Module 6. Our Story: Latinx Americans
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES & COLONIZATION
In order to understand Latinx history, we have to begin with the indigenous peoples of the Americas, whose history is inextricably tied to Latinx history. As stated in Module 2, the peoples of the Americas traveled across the Bering Strait and migrated down the continents to lay their roots throughout the Americas. Over time, they constructed boats and continued to develop island civilizations in the Caribbean as well. The peoples of the Americas adapted and thrived in the environments where they settled, some creating vast and complex civilizations and even empires.
When Iberians, the Portuguese and Spanish Europeans that lived on the Iberian Peninsula, started to venture out into the open ocean, they would eventually make their way across the Atlantic. The Portuguese focused on the formation trading outposts rounding the gold coast, as well as the colonization of Africa’s western coastal islands, while the Spanish funded a monumental journey that made landfall in the Caribbean. This was the journey of Genoese born Christopher Columbus.
After Columbus’s contact with indigenous peoples, more and more explorers made their way across the Atlantic Ocean. Among those men were Hernan Cortez and Francisco Pizarro. Through the efforts of political maneuvering, brute warfare, and subsequent disease, Iberian conquistadors dominated the powerful empires of the Americas. These men were named for their participation in the Reconquista, or reconquest of Spain which was once ruled by Muslims during the middle ages. Cortez and Pizarro identified two goals: control the land and establish colonies for the benefit of the mother country and convert the natives to Christianity. The more souls they committed to Christianity, the more powerful they became over Muslims. With these goals in mind, the Americas were changed forever.
As Iberians took over the Americas, some sought alliances with powerful families of the remnants of the indigenous empires. These alliances were mostly forged through marriage. Society was further changed by the introduction of African servants and slaves. Over time, the intermarriage of peoples created a complex and vast Colonial Caste System, or Las castas, that gave privilege and preference to European blood and ‘white’ skin tone. Categories of Las castas included mulattos, offspring of a Spaniard and African, or mestizos, a child of a Spaniard and an indigenous person.
These definitions determined one’s social status and access to opportunities and resources or lack thereof. Like many other areas of the world, lighter skin tone was preferable and privileged, while darker skin tones meant inferiority and discrimination. As the years went on, the Latin American nations such as Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Cuba were formed using these racial and ethnic distinctions.
Casta painting showing 16 racial groupings
18th century, Museo Nacional del Virreinato, Tepotzotlán, Mexico