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Being white is a term that emerged from a tradition of racial classification that developed as Europeans colonized large parts of the world and employed classificatory systems to distinguish themselves from the local inhabitants.

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.

...racial categories and racial ideologies are not simply those that elaborate social constructions on the basis of phenotypical variation or ideas about innate difference but those that do so using the particular aspects of phenotypical variation that were worked into vital signifiers of difference during European colonial encounters with others.

Within Latin America there are variations in how racial boundaries have been defined.

While the majority are descendants of Spanish immigrants who arrived mainly from northern regions of Spain such as Cantabria, Navarra, Galicia and the Basque Country, in the 19th and 20th century many non-Iberian immigrants arrived to the country, either motivated by economical oportunity (Americans, Canadians, English), government programs (Italians, Irish, Germans) or political motives such as the French during the Second Mexican Empire.

In Argentina, for example, the notion of mixture has been downplayed, resulting in the country having no real mestizo group.

Alternately, in countries like Mexico and Brazil mixture has been emphasized as fundamental for nation-building, resulting in a large group of bi-racial mestizos, in Mexico, or tri-racial pardos, in Brazil, Unlike in the United States where ancestry may be used exclusively to define race, by the 1970s, Latin American scholars came to agree that race in Latin America could not be understood as the "genetic composition of individuals" but instead must be "based upon a combination of cultural, social, and somatic considerations".

In Latin America, a person's ancestry may not be decisive in racial classification.

For example, full-blooded siblings can often be classified as belonging to different races (Harris 1964).

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