The Latin America is the region that lies to the south of America. Before the invasion of the European colonizers in the late 15th and 16th Centuries, it included different Latin countries such as Inca, Aztec, and the Maya. Some of these communities’ traditions are still evident today, though they have been eroded by the interactions with other communities, as well as the interactions with the Europeans. According to Joseph and Henderson (2002), the social status of the communities in the pre-colonial period was quite rigid. The communities, especially the Maya, had a very rigid structure which defined the role of every member of the society. There were also sacrifices that were offered every now and then. These sacrifices had a social significance, and had to be observed by all means. They had no room for going astray from the culture. This can be observed from their history especially that of the Maya community, who have retained their tattoos even to date.
There was classification of different people within these countries at the time. The people were divided in accordance to their color and race, as it was thought that these affected the manner in which the people lived. It has to be noted that the castes came after the European invasion in the 17th Century, especially the Spaniards. Initially, there was a slave-master relationship, but as the colonies continued growing, this quickly evolved into the social castes. There were four main categories (Las Casas, 1971).
The first level was called the peninsulares or the gachupines (Baber, 2009). These were the people who were born in Spain. They occupied the highest offices as well as the clergy positions. They had slaves who served them and so had to do almost nothing. The second level was called the criollos, and consisted of the people who were born in Latin America of Spanish parents. This group carried about 95% of the Whites in the Spanish colonies (Joseph and Henderson, 1971). This group eventually got involved in serious job competitions and conflicts with the top group.
At the third level were the meszitos, who were the people born in Mexico of mixed heritage (Joseph and Henderson, 1971). Though they were doing well and thriving in the socioeconomic sense, they were still looked down upon by the rest as they were not regarded as pure blood. Though there were some laws that called for equality between this group and the whites, some institutions could not accept them. The last group was the native inhabitants of the Spanish lands (Sepulveda 1547). This group was totally disregarded and had to struggle to survive. More often than not, these people dies of exhaustion due to excessive work or from diseases which, though treatable, were not treated. Of course, there was the last group of people who were the African slaves. These were not classified as they were not regarded as humans. They were just property, machinery to be used in the production process.
The above social structure was very rigid in the colonial Latin America. It was practically impossible for individuals from one casta to move up the ladder or to enjoy the privileges associated with a higher caste (Baber, 2009). More often than not, if the groups wanted to be identified and recognized, they had to resort to violent activities such as war. This was also the strategy that was employed in gaining independence. Unless the people took an affirmative action, there was no way that they were going to change their society. They practically had no opportunities to carve out a space for themselves in the colonial Latin America, apart from the use of assertive force.
The system did not only discriminate the people in terms of their color, but also in relation to their gender. According to Bemberg (1990) in her film titled “ I, Worst of All”, there is an indication that there was no place for women in this society. The film tells the sad story of Juana Ines de la Cruz, a Mexican nun who was also a scholar and a nun. She did quiet a lot of works on the status of the society at the time, but made her worst mistake when she highlighted the negative effects of the male chauvinism that existed at the time. She wrote a performance for the convent satirizing the male chauvinism. Archbishop Lautaro Murua attended the performance, and was deeply upset. This was the beginning of Juana’s suffering. She was disbanded from the church and her books were burned up. She was forced to work with people who had plague, which caused her much suffering unto her death. This just indicates how bad the situation was for women in the colonial Latin American society. They were totally discriminated against and treated as nobodies. The same is reflected in the Mills, Taylor and Graham (2002) case analysis of women in the colonial Latin America, indicating that they had to go through quite a lot of difficulties. This is also seen in the paintings (Mills, Taylor and Graham, 2002). The women are seen acting as servants to the Spaniards. They show evidence that women had to live in a kind of submission that was out of order. They had no place and had to know and accept that. If they tried to come out and raise a voice in relation to their plight, rough measures were used to deal with them. This was quite unfortunate.
The period starting from the 17th century is seen as the period of imperialism for the European countries. It was at this time that they started developing the sense of nationalism and pride in their countries. However, this was not an easy process. They went through quite a crisis. The crisis was not perceived but real, and was both economical and political. In the political sense, it is at this time that the nations were trying to assert their nationhood and nationalism, and get to be noticed and respected by the rest of the world (Baber, 2009). However, this was not easy. They had problems streamlining their affairs both at home and in the colonies. For instance, when Spain got into the Americas, they found out that other Europeans such as the French and British had already arrived (Las Casas, 1971). However, unlike the Spaniards, these other countries wanted to develop the colonies and make them just like back home. This was quiet a challenge for the Spaniards as they had to wonder whether to continue with their system or to adopt new measures (Sepulveda, 1547). It is also worth noting that there was political opposition in the colonies. There were the French who were opposed to the Spaniards, as well as the Indians who were organizing resistance (Sepulveda, 1547). These were quiet a handful of political problems to deal with. In the economic sense, there was a problem as well. There was the need to amalgamate the resources available and use them in the production processes, generate profits and continue with the production activities. Due to the political unrest, this was not very possible. As such, it can be argued that the crisis was present, and it was real.
Baber, J. (2009). Latin America to Independence. (Attached.)
Bemberg, M. L. (1990). I, the Worst of All/Yo, La Peor De Todas. (Film)
Mills, K. R., Taylor, W. B. & Graham, S. L. (2002). “ Chapter 48: Two Castas Paintingsfrom Eighteenth-Century Mexico.” In: Mills, K. R., Taylor, W. B. & Graham, S. L. (2002). Colonial Latin America: A Documentary History. New York, NY: Rowman and Littlefield. Retrieved on 29th Nov. 2012 from