Born abroad

In Spanish colonial times criollo referred to a full-blooded Spaniard born in the Spanish colonies in Asia and the Americas. It was a term mostly used to differentiate from the peninsulares (full-blooded Spaniards born in Spain) and mestizos (persons of both Spanish and Native American or Asian ancestry).

Criollos were the second highest-ranked group in the Spanish racial hierarchy.  The Spanish government distinguished criollos from four other common racial groups in the Marianas during Spanish colonial rule that spanned the 17th to 19th centuries.

High-ranking government positions in the colonies were given to criollos as there were almost no peninsulares in the Marianas.  For administrative purposes, the groups were defined from highest-to-lowest ranked, as follows:

  • Peninsulares
  • Criolos
  • Mestizos
  • Filipinos (persons native to the Philippine Islands)
  • Indios (persons native to the Mariana Islands)

Legazpi expedition

Spanish explorer Miguel Lopez de Legazpi’s 1565 expedition to Guam was significant in two respects.  First, it was the voyage that resulted in Spain claiming the Mariana Islands, and it was the first expedition led mostly by criollos, mulattos, and mestizos as very few peninsulares took part in the voyage.

By Chelsea M. San Nicolas

For further reading

Driver, Marjorie G. and Omaira Brunal-Perry. Carolinians in the Mariana Islands in the 1800s. Saipan, CNMI and and Mangilao, GU: Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Department of Community and Cultural Affairs Division of Historic Preservation and the University of Guam Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center, c1996.

Hezel, Francis X. From Conquest to Colonization: Spain in the Mariana Islands 1690 to 1740. Saipan, CNMI: Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Division of Historic Preservation, 1989.

Rogers, Robert F. Destiny’s Landfall: A History of Guam. Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press, 1995.