Etymology and Definitions
The idea that a part of the Americas has a linguistic affinity with the Romance cultures as a whole can be traced back to the 1830s, in the writing of the French Saint-Simonian Michel Chevalier, who postulated that this part of the Americas was inhabited by people of a "Latin race", and that it could, therefore, ally itself with "Latin Europe" in a struggle with "Teutonic Europe", "Anglo-Saxon America" and "Slavic Europe". The idea was later taken up by Latin American intellectuals and political leaders of the mid- and late-nineteenth century, who no longer looked to Spain or Portugal as cultural models, but rather to France. The term was first used in Paris in an 1856 conference by the Chilean politician Francisco Bilbao and the same year by the Colombian writer José María Torres Caicedo in his poem "Two Americas. The term Latin America was supported by the French Empire of Napoleon III during the French invasion of Mexico, as a way to include France among countries with influence in America and to exclude Anglophone countries, and played a role in his campaign to imply cultural kinship of the region with France, transform France into a cultural and political leader of the area, and install Maximilian of Habsburg as emperor of the Second Mexican Empire. This term was also baptized in 1861 by French scholars in La revue des races Latines, a magazine dedicated to the Pan-Latinism movement.
In contemporary usage:
- In one sense, Latin America refers to territories in America where the Spanish or Portuguese languages prevail: Mexico, most of Central and South America, and in the Caribbean, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico — in summary, Hispanic America and Brazil. Latin America is, therefore, defined as all those parts of the Americas that were once part of the Spanish and Portuguese Empires. By this definition, Latin America is coterminous with Ibero-america ("Iberian America").
- Particularly in the United States, the term more broadly refers to all of the Americas south of the United States, thus including: English-speaking countries such as Belize, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Bahamas; French-speaking Haiti and Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana; and the Dutch-speaking Netherlands Antilles, Aruba and Suriname. (In the former Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, Papiamento – a predominantly Iberian-derived creole language – is spoken by the majority of the population.) This definition emphasizes a similar socioeconomic history of the region, which was characterized by formal or informal colonialism, rather than cultural aspects. (See, for example, dependency theory.) As such, some sources avoid this oversimplification by using the phrase "Latin America and the Caribbean" instead, as in the United Nations geoscheme for the Americas.
- In a more literal definition, which remains faithful to the original usage, Latin America designates all of those countries and territories in the Americas where a Romance language (i.e., languages derived from Latin, and hence the name of the region) is spoken: Spanish, Portuguese, and French, and the creole languages based upon these. Strictly considering this definition, Quebec, in Canada, is part of Latin America as well. But this region is rarely considered so, since its history, distinctive culture and economy, and British-inspired political institutions are generally deemed too closely intertwined with the rest of Canada.
The distinction between Latin America and Anglo-America is a convention based on the predominant languages in the Americas by which Romance-language and English-speaking cultures are distinguished. Neither area is culturally or linguistically homogeneous; in substantial portions of Latin America (e.g., highland Peru, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Paraguay), American Indian cultures and, to a lesser extent, Amerindian languages, are predominant, and in other areas, the influence of African cultures is strong (e.g., the Caribbean basin—including parts of Colombia and Venezuela)—and the coastal areas of Ecuador and Brazil.
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