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Varieties of Indigeneity in the Americas

Edward Telles

We examine sources of indigenous identity in the two countries with the largest indigenous populations in the Western Hemisphere—Mexico and Peru. We find that the size of the indigenous population varies dramatically depending on the measure of indigeneity used, and that using multiple measures captures distinct modes of indigeneity. Using latent class analysis, we find that contemporary indigenous classification clusters around four types, which we characterize as Traditional Indians, Indigenous Mestizos, New Indians, and Non-Indigenous. Traditional Indians tend to be indigenous on virtually all indicators, and they are especially poor, dark, and rural. Indigenous Mestizos tend to speak an indigenous language, but self-identification as indigenous is tenuous. New Indians assert an indigenous identity despite their frequent lack of linguistic knowledge and close indigenous ancestry, and they are as urban, educated, and light-skinned as the Non-Indigenous. The analysis addresses sociological concepts of ethnic boundaries, assimilation, mestizaje, and symbolic ethnicity and discusses the implications of distinct modes of indigenous ethnicity.