Latin Americans (Spanish: Latinoamericanos; Portuguese: Latino-americanos; French: Latino-américains) are the citizens of the Latin American countries. Latin American countries are multi-ethnic, home to people of different ethnic and national backgrounds. As a result, some Latin Americans do not take their nationality as an ethnicity, but identify themselves with both their nationality and their ancestral origins. Aside from the indigenous Amerindian population, all Latin Americans have some ancestors who immigrated since 1492. Latin America has the largest diasporas of Spaniards, Portuguese, black Africans, Italians, Lebanese and Japanese in the world. The region also has large German (second largest after the United States), French and Jewish diasporas.
The specific ethnic and/or racial composition varies from country to country: many have a predominance of European-Amerindian, or mestizo, population; in others, Amerindians are a majority; some are mostly inhabited by people of European ancestry; others are primarily mulatto. Various black, Asian and zambo (mixed black and Amerindian) minorities are also identified in most countries. The largest single group are white Latin Americans. Together with the people of part-European ancestry, they combine for almost the totality of the population.
Latin Americans and their descendants can be found almost everywhere in the world, particularly in densely populated urban areas. The most important migratory destinations for Latin Americans are found in the United States, Spain, Canada, Italy and Japan.
Latin America (Spanish: América Latina or Latinoamérica; Portuguese: América Latina; French: Amérique latine) is the region of the Americas where Romance languages (i.e., those derived from Latin)—particularly Spanish and Portuguese, as well as French—are primarily spoken.
It includes more than 20 countries or territories: Mexico in North America; Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama in Central America; Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, French Guiana, Paraguay, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay in South America; and Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean—in summary, Hispanic America, plus Brazil, Haiti and French Guiana. Canada and the United States, despite having a sizeable Romance-speaking communities, are almost never included in the definition, primarily for being predominantly English-speaking Anglosphere countries.
Latin America, therefore, can be defined as all those parts of the Americas that were once part of the Spanish, Portuguese or French colonial empires, namely New Spain, Colonial Brazil and New France.
The population of Latin America comprises a variety of ancestries, ethnic groups, and races, making the region one of the most diverse in the world. The specific composition varies from country to country: many have a predominance of European-Amerindian, or mestizo, population; in others, Amerindian are a majority; some are dominated by inhabitants of European ancestry; and some countries' populations are primarily mulatto. Black, Asian, and zambo (mixed black and Amerindian) minorities are also identified regularly. White Latin Americans are the largest single group, accounting for more than one-third of the population.
- Asians. People of Asian descent number several million in Latin America. The first Asians to settle in the region were Filipino, as a result of Spain's trade involving Asia and the Americas. Most Asian Latin Americans are of Japanese or Chinese ancestry and reside mainly in Brazil and Peru; there is also a growing Chinese minority in Panama. Brazil is home to perhaps two million people of Asian descent, which includes the largest ethnic Japanese community outside Japan itself, estimated as high as 1.5 million, and circa 200,000 ethnic Chinese and 100,000 ethnic Koreans. Ethnic Koreans also number tens of thousands of individuals in Argentina and Mexico. Peru, with 1.47 million people of Asian descent, has one of the largest Chinese communities in the world, with nearly one million Peruvians being of Chinese ancestry. There is a strong ethnic-Japanese presence in Peru, where a past president and a number of politicians are of Japanese descent. The Martiniquais population includes an African-white-Amerindian mixed population, and an East Indian (Asian Indian) population is also present in Martinique. In Guadeloupe, an estimated 14% of the population is East Asian.
- Blacks. Millions of African slaves were brought to Latin America from the 16th century onward, most of whom were sent to the Caribbean region and Brazil. Today, people identified as "black" are most numerous in Brazil (more than 10 million) and in Haiti (more than 7 million). Significant populations are also found in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama, and Colombia. Latin Americans of mixed black and white ancestry, called mulattoes, are far more numerous than blacks.
- Amerindians. The indigenous population of Latin America, the Amerindians, arrived during the Lithic stage. In post-Columbian times they experienced tremendous population decline, particularly in the early decades of colonization. They have since recovered in numbers, surpassing sixty million (by some estimates), though with the growth of the other groups meanwhile, they now compose a majority only in Bolivia, and Peru. In Guatemala, the Amerindians are a large minority that comprises 41% of the population. Mexico's 21% (9.8% in the official 2005 census) is the next largest ratio, and one of the largest Amerindian population in the Americas in absolute numbers. Most of the remaining countries have Amerindian minorities, in every case making up less than one-tenth of the respective country's population. In many countries, people of mixed Amerindian and European ancestry, known as mestizos, make up the majority of the population.
- Mestizos. Intermixing between Europeans and Amerindians began early in the colonial period and was extensive. The resulting people, known as mestizos, make up the majority of the population in half of the countries of Latin America. Additionally, mestizos compose large minorities in nearly all the other mainland countries.
- Mulattoes. Mulattoes are people of mixed European and African ancestry, mostly descended from Spanish or Portuguese settlers on one side and African slaves on the other, during the colonial period. Brazil is home to Latin America's largest mulatto population. Mulattoes form a majority in the Dominican Republic, and are also numerous in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador. Smaller populations of mulattoes are found in other Latin American countries.
- Whites. Beginning in the late 15th century, large numbers of Iberian colonists settled in what became Latin America (Portuguese in Brazil and Spaniards elsewhere in the region), and at present most white Latin Americans are of Spanish, Portuguese or Italian ancestry. Iberians brought the Spanish and Portuguese languages, the Catholic faith, and many Iberian traditions. Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia contain the largest numbers of whites in Latin America in pure numbers. Whites make up the majority of the population of Argentina, Costa Rica, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Uruguay; whites make up roughly half of Brazil's, Chile's and Venezuela's population as well. Of the millions of immigrants since most of Latin America gained independence in the 1810s–1820s, Italians formed the largest group, and next were Spaniards and Portuguese. Many others arrived, such as French, Germans, Greeks, Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, Croats, Serbs, Latvians, Lithuanians, English, Jews, Irish and Welsh. Also included are Middle Easterners of Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian descent; most of them are Christian. Whites presently compose the largest racial group in Latin America (36% in the table herein), and, whether as white, mestizo or mulatto, the vast majority of Latin Americans have white ancestry.
- Zambos: Intermixing between Africans and Amerindians was especially prevalent in Colombia and Brazil, often due to slaves running away (becoming cimarrones: maroons) and being taken in by Amerindian villagers. In Spanish-speaking nations, people of this mixed ancestry are known as zambos, and they are also known as cafuzos in Brazil.
- Multi-ethnic/Multi-racials: In addition to the foregoing groups, Latin America also has millions of multiracial peoples (Triracial/Quadracial) of mixed white (European or Middle Eastern), African, Native Amerindian, and Asian (Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and Indian) ancestry. Most are found in Colombia, Puerto Rico and Brazil, with a much smaller presence in other countries and parts of Mexico. In Brazil they are called pardos. This intermixing inspired Mexican philosopher José Vasconcelos to publish an essay in 1925 titled "La Raza Cósmica" (The Cosmic Race). The essay expressed the ideology of a future "fifth race" in the Americas; an agglomeration of all the races in the world with no respect to color or number to erect a new civilization: Universópolis. Genetic studies have shown results of various degrees of admixture between various ethnic groups that has taken place throughout Latin America since the arrival of Spanish and other European explorers commencing in 1492.
Note: Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States.
Ethnic groups according to self-identification
1 Don't know/No response.
2 Weighted using 2011 population.
Spanish and Portuguese are the predominant languages of Latin America. Spanish is the official language of most of the countries on the Latin American mainland, as well as in Puerto Rico (where it is co-official with English), Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Portuguese is spoken only in Brazil, the biggest and most populous country in the region. French is spoken in Haiti, as well as in the French overseas departments of French Guiana in South America and Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean. Dutch is the official language of some Caribbean islands and in Suriname on the continent; however, as Dutch is a Germanic language, these territories are not considered part of Latin America.
Amerindian languages are widely spoken in Peru, Guatemala, Bolivia, Paraguay, and to a lesser degree, in Mexico, Chile and Ecuador. In Latin American countries not named above, the population of speakers of indigenous languages is small or non-existent.
In Peru, Quechua is an official language, alongside Spanish and any other indigenous language in the areas where they predominate. In Ecuador, while holding no official status, the closely related Quichua is a recognized language of the indigenous people under the country's constitution; however, it is only spoken by a few groups in the country's highlands. In Bolivia, Aymara, Quechua and Guaraní hold official status alongside Spanish. Guarani is, along with Spanish, an official language of Paraguay, and is spoken by a majority of the population (who are, for the most part, bilingual), and it is co-official with Spanish in the Argentine province of Corrientes. In Nicaragua, Spanish is the official language, but, on the country's Caribbean coast English and indigenous languages such as Miskito, Sumo, and Rama also hold official status. Colombia recognizes all indigenous languages spoken within its territory as official, though fewer than 1% of its population are native speakers of these. Nahuatl is one of the 62 native languages spoken by indigenous people in Mexico that are officially recognized by the government as "national languages" along with Spanish.
Other European languages spoken in Latin America include: English, by some groups in Argentina, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama and Puerto Rico, as well as in nearby countries that may or may not be considered Latin American, such as Belize and Guyana; English is also used as a major foreign language in Latin American commerce and education. Other languages spoken in parts of Latin America include German in southern Brazil, southern Chile, Argentina, portions of northern Venezuela and Paraguay; Italian in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela; Polish, Ukrainian and Russian in southern Brazil; and Welsh in southern Argentina. Hebrew and Yiddish are used by Jewish diasporas in Argentina and Brazil.
In several nations, especially in the Caribbean region, creole languages are spoken. The most widely spoken creole language in the Caribbean and Latin America in general is Haitian Creole, the predominant language of Haiti; it is derived primarily from French and certain West African tongues with Amerindian, English, Portuguese and Spanish influences as well. Creole languages of mainland Latin America, similarly, are derived from European languages and various African tongues.
The vast majority of Latin Americans are Christians (90%), mostly Roman Catholics. About 71% of the Latin American population consider themselves Catholic. Membership in Protestant denominations is increasing, particularly in Brazil, Guatemala and Puerto Rico. Argentina hosts the largest communities of both Jews and Muslims in Latin America. Indigenous religions and rituals are practiced in countries with large Amerindian populations, especially Bolivia, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru, and Afro-Latin American religions such as Santería, Candomblé, Umbanda, Macumba and Vodou are practiced in countries with large Afro-Latin American populations, especially Cuba, Brazil and Haiti. Latin America constitutes, in absolute terms, the world's second largest Christian population, after Europe.
According to the 2005 Colombian census or DANE, about 3,331,107 Colombians currently live abroad. The number of Brazilians living overseas is estimated at about 2 million people. An estimated 1.5 to two million Salvadorians reside in the United States. At least 1.5 million Ecuadorians have gone abroad, mainly to the United States and Spain. Approximately 1.5 million Dominicans live abroad, mostly in the United States. More than 1.3 million Cubans live abroad, most of them in the United States. It is estimated that over 800,000 Chileans live abroad, mainly in Argentina, Canada, United States and Spain. Other Chilean nationals may be located in countries like Costa Rica, Mexico and Sweden. An estimated 700,000 Bolivians were living in Argentina as of 2006 and another 33,000 in the United States. Central Americans living abroad in 2005 were 3,314,300, of which 1,128,701 were Salvadorans, 685,713 were Guatemalans, 683,520 were Nicaraguans, 414,955 were Hondurans, 215,240 were Panamanians and 127,061 were Costa Rica.
Notable Latin Americans
- Costa Ricans
- History of Latin America
- Latin American culture
- Los Angeles, California
- Nuyoricans (New York City)
- Puerto Ricans
- Québécois people
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