Before Mestizaje is an ambitious attempt to redefine the workings of the caste system (sistema de castas) of colonial Mexico (Viceroyalty of New Spain) by examining individuals on its fringes. Organized into nine short chapters, a coda, and four appendixes, the book is the much-awaited culmination of Vinson's 2005 essay “Estudiando las razas desde la periferia: Las castas olvidadas del sistema colonial mexicano (lobos, moriscos, coyotes, moros y chinos),” which was published in the essay collection Pautas de convivencia étnica en la América Latina colonial (indios, negros, mulatos, pardos y esclavos).

Whereas art historians have used casta paintings to address colonial notions of morality, lineage, and physical difference, Vinson examines marital petitions, bigamy cases, and census data to delineate the contours of the Mexican caste system. Before Mestizaje is not so much concerned with individuals that were classified as...

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