Published on February 20th, 2014 | by Apuntes LJ


The ABCs and Ñ

Excerpt of a Book by Jim Estrada

About the Author
photo Jim Estrada is a nationally recognized expert in marketing communications, public relations, and cultural competence training. He founded Estrada Communications Group, Inc. (ECG) in San Antonio, Texas, in 1992, and relocated it to Austin in 1994, when the agency was contracted to launch the Texas Lottery in 15 markets simultaneously across the state. Under his leadership, ECG has provided strategic counsel to many of the most respected U.S. corporate and nonprofit organizations.
Mr. Estrada attended San Diego State University, Boston College, and Harvard Business School. He currently serves on the Board of directors of the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE), the Advisory Council of the University of Texas Libraries, and the VOCES Oral History Project Advisory Council (Journalism Department, UT Austin).

“The ABCs and Ñ of America’s Cultural Evolution: A Primer on the Growing Influence of Hispanics, Latinos, and Mestizos in the USA” is a veteran corporate marketer’s and TV journalist’s perspective of 500 years of cultural evolution by the Western Hemisphere’s mestizo, which constitutes most of today’s 52 million U.S. Hispanics and Latinos. This collection of essays provides readers a “primer” on the largest and fastest growing ethnic consumers, employees, students, taxpayers and voters in the USA.


 No hay mal que por bien no venga.

Translation: There is no bad from which good doesn’t result.

Transcreation: The bitterest trials are often blessings in disguise.

The serendipitous landing by the Spanish on the shores of the “New World” is one of the most significant and important events in the history of the Western Hemisphere, and perhaps the world.   The use of the word “discovery” is purposely avoided due to the fact the millions of indigenous natives living in the Western Hemisphere were not “lost.”

Like most colonization efforts related to the New World, exploration and conquest by European powers of their time were driven by the acquisition of material wealth, power, and religious conversion.  A major distinction between the English and Spanish colonial conquests was the levels of interaction between the invaders and the indigenous natives.  Unlike the English, who enacted anti-miscegenation laws in the Maryland colony as early as 1661, the Spanish appeared to be more concerned with survival and sustainability of their expeditionary forces than they were about their European racial purity.  In their efforts to facilitate control of the indigenous natives the Spaniards not only procreated with, but also converted, their conquered subjects to Christianity in efforts to attain their economic, political and ecclesiastical objectives.

Following the Spanish defeat of the Aztec Empire (c.1520), governance of the Spanish colonies was placed exclusively in the hands of Spanish-born colonists, or peninsulares (natives of the Iberian Peninsula) in order to ensure the complete conquest of New Spain.  Peninsulares governed an area that included much of today’s North America: including Canada, present-day Mexico and Central and South America.  Spain’s influence can still be seen many areas of the USA west of the Mississippi River, and in the states bordering along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Inheritance rights of heirs born in New Spain soon became an issue, prompting the establishment of a caste system to protect the wealth and influence of the peninsulares.  Inasmuch as Spaniards sired mestizo children, the rights of potential heirs had to be defined and prioritized in accordance with the degree of Spanish purity.  The system for determining lineage used convoluted formulae for defining offspring from Spanish and indigenous parents, listed in declining rank and social status.  The farther away from “pure” Spanish bloodlines the farther away from being granted inheritance claims.  This extensive caste system began with the criollo — the New Spain offspring of parents born in Spain — that by royal edict could never hold official titles.  The very bottom of the caste was often referred to as “allí te estás” — and there you shall remain.

Even the relationships within the castes were turbulent and resulted in discrimination, violence, subjugation and exploitation.  Ironically, Spaniards and criollos referred to themselves as “pure-blooded” Europeans.  However, history reminds us the Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Portugal, Andorra, Gibraltar, and a small area of France) and the bloodlines of its inhabitants were intermingled as a result of nearly 800 years of Moorish rule.  The Moors (African Muslims), a mixture of Berbers and Arabs, infused Spain with their genes, culture and social practices over several centuries.  Moorish influence resulted in tolerance (and partial acceptance) of mixed bloodlines and cultures that resulted in Spain’s diverse ethnic, racial and religious population.  Yet, signs of white European ancestry did carry certain social “advantages” in the New World.


Survival of the fittest

The first natives of the Western Hemisphere the Spaniards encountered were the Azteca — from the Nahuatl language word Aztecatl meaning “people from Aztlán,” or “people from the North.”  Among some historians, the Azteca are also referred to as the Mechica people of Tenochtitlán — considered the elite of the indigenous militaristic empire at the beginning of the 16th century — who with the allied city-states of Texcoco and Tlacopán formed an alliance known as the “Aztec Empire.”

The Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire is attributable to several factors, one of them being the practice of human sacrifice.  Many of the Mechica’s sacrificial victims were from neighboring and subjugated tribes, which resulted in revenge-driven allies ready to help the Spanish invaders defeat the mighty Azteca.

Another factor was that the Azteca believed their god Quetzalcoatl would return to destroy their empire.  This god was expected to appear as a man with light-colored hair and skin — to the indigenous natives the Spaniard Hernán Cortés was the reincarnation of that god.  Still, some modern scholars question this reference to the resurrection of Quetzalcoatl and consider it historical revisionism.

Still another factor was Malinche, also referred to as Malintzín, Malinalli or Doña Marina, who may have been the first historical record of the use of “cultural relevance” in Spain’s conquest of the Azteca.  The indigenous native from the Mexican Gulf coast acted as interpreter, advisor, lover and intermediary for Cortés in his dealings with the various tribes he encountered during his forays into Central Mexico.  (This is a great example of the modern ethnic marketing maxim: Knowledge of the language and culture provide a tremendous advantage!)

Malintzín’s mother (who remarried a ruling tribal official with whom she had a male heir) gave her daughter away to another tribe and into a life of servitude.  Malinche became one of many slaves given to Cortés by the natives of Tabasco.  She became his mistress and gave birth to his first son, Martín, one of the first mestizos born in New Spain.  Doña Marina is still referred to in a variety of disparaging-to-reverent remarks; she is the embodiment of treachery, the quintessential victim, and considered the symbolic mother of the mestizo people.  Yet, to this day the term malinchista is used by many Mexicans to describe disloyalty.

Perhaps the most credible factor leading to the conquest of Mexico was the importation of communicable diseases.  In addition to military arms, the Spanish brought such early forms of “weapons of mass destruction” that we now know as smallpox, measles, scarlet fever, typhoid, typhus, influenza, whooping cough, tuberculosis, cholera, diphtheria, chicken pox, and venereal diseases, which eradicated a substantial number of the indigenous population, which was estimated at 30 million strong in 1518.  Some 50 years later those numbers had been reduced to three million, and by 1620 the number had dwindled to approximately 1.6 million.  No one knows for sure how many members of the Azteca Empire died from Spanish-borne European diseases, but historians referred to this epidemic devastation as the “Great Dying.”

By virtue of these aforementioned factors, Cortés succeeded in overpowering the once great Azteca civilization.  Efforts by indigenous tribes to defend their ways of life and customs against Spanish diseases, armies and miscegenation proved to be futile.  Of the many dichos (sayings) used among Spanish-speakers perhaps the most literal way to describe this cultural, physical and psychological confrontation remains: “Lo que no te mata, te fortalece.” (What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.)


Differential perspective

Náhuatl was the language spoken by the Mechica and remains to this day a legally sanctioned language in Mexico.  It is spoken by more than a million people in the central regions of Mexico and has a legal status equal to Spanish.  Popular Spanish and English words rooted in Náhuatl remain in use today in both Spanish and English languages: “aguacatl” (aguacate/avocado), “chilli” (chile/chili pepper), “chilpoctli” (chipotle/chipotle), ‘coyotl’ (coyote/coyote), “tomatl” (tomate/tomato) and ‘xocoatl’ (chocolate/chocolate) are a few of these words.

The languages spoken in the pre-Colombian western hemisphere have given many words to the Spanish language.  Choclo, the word used to describe both corn, and its kernels, is from the Quechua language of the Inca, which is also still spoken today.  Another word for corn, “maíz,” was first discovered in the diary of Cristobál Colón.  Its roots are from the indigenous Taino language once spoken in the Caribbean islands: the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and others.

Other Uto-Aztecan language-speaking tribes flourished throughout pre-Colombian Mexico and the western U.S., among them: the Tarahumara (from the Mexican state of Chihuahua), the Yaquí (in the Mexican state of Sonora), Tohono O’odham (in the Mexican state of Sonora and Arizona in the U.S.), and the Huichol (in the Mexican mountain states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Zacatecas and Durango).  U.S. indigenous natives that could be considered distant cousins of the Azteca — are the Gabrielino (Los Angeles), Hopi (Northern Arizona), Paiute (Southwest), Shoshone (Idaho), and the Ute (Utah).

Many indigenous natives adopted some form of the Spanish language, political system and religious practices.  Vestiges of their religious conversion are evident in many of today’s mestizo social and cultural practices.  Perhaps the most obvious signs of cross-cultural influence were the birth names given Spanish, indigenous and mestizo children.  For generations, newborns were given nombres de pila (pila is the church font in which babies are baptized) in honor of the Roman Catholic Church’s Holy Family or the Saints’ day on which children were born.

Girls were often named María in honor of the Holy Mother.  Names like Dolores (Sorrows) and Mercedes (Mercy) were also taken from titles associated with the Virgin Mary, while others such as Anunciación, Concepción, and Guadalupe refer to religious events related to the Mother of Christ.  Common among boys’ names were Jesús (Jesus), Manuel (Emmanuel), Adán (Adam), Géronimo (Jerome), José (Joseph), Juán (John) and Pedro (Peter).

In turn, the indigenous natives imbued Catholicism with some of their own cultural practices; examples include the adaptation of religious icons similar to the Catholic Church’s Virgin Mary.  The dark-skinned, indigenous-looking Virgen de Guadalupe is Mexico’s patron saint and a revered religious and cultural icon.  She was reported to have appeared in Tepeyac near Mexico City to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzín (canonized as the first Mexican saint in 2002).  Others include La Virgen de San Juan de Los Lagos (Our Lady of St. John of the Lakes), who is claimed to have appeared to residents in San Juan de Los Lagos, in the state of Jalisco; Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre (The Virgin of Charity in El Cobre) is Cuba’s Madonna; and La Madre Dolorosa (Sorrowful Mother) is revered throughout many other Latin America countries.

The Spanish missionaries allowed natives and mestizos to worship their indigenous versions of the Holy Mother to hasten their conversion to Christianity, not realizing they would become the dominant religious icons of a new hybrid people and culture.  The blending of religion and culture is yet another example of selecting the best of both worlds as tools for purposes of survival.  As it has done with the human species for centuries, natural selection had a major role in determining the evolution of culture.  Christianity may have prevailed, but it was indelibly marked with a façade created by New Spain’s indigenous people.


Seeds of dissention

In many areas of the New World criollos (Spaniards born in New Spain), indigenous and mestizo groups were forced to pay tribute to Spain’s king and comply with traditional laws and customs.  Anti-colonialism sentiments grew first among criollos, which suffered social, economic and political discrimination at the hands of their European-born peers: the peninsulares.

At the same time, the indigenous tribes in more remote areas of the continent chose to remain physically, ethnically and culturally isolated from the invading gachupines (the Náhuatl word for cactzopin, which means with “spikes” or “spurs”).  The word morphed into gachupín in Spanish, a pejorative term used by criollos, mestizos and indigenous natives when referring to the Spanish ruling class and their sycophants.

It was the educated and disenchanted criollos, not the indigenous natives or mestizos, who fomented the independence movement that led to Mexico’s revolt against Spain.  In 1810, the criollo priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla called for Mexican independence with his now famous Grito de Dolores (shout from the city of Dolores), inciting his fellow criollo, indigenous and mestizo followers with his now famous cry: “¡Muerte a los gachupines! ¡Viva Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe! ¡Viva Mexico!” (Death to the Spaniards! Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe! Long live Mexico!).

After a long and bloody struggle, independence was won in 1821 — 11 years after the call to arms by Padre Hidalgo y Costilla.  Today, he is still revered as the father of Mexico’s revolution, which gained independence from Spain.  Throughout Mexico (and in many Latino communities across the USA) Latinos participate in festivities surrounding El Grito de Dolores on the eve of Fiestas Patrias — Mexican Independence Day that falls on September 16th.

In Mexico City, the President starts the ceremony by ringing the actual bell from the church in the town of Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato) and repeats the call for independence used by Padre Hidalgo y Costilla, which culminates at midnight with fireworks and cries of ¡Viva Mexico!  The same celebration is repeated from every presidencia municipal (mayor’s office) throughout Mexico — and in Latino communities in the USA — as part of the annual remembrance.


Beyond pale

Despite Mexico’s independence from Spain, Spanish rule left indelible marks on Mexico and Latin America.  The fair-skinned European “look” remained preferable to the darker shades of skin commonly associated with indigenous natives and mestizos.  It is still common to hear Latino family members gush with pride over the arrival of a güerito (pale-skinned baby), while the arrival of swarthier infants is frequently met with sympathetic remarks about the newborn’s indigenous heritage.

Discrimination based on skin color has been a phenomenon for centuries in almost all cultures of the world.  And in most parts of the world a premium has been placed on the fair-haired.  In the modern Americas, light skin is still equated with privilege, power and wealth.  This has led to a large number of indigenous natives and their mestizo relations being conflicted about placing a higher value on their Spanish ancestry, especially when in their own families members may range from morenos (dark skinned), to trigueños (olive skinned), to güeros (fair skinned).

Color differences within the mestizo culture are generally viewed as just another of the many distinctive characteristics among siblings and are no greater a concern than being diestro o zurdo (right- or left-handed), alto o chaparro (tall or short), delgado o gordo (thin or fat), and listo o torpe (smart or slow).  In a 2008 interview with Dublin-based Independent News & Media, ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria explained that concept when she addressed the issue of skin color in her response to the question: “At what age did you find happiness in yourself?”

“Me? Oh, early, early on.  It was high school.  No, actually younger,” Longoria replied, matter-of-factly.  “I was the ugly duckling growing up.  My sisters were very beautiful and I was the ‘ugly dark one’ — la prieta fea — as a child.  I was the only one with black hair.  I was the only one with dark skin.  So I learned to develop a personality and learned not to rely on my superficial looks, because I didn’t have them.  …  It is kind of ironic that [now] I’m on people’s lips as ‘the most beautiful’ or ‘the sexiest.”

It is ironic! For beneath the veneer of Spanish culture, there remain strong connections to an indigenous heritage that is an integral element of mestizos and their dual identity, which still results in internal conflict and confusion related to matters of skin color and race.  The clash of cultures that began in the late 1400s continues to this day among Hispanics, Latinos and mestizos in the USA, who now grapple with the challenges associated with acculturation and assimilation to yet another white Eurocentric society.


How/Where to Purchase “The ABCs and Ñ

– Personalized, signed Hardcover (H), paperback (P), and eBook (E) cards are available only through the author’s web site shown below:

(Students and Teachers discounted versions of these listed versions are available online only through the author’s web site.)

– Unsigned versions are available at the following online and retail outlets. (P & E): (P&E): (P):

La Casa Azul (all), 143 E 103rd St, New York, NY / 212.426.2626

Librería Martinez (all), 216 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, CA / 714.965.1151

• Tate Publishing (P & E):

– Personalized, signed Hardcover (H), Paperback (P), and eBook (E) cards are available through local market author’s presentations and book signings. For more information send an eMail to:

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