Glencoe World Geography
The Cultural Geography of Latin America
The region's population of 520 million people lives in 33 countries. It includes
a mix of Native Americans, Europeans, Africans, and Asians. European colonists
settled in areas earlier ruled by Native American empires, only to be overturned
through independence movements in all but a few Caribbean island countries. Today
indigenous language, religion, art, and lifestyles have been blended with those
of Europe and Africa.
Population Patterns Three Native American empires—the Maya of
Central America, the Aztec of Mexico, and the Inca of the Peruvian highlands—developed
sophisticated civilizations in Latin America. The first Europeans settlers,
mostly from Spain and Portugal, first arrived in the late 1400s and dominated
the future development of Latin American countries. Africans followed in the
1500s as forced laborers to work on plantations in Brazil and the West Indies.
Asian immigrants first settled in the 1800s and formed ethnic communities in
Mexico, Cuba, Peru, and Brazil. Patterns of human settlement in Latin America
vary from sparsely populated Brazilian rain forests and Chilean deserts to the
"populated rim" with megacities.
History and Government Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans
lived in highly structured civilizations ruled by emperors. Spanish and Portuguese
settlers established colonial economies that relied on Native Americans and
enslaved Africans to work their plantations, ranches, and mines. Resentment
against European rule fueled a drive for independence. Most of Latin America
broke free of colonial rule by the mid-1800s, with a few Caribbean island countries
remaining under foreign control. In many countries independence ushered in an
era of dictatorships, which are slowly giving way to democratically elected
Cultures and Lifestyles While Roman Catholicism has been the dominant
religion in Latin America since the colonial era, many Latin Americans have
blended indigenous customs with those introduced by Europeans and Africans.
Various art forms, including murals and music, also reflect a mixture of Native
American, African, and European influences. Latin American life revolves around
ties to the community and the extended family. Latin Americans enjoy a variety
of leisure activities, including soccer, jai alai, and baseball, and festivals
such as Rio de Janeiro's Carnival.