Much has been written about race and race stereotyping in Brazil in relation to African-Brazilians and their mixed African-European descendants. The situation of Indians and their mixed-blood descendants has been studied much less. In fact, the word mestizo as it is used in Spanish America does not translate well into Portuguese, for in Portuguese a mestiço can be any mixture. In the case of Brazil, it can mean either a descendant of Indian-European parents or of African-European parents.
This paper studies racial classifications in seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth-century São Paulo. São Paulo was a unique region in colonial Brazil and, because of its unique history, these findings cannot be automatically extrapolated to all other parts of Brazil. São Paul was very poor, especially if compared to the northeast, and later to Minas Gerais, the center of the gold and diamond mining region. Though the town was founded in 1554, it lacked exportable natural resources until the late eighteenth century, so that the economy was partly based on the raising of a few cattle and crops for subsistence or for sale locally or to other regions of Brazil. The labor needs of Paulistas (inhabitants of São Paulo) were met through exploratory and slaving expeditions called bandeiras that replenished their Indian labor force or else provided captives to be sold to other parts of Brazil. Though there were a few African slaves in São Paulo in the seventeenth century, the settlers could not afford them in substantial numbers until the second half of the eighteenth century.