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Rigidity of Class Structure in Central America
Rigidity of Class Structure Throughout Latin America
A look at the social, political, and economic class structures that continue to divide the people of Latin America
The Beginnings of Class Structure in Latin America:
Latin America has long been associated with an extremely diverse mixture of people and landscapes. The varieties are displayed in not one Latin American culture, but many unique cultures, all with their own beliefs and traditions. No one country has its own distinct people. Much like Canada or the United States, the countries that comprise Latin America are home to people from all walks of life and all areas of the world. How they came to be this way however, is completely different. Latin America has been plagued by a history of violence, corruption, and segregation. As a result numerous social, economical, cultural, and political divisions were created and many of these are still in existence today. To learn how these divisions came about and why they have persisted it is necessary to understand the context in which Latin America was established and why that plays such an important role in the rigidity of class structures throughout the area today.
On the eve of the Spanish conquest, Iberia was recovering from an 800-year war with the Moors in Spain known as the Reconquest (Martin, 63). Politically, the nation was ruled through an absolute monarchy, headed at the time by Queen Isabella. For centuries there had been a strong class structure among the people of Spain, with the noble elites, clergy and honored knights known as
sitting in the highest ranked positions and commoners, Jews and Moors at the bottom of the hierarchy (Burkholder, 19). Commoners were often repressed and mistreated while Jews and Moors were expelled entirely from the country. Soldiers who successfully accomplished these tasks were often granted land, wealth and privilege as reward, instilling a strong sense of entitlement (Burkholder, 20). The principle of
limpieza de sangre
, or pure blood, warranted the expulsion of any non-white, non-Spanish person from Spain. This principle, along with the attitudes of entitlement among the more honored soldiers, was carried over into the New World and used as a means to subjugate the indigenous population (Richard, 246). When Christopher Columbus and his troops set off across the ocean they brought these attitudes and ideals with them, for it was all they had known and experienced back in Spain.
The indigenous populations inhabiting the Americas prior to the conquest were, for the most part, developing strong, complex societies. The majority of information known about these peoples has been derived primarily from architectural findings throughout the region due to a lack of written records (Bannon, 3). Evidence suggests that many of the various civilizations in existence at that time were either large states or empires with monumental architecture, which would require a large working class, specialized artisans, and a powerful leader to organize these social structures. Many leaders were educated, well respected men with military prowess and religious affiliations (Bannon, 5). In order for complex societies like these to function, there had to have been precise social organization and therefore strong divisions among classes. Clear boundaries existed between those who produced goods and materials and those who the goods were being produced for – a distinction that is recognized throughout the conquest period and beyond (Martin, 49). If societies were structured in this manner, then the indigenous of Latin America would have experienced class division and social structuring long before the Spanish conquest. It is unknown however, how strictly these class boundaries might have been regulated. Were lower classes abused and shunned or were they somewhat valued for the services they could offer to the empire and thus more integrated into the social structure? Either way, it is clear that once the Spanish arrived everything would change.
The conquistadors most likely did not venture overseas with the single intention of subjugating the indigenous, but rather to extract mineral wealth, secure land for the crown, and spread Christianity (Burkholder, 25). However, once they began interacting with the natives their focus quickly shifted and indigenous populations became a source of free labour and slavery (Todorov, 47). Ideas and attitudes originating in Spain were quickly applied in the New World, including the concept of limpieza de sangre. Almost immediately a social structure was developed with conquistadors and clergy members at the top and indigenous at the very bottom. With this higher status, came privilege. Large tracts of land and wealth were granted to many conquistadors in the same manner land was given as reward to successful soldiers back in Spain. This gift of land was often accompanied by a number of native slaves in the form of
, the perfectly legal ownership of said slaves, provided they are well protected and converted to Christianity (though these conditions were rarely, if ever met) (Andrien, 1). These encomiendas ultimately created the divisions between labourers and land owning elites – a trend that continued in some areas of Latin America late into the 19th century (Stavenhagen, 3).
As more land and wealth was discovered and subsequently claimed by the Spanish, a strong division between the royal elite, born of Spanish blood in Spain and known as the
, who governed the new colonies and those of Spanish blood who were born in the New World who claimed equal entitlement, the
(Bannon, 38). These two groups remained in a struggle for power until early independence, when the Criollos finally defeated the Peninsulares (Hillman, 63). The Criollos, Peninsulares, and indigenous were among the very first social classes organized within the New World.
however, were by far the most numerous class. The Mestizos were the offspring of mixed European and indigenous lineage. Many conquistadors and soldiers came to the New World without wives and often took a wife among the native women, leading to an influx of mixed race children, particularly in areas of high European settlement (Bannon, 39). Because Mestizos were not of pure Spanish blood, they were automatically considered less significant and placed near the bottom of the social ladder, only slightly above the indigenous.
(the offspring of blacks and Europeans) also comprised a large percentage of the population, particularly in the Carribean where millions of African slaves were brought in for the slave trade (Hillman, 52).
Castizo, moriscos, zambiagos, cambujos, albarazados, barcinos, coyotes,
are just a few of the many terms given to the mixed races that slowly evolved from the original class structures of the colonial period in Latin America (Hillman, 246). The development of these numerous racial categories was unavoidable as immigration to Latin America swelled over the decades. Hundreds of thousands of Europeans were encouraged to immigrate to the region by governing bodies in an attempt to ‘whiten’ the existing indigenous population (Stavenhagen, 4). By the 20th century, the Mestizo populations had grown to a such a point that their desires and demands could no longer be ignored. They had quickly developed into a strong middle-class, particularly in Mexico, eventually wielding a fair amount of influence within the government. (Stavenhagen, 5)
The Mestizo influence soon found its way into politics and played a large role in the development of many countries’ newly appointed national identities. Creating a national ideal among citizens was a clever way for the more powerful people to re-establish, justify, and maintain further segregation of social classes. Two strong examples of this can be seen in Mexico’s shift in identity using
and the Dominican Republic’s adoption of
in the 1930’s. Indigenismo was an elite ideology designed to incorporate the unwavering indigenous population into Mexican society. In reality, it was a way for the Spanish and mestizo-based elite to justify the acculturation of the native population. The new ideal ‘cosmic race’ (a blending of the best of European and Indian blood) not only failed to incorporate the indigenous, but also excluded any person who was not of mixed race, including Europeans (Hillman, 252). When the Dominican Republic fell under control of dictator Rafael Trujillo, a strict policy of hispanidad (Spanishness) encompassed the nation. This philosophy sought to emphasize the desire for a strong “white” society deeply tied to a European past. Again, this actually served as a means to drive out any “blacks” from country. Due to a violent history with neighboring Haiti, the Dominican Republic had developed a hatred for the proudly African-rooted Haitians (Hillman, 239). Both hispanidad and indigenismo were used by the power-hungry elite to suppress and maintain prestige over the lower classes of society, classes that always seemed to reflect the physical, social, and cultural characteristics of an indigenous, or non-white, population.
The ties between class structures and race and ethnicity are prevalent throughout Latin America’s tumultuous past. For centuries, it was common for anyone who didn’t fit the ideal mold of white and Spanish to be considered less than worthy, in fact, it was expected. The development of such distinct class structures was simply a means by which the Spanish elite could justify eliminating any opposition to the conquest, and in later years the development of a nation and subsequently a national identity. Throughout history, clear divisions between those who produced goods and extracted wealth (primarily Indian slave labourers) and those who reaped the benefits (the Spanish elite) were maintained to secure power and control of economic sectors among the higher classes. This trend continues today with large, international manufacturers and farming operations that take advantage of cheap labour and resources. Politically, it was easier to sustain one’s influence over citizens who do not have the physical, emotional, financial, or material capabilities to rise up and revolt. And despite the many efforts made among Latin American nations to move away from these debilitating trends, a rigid class structure persists.
Hope for Lower Class in Bolivia?
Bolivia is a classic example of a Latin American country plagued by the rigid class structures developed in colonial times. The country has always had a strong but small elite ruling class that has consistently maintained a large division between native groups, particularly the Aymara and the rest of society. The new Bolivian president, Evo Morales has challenged this seemingly invincible system by installing a series of reforms that incorporate and even benefit the Aymara people. This video highlights the hope and support coming from lower class indigenous groups who can relate to Morales. The hope is that Morales will secure the support of the strong middle class and help change the way Bolivia classifies its citizens.
More at The Real News
Class Structure in Present Day Latin America:
Present day Latin American has evolved from the early day Latin America however, class structure and a structural hierarchy based on class still exists. Class structures based on race, and social standing that was developed in the past has been carried on into present day. The question asked is, why does this class structure in Latin America still exist, and why does it continue to persist? To answer these questions we must look at the class structure itself, and the different kinds of structures that exist.
Different Class Structures in Existence
The class structure varies from region to region; although we see Latin America as a whole, there are differences between countries involving class structure, social structure, social relations, and political systems. Countries such as Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay have about 30 to 40 percent middle classes (Wiarda & Kline, 56). These countries are also more economically developed and are considered to be more democratic. That being said, these countries suggest a relationship between democracy, development and the size of the middle class (Wiarda & Kline, 56). In contrast to those countries is the country Haiti. Haiti has a very small middle class and is one of the least democratic countries in Latin America. With this we see a relationship between how big the middle class is and the development and size of democracy of the country.
Other class and social structures that result in the rigidity of the class structure in Latin America is the ethnic and race class structu
A black woman selling fruit on the streets of Colombia in order to make a living
re. Countries that have more “ethnic integration” and more indigenous groups have a more difficult time pursuing economic development and democracy (Wiarda & Kline, 56). These countries include Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Guatemala and Peru. With more indigenous groups also creates an imbalance in the social structure. In some countries such as Colombia, black people are next accepted. If you have a drop of African blood, or are half black (
), you are put in at the bottom of the social hierarchy. An Indian person, also known as
, were also at the bottom. On the other hand, if you are pure Spanish, known as
, or appear to be white, then you are at the top of the social hierarchy. However, if you are a black person with a higher up job and a good education, you are an exception to this class structure. If there is other racial mixing present, such as Indian and Spanish (
), you were also looked down upon. Those who are not a
try to change the way they look in order to appear more Spanish or white. This created rigidity in the social class structure in some regions of Latin America. People were looked down upon because they did not have “racial purity” therefore they were racially discriminated against (Hillman, 247). This type of ethnic class structure is evident in Colombia.
Similar to ethnic and race class structure is the cultural class structure in Latin America. Countries that are most European in Character, such as Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, and Uruguay, are “among the most developed and the most democratic” countries (Wiarda & Kline, 57). It is known that in the historical past, white people and full Spanish people were higher up on the social hierarchy and this practice is still in progress in present day Latin America. This does imply that there is racial superiority but more so European institutional and historical background that allows for more development opportunities (Wiarda & Kline, 57). In countries that consist of
people, or known as “in-between countries”, they have developed economically and democratically but not as successfully as other countries have, and have had ethnic integration but have not become fully integrated (Wiarda & Kline, 57).
A look at the huge gap between the elites and the poor people
Another source of class differences comes from the gap between the rich people and the poor people. In Brazil, Colombia and Mexico the gaps between these two groups are amongst the widest in the world (Wiarda & Kline, 57). However, other countries also have problems with class, income and racial differences that are between the rich and the rest of the population (Wiarda & Kline, 57). Latin America has one of the highest income inequalities, and the gap continues to widen. For example, in Brazil 10% of the richest take 50.6% of the overall income while only 0.8% goes to the poorest 10%
. Mexico follows with the top 10% of the elite taking 42.2% of the income and 1.3% going to 10% of the poorest
. This huge inequality of income is a big obstacle in the way of development in Latin America.
Read full article
Why it still Exists, Persist, and how to Prevent it
We have to ask ourselves, why does this rigidity in the class structure still exist today? The different class structures all have their own contribution to the rigidity of the class structure in Latin America. They all play a role, and they all have their own importance and they still exist because of how important they are. For example, the income gap between the elites and the rest of the populations is very important regarding the class structure. The elites are at the top of the hierarchy and this has never changed. They are and were considered to be “the white, aristocratic, often haughty” (Wiarda & Kline, 58). Even though the elite have been having to compromise with the rising groups, the
, they are still at the top (Wiarda & Kline, 59). This has not changed ever since the past, and has only had slight changes in the present day. There is a high concentration of
within the poor people population. The people of indigenous and African descent are at a racial disadvantage because they do not have as many opportunities as the Spaniards do therefore creating lack of income. There is a variety of mixed people in Latin America, if they are continually given less opportunities making them poor, the income gap between the rich and the poor will only get bigger. It is obvious why this type of class structure still exists today. The Spaniards have to compromise more-so with the
or else the income gap will only continues to widen. Although people would like to make change, change is hard to actually make. It is hard to get away from the past and the elites because they have been at the top of the class structure for so long. It is also hard to get away from the racial barrier that contributes to the rigidity of the class structure. This contributes to why the class structure still exists today.
Another factor would be the ethnic and race class structure. This still exists today because people in different countries across Latin America are still being raciall
Afro-Colombians are concentrated mainly on the coast of Colombia - away from other Colombiams
y discriminated against because of their appearance, or phenotype, what they wear, and their genotype. In some countries, such as Haiti, black people are very proud of their skin color and are proud to be black people, while other countries, such as Colombia, people are proud to be
, and are proud because they look white. They idolize the western look and are proud to look that way. White people in the past were at the top of the class structure, while Spaniards, or
, had more social status (Hillman, 257). This still holds true in present day Latin America, however not in all countries. There has to be“conformity to whiteness” and this confirmed the social status of racial and ethnic groups besides Spaniards and white people (Hillman, 257).
came second, and black slaves were at the bottom. This still exists in some Latin American countries today, therefore furthering the rigidity of the class structure. In some countries such as Colombia, black people,also known as Afro-Colombians, are highly disregarded and their contribution to Latin American history is disregarded as well
. Those who disregard the black people ignore that there is a problem and the problem it is creating within the class structure, and are therefore furthering the problem; they have no interest in improving the situation. With this in play, it is obvious that there is rigidity in the class structure, because there have been only slight changes from the past to present day. People are still racially discriminating, and are still looking up to the white people. The white people are still at the top of the class structure, and anyone with color was below them. Therefore, rigidity of the class structure still exists. It is more difficult to further economic development and democracy if there is this racial barrier. It will only continue to persist if people continue to place people of different race and ethnicities into a class structure itself.
The rigidity of the class structure also exists and persists because of the size of the middle class in different regions. As mentioned earlier, the size of the middle class contributes to how the economy and democracy develop. If the middle class is larger than the economy will be more developed and the democracy will be larger, however, if the middle class is not as developed, than neither will the economy nor democracy. Although the middle class is not as high up on the hierarchy as the elite are, they are still larger and have influence the class structure greatly. The middle class are involved in key groups such as small- and medium-sized business, university student bodies, trade union and political party leadership, the church hierarchy, military officer corps and the bureaucracy (Wiarda & Kline, 60). Since this group is so large, it is important to note that this group has significant influence on stability. They see democracy as the best way to “maintain that stability and no longer prefers military authoritarianism” (Wiarda & Kline, 60). The middle class support the rule of law, democracy and constitutionalism (Wiarda & Kline, 60). With a bigger middle class there will be more support for democracy, stability and development resulting in a more stable country itself; the rigidity of social and class structure will not be as persistent. On the other hand, countries that have bigger elite groups, more poor people, and a smaller middle class will further the rigidity of class structure.
Another contributing factor as to why the rigidity of the class structure still exists and persists is because, as mentioned earlier, the lac
The house of a poor family in Latin America and a child who is influenced by this style of living
k of opportunities for the poor people. Poor people are usually unable to attend school because they simply cannot afford to do so. With some countries having the opportunities to provide a good education and others providing inadequate or if any education at all, this may be most destructive to development. Without an adequate education for the poorer people in Latin America, there are fewer opportunities for jobs resulting in low income. Families often find it hard to provide for their families because of this problem. About 44% of Latin American people live off of only 2 dollars a day, where over half of those people are children
. Not only that but the schools that poor people can attend have low quality teachers, and they tend to have low academic grades
.With that, the poor people are near the bottom of the social and class structure because of their limited opportunities and resources.
Similar to that, education in some Latin American countries is not even adequate, and does not provide good education even in countries where there is a higher middle
Adults in Latin America have lower education compared to adults in the United States
class. There is a high drop-out rate in Latin America: 92% of the children attend primary school, however only about 32% continue on to secondary school and “fewer ultimately graduate”
. In Mexico research was done that concluded that only 13% of adults receive a high school diploma compared to 87% of American adults
. Also, Latin America does not even spend that much money on education, especially elementary education. More of the spending goes to the universities, even though the amount of people who attend university is very low
. More of the spending should be made towards primary education because that is where the children start, and where more of them are attending school. Also, because of the gang problems, child labor, abuse and other social problems, people are not attending school. With that being said, it is clear how education has a big role regarding why the rigidity of the class structure still exists and persists today. With the education being so limited to poor people, and the drop-out rates being considerably high, the rigidity of the class structure can only persist. If people are not attending school and receiving an education, they will have fewer job opportunities as mentioned earlier. This will result in a widening of the income gap between the poor people and the elites, therefore furthering the rigidity of the class structure even more.
Read full article on education in Latin America
This video is a fine example of how black people are treated in certain countries in Latin America. The video represents how black people are represented in Latin America, and the discrete racism that is aimed at the black population in Brazil.
Situations Where Rigidity in Class Structure Currently Occurs:
In the following article it discusses how most of Mexico does not really realize how discriminative the area is. Most people are so use to the rigidity in class structure that they don’t realize the severity of the situation. The media in Mexico even hides the fact that there are other races in the city as it is predominately white people in the advertisements and commercials. Even though the cultural diversity is very much a part of the area the indigenous people are still looked at as second class. Throughout history and even today the indigenous people as well as the Afro-Americans are dismissed for their race, religion, language and culture. This inequality is even evident within services the most basic services will not be done for them in Mexico as they are seen as a lower class. But if you ask someone if there is discrimination in the country many will say there is not as this is the norm in many people’s eyes.
READ THE ARTICLE!
In the following report it explains how class structure is shifting and that there is an opportunity for people in a lower class to improve their lives to middle class. However, the situation of in equality is still evident in Brazil. The poor are not even visible to those of middle and upper class. It is not described as racist by the people of Brazil but rather seen as social discrimination on the basis of skin color. To generalize that anyone of a darker skin color is economically and socially disadvantaged. Employers instead of hiring based on education will often hire based on gender and race (Farlex). In 2001 the unemployment level among black men in Brazil was 10.6% 2.5 percentage points higher than the umemployment rate of white Brazilians. It is even worse for black women where the unemployment rate for them is 13.8% (Farlex). So despite the mixing of ethnicities there is a division amongst class.
READ THE ARTICLE!
In this executive summary it explains how Argentina sees itself as a melting pot of ethnicities. However the country also thinks that their population is mainly white. In truth that is not the case for the country, as there are many races within Argentina. The problem is as Argentina sees itself as a melting pot but it also has this perception that it is predominately white. The government and the justice system have made movements to have equality but there is still racial discrimination towards Afro-Argentines, Mestizo Argentines, Jews and Arabs. Indigenous Argentine people deal with the conflict of not being accepted for their culture, linguistics, land rights and bilingual education. They are looked down upon and are often not given a chance in the work force unless it is a service position causing the large class structure separation between lower class and upper class. Many of the Argentines of mestizo, indigenous and African ancestry are seen as foreigners in Argentina. This is a huge issue as the government often blames the rise on crime on foreigners. This causes the upper class to look down on the minorities even more. Although there have been new amendments put in place to eliminate racial discrimination it still is quite evident in the area
READ THE SUMMARY!
In this report and many others it explains how educational opportunities for those in the lower class are non-existent for those in Belize. Children that attended school from lower class often lack the grades and the financial resources to further their education. Also if you look into the remote rural Mayan community schools you can see there is nothing. Sometimes not even chalk, or a broom in the class rooms. Many of the people that are in the lower class are Caribs, East Indians, Chinese, Mestizos or are true Maya people. They often work the jobs of unskilled or semiskilled urban workers, subsistence farmers, agricultural labourers, or are unemployed. The upper class consists of local whites and light-skinned descendants of the nineteenth century Creole elite. Positions in the workforce for the upper class include commercial and financial enterprises, retail trade, local manufacturing, the state apparatus, and a little bit of export agriculture (Merrill). The laws of Belize are made to suit the lives of the upper class (Creole) and made in a biased format to benefit them and no one else. Making it very hard for anyone in the lower class to prosper or change their status in Belize.
READ THE REPORT!
In this material it discusses how the lower class in Jamaica came to be the lower class throughout history (E World). That lower class containing 78% black Jamaican’s. There is a lot of hate between white and black people of Jamaica, this causing a huge division between upper and lower classes socially and economically. Many terms are used in Jamaica to title skin tones such as Browning, Reds, Blacks, Coolie and Whitey (Atkinson). Some of the people in the lower classes of darker skin have even tried to lighten their skin to hopefully advance themselves economically. The upper class dominates Jamaica by controlling the government. Racial criteria still decides who influences economic and political power. There is such a high economical price as well, to pay in order for anyone to gain political power making it nearly impossible for the lower class to be involved politically. In Jamaica the lighter the skin tone the greater the benefits in the work place (Atkinson).
Around half of the population in El Salvador is below the national poverty line. Clean water is not accesible to forty-seven percent of the population. On top of that many can afford food and that is about it. Things such as clothes and medicine are unaffordable. The incomes of the wealthy compared to the income of the poor is so extreme in difference. Many families in El Salvador live in a situation of extreme poverty. El Salvador’s population is 97% Mestizo so the distinction between rich and poor is not completely on ethnic differences. However, those who have distinct indigenous features do have to deal with racial slander on a daily bases. The upper class or the wealthier people of El Salvador are a small minority. Many of them made their money from coffee and sugar. From there they have spread their wealth in to finance and trade.
It is an estimated 20 to 35% of the population is white in Cuba. The majority of Cubans are black or mulatto. The country has been headed by a white leader for half a century (Fidel Castro). Economists believe that many young rulers are mainly white even though the population is mainly black or mulatto. Black Cubans are disproportionately suffering and dealing with poverty. 34% of the black youth population and 24% for the Latino youth population deal with poverty every day (Hales). While 98% of the land is in the hands of white elite. Most blacks of Cuba are un-employed. 58% of white Cubans have this mentality that blacks are "less intelligent than whites" (Hales). Black Cubans have to wait for health care the longest, are pushed out of the better job positions and are five times more likely to be imprisoned. However, if you read in the following article you can see that there are steps being put forward to more acknowledgement of the Afro-Cuban community.
READ THE RELATED ARTICLE!
*All of these articles and write-ups are just to give you an idea of what most of Latin America deals with on a day to day basis.
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The Beginings of Class Structure in Latin America - (in order):
1) Osborne, John et al., Global Studies, N&N Publishing (adapted)
2) www.therealnews.com (
Situations Where Rigidity in Class Structure Occurs - (in order):
Class Structure in Present Day Latin America - (In order):
1) Retrieved March 29, 2010 from:
2) Retrieved March 28, 2010 from:
3) Retrieved March 28, 2010 from:
4) Retrieved March 30, 2010 from:
5) Retrieved March 29, 2010 from:
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