by Alicia Arrizón

About Alicia Arrizón

Alicia Arrizón is Professor in the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of California, Riverside. Her most recent book is Queering Mestizaje: Transculturation and Performance.


“Mestizaje,” which is associated with the word “mixed,” can be understood as the product of mixing two distinct cultures—that is, Spanish and Indigenous American. While it is etymologically connected to the French métis (a person of mixed ancestry, similar to mestiza/o in Spanish) and métissage (the cultural process that leads to this) and to the Portuguese mestiço (a person of mixed ancestry), it is an unstable signifier that has different meanings depending on its context. Referring to the biological and cultural mixing of European and Indigenous peoples in the Americas, mestizaje can be understood as the effect caused by the impact of colonization. In North America, the closest approximation to “mestizaje” is the word métis, indicating a person of mixed aboriginal and European ancestry. For example, in western Canada the term is used in reference to people of Caucasian and Native Indian ancestry. However, both métissage and métis are used primarily in Francophone culture and literature. English, on the other hand, has no equivalent for “mestizaje,” although in theory, it has been identified as synonymous with cultural hybridization or hybridity, as both represent the space-in-between (Anzaldúa 1987; Bhabha 1994; García Canclini 1995). Epistemologically, however, mestizaje and hybridity need to be differentiated in postcolonial inquiries, because the colonial experience in the Americas is distinct from other forms of colonization in the regions of the global South (such as Asia and Africa).