How the mixed-race mestizo myth warped science in Latin America
Researchers are trying to dismantle the flawed concept of homogeneous racial mixing that has fostered discrimination in Mexico, Brazil and other countries.
Nicéa Quintino Amauro is a chemist in Minas Gerais, Brazil
Nicéa Quintino Amauro always knew who she was.
She was born in Campinas, the last city in Brazil to prohibit slavery in 1888. She grew up in a Black neighbourhood, with a Black family. And a lot of her childhood was spent in endless meetings organized by the Unified Black Movement, the most notable Black civil-rights organization in Brazil, which her parents helped to found to fight against centuries-old racism in the country. She knew she was Black.
But in the late 1980s, when Amauro was around 13 years old, she was told at school that Brazilians were not Black. They were not white, either. Nor any other race. They were considered to be mestiços, or pardos, terms rooted in colonial caste distinctions that signify a tapestry of European, African and Indigenous backgrounds. And as one single mixed people, they were all equal to each other.
The idea felt odd. Wrong, even. “To me, it seemed quite strange,” says Amauro, now a chemist at the Federal University of Ubêrlandia in Minas Gerais and a member of the Brazilian Association of Black Researchers. “How can everyone be equal if racism exists? It doesn’t make sense.”
Amauro’s concerns echo across Latin America, where generations of people have been taught that they are the result of a long history of mixture between different ancestors who all came, or were forced, to live in the region…
Nonwhite Americans are being misidentified as white on their death certificates
Part of a copy of Marvin Dooley II's death certificate. Dooley was a Black man.
Mr. Marvin Dooley II was clearly not a white person
An average 30% Native American, 3% Asian, and 3% Hispanic deaths are mislabeled.
By those figures, an estimated 4.8 million Americans living today could be given the wrong race when they die, according to 2020 Census data.
"You took part of my father's identity and took it away from him. As an African American male, we are oftentimes portrayed in a very negative light. Given that this man worked all his life, was a US Air Force veteran, was a father and a good husband, I think his story should be told correctly," the younger Dooley told Insider.
"It is a kick in the teeth."
Pedro Pizzini Martínez and Beth Colón-Pizzini in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, in 2006.
The rate of misclassification is 3% for Hispanic people and 3% for Asian people, and a worrying 30% for the Native American and Alaska Native population, Robert Anderson, chief of mortality statistics at the National Center for Health Statistics, told Insider.
Three days after the funeral of Dominique Scott, a 29-year-old Florida rapper who died July 3, his family received his death certificate from the state's Bureau of Vital Statistics.
The family, from Osceola County, are Afro-Latino and of Puerto Rican heritage, but when they studied the paperwork they saw the funeral director's office had labeled Scott as white.
"Which is just completely inaccurate," Nitty Scott, Dominique's brother, told Insider. "He would have wanted it to reflect his identity and experience in this world, as an Afro-Latino. As a Black and Puerto Rican man."
'He was a Black man, who knew he was a Black man'
Instances of racial misclassification are also common outside the US mainland.
Earlier this year, Pedro Pizzini Martínez passed away from complications brought on by polycystic kidney disease in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. He was 82.
In the aftermath, his family went about tying up loose ends. Like Scott and Dooley, they learned that Pizzini Martínez had been categorized on his death certificate as white by a local funeral directors' office.
"He was a Black man, who knew he was a Black man, experienced anti-Blackness all his life in very different contexts and geographic places," Beth Colón-Pizzini, his granddaughter and an assistant professor in The University of Texas at Austin's African and African Diaspora Studies department, told Insider.