Mestizaje and the census

21 October 2017

On 22 October, every Peruvian household should have received and filled in a census form. This is quite a complicated document but one which will provide crucial information to the authorities as to the population, its distribution, housing conditions, educational levels, employment, services received and ethnic background.

The last of these is an innovation. As well as asking people what their original language was (Spanish, Quechua, Aymara etc), the census asks people to identify their ethnicity. This includes a question relating to how people identify themselves “according to their customs and antecedents” as Quechua, Aymara, Amazonian native, another indigenous people, black, white or mestizo.

The inclusion of the term ‘mestizo’ as an ethnic category is significant. Many of those who would normally be classified as ‘indigenous’ will prefer to identify themselves as mestizo in a country in which being indigenous is not, generally speaking, well-viewed. Consequently it is likely that Peru will emerge as a much more ‘mestizo’ country than it really is. This, in turn, is of some significance when it comes to issues of confronting extractive industries since there is a marked reluctance by officialdom to classify highland peasant communities, for instance, as ‘indigenous’ and if now indigenous officially self-declare themselves as mestizo, then officialdom will have extremely strong evidence for their position.

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