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What we need is a great big melting-pot...

01:00 Fri 18th Jan 2002 |

Q. ...Big enough to take the world and all it's got

A. Exactly. Blue Mink's 1969 hymn to racial harmony was a huge hit at a time when on the one hand people were being encouraged as never before to consider all races equal and on the other, where those traditionally forced into the economic and social sub-basement purely on the basis of their ethnic makeup were demanding their rights in an increasingly forceful manner - thus upsetting the apple-cart as far as many of the haves were concerned.

Q. What's all this got to do with chino-cholo

A. Everything. On a continent as sensitive to every subtle shade of complexion and kink of hair as the Americas, from the US/Canadian border right down to Tierra del Fuego, every possible combination of racial mix has its own name. A chino-cholo is someone with one Amerindian parent and one chino (half-Indian, half-black) parent.

Q. Nothing to do with the trousers, then

You'd think not, but chino in South-American Spanish means 'toasted' - hence it's use for a certain shade of mixed-race person - and it was also applied to the khaki-coloured cotton twill used to make the famous strides.

Q. So, what about these descriptions

A. Most of these terms have their roots in the early days of the Iberian conquest of the Americas in the 16th century, but were readily taken on by the other Europeans who quickly moved into the Caribbean and started opening up parts of the New World for themselves.

More often than not, there were restrictions on miscegenation and the descriptions were frequently derogatory as well as purely descriptive.

Suffice to say, there was an obsession with racial background in all the societies which developed after the European migrations got going in earnest, and the degrees of African, European (northern and southern), indigenous American (again, differentiations were made between North American and Central and South American Indians), Oriental and everything in between blood that you had made all the difference.

Q. What Quadroons and octoroons and such-like

A. Yes. The offspring of a mulatto and a white is a quadroon, of a quadroon and a white an octoroon. A mulatto was half-black, half-white, and the word comes from mulato, Spanish for a young mule (half-horse, half-donkey, remember), so is not entirely complimentary.

Q. What about mestizo

A. Mestizo just means 'mixed' in Spanish, but is used specifically to describe someone of half-white, half-Amerindian parentage.

Q. And it gets more complicated

A. It certainly does, and some combinations share the same name, so you'd need local knowledge to know the difference.

Here are a few to grapple with (you'll be tested on them later):







Black+North-American Indian=Zambo/Cariboco

Black+South-American Indian=Mameluco

















Q. What about South Africa Was - or is - there the same fixation with ancestry

A. Strangely, it's not quite so retentive. All that was important to the minority white regime was that you were 100 per cent white. There were no 'shades' of white, so�everyone else was not worth categorising too carefully. In 1950, the Population Registration Act required that all South Africans be racially classified into one of three categories: white, black (African) and coloured (of mixed decent), with the latter including all those of Indian or Asian descent, no matter how pure blooded.

Post-apartheid the country's population is still, for census purposes, divided into racial groups, though now Asians have been given their own category, thus making four in total. The official nomenclature for 'Africans' has varied over the years, changing from 'native' to 'Bantu' in the middle of the apartheid era, and then changing to 'black' or 'African.'

See also the answerbank articles on the naming of America and 'ethnic' foods

For more on Phrases & Sayings click here

By Simon Smith

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