Garcilaso de la Vega was born in Peru in 1539, the son of an Incan princess and a Spanish conquistador. While this lineage made him part of the first generation of Mestizos born after the Spanish conquest, Garcilaso called himself "El Inca" in honor of his noble indigenous heritage. In time, he would become the first American-born author to write a history of the Americas.
In His Father's Land
At age 21 when Garcilaso sailed from Peru to Spain, most pure blooded Spaniards considered themselves superior to anyone who was half indigenous. Although Garcilaso initially faced constant prejudice, he eventually won the Spanish over with his brilliant intellect and flair for telling the history of his time.
The longer Garcilaso lived in his father's homeland, the more he became convinced that Spain's adventures in the Americas had not served the country well. He recognized that the Spanish people themselves had benefited very little from the New World wealth, while bankers and businessmen in other countries had grown incredibly rich.
Many who today see the wealth that Peru has sent to the Old World, and that has now been scattered all over it, realize that this flood of riches has done more harm than good, produced more vice than virtue, and inclined its possessors to pridefullness. And, in truth, the riches of the New World have not increased the volume of useful things in this country, like food and clothes, but made them scarcer. - Garcilaso de la Vega
Garcilaso also realized that the achievements of America's indigenous peoples could be lost forever if they were not written down. His dissatisfaction with Spanish attempts to tell the story of the Incas compelled him to write his masterpiece, "Royal Commentaries of the Incas and General History of Peru." In telling the story of two great civilizations, Garcilaso's work celebrates his Incan and his Spanish roots. He was one of the first to understand that the most important legacy of the first 100 years of contact was neither riches nor empire, but the birth of a new culture that was neither indigenous nor Spanish, but both: Mestizo culture.
Few circumstances in history could produce more tension than two radically different worlds trying to figure out how to live together. Since the 16th century, negotiations about religion, economics, and politics have taken place between the Old World and the New over who is in control and who is going to survive. The most common outcome of those negotiations has been that those with more Spanish blood have been allowed to exploit those with less.
We still have the same problems; there is still exploitation by the empire, whatever form it may take, of its subjects. And the challenge is that it's still going on. Unfortunately, it's still going on. You only need to read the statements at the Latin American summits. The problem continues. - Consuelo Varela, historian, University of Seville
One reason the problem continues may be that popular awareness of the contributions indigenous Americans and Mestizos have made to New World and European culture is still limited by old stereotypes. The entire United States was part of the New World, yet Americans have a deep-seated habit of focusing only on the European version of history. Long before the pilgrims arrived, Native Americans and Spaniards battled over the destiny of the American southwest. But that part of the story, and how it produced Mestizo Americans whose roots go back more than 400 years, has almost always been overlooked. That is why it is so important that in recent years they have begun to tell their stories to ever larger audiences.
Perhaps today we are finally able to appreciate those stories—at a moment when even the President of the United States calls himself a "mutt," which, of course, is another word for "Mestizo."