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Throughout the history of Latin America, the image of the ideal Latin American has shifted and changed. From period to period, heroes and everyday citizens have embodied different ideals and images to be looked at with respect. Perceptions of the 'perfect man' or 'perfect woman' shift with the values of the time. Heroes of each period embodied some values while shirking others. All highly respected traits are ultimately for the greater good of Latin America as a whole. On this Wiki page we will be focusing on these cultural and social changes in this region. We will be answering the question: What are the ideal characteristics of a Latin American and how have perceptions changed over time?

The Encounter[edit | edit source]

At the time of the European conquest of the Americas, there was no unified sense of Latin American identity. What existed there was a clash of very different cultures—the Iberian and the indigenous. Thus, the ideal characteristics of a man or woman varied depending on the culture.

From the European perspective, Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés was a man to be emulated. Cortés overthrew the Aztec empire by creating alliances with other tribes and capturing the emperor Moctezuma. The Spaniards' superior weapons technology were as good as military strength to the Europeans. The strength, diplomacy, and courage that Cortés possessed paints a clear picture of the ideal European male at the time.

Additionally, successful conquistadors were given encomiendas by the Spanish crown. They received large plots of land to manage and were "entrusted" with indigenous people as their workers. The fact that the encomiendas were given as rewards shows that leadership ability was also highly valued in European men. In order to use the indigenous people for labor, the encomenderos were responsible for converting them to Christianity. The ideal European of the time was a devout Christian. Christianity was of great importance to the Europeans because it could be used to justify the conquest of indigenous groups.

Colonial Crucible[edit | edit source]

The three century epoch following the conquest of Latin America is prodigiously characterized as a period of hegemonic rule, which triggered the phenomenon of transculturation. Religious hegemony was the primary weapon of choice during colonization. This idea largely took shape in the form of widespread patriarchy. Colonization was a social, cultural, and psychological change that all Latin Americans had to endure. Although colonization is the curse of the past and present Latin American life, and hegemonic rule further subjugated Latin Americans into inferiority, transculturation may have been the most feasible way of beginning to modify what could not be undone as well as aiding Latin Americans in developing aspects of their own identity as a mixed race. However, the ideal Latin American  during this period was submissive to hegemonic authority.

Independence[edit | edit source]

During the early 1800s, Latin America underwent major political, social, and economic changes. Clearly, the desire to be free of European constraint was growing. Many men were willing to stand up for what their countries believed in by rebelling. While they fought for independence, women were temporarily forced to step up and become an important component of society. The men who stand out in history are the ones with enough bravery, charisma, and machismo to lead others in revolt. Men from this period, such as Father Miguel Hidalgo, Agustín de Iturbide, and Simón Bolívar, are viewed today as ideal Latin Americans because they are the ones who possessed the characteristics of a strong leader. Today, those same characteristics are still idolized when people think about the ideal Latin American. The most important of these is charisma. Charisma gives a man the ability to inspire the masses to rise up against oppression and the strength to carry on when the situation seems hopeless. Those showing this important quality were the ones to rise in power during this time and become the ideal Latin American.

Postcolonial Blues[edit | edit source]

After gaining independence, many Latin American people turned their attention to the search for liberty and equality.  There were high hopes for true democracy and new governments. In the end, constitution after constitution and fight after fight was what dominated the countries of Latin America. The newly-made governments remained very unstable during this time. Latin Americans wondered how much trust to place in their new governing bodies. It had taken a great deal of time for even the Spanish king to win loyalty. The stratification of the Latin American people based on their political views led to the beginning of liberal and conservative political parties. While Latin Americans started this period calling for a liberalized government, many soon fell back into the conservative group due to the allure of traditional values.

Progress[edit | edit source]

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Between 1850 and 1890, Latin America was making substantial progress. This period was heavily influenced by the struggle between Conservatives and Liberals. Liberal families tended to move around, while Conservatives were often more stationary and had long lasting family statuses as a result. Conservatives often tried to fight the changes of progress but in the end, lost.

During this time of progress, a heavy European influence was seen. These influences brought modern amenities such as electricity, railroads and telegraphs. Railroads were a key symbol in Latin America's progress. Parts of the country became accessible to the citizens in ways they had never been before. While superficially this seemed positive, it brought even more dependency on other countries, especially European countries. In this time, very apparent class struggles and the wealth gap between classes began to show up. The ideal Latin American during this time accepted the European influence, but would hold true to their Latin American roots.

Along with rapidly changing environments, we see a change in the ideals and morals of the people. Once a strong power within Latin America, the Catholic Church was now attacked for its gross misuse of power and money. The common people, who mostly practiced liberalism, felt that the Church was robbing them of land, money and time. They were not anti-religious, just against the clergy of the Church, a common trend among all Latin American countries during this period. Unfortunately for the majority of the people, the ruling leaders of the time were conservative and believed that the Church should have the most power, no matter the consequence for the poor. In Mexico, influential leader Benito Juárez passed the Lerdo Law which attacked the Catholic Church's abuse of power and forced it to give back land to the poor. While this was sound in theory, in result people owning individual land plots, instead of communal land holding systems, would eventually lose. A majority of the indigenous people believed that the land worked better communally, and they opposed this land reform. This time of "progress" was one where Latin America had to answer the question of how to better itself as a civilization, fighting many different battles, often with temporary results. In this period, something can be said for the concept of the ideal Latin American: he was persistent and passionate in the time of progress. Both of these qualities were necessary in this fast-moving period because anyone without them would be left behind in a changing world.

Finally, in this time one begins to see a concerned Latin American. they became a people who no longer were willing to accept everything forced upon them. One can see a rapidly changing view of society, where the Latin Americans no longer just sit idly by and allow for things to happen to them. Finally there is a drive and motive behind every action, instead of having another power how to do something. It begins to bring hope, and a sense of pride to the people. Within this time period, the people accept who they are, and could now work towards a common goal. All of these traits are what has helped shape Latin America today, and has heavily influenced their culture as well.

Neocolonialism[edit | edit source]

The Neocolonial period saw the United Kingdom, and eventually the United States, rise as hegemons in Latin America. The United States had a large influence on both trade and politics in Latin America. Under this heavy-handed influence, Latin Americans felt that the United States did not have their best interests at heart, despite claims otherwise. However, Latin America during this period also found itself to be dependent on foreign countries such as the U.S. and the U.K., due to its heavy export economy. Between these factors, Latin Americans began to resent imperialistic nations and their perceived domination. Due to this, the ideal Latin American remained much the same, but the values that Latin Americans appreciated shifted. Latin Americans began to support those who fit their ideals, rather than U.S. or European ideals. This led to a new surge of popular mestizo individuals, as well as resounding support for those who spoke out against foreign interference in Latin America. 

A prime example of an ideal Latin American during this period was Augusto César Sandino. A revolution fighter in a Nicaraguan civil war known as the Constitutionalist War, Sandino assembled a personal army and utilized guerilla tactics. After the Constitutionalist War came to a ceasefire following American pressure, Sandino continued to fight the United States Marines in Nicaragua, objecting to U.S. meddling in Latin American affairs and fighting for all of Latin America. The Marines were ultimately unable to capture or stop Sandino and had to withdraw to the United States due to domestic affairs, and Sandino emerged triumphant. Augusto César Sandino was a hero to all Latin Americans for standing up to the oppressive United States, and his ideals and legacy embody the ideal Latin American of the neocolonial period.

Nationalism[edit | edit source]

Socioeconomic pyramid in Latin America

Nationalism is a movement in which people of a country band together for the further advancement of the nation as a whole, instead of focusing on each person on an individual basis. It is also a highy praised characteristic of the Latin American people. "For nations to be united internally, they have to know who they are; they need a clear and positive sense of national identity" (Chasteen 217). The nationalist movement in Latin America stemmed from the disagreements between the Creoles and the Peninsulares. Most of the new nationalists were middle-class, mestizo people, with some people of much higher or lower socioeconomic statuses. Nationalist supporters ranged everywhere from the lowest class, full of mestizo people to the very highest class people such as Vargas. All of these people joined together to stand against imperialism and the foreign influence in Latin America which manifested through economic and military presence. Although these groups were present and numerous problems were raised, the inevitable shift to nationalism was seen differently in many Latin American countries. 

Revolution[edit | edit source]

The revolutionary time period in Latin America saw huge changes in the perception of what made an ideal Latin American. Everyday Latin Americans elected officials who embodied nationalist ideals, such as Jacobo Árbenz. They revered populist President Juan Perón and his wife Evita. To them, the ideal Latin American did not revolt and did not use violence to achieve their ideals. Revolutionaries, however, looked up to heroes like Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, and Tania. To them, those that did not revolt were less than ideal. They saw the way the poor people of the region were living and decided that anyone who could see their lives and not be motivated to action was not a true Latin American. Latin Americans were those who fought for decent standards of living for all. In this section we will discuss what made an ideal Latin American during the revolutionary period of Latin American history and analyze what made this ideal person different from the ideal people of other periods in history.

There were many revolutionaries in Latin American History who took different approaches to achieve their goals and the goals they deemed necessary for the people. One of the most common themes is the representation of the masses. Many Latin American revolutionaries, which we read about today, had agendas that attended to more than their small group of people. From different nations, spread across thousands of miles of land, we see many similarities that make these ideal men national folk heroes.

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People like Toussaint Louverture, Father Hidalgo and Ernesto "Che" Guevara are ideal, heroic men who achieved their goals by helping to change the hearts and minds of those who needed it the most. They set the stage for modern revolutionaries and offered them a platform to base their ideals. Cultured men like Hugo Chávez, who have been baptized in the culture of heroic revolutionaries, have gained the love of their people and helped bring change just like their predecessors by putting the good of the masses above the good of the elite. 

The revolution had a great effect on the Latin American people. It created conflict because communism was alive and growing, and because of the influence from the Cuban Revolution. This social revolution was something that was uncommon, scary and influentially strong. It challenged the liberties and traditional values people have known their whole lives. The revolution gave Latin America reform, strength, and the freedom to develop. These factors helped Latin America better adhere to its ideals.


Che Guevara

Reaction[edit | edit source]

The reactionary period in Latin America was very bloody. Countries prone to revolution, and others which were relatively docile, were quickly taken over by military control to prevent any sort of communist revolution. The United States played a large part in military coups in these countries. U.S. President John F. Kennedy, in 1961, announced the formation of the "Alliance for Progress," which was meant to relieve some of the revolutionary pressures in Latin American countries. To achieve the goals of the plan, the U.S. would supply foreign aid to countries that showed signs of revolutionary tendencies, in an attempt to increase the standard of living and ease tensions of the working class.

This contrast between the conservative Latin Americans and the "revolutionary" Latin Americans led to two distinct sets of characteristics for the ideal Latin American.

These countries include Brazil, Cuba, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile. The Alliance for Progress was a reaction to the Cuban Revolution, but ultimately it lost momentum, because the costs amounted to much more than supplying guns and counterinsurgency training. Various Latin American generals saw communism as an inevitable change if nothing was actively done to prevent it. These generals began hunting down "internal enemies": anyone that could present a threat to their rule.

Neoliberalism[edit | edit source]

With both the revolution and reaction time periods over, Latin America was left with a high death count that was largely blamed on nationalism. This gave neoliberalism a boost in popularity during the 1990s. Neoliberalism was largely based on the United States' ideas of free trade, exports, and comparative advantage. Because free market was encouraged, state-run programs were immediately ended. Programs which once helped the poor buy affordable food and other public services were never to be seen again. Latin America also began importing American products and technology for low prices. These American products ended up only being used by the middle class and rich since they were, once again, the only groups that benefited during this time period.

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