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Most Hispanics do not see a shared common culture among U.S. Hispanics. Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) say Hispanics in the U.S. have many different cultures, while 29% say Hispanics in the U.S. share a common culture.

  • Most Hispanics don’t see themselves fitting into the standard racial categories used by the U.S. Census Bureau. When it comes to race, according to the Pew Hispanic survey, half (51%) of Latinos identify their race as “some other race” or volunteer “Hispanic/Latino.” Meanwhile, 36% identify their race as white, and 3% say their race is black.

  • Latinos are split on whether they see themselves as a typical American. Nearly half (47%) say they are a typical American, while another 47% say they are very different from the typical American. Foreign-born Hispanics are less likely than native-born Hispanics to say they are a typical American - 34% versus 66%.

Source: Adapted from a 2012 report by the Pew Foundation, “When Labels Don’t Fit: Hispanics and Their Views of Identity,

On Overview of Latin American History
The excerpt below on Latin American history is from the on-line edition of the World Book Encyclopedia (2014) available for students and teachers through the Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ Department of Library Media Services. To access the full article:

  1. Visit Library Media Services at

(Password needed. Check with the Media Specialist.)

  1. Click the On-line Data Bases and select World Book Online Reference Center

  2. Search for “Latin America”

  3. Click on the article entitled “Latin America.”

The full article is a comprehensive overview of the many facets of Latin American history, geography, and culture. Only the History excerpt is included below.
History. Many people have tried to understand Latin American history by comparing it to the histories of Europe and the United States. However, it is important to realize that Latin American history has developed in a way that has made Latin American countries quite different from those of Europe and North America. For example, Amerindian, European, and African cultures have lived side by side for many centuries. In contrast, in North America, the U.S. government nearly destroyed Amerindian populations in the 1800’s, and then forced the Indians to live on reservations apart from European society. In Latin America, Europeans, Amerindians, and Africans were also far more likely to intermarry than they were in the Anglo-American colonies that became the United States.
The Cuban writer José Marti once noted that “No Yankee or European book could furnish the key to the Hispanoamerican enigma.” What he meant was that Latin American nations, like those in other regions of the world, must consider their own unique histories to discover the paths they should follow.


Early inhabitants. The first peoples of Latin America were American Indians. Scientists believe that the ancestors of these peoples came to North America from Asia between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago. Many of them crossed a land bridge that connected Asia and North America across the Bering Strait, which now separates Siberia from Alaska. By 12,500 years ago, they had spread across much of the Americas to the southern tip of South America. Some scientists believe that other early peoples may have arrived by boat and spread southward along the western coast of the Americas.

For thousands of years, the Amerindians lived in small groups, roaming widely in search of animals and edible plants. As people began to settle for longer periods in certain areas, they began to farm. Amerindians were the first people to cultivate cacao, chiles, corn, kidney and lima beans, potatoes, squash, tomatoes, and tobacco. Where agriculture became well established, small villages grew into towns and cities, and diverse civilizations arose.

The earliest of these civilizations was probably the Olmec, which thrived in what is now eastern Mexico from about 1200 to 400 B.C. Another civilization, the Maya, reached its peak from about A.D. 250 to 900 in southern Mexico, the Yucatán Peninsula, and Guatemala. The Maya produced magnificent architecture, painting, pottery, sculpture, and underground irrigation systems. They developed an accurate calendar and a sophisticated writing system. Their mathematics recognized the concept of zero, and their astronomy was unsurpassed in its day. Scholars believe that food crises, population pressures, political turmoil, and warfare caused Maya civilization to collapse and fragment around 900.

The Toltec controlled central Mexico from about 900 to 1200. By the early 1400's, the Aztec had replaced the Toltec as the most powerful people in the area. Both the Toltec and the Aztec built enormous pyramids for ceremonial and religious purposes. During the 1400’s, the Mexica, an Aztec people, dominated Mexico’s central valley, which they called Anahuac. The Mexica created an empire of loosely joined city states, each of which consisted of a city and its surrounding countryside. The Mexica demanded economic tribute from their subjects. They also believed that human sacrifice was necessary to ensure the order of the universe. They captured victims for sacrifice in ritual wars known as Flowery Wars.
In South America, the Inca emerged as the dominant group in the Andes, in what is now Peru. The Inca called their empire Tawantinsuyu. By the 1400's, the Inca capital at Cusco had a population of 200,000. It stood at the center of a far-flung communications network extending over the Andes, from Quito, Ecuador, south to Argentina. Inca farmers cut terraces into steep hillsides and used irrigation canals to carry water to their crops. The Inca had no written language. They used a sophisticated and highly accurate system of knotted strings, known as quipus, to keep records.

European discovery and exploration. In 1492, Christopher Columbus, an Italian navigator in the service of Spain, became the first European to reach Latin America. Columbus sailed west from Spain, hoping to find a short sea route to eastern Asia. He landed at the island of San Salvador, in the Caribbean, and believed he had reached Asia.
After Columbus returned to Spain, news of his discovery created great excitement in Europe. To prevent disputes between Portugal and Spain over the newly discovered lands, Pope Alexander VI drew the Line of Demarcation in 1493. This imaginary north-south line lay west of two island groups in the North Atlantic Ocean—the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands. The pope said Spain would have the right to explore and to claim new lands west of the line, and Portugal would have similar rights east of the line. However, the Portuguese soon became dissatisfied because they thought the line gave Spain too much territory. In 1494, Portugal and Spain signed the Treaty of Tordesillas, which moved the line farther west. As a result, Portugal gained the right to settle the eastern section of what is now Brazil. Portugal took possession of this area in 1500, when a Portuguese navigator named Pedro Álvares Cabral landed on the east coast of Brazil.
Columbus made four voyages to Latin America between 1492 and 1502. During these voyages, he explored many islands in the Caribbean and the coasts of what are now Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, and Venezuela. Years after his voyages, Columbus continued to believe that he had happened upon outlying islands of Asia. Other explorers soon followed Columbus to Latin America. They quickly realized that the region was not Asia but a new land. Mapmakers named the land America in honor of the Italian-born explorer Amerigo Vespucci. Vespucci made several voyages to Latin America in the late 1490's and early 1500's for Spain and Portugal. Vespucci was one of the first explorers to state that the region was a "New World." Spaniards continued to refer to the region as the Indies—a term commonly used by Europeans to describe Asia. They called the native peoples Indians, even after it became clear that the continent was not part of Asia.
In 1513, the Spanish adventurer Vasco Núñez de Balboa crossed Panama and became the first European to see the eastern shore of the Pacific Ocean. His discovery provided additional proof that America was a separate continent between Europe and Asia. In 1520, the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan became the first European to discover the waterway that connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at the southern tip of South America. Magellan sailed down the east coast of South America and through the strait that now bears his name.

The conquest of the American Indians began soon after the Europeans arrived in Latin America. By the mid-1500's, Spanish adventurers known as conquistadors (conquerors, spelled conquistadores in Spanish) had conquered the great Indian civilizations and given Spain a secure hold on most of Latin America.
The first major conquests of the Indians occurred in Mexico and Central America. The conquistador Hernán Cortés landed in Mexico in 1519. He had heard of a vast and wealthy empire inland. With barely 400 men, Cortés knew he could not defeat an empire rumored to have 250,000 armed men. He approached cautiously, negotiating and fighting with enemies of Montezuma (also spelled Moctezuma) II, emperor of the Aztec people (also known as the Mexica).
A woman whom the Spaniards called Doña Marina, and whom the Amerindians called Malinche, accompanied Cortés. Marina had been a slave of the Maya, who had given her to Cortés as a gift. She acted as Cortés’s interpreter, thus enabling him to negotiate with the peoples he encountered.
Cortés ultimately conquered the Aztec by forming alliances with their enemies, who did most of the fighting that toppled the Aztec Empire by 1521. The spread of European diseases, chiefly smallpox, among the Indian population also helped Cortés.
The following year, another conquistador, known as Pedrarias, conquered the Indians of what are now Costa Rica and Nicaragua. In 1523, Pedro de Alvarado, one of Cortés's officers, conquered what are now El Salvador and Guatemala. These conquistadors, together with Balboa in Panama, secured Central America for Spain.
In 1532, the conquistador Francisco Pizarro fought his way into Peru with about 180 men. A civil war had recently weakened the Inca empire there. Pizarro asked to meet the Inca ruler Atahualpa. Although he had promised to make a truce with Atahualpa, Pizarro ambushed the emperor’s soldiers and captured him. Then, after promising to release Atahualpa, he forced him to choose between being burned alive as a non-Christian or being baptized as a Christian and strangled. Atahualpa chose baptism and strangulation. But his death did not seal the Spaniards’ victory in Peru. Inca rebels resisted Spanish rule until the 1570’s. Pizarro founded Lima in 1535. The city became Peru's capital and the center of Spanish government in South America. One of the few areas the Spanish failed to conquer was southern Chile. There the Mapuche Indians (called Araucanians by the Spanish) resisted for over 300 years.

Colonial rule. Even before the military conquest of Latin America was complete, Spanish and Portuguese settlers began pouring into the region. Many of them came in search of adventure and mineral wealth. Others established plantations to grow sugar cane, tobacco, and other crops to export to Europe. During the 1600's, the Dutch, English, and French established small colonies in Latin America, chiefly in the Caribbean Islands.
The first century of colonial rule brought a catastrophic decline in the Amerindian population. Most historians agree that by the early 1600’s, Latin America’s native population of over 25 million had decreased by more than 90 percent. Amerindians died in wars and of overwork, but the main cause of death was European disease, to which the Indians had no natural immunity. Those who survived had to adapt rapidly to a new way of life.
Several groups vied for power in colonial Latin America. They included privileged colonists called encomenderos,Roman Catholic missionaries, representatives of the Spanish monarch known as viceroys, and Amerindian nobles. During the early 1500’s, Spain established the encomienda system. Under this system, the Spanish king granted some conquistadors the right to collect tribute from native villages and force the Indians to work on farms or in mines. In return, these conquistadors, known as encomenderos, were supposed to protect the Indians and ensure their conversion to Christianity. In practice, the encomenderos often treated the Indians harshly and did little to Christianize them.
In contrast to the encomenderos, Spanish missionaries focused on converting the Amerindians to Christianity. Many Amerindians accepted baptism and practiced Roman Catholic rituals. However, they embraced Christianity on their own terms, often blending Catholic saints with ancestral gods and continuing to worship ancient deities secretly. This caused great frustration among missionaries, who viewed traditional religious practices as the devil’s work.
The missionaries argued that overworking the Amerindians on farms and mines interfered with their efforts at conversion. Several missionaries, especially a Dominican friar named Bartolomé de Las Casas, pleaded for more humane treatment of the Indians. But millions of Indians died from overwork and harsh treatment. As the Indian population of Latin America declined, Europeans began to import black Africans as slaves (see Slavery). From the 1550’s to 1850’s over 10 million African slaves arrived in the Americas. Two-thirds of them, or nearly seven million, were sent to Latin America, especially Brazil, where they worked on farms and in mines.
The chief representatives of the Spanish crown in Latin America were the viceroys. The viceroys found it difficult to impose their will upon the encomenderos, who were more concerned with their own power and wealth than with obeying orders from Spain. Nor did the viceroys have authority over the missionaries.
A fourth group, Amerindian nobles, continued to govern some native towns and cities during the 1500’s. These nobles were known as caciques in Mexico and as curacas in Peru. There were too few Spaniards to rule all of the Amerindians directly. The Amerindian nobles were responsible to the encomenderos for collecting tribute from the local people, most of whom continued to live as they had before the Spaniards arrived.

Protecting the Indians. During the early and middle 1500’s, religious and political leaders spent much time discussing the fate of the Amerindians. Las Casas argued that Spain must abolish the encomienda system to prevent total destruction of the American Indians. In 1542, the Spanish crown passed laws limiting the encomenderos’ power. But the encomenderos largely ignored these laws. In 1550, King Charles V suspended the conquest of Latin America until lawyers and religious experts could legally and morally justify Spain’s actions there. At a great debate in Valladolid, Spain, in the early 1550’s, Las Casas argued that missionaries, rather than conquistadors, should carry out the conquest of America because they would do it without violence. Some historians have seen in this argument of Las Casas the first stirrings of the idea of universal human rights.
From the 1550’s, the Spanish crown began to pass laws to protect Amerindians from the worst abuses of local officials. In the late 1500's, Spain created the General Indian Court in Mexico to hear cases of abuse of Amerindians and to settle disputes between Amerindians. By the late 1600's, Mexican Indians were using the Spanish legal system to defend their land, liberty, and village autonomy (self-government).
Many colonists and Amerindian nobles who depended on indigenous labor ignored the new legal protections. The Amerindians continued to work and pay tribute until the early 1800's.

Early settlers in Brazil found themselves in a sparsely populated land. Most were castaways or exiles from Portugal, and all were men. They settled in coastal areas and showed little interest in conquering the Amerindians, who lived scattered across huge tracts of rough terrain. The settlers traded with the Amerindians, especially for brazilwood, which was used for dyeing cloth.
Christian missionaries were slow to arrive in what is now Brazil. The Jesuits were among the first religious orders to convert and protect the Indians. Initially, the Indians seemed to be eager converts. Gradually, it became clear that they viewed the missions as havens from colonists who treated them like slaves. By the mid-1500's, brazilwood was no longer the only profitable product, and Portuguese colonists had begun growing sugar cane.
As elsewhere in Latin America, European diseases killed many native people of Brazil. Because growing sugar cane required many workers, the colonists began to enslave Amerindians and import slaves from Africa. As a result, African culture had an especially strong influence in Brazil.
Mestizaje. An important result of the coming together of European, Amerindian, and African peoples was the process of mestizaje, the biological and cultural mixing of people of different races and ethnicities. In the early decades after conquest, there were few European women in Latin America. European men took Amerindian and African wives and mistresses. The children born from these unions were not fully European, Amerindian, or African. This situation contrasted notably with the settlement of English North America, where interracial unions were exceptional and racial groups generally existed separately. Mestizos played a significant role as interpreters and mediators between different ethnic and racial groups.

Colonial discontent. During the 1700's, Spain began to enact policy changes designed to reap greater revenues from Latin America. Spain needed money to defend its large empire from European rivals, especially Britain (now the United Kingdom) and France. Some of these policy changes, known as the Bourbon Reforms, hurt the interests ofcriollos (people of Spanish ancestry born in Latin America). For example, the new rules excluded criollos from many government and church positions in favor of men born in Spain. The reforms also cracked down on the criollos’ illegal trade with merchants in European countries other than Spain. Many criollo traders lost their livelihood.
The policy changes also put pressure on Amerindian communities. For example, local officials began demanding higher tribute payments from Indian villages. Such demands led to Amerindian rebellions across Spanish America. In 1780, a mestizo called Tupac Amaru launched a famous revolt against Spanish authority in Peru. The Spaniards put down the revolt over the course of three years. About 100,000 people, mostly Amerindians, died in the fighting.
By the late 1700's, criollos in Spanish America found themselves in a difficult position. They resented Spanish authority in Latin America, as did many upper-class mestizos. They were also aware of world events, including the Revolutionary War in America (1775-1783) and the French Revolution (1789-1799), and many of them supported the ideas of liberty, equality, and brotherhood. However, the criollos feared what would happen if the masses of Amerindians and lower-class mestizos took these ideas seriously.
Amerindian rebellions against colonial government had increased considerably during the second half of the 1700’s. The criollos worried that without Spain’s might, they might not be able to defend themselves against such rebellions. Rather than demand full independence from Spain, some criollos favored limited self-rule. Others called for representation in the Cortes, the Spanish parliament. But they were denied equal status with the representatives in Spain.
The movement toward independence in Latin America was triggered by the French General Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of the Iberian Peninsula (mostly Spain and Portugal) in 1807 and by the removal of King Ferdinand VII from the Spanish throne in 1808. These events disrupted Spanish authority in America. They sparked uprisings among Latin Americans loyal to Spain, those who favored a limited degree of autonomy, and those who desired complete independence from Europe. While the Spanish crown was preoccupied with events at home, criollos gained control of most of Latin America. Wars of independence broke out throughout the region. From Mexico to Argentina, popular leaders known as caudillos mobilized the peasants who fought the wars. The Spaniards also relied upon caudillos for their troops.

Mexico began its revolt against Spain in 1810. Two Roman Catholic priests, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla and José Maria Morelos y Pavón, led an uprising of Amerindians and poor mestizos. The initial revolt failed, however, and Spanish troops executed both Hidalgo and Morelos. The uprisings that followed did not express the same sense of grievance from Mexican Indians and the poor. They were led chiefly by elite criollos. Mexico won its independence in 1821.

Central America also gained its independence from Spain in 1821. Central America had little economic importance, and so Spain largely ignored the area. As a result, Central Americans won their independence with little bloodshed. In 1822, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua became part of Mexico. In 1823, however, they broke away from Mexico and formed a political union called the United Provinces of Central America. Bitter regional rivalries undermined this union, and each of the states had become an independent republic by 1841. The territory of Panama was a Colombian province from 1821 until 1903, when it rebelled against Colombia with help from the United States and became an independent country. Belize, formerly known as British Honduras, was a British colony from 1862 to 1981, when it gained independence.

Spanish South America. The two greatest heroes in the fight for independence in Spanish South America were the Venezuelan general Simón Bolívar and the Argentine general José de San Martín. Bolívar helped win freedom for Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. San Martín fought for the independence of Argentina, Chile, and Peru.

The Venezuelan revolutionary Francisco de Miranda led an unsuccessful revolt against the Spanish in 1806. Bolívar, who had been a follower of Miranda's, launched a new campaign in 1813. His armies fought against the Spanish forces for about 10 years before winning a final, great victory at Ayacucho, Peru, in 1824. The victory assured independence for the Spanish colonies in northern South America.
In the south, landowners in Chile declared their country's independence in 1810. However, Spanish forces defeated them. Armies led by San Martín and the Chilean hero Bernardo O'Higgins won lasting independence for Chile in 1818. Earlier, in 1816, San Martín had freed Argentina from Spanish rule. During the early 1820’s, the forces of San Martín and Bolívar fought for Peru’s independence. Peru finally became independent in 1826.

Brazil won its freedom from Portugal without a war. After Napoleon invaded Portugal in 1807, the Portuguese ruler, Prince John, fled to Brazil. John returned to Portugal 14 years later, after Napoleon's defeat. He left his son Pedro to govern Brazil, but the Brazilians no longer wanted to be ruled by Europeans. They demanded independence. In 1822, Pedro declared Brazil an empire and took the throne as Emperor Pedro I.

The Caribbean Islands. In 1791, Toussaint Louverture and others led black African slaves in Haiti in a revolt against their French rulers. In 1804, Haiti became the first independent nation in Latin America. The Dominican Republic declared its independence in 1844. A revolt broke out against Spanish rule in Cuba in 1895. The United States sided with the Cuban rebels, which led to the Spanish-American War (1898) between Spain and the United States. The United States won the war, and Cuba became a republic in 1902. Under the terms of the peace treaty, Spain also gave up its colony of Puerto Rico to the United States. Most small West Indian islands remained under British, Dutch, or French control until the mid-1900's. Since then, most of these islands have become independent. Many of the others have gained more control over their affairs.

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