Ethnicity and Latin America
Latin America and the American colonies were “tamed” based on completely different ideologies. From a Latin American perspective, the most important of the European explorers were of course, the Spanish and the Portuguese. These explorers arrived in Christopher Columbus’ “new world” with the express goal of bringing glory and prestige to their homeland. In stark contrast, settlers came to the colonies seeking freedom from the religious persecution in Europe. The different approaches used in each area affected how well and to what extent the African, indigenous, and European cultures combined and shaped the characteristics of the regions today.
When the Europeans arrived in America in the 15th century, they encountered the American Indians for the first time. Though only some Native Americans made deliberate contact with the settlers in attempts to work peacefully, the entire population felt the new presence. In addition to the violence shown to the “savages”—often in order to take their lands—diseases for which they had no immunity were introduced, therefore resulting in devastating losses of life. As attempts at civilizing the “redskins” began, some of the Natives accepted the absorption into the new society while many rejected the change and strove to maintain their culture. Years later began the long-standing and undeniably cruel establishment of slave labor in America. Whether they arrived free only to later be captured by slave catchers, or they entered by way of the West Indies as captured African “black gold”, black slaves endured over a century of oppression and discrimination.
Halfway between the end of the American Civil War and the growth of the civil rights movement, the beginning of the 20th century marked a critical point in the history of the United States as the inflow of immigrants that started years earlier grew. As the cities filled with new and different colors, scents, and sounds, the desire of the immigrants to become “American” grew. This idealistic longing for conformity often came as an attempt to disassociate oneself from the original ethnic group; in stark contrast, others cynically resisted the move towards homogeny. Examples of both attitudes are found in the song “America” from West Side Story; the lyrics allude to topics such as the mass immigration and common stereotypes of Puerto Ricans and their country, and also cleverly satirize the United States. During this time period, the term “melting pot” was born to represent the assimilation of many cultures into mainstream United States, resulting in a culture made up of diverse individuals, yet somehow strangely homogenous. Modern outlooks reject the idea of combining cultures and instead move towards a “salad bowl” approach with an emphasis the preservation of cultural differences—“vibrant in various colors, textures, and tastes”.1
Though many immigrant and indigenous individuals in the United States may have renounced...