Before Mestizaje is a major contribution to an increasingly sophisticated literature about racial mixture in colonial Latin America with its critical scrutiny of the “sistema de castas” and the political, legal, social, and cultural variables that shaped its development. Such studies have challenged the very existence of such a “sistema” and a top-down imposition of its political logic. Rather, socioracial hierarchies in colonial Latin America were characterized more by flexibility and malleability than by stasis and immobility, varied widely within and across regions throughout the Spanish Empire, and were shaped as much as by accident as design.1

At the core of this richly textured work is Vinson’s determination to write a social history of what he refers to as “the forgotten castes” or “extreme caste groups of Mexico,” racially mixed offspring of unions among Spaniards, Indians, and Africans, categorized with exotic labels such as lobos, moriscos, coyotes...

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