Mexico’s 1921 Census: A Unique Perspective

In the aftermath of the Mexican revolution, Mexico’s Departamento de la Estadística Nacional administered a census that would be unique among Mexico’s census counts administered between 1895 and 2005.  In this new census, the Mexican Government decided to ask Mexicans about their perception of their own racial heritage. In the 1921 census, residents of the Mexican Republic were asked if they fell into one of the following categories:

1. “Indígena pura” (of pure indigenous heritage).
2. “Indígena mezclada con blanca” (of mixed indigenous and white heritage).
3. “Blanca” (of White or Spanish heritage).
4. “Extranjeros sin distinción de razas” (Foreigners without racial distinction).
5. “Cualquiera otra o que se ignora la raza” (Either other or chose to ignore the race)

States with the Largest “Indígena Pura”

The results were
a remarkable reflection of México’s own perception of its indigenous and mestizo
identities.  Although only three states
had more than 50% pure indigenous populations (Oaxaca, Puebla and Tlaxcala), a
total of eight states had more than 40% of the same classification (Oaxaca,
Puebla, Tlaxcala, Chiapas, Guerrero, Campeche, Yucatán, and México).

The five states with the largest populations of “indígena pura” are discussed below:

The Most Indigenous State: Oaxaca

The most indigenous state, in terms of absolute numbers and percentage was Oaxaca, in which 675,119 persons out
of 976,005 inhabitants were classified as indígena. In effect, this meant that
69.17% of Oaxaca’s population had a pure indigenous identity.

Not all of “pure
indigenous” population of Oaxaca, however, spoke indigenous languages. Only
482,478 individuals five years of age or more spoke thirty indigenous
languages. This represented 49.43% of the population five years of age and
older and 57.18% of the entire state population. [Children up to the age of
four in indigenous households were not included in the tally of languages.]

Another 274,752
residents of Oaxaca described themselves as “mezclada,” representing an
additional 28.1% of the population. The combination of the indigenous and
mezclada categories represented 949,871 individuals who had possessed some
element of indigenous descent and represented 97.32% of the entire state

As a matter of
contrast, only 13,910 persons were categorized as “blanca,” while another
11,124 did not claim a designation and 1,100 were “extranjeros” (foreigners).

The Second Most Indigenous State: Puebla

The State of
Puebla had the second largest “pure indigenous” population, with 560.971 (who
represented 54.73% of the entire state population). In addition, 403,221
residents of Puebla were classified as mezclada, representing another 39.34% of
the population. Puebla had the sixth largest number of mezclada inhabitants.
Combining the pure indigenous with the mezclada element, we can estimate that
964,192 persons were of some indigenous origin, representing 94.07% of the
total state population of 1,024,955.

As with Oaxaca,
however, a smaller element of the population spoke native tongues. In all,
247,392 individuals five years of age and older spoke a wide range of
indigenous languages, representing only 24.14% of the entire state population.

Puebla had a much
higher number of blanca residents: a total of 58,032 inhabitants, who made up
5.66% of the state population.

The Third Most Indigenous State: Veracruz

Veracruz has the
third largest “indígena pura” population with 406,638, representing 35.06% of the
state population. Veracruz also had the fourth-highest number of mezclada
residents: 556,472 (or 47.97%).  Combining
the two indigenous classifications, we observed that 963,110 persons out of a
total population of 1,110,971 claimed some indigenous descent and that this
group represented 86.69% of the state population.

In striking
contrast, however, only 120,746 residents of Veracruz spoke indigenous
languages, representing 10.87% of the state population and 12.62% of residents
five years of age or more.

The Fourth Most Indigenous State: México

The State of
México had the fourth largest indígena pura population, 372,703, equal to
42.13% of the state population. Together with the mestizo/mezclada population,
which numbered 422,001 (47.70% of the state population), the total population
with an indigenous heritage was 794,704, or 89.84% of the population.

In stark
contrast, only 172,863 residents of the State of México spoke indigenous
languages, representing only 19.54% of the total state population.

Other states with
significant numbers of indígena pura population are as follows:

5. Guerrero –
248,526 persons (43.84%)

6. Hidalgo –
245,704 persons (39.49%)

7. Chiapas –
200.927 persons (47.64%)

8. Jalisco –
199,728 persons (16.76%)

9. Michoacán –
196,726 persons (20.93%)

10. Distrito
Federal– 169,820 (18.75%)

11. Yucatán –
155,155 persons (43.31%)

12. San Luis
Potosí – 136,365 persons (30.60%)

13. Tlaxcala –
97,670 persons (54.70%)

Because the
populations of the various states vary widely, the percentage of pure
indigenous persons in a given state provide us with a different set of results.
The contrast between absolute numbers and percentages of the pure indigenous
population was largely contingent on the population of each state. For example,
Tlaxcala actually had the third largest percentage of indígena pura inhabitants
but, because of its small population, was in thirteenth place in terms of

And Jalisco’s largely pure indigenous population of 199,728 represented only 16.76% of its total population of 1,191,957. Jalisco, as a matter of fact, had the largest population of any state in México, followed closely by Veracruz (1,159,935), Puebla (1,024,955) and the Distrito Federal (906,063).

States with the Largest “Indígena Mezclada
Con Blanca” Population

In the 1921 census, the status “Indígena Mezclada con Blanca” implied that a person was of mestizo origin. Persons classified by this identity probably did not speak Indian languages, but still felt an attachment to their indigenous roots and probably had indigenous facial features. The eight Mexican states with the largest populations of “Indígena Mezclada con Blanca” were:

  1. Jalisco – 903,830 (75.83%)
  2. Guanajuato – 828,724 (96.33%)
  3. Michoacán – 663,391 (70.59%)
  4. Veracruz – 556,472 (47.97%)
  5. Distrito Federal – 496,359 (54.78%)
  6. México – 422,001 (47.71%)
  7. Puebla – 403,221 (39.34%)
  8. Sinaloa – 335,474 (98.30%)
  9. Zacatecas – 326,615 (86.10%)
  10. Hidalgo – 320,250 (51.47%)

In terms of
percentages, the states with the largest mezclada population were Sinaloa
(98.30%), Guanajuato (96.32%), Durango (89.10%), Zacatecas (86.10%), and
Querétaro (80.15%).

The State with the Largest Mezclada
Population: Jalisco

As with the other
classifications, the percentage of “indígena mezclada con blanca” in each state
varied widely because of the level of assimilation and the states’ overall
population. For Jalisco, the large number of mestizos in the state was a
reflection of Jalisco’s mestizaje over the centuries. The combination of
Jalisco’s mezclada and indígena pura populations (903,830 and 199,728) indicated
that 92.58% of Jalisco’s total population (1,103,558 out of 1,191,957 people)
had an indigenous background.  In
addition, 87,103 residents of Jalisco claimed to be White (7.31%).

Although the
inhabitants of Jalisco had a strong link to their indigenous origins, only 195
persons in the entire state spoke indigenous languages. Two languages dominated
within this small group of indigenous speakers (99 Huichol speakers and 81
Náhuatl speakers).

Guanajuato: The Second Largest Mezclada

Guanajuato was
settled early in the colonial period and underwent mestizaje at an early date.
828,724 of Guanajuato’s population of 860,364 classified themselves as indígena
mezclada con blanca, representing 96.33% of the state population.  Only 25,458 persons claimed pure indigenous
background (representing 2.96%) of the population and another 4,687 classified
themselves as blanca. In contrast, only 220 inhabitants of Guanajuato spoke
indigenous languages. [All but one of these indigenous speakers spoke the Otomí

Sinaloa: The State with the Largest
Percentage of Mezclada

In the 1921
Mexican census, 335,474 persons were classified as mezclada, representing an
extraordinary 98.30% of the state population. Incredibly, a mere 3,163 people
(or 0.93% of the state population) identified themselves as pura indígena. The
number of person classified as white was smaller yet: only 644 people out of a
total state population of 341,265.

Zacatecas: A State without Indigenous

Zacatecas posed
one of the most interesting cases in this analysis. With 8.54% of its
inhabitants identified as “pura indígena” and another 86.1% classified as
mestizo, 94.64% of Zacatecas’ inhabitants identified with their indigenous
origins. At the same time, not a single inhabitant of the state claimed to
speak an indigenous language. This would lead one to speculate that in some
parts of México, persons who spoke Indian languages may, in fact, have denied
this fact.

States with the Largest Blanca Population

The states with the largest populations of “Blanca” or White persons were:

1. Distrito Federal – 206,514
2. Chihuahua – 145,926
3. Sonora – 115,151
4. Veracruz – 114,150
5. México – 88,660

In terms of percentage, the “blanca” classification was most prominent in these states:

1. Sonora – 41.85%
2. Chihuahua – 36.33%
3. Baja California Sur – 33.40%
4. Tabasco – 27.56%
5. District Federal – 22.79%

One of the most
interesting aspects of the 1921 census is that several Mexican states contained
very small numbers of Indigenous speakers but had significant populations of
people who were identified as “pura indígena.” Some examples of these states


The State of
Coahuila had 44,779 individuals who were identified as “indígena pura,”
representing 11.38% of the state population. If you combined the pure
indigenous and mestizo populations, you would recognize that 89.26% of
Coahuila’s population had some kind of indigenous heritage. However, in the
entire state of 393,480 inhabitants, only 293 persons spoke an indigenous
language. [All of these indigenous speakers spoke the Kikapóo language.]


Tamaulipas presented a similar issue. In 1921, 39,606 inhabitants
of the state were recognized as of pure indigenous background, representing
13.80% of the population.  The combined “indígena
pura” and mestizo population was calculated at 83.16%.  However, in the entire state only 237 persons
spoke more than 15 indigenous languages, of which only one (Huasteca) was
actually native to the State.

San Luis Potosí

San Luis Potosí,
with large indigenous areas in its eastern regions, boasted a total “indígena
pura” population of 136,365, which represented 30.6% of the state population.
With a mestizo population tallied at 61.88%, the combined percentage of persons
with some indigenous origins was 92.48%. However, only 1,738 inhabitants of the
state claimed to speak one of the state’s six indigenous languages (Huasteco,
Mayo, Mazateco, Náhuatl, Otomí and Totonaco).

The Overview

The table below
outlines the racial classifications of the 1921 census by percentage:

© Copyright 2019, John P. Schmal. All rights reserved.


Departamento de
la Estadística Nacional, Annuario de 1930.
Tacubaya, D.F., Mexico, 1932, pp. 40, 48.

The 1921 census
figures for each state were published in individual volumes by state. Each
volume was published by the Departamento de la Estadística Nacional between
1927 and 1929 under the titles of “Resumen
del Censo General de Habitantes de 30 de Noviembre de 1921