ABSTRACT

Latin America is a geographically, culturally, linguistically, and politically diverse region that is generally understood to include all countries south of the US/Mexico border as well as the Caribbean countries where a Latin-based language (Spanish, French, or Portuguese) is spoken. The term “Latin America” ( latinoamerica ) first appears in the 1800s and was used both by Latin American intellectuals wishing to signal a sense of unity among the former Iberian colonies and by the French who wished to justify imperial ambitions in Mexico through a common “Latin” heritage. Although this categorization may appear justified due to shared historical and cultural features, it is also important to remember that “Latin America,” like most categories, is a social and historical construction. Its core features, criteria of inclusion and exclusion, and borders are constantly contested and negotiated. For example, some of the countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean were colonized by the British (Belize, Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana, etc.) and the Dutch (Suriname, Curaçao, etc.), so do not speak Latin-derived languages and have cultural practices and institutions inherited from Northern European Protestant societies. Yet they share many features of “Latin” America including a history of African slavery and its resulting racial hierarchies, legacies of colonial and post-colonial plantation and extractive economies, labor migration within the region and to the US, and cultural practices inherited from indigenous populations. Thus while the English speaking countries are often referred to as the “West Indies” and are considered a different cultural area, they are also Latin American.