By Curtis Marez

About Curtis Marez

Curtis Marez is Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego.  He is the author of Farm Worker Futurism: Speculative Technologies of Resistance and University Babylon: Film and Race Politics on Campus.


The terms “mestizo” (masculine) and “mestiza” (feminine) come from sixteenth-century Portuguese and Spanish, but over the past few hundred years, they have been incorporated into US English. In general, “mestizo/a” refers to racial and cultural mixing among Europeans, Indians, and Africans. As nouns, “mestizo” and “mestiza” refer to a mixed man and woman, respectively, but the word may also be used as an adjective, as in “the mestiza writer” or “a mestizo nation.” The process of such mixing is called “mestizaje.” These words have long and complex histories in diverse parts of the world, including Asia and the Americas, but their most prominent usages in American studies and cultural studies scholarship have referred to the Mexico/US borderlands. In that context, the meanings of “mestizo” have been intimately shaped by dominant and oppositional political movements.

The earliest known appearance of “mestizo” is in a Portuguese dictionary from the 1560s, in which

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