The Mestizo perspective

The forging of several different racial and ethnic backgrounds, including Caucasian, African and indigenous bloodlines, have contributed to the unique identity and worldview of a Mestizo, defined as a person born from different races.

Author: Brian W. McNeill

As Stavans (2013) puts forth, a Mestizo is a person or culture born from different races, but it is something far bigger yet tangible: a state of mind. Among Latinas/os, ancestral histories are embedded in the Mestiza/o experience, the forging of several different racial and ethnic backgrounds, including Caucasian, African and Indigenous bloodlines that have contributed to their unique identity and worldview. The Mestiza/o experience and the Indigenous backdrop are interrelated, and consequently form an essential basis toward a critical identity for many Latino groups. Ramirez (1998, 2004) refers to the Mestizo perspective as a dynamic, synergistic process developed from the amalgamation of peoples, philosophies, and cultures bridging the European continent and the Americas; the intermingling of physical, psychological, cultural and spiritual ties between the Caucasian and the Indian. 

For centuries, interracial children were rejected in our society, and seen as a refutation of purity, as purity was synonymous with wholesomeness. As we reconsider this view, to be racially mixed is to represent unity, to synthesize and to integrate (Stavans, 2013). Ramirez (1998, 2004) traces this perspective to the Mesoamerican peoples who came to represent a mix of European and native cultures and ideologies. These peoples often spoke two languages and served as cultural ambassadors or brokers.  In this process of cultural and genetic “mestizoization” the individual was viewed as an open system i.e., openness to diversity and experience made indigenous peoples receptive to other ways of life and philosophies. In their search for self-knowledge, every culture, person, worldview was believed to reflect the knowledge necessary to understand the mysteries of life and self. Consequently, diversity was accepted and incorporated into the self through both genetic and cultural amalgamation. Ramirez (1998) further illustrates this perspective in delineating the major differences between European and Mestizo approaches to the social sciences and helping professions. The Mestizo approach includes a focus on the interdisciplinary, with frameworks that are devoid of notions of cultural, genetic, gender or sexual orientation superiority. Communication and cooperation are valued with primary responsibility to the groups and communities one is working with, along with a deep personal commitment to solving social problems. What Burke (2002) describes as the attributes of a Mestizo Democracy include: The permeability of borders in contrast to the inelasticity of frontiers, a relational as opposed to a possessive rendering of morality and community, the transformation of relations of domination into relations of empowerment and the engendering of hope in the struggle for justice for all peoples.           

Indigenous is a reference to those populations, who, by historical origin, were the original inhabitants of a designated land or nation who include Native American/American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian populations. Being Indigenous incorporates the embodiment of an earth-based spirituality-namely, the recognition that all life is interconnected, and that this awareness influences and guides responsible action toward appropriate moral and ethical behavior, and a commitment to the well-being of others (Cervantes, 2008; McNeill & Cervantes, 2008). The psychology of the indigenous peoples of North America over centuries has also viewed the person as an open system as what is learned in interactions with others, the environment, and the universe helps a person achieve harmony with surroundings and to understand the meaning of life. The notion of interpenetration is also an integral part of the view of the person as information and knowledge from others is modified and incorporated, and influences the psychodynamics of the person. Additionally, the spiritual world holds the key to destiny, personal identity and life mission, and is a source of power and knowledge. Finally, community identity and responsibility to the group are of central importance (Ramirez, 1998).          

Similar concepts are demonstrated in the indigenous psychology of the multiethnic and multiracial Native Hawaiians, which emphasizes the examination of psychological phenomena in ecological, historical and cultural contexts, involving multiple perspectives and methods to create a comprehensive and integrated picture of the people. These concepts are grounded in the emphasis upon social relationships, and tied to the view that the individual, society and nature are inseparable and key to psychological health.  Unity or accord is paramount as mental health is viewed holistically encompassing body, mind and spirit. Ties to earth and nature are more than simple place or geography, but embody multiple dimensions including the physical, psychological, and spiritual. What is referred to as mana is the spiritual energy of life found in all things, as well as divine or spiritual power and connects person, family, land and the spirit world (McCubbin & Marsella, 2009).  

The influences and effects of these Mestizo perspectives have only started to be articulated, integrated and understood by mainstream organized psychology (McNeill & Cervantes, 2008; Gallardo & McNeill, 2009, Comas-Diás, 2006). Cervantes (2004, 2010), for example, describes the Mestizo perspective within the context of indigenous Latina/o spiritual principles with guidelines for therapeutic relationships, procedures and goals including the integration of indigenous healing ceremonies.  Emphasis is placed on the central role of spirituality, cultural or ethnic identity, and the power of ritual and ceremony in the counseling process. Similar work has been articulated for Native American populations (e.g., Duran & Duran, 1995), as well as the holistic framework for psychological health delineated by McCubbin and Marsalla (2010) for Native Hawaiians.              

Perhaps it is the increasingly changing demographics in our culture or simply the reality of our multicultural and increasingly multiracial society that is influencing these movements. The curanderos or traditional Mexican healers say that we are now coming full circle in recapturing traditional cultural practices post colonization that reflect the worldviews of our peoples. After all, our ancestors provided us with 2000 years of Evidence-Based Psychology Practice (EBPP), while we as contemporary practitioners have only 200.  Nonetheless, it is somewhat reaffirming that the American Psychological Association (APA) now recognizes the crucial role of culture and common factors across all healing procedures in defining EBPP ( APA, 2006). For many of us, these developments represent the reality and influence of our increasingly Mestizo nation.


American Psychological Association (2006). Evidence-based practice in psychology. American Psychologist®, 61, 271-285.

Burke, J. F. (2002). Mestizo democracy: The politics of crossing borders. College Station, Tx.: Texas A&M University Press.

Cervantes, J. M. (2008). What is indigenous about being indigenous? The mestiza/o experience. In B. W. McNeill & J. M. Cervantes (Eds.). Latina/o healing traditions: Mestizo and Indigenous perspectives. New York: Routledge.

Cervantes, J. M. (2010). Mestizo spirituality: Toward an integrated approach to psychotherapy for Latina/os. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. 47, 527-539.

Comas-Diás, L. (2006). Latino healing: The integration of ethnic psychology into Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 41, 436- 453.

Duran. E., & Duran, B. (1995). Native American postcolonial psychology. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Gallardo, M. E., & McNeill, B. M. (Eds.). (2009). Intersections of multiple identities: A casebook of evidence-based practices with diverse opoulations. New York: Routledge

McCubbin, L. D., & Marsella, A. (2009). Native Hawaiians and psychology: The cultiural and historical context of indigenous ways of knowing. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 15, 374-387.

McNeill, B. W., & Cervantes, J. M. (2008). Counselors and curanderos:Parallels in the healing process. In B. W. McNeill &J. M. Cervantes (Eds.) Latina/o healing traditions: Mestizo and Indigenous perspectives. New York: Routledge.

McNeill, B. W., & Cervantes, J. M. (Eds.). (2008). Latina/o healing traditions: Mestizo and Indigenous perspectives. New York: Routledge.

Ramirez, M. (1998). Multicultural/multiracial Psychololgy: Mestizo perspectives in personality and mental health. New Jersey: Jason Aronson Inc.

Ramirez, M. (2004). Mestiza/o and Chicana/o psychology: Theory, research, and application. In R. J. Velásquez, L.M. Arrellano, & B.W. McNeill (Eds.) The handbook of Chicana/o psychology and mental health (pp.3-22).

Stavans, I. (2013). The United States of Mestizo. Montgomery: Al. New South Books.

Author bio

Brian McNeill, PhDBrian McNeill, PhD, received his degree in 1984 from Texas Tech University in Counseling Psychology, and is currently a professor and co-director of the Pacific Northwest Center for Mestizo and Indigenous Research and Outreach at Washington State University.  He is the co-editor of “The Handbook of Chicana and Chicano Psychology and Mental Health” (2004), “Latina/o Healing Practices:  Mestizo and Indigenous Perspectives” (2008), “Intersections of Multiple Identities” (2010) and the co-author of “IDM Supervision: An Integrative Developmental Model for Supervising Counselors and Therapists” (2010). His research interests and areas of expertise include Chicana/o Latina/o psychology, clinical supervision, recruitment and retention of culturally diverse students in professional psychology, and investigations of Latina/o spiritual healing traditions. McNeill is a licensed psychologist in the states of Washington and Idaho where he practices and consults.