Ethnicity – What is it, race, examples of ethnicities from Mexico and the world

We explain what an ethnic group is, what factors identify them and examples from Mexico and the world. Also, differences with a race.

Those who are part of the same ethnic group feel linked genetically and culturally.

What are ethnic groups?

It is called ethnicity (a word from the Greek ethnos, “People” or “nation”) or ethnic group to each of the human collectives whose individuals share:

  • A certain sense of origin, expressed in some founding myths and in a historical memory.
  • Some identity traits, based on phenotype, language and / or customs.
  • A cultural baggage, like religion, language, etc.

In other words, it is about the different nations or peoples that make up humanity, and they cannot simply be reduced to nationalities.

According to the British sociologist and founder of the field of studies of ethnosymbolism, Anthony D. Smith (1939-2016), ethnic groups should be understood as “human populations that share myths about ancestry, histories, cultures and that are associated with a specific territory and have a feeling of solidarity ”.

Thus, those who are part of the same ethnic group feel linked both genetically and culturally, and therefore feel part of the same extended family, even without knowing each other personally.

Ethnic groups are human groups, but not all human groups constitute ethnic groups, and this distinction is often difficult, even for anthropologists. For this, specialists look at different identifying elements or classifying factors, such as:

  • Language, despite the fact that many ethnic groups are multilingual and at the same time different ethnic groups can share the same language.
  • Cultural identityAn absolutely vast term, but which for practical purposes is understood as a belief in a common origin and temporal continuity, as well as a projection of themselves in time. In addition, this can be expressed through a certain type of clothing, a certain type of gastronomy and customs.
  • The genetic, given that there is a more or less remote kinship link between the members of an ethnic group, which often translates into common medical or physiological conditions, such as certain tendencies or propensities to specific diseases. However, the concept of ethnicity is not a mere replacement for that of race, whose foundations were supposedly biological, but it is much broader and more comprehensive.

There are different ethnic groups in absolutely all parts of the world, some inhabiting an ancestral territory, others instead the result of displacement and migration, and are the product of tens of thousands of years of human history.

Difference between ethnicity and race

The difference between the concepts of “ethnicity” and “race” can be approached from multiple points of view, the most obvious being that the former is much more complex and comprehensive, emphasizing history and culture, while the latter is restrictive. and more narrow-minded, since it only looks at phenotypic traits, that is, appearance.

Precisely for that, the concept of “race” to classify the human species has been widely criticized and is in disuse both in the academic and formal language, as well as in the informal and colloquial language, where it currently survives.

Thus, thinking about ethnic groups implies considering the set of factors intrinsic to the complexity of human existence, while thinking in terms of “race” is reductionist and, furthermore, stigmatizing.

In fact, the term “race” is not free from the racist and discriminatory considerations that gave rise to it, in a context in which the western colonial powers elaborated biologicist discourses to, in some way, justify the inhuman treatment that was it gave to the settlers of its colonies and to the slaves.

Examples of ethnicities

Quechua ethnic group
The Quechua people are descendants of pre-Columbian peoples of the Andes.

There are many ethnic groups on the planet, but as an example we can list the following:

  • The Kurdish people, of Indo-Iranian origins, living in the mountainous region of Kurdistan in Western Asia, and who may be citizens of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
  • The Persian people, composed of the ancestral inhabitants of the Iranian plateau, speakers of the Farsi or Persian language. Heirs of the ancient Persian Empire, they were almost entirely converted to Islam after the Muslim conquest in the 7th century.
  • The Quechua people, a group of South American aboriginal peoples, whose name derives from the Quechua or Quichua language, typical of the Inca Empire and the other pre-Columbian peoples that populated the Andes Mountains.
  • The Armenian people, originally from the Armenian plateau in Anatolia, in Eastern Europe, speaker of the Armenian language, originating from ancient Persian. Many of them are scattered throughout the world, especially in Russia, Georgia and Iran.
  • The Magyar people, known colloquially as “Hungarians”, are the current settlers of Hungary, in Eastern Europe, whose origins are the subject of debate. The most adept explanation proposes a Uralic origin, that is, from the ancestral populations of the Ural Mountains (in the 4th millennium BC).
  • The Berber people, a group of indigenous ethnic groups from North Africa, from the region known today as Tamazgha. They inhabit a wide region that goes from the Canary Islands to the Siwa oasis in Egypt, and they speak a set of their own languages ​​(tamazight), derived from Afro-Asian languages.

Main ethnicities of Mexico

As established by its legal framework, Mexico is a multi-ethnic country, that is, it has inhabitants of different ethnic groups and, therefore, they speak different languages ​​and have different customs and traditions. Among its main ethnic groups are:

  • The Eurodescendants or whites. As its name indicates, it is about the descendants of the European settlers who between the 16th and 17th centuries settled in the old Viceroyalty of New Spain, as well as the numerous European migrations that Mexico has welcomed in its later history. Therefore, they are mostly white (Creole), of Catholic or Protestant religion, and although they speak the official language of Spanish, in many of them other traditional Creole languages ​​survive, such as Venetian or Venetian language.
  • Afro-Mexicans. Descendants of the former African slaves forced to America during the colonial era, they have a mainly Yoruba and Mandingo heritage, and they make up only 5% of the Mexican population.
  • Native populance. Despite the traumatic history of European conquest and colonization, Mexico abounds with heirs to pre-Columbian aboriginal peoples, speaking around 68 different languages ​​and endowed with their own cultural identity. These towns represent between 7% and 15% of the Mexican population, and their main ethnic groups are:
    • The Mayan or Mayan peoples, inheritors of a history almost 4,000 years old, which once placed them as the central civilization of the Mesoamerican region. They are made up of almost a million and a half people, they inhabit the regions of the Yucatan Peninsula and the north of Chiapas, and they speak a Spanish strongly penetrated by the Mayan language.
    • The Nahua or Nahualt peoples, whose name comes from the ancestral language that still survives among them, they are generally found in the central regions of Mexico, such as the State of Mexico, Hidalgo or Puebla. They are also heirs of the ancient Aztec or Mexican peoples, whose name baptizes the entire country.
    • The Zapotec peoples, also called binizaThey are the third most important Mexican aboriginal ethnic group, and have almost 800,000 inhabitants, almost all of them living in the southern region of the country, between Oaxaca and Veracruz. Their language belongs to the Ottomangue family, along with Mixtecs and Otomis, and is still spoken by only 50% of the current Zapotec population.
    • Mixtec peoplesNeighbors and former allies of the Zapotecs against the Aztecs, the Mixtec peoples today are made up of some 720,000 people, among whom many of their ancestral habits still survive.
    • The Huichol peoples, also called Wixárika, are natives of the Sierra Madre Occidental, to the west of the country, and speakers of a language of the Uto-Aztecs branch. Its population is estimated at 43,000 individuals.
  • Mestizo Mexicans. The majority ethnic group in Mexico is the result of the complex processes of cultural hybridization that occurred in the region during and after the colony, allowing the emergence of a population that does not fully identify with either the aboriginal or European heritage, and that incorporate elements of both traditions at the same time, in what was called during the post-revolutionary Mexican governments as the “mestizo identity”.
  • Arab Mexicans. As a result of a significant migration of individuals of Turkish, Armenian, Iranian, Palestinian and other Middle Eastern descent between the 19th and 20th centuries, many Arabic-speakers live in Mexico, although they do not represent even 5% of the total population from the country. However, its presence has made itself felt in gastronomy, giving rise to fusions such as “Arab tacos”. For the most part, Arab Mexicans practice the Latin Christian, Maronite or Eastern Catholic, or Orthodox Christian religion.
  • Asian Mexicans. Representatives of less than 1% of the country’s population, their arrival in Mexican territory dates back to Philippine migration during the Spanish colony, which led to migration from Japan, China, Cambodia, Timorese and many other Asian regions that came to Mexico between the 19th and 20th centuries, when they were the fastest growing group of immigrants between 1880 and 1920.