Compadrazgo (Anthropology)

Compadrazgo (literally co-fatherhood) is the Spanish form of ritual kinship established through the rites of the Catholic Church (especially at baptism, confirmation and marriage) between a person, his or her biological parents, and his or her godparents. From Spain, compadrazgo has spread to Latin America where it is sometimes even more important than in its place of origin (Mintz and Wolf 1950; van den Berghe and van den Berghe 1966). At baptism, confirmation and marriage, an individual acquires one or more sets of godparents (a padrino and a madrina who are often a married couple, and who may be biological kin, but most frequently are friends or employers of the biological parents). An individual is known as his or her godparents’ ahijado or ahijada, depending on sex. The relationship between the biological parents and the godparents (who call each other reciprocally com-padre or comadre, according to sex) is at least as important as that between godparents and godchild, and lasts for life. Compadrazgo is the generic term to describe the entire complex of these ritual ties. Indeed, the Spanish term is sometimes extended to ritual kinship in non-Spanish-speaking countries (Gudeman 1972; 1975).

Normally, the biological parents choose their child’s godparents with an eye to both the child’s advantage and their own. Godparents (and coparents from the biological parents’ point of view) are chosen to reinforce existing ties with other kin or with friends, or to establish a special relationship to a social superior who can be useful to the child or the parents (e.g. an employer, a politician, a physician, a lawyer, an official). Thus, only individuals of equal or higher status than oneself are normally chosen as co-parents. Compadrazgo frequently establishes ties across social classes or even ethnic groups (e.g. between mestizos and Indians in Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia and other Latin American countries with large indigenous populations). This often has the effect of undermining or overshadowing class or ethnic solidarity, and of establishing paternalistic patron—client ties between persons of quite unequal status who exchange loyalty, favours, gifts, labour, and hospitality over many years.

The terminology of compadrazgo is sometimes extended to non-ritual, non-religious events, such as the sponsorship of sport teams, or graduating school classes, but secularized compadrazgo is often little more than an attempt to extract a donation from a wealthy sponsor in exchange for social recognition. Being asked to serve as godparent is an honour which cannot be gracefully turned down. The more socially prominent, politically powerful, morally upright, and economically solvent a person is, the more frequently he or she is approached, and number of godparenthoods is one of the best indices of social status in Hispanic societies.

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