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These differences arise from the various historical processes and social contexts in which a given racial classification is used.As Latin America is characterized by differing histories and social contexts, there is also variance in the perception of whiteness throughout Latin America.

However, while most present-day racial classifications include a concept of being white that is ideologically connected to European heritage and specific phenotypic and biological features associated with European heritage, there are differences in how people are classified.

The casta system, a primarily race-based classification that was used in colonial Latin America designated people according to its racial background, with the main classifications being indio (used to refer to Native American people), criollo (those of complete European ancestry born in Latin America, or in cases, people who were 7/8 or more European and 1/8 Indigenous or less), castizo (3/4 European, 1/4 Indigenous), or mestizo (1/2 European, 1/2 Indigenous), negro (Sub-Saharan Africans) mulato (1/2 European, 1/2 African), zambo (1/2 African, 1/2 Indigenous), Pardo (persons with European, African and Indigenous ancestry), and Peninsulares who were Europeans born in Spain or other European countries such as Portugal in the case of Portuguese colonies.

As in Spain, persons of even remote Jewish or Moorish ancestry were not allowed to enroll in the Spanish Army or the Catholic Church in the colonies.

Applicants to both institutions, and their spouses, had to obtain a Limpieza de sangre (purity of blood) certificate that proved that they had no Jewish or Moorish ancestors, in the same way as those in the Peninsula did.

However, being a medieval concept that targeted exclusively those religious groups, it was never an issue among the native population in the colonies of the Spanish Empire, which by law allowed people from all racial groups to join the army, with being of the Catholic faith the only prerequisite.