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The word Eurasian refers to people of mixed Asian and European ancestry. It was originally coined in 19th century British India to refer to Anglo-Indians of mixed British and Indian descent.[1] The term has seen some use in anthropological literature from the 1960s.[2]




Many Eurasian ethnic groups arose during the Mongol invasion of Europe and the colonial occupation of Asian regions by European states and private corporations, that started with the great wave of European naval expansion and exploration in the 16th century and continues to the present. The main European colonial powers were Spain and Portugal in the 16th century, followed by the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and France from the 17th century onwards.

The term 'Eurasian' was first coined in British India in 1844. The term was originally used to refer to what are now known as Anglo-Indians, people of mixed British and Indian descent. In many regions, Eurasians tended to marry and socialize mostly among themselves — thus forming a separate social and economic class, which eventually became a distinctive ethnic group.

Social and economic status

With their close ties to both the ruling Europeans and the local populations, Eurasians often acted as intermediaries — clerks, administrators, police officers, and the like — between the two classes; a position that sometimes gave them power and prosperity.

As European colonies gained their independence, different Eurasian groups met with different fortunes. At times they were discriminated against and persecuted, being seen as alien and allies of the former rulers; this was the fate, for example, of the Anglo-Burmese in Burma, and of the Indo people of Indonesia. In other cases, where the Eurasians had citizen status in the colonial power, they chose to emigrate simply for economic reasons. In a few cases, Eurasians were able to retain their status after the transition, or even to take over the status of the former colonial rulers — as in the Philippines, for example, where the Spanish mestizos and other part-European groups are politically and economically dominant to this day, and are also important in a socio-cultural aspect.

Specific groups


The Philippines has the world's largest Eurasian population. Most are descendants of Spanish and American settlers, as well as other European ethnicities who intermarried with indigenous women. Significant intermarriage between Filipinos with European Americans occurred during the American colonial period up to the present day. There are also a number of Eurasians in the Philippines who have ancestries from various European countries such as the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Portugal, France, Greece, Belgium, Russia, Scandinavian countries, as well as the Middle East. Because most Filipinos were given Spanish surnames, Eurasians of non-Spanish descent with Spanish surnames may be mistaken as Filipinos of Spanish descent. The official percentage of Filipinos with European ancestry is still unknown and the Philippine Government does not honor any surveys or studies done by various institutions since most of them are only considered as "guestimates".

Racial mixtures occurred during the Spanish colonial era from the 16th to 19th century, as well as from the 1960s to the present day, with Spaniards and Americans, respectively. Before and between these periods, significant Chinese admixtures have also been introduced to the Filipino people.

The Spanish racial caste system in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial era was modeled after that of Latin America's, with a few major differences. A few of them are still applied up to the present day.

The indigenous Austronesian population of the Philippines were referred to as Indios.

Term Definition
Indie person of Indian ancestry
Indio person of indigenous ancestry
Sangley person of Chinese ancestry
Mestizo de Sangley person of mixed Chinese and indigenous ancestry; also called chino mestizo
Mestizo de Espanol person of mixed Spanish and indigenous ancestry
Filipinos persons of Spanish descent born in the Philippines (literally "from the islands"); also called Insulares or Criollos (Creoles)
Peninsulares persons of Spanish descent born in Spain (literally "from the peninsula")

Persons classified as 'blancos' (whites) were the Filipinos (persons born in the Philippines of Spanish descent), peninsulares (persons born in Spain of Spanish descent), español mestizos (persons born in the Philippines of mixed indigenous and Spanish ancestry), and tornatrás,(persons born in the Philippines of mixed indigenous, Chinese, and Spanish ancestry). Manila was racially segregated, with blancos living in the walled city Intramuros, un-Christianized sangleys in Parían, Christianized sangleys and mestizos de sangley in Binondo, and the rest of the 7,000 islands for the indios. Only mestizos de sangley were allowed to enter Intramuros to work for whites (including mestizos de español) as servants and various occupations needed for the colony.

This legal system of racial classification based on patrilineal descent had no parallel anywhere in the Spanish-ruled colonies in the Americas. In general, a son born of a sangley male and an indio or mestizo de sangley female was classified as mestizo de sangley; all subsequent male descendants are mestizo de sangley regardless of whether they marry indio or mestizo de sangley. A daughter born in such manner, however, acquire the legal classification of her husband, i.e., she becomes an indio if she marries an indio but remains mestizo de sangley if she marries another mestizo de sangley or a sangley. In this way, a chino mestizo male descendant of a paternal sangley ancestor could never lose his legal status as a mestizo de sangley no matter how little percentage of sangley blood he has in his veins or how many generations has passed since his first sangley ancestor; he is thus a mestizo de sangley in perpetuity; As opposed to Latin America's system in which those with some Amerindian ancestry were counted as whites.

The Spanish caste system based on race was abolished after the Philippines' independence from Spain in 1898, and the word 'Filipino' expanded to include the entire population of the Philippines regardless of racial ancestry.

United States

According to the United States Census Bureau, concerning multi-racial families in 1990:

In the United States, census data indicate that the number of children in interracial families grew from less than one half million in 1970 to about two million in 1990. In 1990, for interracial families with one white American partner, the other parent...was Asian American for 45 percent...[3]

According to James P. Allen and Eugene Turner from California State University, Northridge, by some calculations the largest part white bi-racial population is white/American Indian and Alaskan Native, at 7,015,017, followed by white/black at 737,492, then white/Asian at 727,197, and finally white/Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander at 125,628.[4]

The US Census categorizes Eurasian responses in the "Some other race" section as part of the Asian race.[5] The Eurasian responses the US Census officially recognizes are Indo-European, Amerasian, and Eurasian.[5]


The Eurasians of British Malaya and North Borneo (corresponding to modern day Malaysia) were classified as 'Eurasians' by the British colonial administration in the 1920s. Prior to this the Eurasians were referred to either as Anglo-Indians (for those with British or Irish surnames), Dutch Burghers (for those with Dutch or German surnames) or Portuguese Descendants or Mestizos (for those with Portuguese and French surnames). The Malays just labelled all Eurasians as "Serani" which originally meant Christians. The fact that the Portuguese Mestizos of Malacca refer to their patois as "Kristang" (Christian tongue) is an affirmation of what the Malays were calling them by the 18th century. Originally, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Malays called the Portuguese "Feringgi" which has a common origin with the Thai word, "Farang" which today refers to European foreigners. In the British colonial era (lasting from 1786 to 1957), the English-speaking Anglo-Indians were at the top of the Eurasian hierarchy, followed by the Dutch Burghers and then only by the Portuguese Descendants. The Anglo-Indians came over with the British East India Company and later with the British colonial administration as soldiers and low level civil servants. The Dutch Burghers were the descendants of European employees of the Dutch East India Company married to Portuguese Mestizos or Asians. The Portuguese Descendants were the result of marriages of Portuguese adventurers/colonists and Asians.


After World War II, most Eurasians of European and Indonesian descent settled (after the overthrow of Dutch colonial rule) in The Netherlands and thereafter in America and elsewhere. Dutch Eurasians were typically Dutch citizens and were seen as having collaborated with the Dutch government by many Indonesians, whereas the Indonesian revolutionary leaders were seen as having collaborated with the Japanese invaders by many Dutch. Both of those perceptions were largely correct. These Dutch Eurasians, also called Indos or Indo-Europeans, have largely assimilated in the Netherlands and, with over 500,000 persons, are the largest ethnic minority in the Netherlands. So-called Indo Rockers such as the Tielman Brothers introduced rock and roll music to Dutch audiences, whereas others gained fame as singers and TV presenters, such as Rob de Nijs and Sandra Reemer. Well known politicians such as Hans van den Broek and the current PM Balkenende also happen to be of Indonesian descent.

United Kingdom

Interracial marriage was fairly common in Britain since the 17th century, when the British East India Company began bringing over thousands of Indian scholars, lascars and workers (mostly Bengali and/or Muslim) to Britain. Most married and cohabited with local white British women and girls, due to the absence of Indian women in Britain at the time. This later became an issue, as a magistrate of the London Tower Hamlets area in 1817 expressed disgust at how the local English women and girls in the area were marrying and cohabiting almost exclusively with foreign South Asian lascars. Nevertheless, there were no legal restrictions against 'mixed' marriages in Britain, unlike the restrictions in India.[6][7][8] This led to “mixed race” Eurasian (Anglo-Indian) children in Britain, which challenged the British elite efforts to "define them using simple dichotomies of British versus Indian, ruler versus ruled." By the mid-19th century, there were more than 40,000 Indian seamen, diplomats, scholars, soldiers, officials, tourists, businessmen and students arriving in Britain,[9] and by the time World War I began, there were 51,616 Indian lascar seamen residing in Britain.[10] In addition, the British officers and soldiers who had Indian wives and Eurasian children in British India often brought them to Britain in the 19th century.[11]

Following World War I, there were more women than men in Britain,[12] and there were increasing numbers of seamen arriving from abroad, mostly from the Indian subcontinent, in addition to smaller numbers from Yemen, Malaysia and China. This led to increased intermarriage and cohabitation with local white females. Some residents grew jealous and concerned about miscegenation and there were several race riots at the time.[13] In the 1920s to 1940s, several writers raised concerns about an increasing 'mixed-breed' population, born mainly from Muslim Asian (mostly South Asian in addition to Arab and Malaysian) fathers and local white mothers, occasionally out of wedlock. They denounced white girls who mixed with Muslim Asian men as 'shameless' and called for a ban on the breeding of 'half-caste' children. Such attempts at imposing anti-miscegenation laws were unsuccessful.[14] As South Asian women began arriving to Britain in large numbers from the 1970s, mostly as family members, intermarriage rates have decreased in the British Asian community, although the size of the community has increased. As of 2006, there are 246,400 'British Mixed-Race' people of white and South Asian descent.


A significant number of Eurasians of mixed French and Vietnamese genetic descent reside in Vietnam. These people are the descendents of French soldiers and settlers who intermarried with local Vietnamese populations during French colonial times. Today, approximately 450,000 people of mixed French and Vietnamese ancestry reside in Vietnam, or approximately 0.5% of the total population. However, the Eurasian population in Vietnam has been in steady decline. Many have emigrated from Vietnam since the end of French rule. The majority of those have emigrated to France, the United States, the United Kingdom or Australia.[15]


The first use of the term 'Anglo-Indian' was to describe all British people living in India, regardless of whether they had Indian ancestors or not. This usage changed to describe people who were of the very specific lineage descending from the British on the male side and women from the Indian side.[16] People of mixed British and Indian descent were previously referred to as simply 'Eurasians' but are now more commonly referred to as 'Anglo-Indians'.[1]

During the British East India Company's rule in India in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it was initially fairly common for British officers and soldiers to take local Indian wives and have Eurasian children. Interracial marriages between European men and Indian women were very common during colonial times. It is believed that about one in three European men in colonial India had Indian wives. This was primarily because the Europeans (mostly Portuguese, Dutch, French and English) — came to India in the prime of their youth and there were very few white women available in India..[9][17] The most famous of such interracial liaisons was between the beautiful Hyderabadi noblewoman Khair-un-Nissa and the Scottish resident James Achilles Kirkpatrick. In addition to intermarriage, inter-ethnic prostitution in India was also fairly common at the time, when British officers would frequently visit Indian nautch dancers. Generally, Muslim women did not marry European men unless they converted to Islam. By the mid-19th century, there were around 40,000 British soldiers but less than 2,000 British officials present in India.[18] As British women began arriving to British India in large numbers around the early to mid-19th century, mostly as family members of British officers and soldiers, intermarriage with Indians became increasingly uncommon among the British in India. After the events of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, it was considered undesirable,[19] after which several anti-miscegenation laws were implemented.[20][21] As a result, Eurasians were neglected by both the British and Indian populations in India.

Over generations, Anglo-Indians intermarried with other Anglo-Indians to form a community that developed a culture of its own. Anglo-Indian cuisine, dress, speech and religion all served to segregate Anglo-Indians from the native population. They established a school system focused on English language and culture, and formed social clubs and associations to run functions such as their regular dances at holidays such as Christmas and Easter.[22] Over time Anglo-Indians were specifically recruited into the Customs and Excise, Post and Telegraphs, Forestry Department, the Railways and teaching professions, but they were employed in many other fields as well. A number of factors fostered a strong sense of community among Anglo-Indians. Their English-language school system, their Anglocentric culture, and their Christian beliefs in particular helped bind them together.[23] Today, there are estimated to be at least 200,000 Anglo-Indians living in India.

Sri Lanka

Due to prolonged colonial contact with Portugal, The Netherlands and Britain, Sri Lanka has had a long history of intermarriage between locals and colonists. Originally these people were known as Mestiços (see Mestizo), literally "Mixed People", today they are collectively classified as Burghers. The current state of affairs in Sri Lanka (Sri Lankan Civil War) has forced many of the Burghers to flee the Island. Most have have settled in Europe, the Americas, Australia and New Zealand.

Portuguese Burghers are usually descended from a Sri Lankan mother and a Portuguese father or a Sri Lankan mother of Portuguese descent and a Sri Lankan father (the former is more common). This configuration is also the case with the Dutch Burghers. When the Portuguese arrived on the island in 1505, they were accompanied by African slaves. Kaffirs are a mix of Africans, Portuguese colonists and Sri Lankans. The free mixing between the various groups of people was encouraged by the colonials. Soon the Mestiços or the "Mixed People" began speaking a creole known as the Ceylonese-Portuguese Creole. It was based on Portuguese, Sinhala and Tamil.

The Burgher population numbers 40,000 in Sri Lanka and thousands more worldwide, concentrated mostly in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Phenotypically Burghers can be either light skinned or dark skinned, depending on their ancestral history. It is common to find Burghers with dark to light brown skin (usually Portuguese Burghers or Kaffirs) and possess European facial features common to the Mediterranean basin (see Mediterraneans). They have a very distinct look compared to unmixed Sri Lankans. In some Portuguese Burgher families, it is common to have both very dark children and children with fair skin. Most light-skinned Burghers are usually of Dutch or British descent. Most Burghers are of the Roman Catholic faith.

The long and rich colonial past of Sri Lanka had left lasting impressions on the cultures and the languages of the island. Both Sinhalaese and Sri Lankan (Ceylonese) Tamil contain numerous words from Portuguese, Dutch and English.


Approximately 13,000 people of mixed French and Cambodian ancestry reside in Cambodia. These people constitute approximately 0.1% of the total population in Cambodia, and are the descendents of former French soldiers and settlers who intermarried with the local population. A further 3,200 people are of French ancestry, who live in Cambodia as either expatriates or are Cambodian-born but are French. However, the Eurasian population in Cambodia has been in steady decline, as many have emigrated from Cambodia since the French withdrawal. The majority of those have emigrated to France, the United States, the United Kingdom or Australia.[24]

East Timor

Approximately 1,100 people or 0.08% of the total population of East Timor are of mixed Portuguese and Austronesian blood, descendants from former Portuguese settlers.[25] Most of them settled Portugal after East Timor's independence from Portugal, with others to Brazil, Australia, or United States.


Eurasians will usually speak the native language of their home country, and may or may not speak the language(s) of an ancestral or parental ethnicity.

The overwhelming majority of all Eurasians with Filipino ancestry of the younger generations speak English as their first language, and have a basic command of at least one Philippine language. Many also speak Lan-nang (Philippine Hokkien), if they also have Chinese ancestry, as well as other European languages like Spanish, German, Italian or French. Among Eurasians, as well as unmixed Filipinos of certain strata in society, here is a phenomenon of language code switching between English, Spanish, and indigenous Philippine languages, called Taglish, which is becoming an English variety of its own.

The Kristang and Macanese groups have also formed their own languages. The Kristang language is a dialect of Portuguese influenced by Malay as well as Petjo, a dialect made up of Dutch words based on a Malay grammatical structure.

Intermixing between locals and colonials gave rise to the Ceylonese Portuguese Creole which was the lingua franca on the island for over 400 years, Dutch was also in common use by members of the Burgher community on the island of Sri Lanka, however the use of Portuguese was so dominant, even the Dutch began to speak it. Modern lexicon of Sri Lankan Tamil and Sinhala are infused with words from Portuguese, Dutch, and English.


  1. ^ a b "Eurasian". Retrieved 2009-01-13.  
  2. ^ Current Anthropology, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Feb., 1961), p. 64.
  3. ^ U.S. Census Bureau, 2000
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b University of Michigan. Census 1990: Ancestry Codes. August 27, 2007
  6. ^ Fisher, Michael Herbert (2006), Counterflows to Colonialism: Indian Traveller and Settler in Britain 1600-1857, Orient Blackswan, pp. 106, 111–6, 119–20, 129–35, 140–2, 154–8, 160–8, 172, 181, ISBN 8178241544  
  7. ^ Fisher, Michael Herbert (2006), "Working across the Seas: Indian Maritime Labourers in India, Britain, and in Between, 1600–1857", International Review of Social History 51: 21–45, doi:10.1017/S0020859006002604  
  8. ^ Ansari, Humayun (2004), The Infidel Within: The History of Muslims in Britain, 1800 to the Present, C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, p. 58, ISBN 1850656851  
  9. ^ a b Fisher, Michael H. (2007), "Excluding and Including "Natives of India": Early-Nineteenth-Century British-Indian Race Relations in Britain", Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 27 (2): 303–314 [304–5]  
  10. ^ Ansari, Humayun (2004), The Infidel Within: The History of Muslims in Britain, 1800 to the Present, C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, p. 37, ISBN 1850656851  
  11. ^ Fisher, Michael Herbert (2006), Counterflows to Colonialism: Indian Traveller and Settler in Britain 1600-1857, Orient Blackswan, pp. 180–2, ISBN 8178241544  
  12. ^ Ansari, Humayun (2004), The Infidel Within: The History of Muslims in Britain, 1800 to the Present, C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, p. 94, ISBN 1850656851  
  13. ^ Bland, Lucy (April 2005), "White Women and Men of Colour: Miscegenation Fears in Britain after the Great War", Gender & History 17 (1): 29–61  
  14. ^ Ansari, Humayun (2004), The Infidel Within: The History of Muslims in Britain, 1800 to the Present, C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, pp. 93–4, ISBN 1850656851  
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ Stark, Herbert Alick. Hostages To India: OR The Life Story of the Anglo Indian Race. Third Edition. London: The Simon Wallenberg Press: Vol 2: Anglo Indian Heritage Books
  17. ^ Fisher, Michael Herbert (2006), Counterflows to Colonialism: Indian Traveller and Settler in Britain 1600-1857, Orient Blackswan, pp. 111–9, 129–30, 140, 154–6, 160–8, ISBN 8178241544  
  18. ^ Fisher, Michael H. (2007), "Excluding and Including "Natives of India": Early-Nineteenth-Century British-Indian Race Relations in Britain", Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 27 (2): 303–314 [305]  
  19. ^ Beckman, Karen Redrobe (2003), Vanishing Women: Magic, Film, and Feminism, Duke University Press, pp. 31–3, ISBN 0822330741  
  20. ^ Kent, Eliza F. (2004), Converting Women, Oxford University Press US, pp. 85–6, ISBN 0195165071  
  21. ^ Kaul, Suvir (1996), "Review Essay: Colonial Figures and Postcolonial Reading", Diacritics 26 (1): 74–89 [83–9]  
  22. ^ Stark, Herbert Alick. Hostages To India: OR The Life Story of the Anglo Indian Race. Third Edition. London: The Simon Wallenberg Press: Vol 2: Anglo Indian Heritage Books
  23. ^ Maher, James, Reginald. (2007). These Are The Anglo Indians, London: Simon Wallenberg Press. (An Anglo Indian Heritage Book)
  24. ^ [2]
  25. ^ [3]

See also

External links

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