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Latin America Kavitha Dispatch

The Beasty Battle: You've gotta fight! For your right! To be Poor?!?

You're a What?!? Who cares?

When the Spanish controlled Latin America, skin color determined social order in society. This is still true in many places, but it was totally extreme under the Spanish, and they had names for any mix of ethnicities you could think of.

The "Peninsulares" were at the top, pure-bred, born and raised in Spain and just living or working in the Americas. These people usually had lighter complexions and were deemed "white" by popular standards. Next, were the descendants of these people, the "Criollos." They were born with pure Spanish blood, but were born in the Americas, so they weren't considered as good.

With time the Peninsulares and Criollos mixed with the African blacks and indigenous people of the Americas. These unions created people with mixed racial features, often quite beautiful, but degraded by early Latin America's prejudiced standards. Unfortunately, the more indigenous blood you had, the lower you were on society's scale.

Ironically, sometimes it was worse to have mixed blood. Many of the slave masters raped their female slaves and then denounced the children later. These children were often in worse positions than the indigenous slaves themselves. Being of mixed blood, both pure Spanish and pure indigenous alike looked down upon them.

These are just a few of the many names they had for the different mixes.

Mulatto - Anyone with white and any known black African ancestry.

Colored - Person with any known black African ancestry. Also used to describe mulattos with lighter complexions.

Negro - Person with any known black African history.

Mestizo - A man of mixed European and American Indian ancestry.

Mestiza - A woman of mixed European and American Indian ancestry.

Zambo - A person of mixed indigenous and African ancestors.

Mustee - If mixture is not readily identifiable. This term can be used interchangeably with mestizo. Signifies any mixture, perhaps indigenous and African or African and white.

And the list goes on! What if a mulatto has a child with a white? Quadroon! A Mulatto and a black? A Sambo! A Sambo and a Black? A Mango! It seems ridiculous, but this social labeling was of vital importance to the Spaniards. Why do you think that is? how much of this do you think continues today?

The Team

I have to admit I have never gotten too excited about visiting battlefields. Growing up in Maryland, I was surrounded by the battlefields and historic sites of Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, but I only went if I had to for a school field trip. But, since I'm here in Ayacucho, so close to the historic battlefield in Quinua, I figured I should check it out. To my surprise, it turned out to be a very interesting and thought provoking visit.

The 'Champions' of the battle: (from left to right) Cordova, Lamar, Sucre, Gamarra, Lara, Miller.
The final decisive battle for Peru's independence from the Spaniards was fought just outside of the village of Quinua, here in the Central Highlands of Peru. After the Spaniards conquered the Incas in 1532, they continued to rule their rich new colony of Peru through Spanish born viceroys appointed by the Spanish crown. The clear hierarchy that dictated the structure of society consisted of Spanish immigrants at the top, followed by people of Spanish blood born in the colony, followed by Mestizos (people of mixed Indian and Spanish descent). Lowest of all were the natives, the Indians who were exploited and treated as expendable labor.

By the early 1800's the newly relocated Spaniards were sick of being subordinate to their distant kingdom, sick of their high taxes and lack of freedom (sound like any other revolutionaries that you know?). The far away Europeans were also starting to exploit Peru's newly discovered, rich mineral deposits. One by one, neighboring countries to the North and South were claiming independence, and by 1822, Peru was ripe to join them. In 1822, Jose de San Martin, who had led the liberation of Argentina and Chile, met with Simon Bolivar, who master-minded the liberation of Venezuela, Columbia, and Ecuador, and it was decided that Bolivar would continue on to vie for Peru's independence. Two years later, on August 6, 1824, San Martin, Bolivar and Field Marshal Sucre lead a successful battle in Junin, Peru. The final and decisive battle for Peru's independence was fought on December 9, 1824, here in Quinua, a battle known today as the "Battle of Ayacucho."

The memorial to the Battle of Ayacucho, which won
Peru's independence.

The tall white obelisk memorial to the battle can be seen on its hilltop all the way from the village of Quinua. As I walked up the sparse hill, through the grassy barren fields of the battle, my attention was more drawn to the neighboring village with its small farms, earthen houses and colorful fences than to the fancy monument. I thought about the historic battle fought on this land, and how this very soil was once covered with the blood of many men who died in the name of freedom and independence. But who exactly was this freedom and independence for?

The "winners" of the "Battle of Ayacucho" were the European descendents whose families had left Spain to conquer new lands and who now no longer wanted to pay taxes to a distant motherland. These very same freedom fighters, which wanted an end to the Spanish hierarchical system, continued to rule according to the same hierarchy once they were on top.

Decorations adorn the top of village fences in Quinua.
For the indigenous people of Peru, the battle of Ayacucho held no real significance. Little changed in their lives. Whether it was the Spaniards or the new white ruling class, the Peruvian Indians still lived as lower class citizens, the poor laborers of the country with few rights.

Unfortunately, not much has changed today. The indigenous peoples of Peru comprise over 50% of the country's population, yet continue to make up the poor bottom class, with the white European descendants on top and the mixed blood mestizos in middle. As in the early 1800's, wealthy foreign nations are once again exploiting Peru's rich mineral deposits (read my article, "Corruption by Corporate Conquistadors"). However, here in the valleys around Quinua, indigenous peoples are still herding their sheep, growing their potatoes, and cooking by fire...only now, they have a big white monument to look up to!


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