meant to imply a harmonious coexistence of the diverse races, but instead to remind both colonial subjects and the Spanish Crown that Mexico was still an ordered, hierarchical society in which each group occupied a specific socioeconomic niche defined largely by race.” According to Yasmin Ramirez, the affectionate families that you see are an illusion, “However much these paintings can be seen today to suggest harmonious coexistence of Indian, Spaniard and Black, in 18th-century Mexico they also elaborated relations of social power and control.”

So if you reference these paintings in a paper, be sure to echo the viewpoint that they depict “racism” or your grade will be in peril. Hispanics studying in the United States should be particularly cautious. You should imply, as above, that the paintings were somehow created by governments trying to subjugate, rather than by artists merely trying to earn a living. I wish that this were not so, but there it is. U.S. History, Humanities, and Sociology departments increasingly see themselves as indoctrinators of Ideological Truth who must ignore factual reality.


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Frank W. Sweet is the author of Legal History of the Color Line (ISBN 9780939479238), an analysis of the nearly 300 appealed cases that determined Americans’ “racial” identity over the centuries. It is the most thorough study of the legal history of this topic yet published. He was accepted to Ph.D. candidacy in history with a minor in molecular anthropology at the University of Florida in 2003 and has completed all but his dissertation defense. He earned an M.A. in History from American Military University in 2001. He is also the author of several state park historical booklets and published historical essays. He was a member of the editorial board of the magazine Interracial Voice, and is a regular lecturer and panelist at historical and genealogical conferences. To send email, click here.


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