Although by 1950 Mexico’s population had recovered to 25 million, it was completely transformed. The mestizo, a Spanish-speaking person of mixed blood, had replaced the pure native Mexican, the indígena (een-DEE-hay-nah), as the typical Mexican.
This trend is not as strong in Oaxaca. Although perhaps three of four Mexicans would identify themselves as mestizo, only about half of Oaxacans probably would. Among many native Oaxacans, the label “mestizo” borders on the derogatory, despite the long colonial tradition that, by virtue of their part-European blood, mestizos were elevated to the level of gente de razón—people of “reason” or “right.”
The typical mestizo family enjoys many of the benefits of the modern world. They typically own a modest concrete house in town. Their furnishings, simple by developed-world standards, will often include an electric refrigerator, washing machine, propane stove, television, and a car or truck. The children go to school every day, and the eldest son sometimes even looks forward to college.
Above the mestizos, a tiny criollo (Mexican-born, European blood) minority, a few percent of the total population, inherits the privileges—wealth, education, and political power—of their colonial Spanish ancestors.
The typical indígena family lives in a small adobe house in a remote valley, subsisting on corn, beans, and vegetables from their small, unirrigated milpa (cornfield). They usually raise chickens, a few pigs, and sometimes a cow, and have electricity, but no sewage connection. Their few hundred dollars a year cash income isn’t enough to buy even a small tractor or refrigerator, much less a truck. The indígenas (or, mistakenly but commonly, Indians), by the usual measurements of income, health, or education, squat at the bottom of the social ladder. (See also Indigenous Groups.)
Sizable African Mexican communities, or negros, descendants of 17th- and 18th-century African slaves, live in the Gulf states and along the Guerrero–Oaxaca coastline. Last to arrive, they experience discrimination at the hands of everyone else and are integrating very slowly into the mestizo mainstream.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Oaxaca, 5th edition