There is lingering dissent, and outright confusion, over the etymology of the term “raza.” Indeed, as a noun and as an adjective, it conceals and effaces as much as it reveals and illuminates. The Real Academia Española traces the term to the Latin radía or radíus (rod, spoke, or ray), and offers such disparate definitions as casta (caste), grieta (crack in a horse’s hoof), and raya de luz (ray of sunlight). All of these etymological touchstones involve the vocabulary of cartography, race, zoology, and even refracted light, that is, color. The term thus invites postcolonial, ethnic, and critical race studies appropriations of its Spanish medieval resonances and early modern inflections, particularly the colonialist castas taxonomy depicted in the infamous sixteenth-century series of images from “New Spain,” or the Americas.

This essay may be found on page 188 of the printed volume.

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