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Colombia is a country that has over the past two centuries defined itself as a mestizo nation, but almost no one identifies as mestizo. During the colonial period (16th to 18th centuries), an early modern epistemology of race different from our own was founded in the notion of an ever-changing human body and on a society whose members were only in certain contexts classified by race, fostering fluid taxonomies that cannot be adequately represented by the canonical triad of “white,” “black,” and “Indigenous,” and their admixtures. If, in the 19th century, “scientific” notions of race spread across the globe, this racial discourse took particular forms in each location. In Colombia, racial categories were adjusted to mark geographic, as opposed to individual, diversity. Regions of the nascent Colombia were defined by their “whiteness” or their “blackness,” in a civilizing discourse that attempted to erase but at the same time maintain social hierarchies. This redrawing of racial taxonomies had at its center the goal, for the Andean heartlands at least, of a progressive movement toward whiteness.

Article

The population of African descent in Brazil has always maintained vibrant associative communities, whether in the form of mutual aid societies, confraternities, and religious brotherhoods that existed since the time of slavery or in the form of other voluntary associations that appeared later, such as recreational societies, civic centers, literary guilds, musical groups, carnival blocos, and the black press. For Afro-Brazilians, the associative experience throughout the 20th century contributed to a sense of group belonging and a consciousness of a shared identity and experience of racial discrimination. Furthermore, these relationships enabled Afro-Brazilians to begin claiming rights as citizens, protesting against what afflicted them as a community. These joint efforts fueled collective acts of resistance and self-determination that, while evident for centuries, acquired new meanings and manifestations following the abolition of slavery in 1888. Black associations did not limit themselves to denouncing problems or detecting their causes and consequences. They tried to point out ways to overcome them by proposing several solutions: the moral elevation of Afro-Brazilians, which implied a preoccupation with their image in the various sectors where they acted; improving their educational and instructional level; valorizing their race and, by extension, black identity; and emphasizing the need to react to injustices, and even to act politically. However, the main solution was the union of black Brazilians, a sine qua non for this segment of the population to strengthen and thus be able to claim and gain space in society, improve living conditions, and even overcome persistent challenges. Understanding the history of black associative life in Brazil during the 20th century is necessary in order to grasp the struggles and challenges Afro-Brazilians have faced around common interests, particularly since these collective actions are an integral part of the black experience and, in some respects, overlap with it.

Article

The India Bonita Pageant of 1921 marked a critical moment in Mexico’s revolutionary identity formation. This serialized pageant hosted by the Mexico City newspaper, El Universal, also played a major role in the formulation of indigenous “authenticity,” as defined by race, material culture, gender, and sexuality. The aims of the pageant were at least superficially focused on celebrating indigenous peoples, but it ultimately narrowed popular understandings of what it meant to be indigenous through its focus on select visual markers of indigeneity. It thereby discursively erased portions of the indigenous population that did not conform to these parameters. The pageant also played into broader efforts to solve the so-called Indian Problem by situating ideal indigeneity in the rural past, favoring Aztec heritage over other indigenous identities, and positioning Mestizos as the race of the future. Ultimately, this attempt at indigenous inclusion was part of broader revolutionary identity projects that sought to isolate and erase one problematic part of the population under the guise of celebrating it.

Article

Despite moral criticism of the institution of slavery from the second half of the 18th century, slavery, racism, and liberalism would be mutually defined throughout the 19th century. The slave economy in the Americas grew in the 19th century as a result of the expansion of the world market, sustained by constitutional states, including two national ones: the Brazilian Empire, a constitutional monarchy, and the United States, a republic. In these national states, representative systems would shape the legitimacy of the institution of slavery, relating the adoption of citizenship rights to processes of racialization. In Brazil’s late colonial period, more than one-half of the free population was defined as “black” or “brown,” and manumission rates were as high as 1 percent per year. Under Portuguese colonial rule, this population of color was denied access to public offices and ecclesiastical positions, but allowed to own slaves. The rallying cry of “equality for people of all colors” served as a cornerstone of popular nationalism in the liberal uprisings of the late Brazilian colonial period. Popular liberalism also called for the passage of laws that would recognize the Brazilian-born sons and daughters of enslaved people as free persons. After independence, the Brazilian Empire experienced more than twenty years of political struggles and localized civil wars around the construction of representative political institutions. The Brazilian coffee production boom inaugurated in 1830, allowed the consolidation of the monarchical order in Brazil with the rise to power of a conservative party, the Party of Order, in 1837. From 1837 to 1853, this conservative party consolidated a slave-based national identity. During these years of conservative pro-slavery leadership, political strategies to legitimate the continuation of the Atlantic slave trade were developed and illegal enslavement was tolerated and even encouraged. Liberalism, race, and slavery shaped the history of the Atlantic world in a very interconnected way. Despite the non-race-based legitimation of slavery in a Catholic and constitutional monarchy, race was a central issue in 19th-century monarchical Brazil. Slavery was legitimated as a historical institution in the Brazilian Constitution of 1824 in the right to own property. The same constitution guaranteed civil rights to the freedmen born in the country and their descendants, denying, however, Brazilian citizenship for free Africans and political citizenship to former slaves born in Brazil. Eventually, after the end of the transatlantic slave trade in 1850, the state bureaucracy adopted a norm of racial silence for the free population, racializing slave experience and reinforcing the precariousness of freedom of the Brazilian citizens of African descent. These practices shaped crucial aspects of structural racism still present in 21st-century Brazilian society.

Article

Alexandra Minna Stern

Eugenics emerged in Latin America in the early 20th century on the intellectual foundations of 19th-century social Darwinism and positivism, and expanded in contexts influenced by Catholicism, nationalism, and transnational scientific exchange. Although the extent and objectives of eugenic policies, practices, and organizations varied across the region, Latin American eugenicists tended to subscribe to neo-Lamarckian principles of environmental modification, foreground puericulture or infant and maternal care, and support new techniques of human measurement associated with biotypology. Overall, eugenics in Latin America was less extreme than in Anglo and Nordic countries, rarely resulting in sanctioned policies of compulsory sterilization or euthanasia. It was an integral component of programs designed to combat infectious ailments, especially sexually transmitted diseases, and to ameliorate national health indicators. This overlap meant that eugenics sometimes was less visible as a stand-alone movement, and that its tenets were absorbed with little friction into public health and social welfare infrastructures and campaigns. At the same time, eugenic racism was expressed in calls for immigration restriction that reverberated across Latin America, most notably in the 1910s and 1920s. In retrospect, eugenics in Latin America contributed both to exclusionary policies that stigmatized certain social groups and to overarching campaigns for health and wellness that were backed by a diverse political spectrum that could include feminists, Socialists, and military leaders.

Article

Although on a lesser scale than the United States, southern South America became a major receiving region during the period of mass transatlantic migration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even as the white elites of most Latin American countries favored European immigration in the late 19th century, since in their eyes it would “civilize” their countries, it was the temperate areas closely tied into the Atlantic economy as exporters of primary products that received the bulk of European laborers. Previously scarcely populated lands like Argentina, Uruguay, and southern Brazil thus witnessed massive population growth and in some ways turned into societies resembling those of other immigration countries, such as the United States and Canada. This article concentrates on lands where the overwhelming majority of migrants headed, although it also briefly deals with Latin American nations that received significantly fewer newcomers, such as Mexico. This mass migration lastingly modified identity narratives within Latin America. First, as the majority of Europeans headed to sparsely populated former colonial peripheries that promised economic betterment, migration shifted prevalent notions about the region’s racial composition. The former colonial heartlands of Mexico, Peru, and northeastern Brazil were increasingly regarded as nonwhite, poor, and “backward,” whereas coastal Argentina, São Paulo, and Costa Rica were associated with whiteness, wealth, and “progress.” Second, mass migration was capable of both solidifying and challenging notions of national identity. Rather than crossing over well-established and undisputed boundaries of national identities and territories, migration thus contributed decisively to making them.

Article

Color and race are important references for assessing the privileges and barriers that sustained or impeded the social ascension of New Christians, Africans, Indians, and mestiços in the Portuguese world. Questions of race and color had profound links with the Catholic faith and with social exclusion, especially of Afro-descendants. The ideas of race and racism are not static, but were forged over time. Initially, they were strongly influenced by Catholicism and later were incorporated into the scientific knowledge of the 18th and 19th centuries. Therefore, the terms “race” and “racism,” based on 19th-century biological determinism, are not suitable for discussing social relations in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Article

Marcos Chor Maio, Robert Wegner, and Vanderlei Sebastião de Souza

Race is a fundamental theme in the sciences and social thought of 20th-century Brazil. The republican regime, inaugurated in the country in 1889, was already born troubled by questions concerning the viability of the nation, which, from the viewpoint of European scientific theories on race, was doomed to fail due to the high contingent of black and indigenous people, and its racial mixture. The solution proposed by the country’s scientific and political elites was characteristically the theory of whitening, which, without breaking completely from scientific racism, established its own path for nation building. The 1910s were marked by the growth of the sanitarist movement led by the medical elite, the country’s leading scientific community at the time, which shifted the explanation for the country’s ills from its racial constitution to parasitic diseases. The eugenics movement emerged in Brazil closely connected to the sanitarist movement and was dominated in the 1920s by a Lamarckian conception of heredity, seeking to improve the “Brazilian race” through social medicine. This eugenics framework did not signify the absence of more racial interventionist proposals, however, such as the sterilization of the “unfit” and immigration restrictions. The latter proposition acquired the force of law under the 1934 Constitution and was maintained under the 1937 Constitution, which lasted throughout the Estado Novo. Nevertheless, the first Vargas government (1930–1945) invested in strengthening the image of a country with harmonious race relations and the identity of the Brazilian as miscegenated, an idea sustained by the social thought and intellectual production of the period. Following the end of the Estado Novo dictatorship and the Second World War, Brazil became a field for research on race relations promoted by UNESCO. The project’s starting point was the notion that the country could provide an example of harmonious race relations for a world traumatized by war and the Holocaust. The research findings, though, pointed to the existence of racial prejudice and discrimination. From the 1950s, research in the social sciences and the black movement deepened the investigation and the denunciation of racial inequalities in Brazil. Concurrently, research in the genetics of human populations insisted that the Brazilian population was characterized by racial mixture and biological diversity. After the 1970s, during the military dictatorship still, the black movement emphasized negritude as an identity and denounced racial democracy as a myth that concealed inequality. In this context, the sociology of race relations began to affirm race as one of the determinant variables of class structure in Brazil. In the 1990s, some sectors of the black movement and the social sciences asserted that antiracism should strengthen race as an identity and the black/white polarization. At the same time, in dialogue with the tradition of social thought and with modern research on the human genome, other intellectuals highlighted miscegenation as characteristic of the Brazilian population and advanced the need to combat prejudice and discrimination. The clashes of the 20th century eventually resulted in affirmative actions and quota policies being implemented by the Brazilian government from the 2000s.

Article

At the beginning of the 19th century, Colombian physicians thought of food as an essential factor in shaping human character and corporeality. Framed in a neo-Hippocratic system, health and racial differences were related not only to climate but also to the connection between food qualities and humoral fluids. For example, it was believed that the tendency to eat cold and moist food, as well as greasy substances, was one of the reasons why people in warm regions of Colombia were choleric, phlegmatic, and indolent. By midcentury, it was further argued that each regional type—a local racialized categorization based on geographic determinism—had certain diet habits and physiological characteristics that explained its character (sober, obedient, lazy, industrious, etc.), and that made this type “naturally” suitable for different kinds of work. During this period, the working population’s diet was not perceived to be a social problem requiring regulation, at least not by the government. In the midst of liberal reforms, the political elites were more focused on the economic and genetic integration (“whitening”) of highland Indians, and to a lesser extent blacks, than on producing a supposed “better race” through nourishment. But by the late 19th and the early 20th centuries, however, a new cultural framework that crossed the boundaries of thermodynamics, political economy, experimental physiology, and eugenics had begun to emerge in Colombia, converging in the social problem of nutrition. Centered on the analogy of the human body as a heat engine that transforms energy, local scientists began to conduct surveys of the eating habits of the “working classes,” analyses of the chemical and caloric composition of their foods, and studies on the metabolic characteristics of different regional populations. The results of these investigations were used to push the government to “restore the energies” of an impoverished population that was consistently thought to be weak and racially inferior, but capable of physiological and hereditable improvement. The cry of conservative elites for political and moral “regeneration” at the turn of the century also had a biological component—the optimization of the human motor. In the 1920s and 1930s, several campaigns and institutions were created for this social engineering, aimed at producing a modern, healthy, and industrious citizen. These campaigns gained special political force after the Liberal Party returned to power in 1930.

Article

Forming and encouraging families in Jamaica was a struggle from the very beginning of English colonization there, making Caribbean households transatlantic in nature. The explosion of plantation slavery in the 17th century prioritized economic expansion over white family cultivation. Likewise, planters were more concerned with profits than they were with enslaved families. Constant migration from Europe and Africa was therefore needed to keep populations stable for the whole history of slavery in Jamaica. The island’s demographic and political security was always tenuous as a result of this, and officials attempted numerous strategies to encourage family growth, among both the free and enslaved communities. As the island transitioned to freedom, regulating the definition of “proper” families became a weapon from which English authorities wielded imperial power. Racist sentimental toward Caribbean households created social tension when thousands of black Jamaicans emigrated to Britain after the Second World War. Their arrival produced new British households that challenged some British conceptions of domestic family life. Throughout this whole history, migration defined the growth and character of families in the Jamaican-British Atlantic World.

Article

The Online Finding Aid for the Archivo General de Centro América will provide increased ways for researchers to identify documents of interest in a widely distributed microfilm copy of this primary resource for the history of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Chiapas (Mexico). The original archive, located in Guatemala, houses approximately 147,000 registered document collections from the colonial period, ranging in date from the 16th century to independence from Spain in 1821. The microfilm copy, composed of almost 4,000 reels of microfilm, is organized according to basic keywords designating the original province in colonial Guatemala, a year, and a subject-matter keyword. Also associated in the basic records of the finding aid (which are already available online) are the reference number assigned each document in the original archive, and the specific reel(s) on which it is found. With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, enhanced records are being created for documents dating between 1700 and 1821 identified as associated with Guatemala, the administrative heart of the colony, for which there are no published indices. Enhanced records add names of people and places not recorded in the original record, opening up the microfilm collection, and through it, the original archive, to broader social history including studies of the roles of women, indigenous people, and African-descendant people.

Article

Set within a larger analysis of class relations in the Haitian Revolution, this is a microhistory that intersects with several important themes in the revolution: rumor, atrocity, the arming of slaves, race relations, and the origins and wealth of the free colored population. It is an empirical investigation of an obscure rebellion by free men of color in the Grande Anse region in 1791. Although the rebellion is obscure, it is associated with an atrocity story that has long resonated in discussion of the revolution. Formerly the least-known segment of Caribbean society, research has shed much new light on free people of color in recent decades, but much remains to be clarified. In certain ways, they are the key to understanding the Haitian Revolution, because of their anomalous position in Saint Domingue society and the way their activism precipitated its unraveling. The Grande Anse region had a unique experience of the revolution in that white supremacy and slavery were maintained there longer than in any other part of the colony. Based primarily on unexploited or little-known sources the article demonstrates the range and depth of research that remains possible and suggests that a regional focus is best way to advance current scholarship on the Haitian Revolution.

Article

The lives of Latin American Japanese were disrupted during World War II, when their civil and human rights were suspended. National security and continental defense were the main reasons given by the American countries consenting to their uprooting. More than 2,000 ethnic Japanese from Peru, Panama, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, and Nicaragua were transferred as “illegal aliens” to internment camps in the United States. Initially, US and Latin American agencies arrested and deported male ethnic Japanese, regardless of their citizenship status. During the second stage, women and children joined their relatives in the United States. Most forced migration originated in Peru. Brazil and Mexico established similar displacement programs, ordering the population of Japanese descent to leave the coastal zones, and in the case of Mexico the border areas. In both countries, ethnic Japanese were under strict monitoring and lost property, employment, and family and friend relationships, losses that affected their health and the opportunity to support themselves in many cases. Latin American Japanese in the United States remained in camps operated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the army for the duration of the war and were among the last internees leaving the detention facilities, in 1946. At the conclusion of World War II, the Latin American countries that had agreed to the expulsion of ethnic Japanese limited greatly their return. Some 800 internees were deported to Japan from the United States by the closure of the camps. Those who remained in North America were allowed to leave the camps to work in a fresh produce farm in Seabrook, New Jersey, without residency or citizenship rights. In 1952, immigration restrictions for former Latin American internees were lifted. Latin American governments have not apologized for the uprooting of the ethnic Japanese, while the US government has recognized it as a mistake. In 1988, the United States offered a symbolic compensation to all surviving victims of the internment camps in the amount of $20,000. In contrast, in 1991, Latin American Japanese survivors were granted only $5,000.

Article

Although the slave trade to Brazil did not end until 1850, and slavery itself lasted until 1888, the practice of freeing slaves had been common from the time of first colonization by the Portuguese in the 16th century, and the children of freed women were born free. The result was that, by the time of a national census in 1872, there were 4.25 million free blacks and mulattos in the country, accounting for over three quarters of all those of African descent and two fifths of Brazil’s total population. To understand the willingness of Brazilian slave owners to free so many one must first consider the general nature of Brazil’s social structure and the paradigms that ordered it. For most, society was not thought of as being made up of individuals equally protected in their rights and mobile in relationship to one another, but by castes, ranks, corporations, guilds, and brotherhoods, layered one atop another or arranged side by side. Almost everyone could feel superior to someone else, even if inferior to others. The nuanced distinctions of ranks somewhat restrained the threat to social order that free and freed blacks might otherwise have been thought to pose. “Free-and-equal” was not a phrase heard in Brazil. There is overwhelming evidence that race was an important variable affecting one’s position, and discrimination against blacks was widespread and constant. The government reinforced the prejudices of white Brazilians, acquiesced in maintaining a hierarchy based on color, and presented obstacles to the ambitions of free African Brazilians. Civil service positions were usually denied to them, regardless of their qualifications. Recruitment for the army was focused on the poor, that is, on African Brazilians. Yet, it is also true that many individuals found their way around those obstacles and rose to positions of some importance, for skin color was just one of the many characteristics to be considered. There are multiple examples of freeborn mulattos (and some freed and freeborn blacks) who succeeded in 19th-century Brazil. Some became doctors, pharmacists, journalists, and teachers. Others entered politics and rose to positions of real power. A few worked energetically to bring about the end of slavery.

Article

The relationship between historically specific ideas of race and national identity in Central America between the onset of Spanish colonialism in the region, in about 1500, and the end of the 20th century is very complicated. The relationship is rooted not only in the political economy of the region and subregions that were under Spanish colonialism, but also in Spain’s resistance to incursions of British colonialism in the area, particularly on the North Coast, well into the late 18th century, and in some areas of Central America into the 1850s. The nexus between the political economy of nation-state formation in the postcolonial setting deepened after break of the Federation of Central America in the late 1830s, especially after the rise of coffee and bananas as major regional exports. Independent governments in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica tried to impose “imagined political communities” over these exports that would be different from the colonial identities designed by the Spanish imperialism of the past. In this 20th century context, mestizaje, or ladinizaje, became state sanctioned; it promoted racialized national identities in each of these countries, mostly the idea of ethnicity, albeit with critical regional and subregional differences, particularly between Guatemala and Costa Rica. Historiographies that have been influenced by postmodern sensibilities, particularly critical race theory, the new cultural history, and subaltern studies, have influenced recent understanding of the political economy of race and nationality in Central America.

Article

In Argentina, tensions between the military and Indigenous People have been present since the formation of the nation-state in the late 19th century. During the so-called “Campañas al desierto” (Desert Campaigns), when the Argentine military occupied the northern and southern sovereign Indigenous territories, Indigenous Nations were seen as the main opponents to the military project of building a civilized nation. The confrontation between the military and Indigenous nations were seen as the main opponents to a civilized nation. Against analysis that regards relations between the military and Indigenous People as inherently violent, a new line in historiographical studies traces too the trajectories of Indigenous troops joining the military. The 19th-century relations between the military and Indigenous People were therefore more complex than an opposition between contrary nations. During the colonization of Indigenous lands in Pampa and Patagonia region to the south and in the Chaco region to the north west, Indigenous groups were both enemies and allies and necessary for the success of the nation-state’s advance. Within these alliances and relations of proximity, military officers produced a specific racialization of Indigenous bodies related to positive perceptions of them as strong and skillful soldiers. These sets of ideas, present in military memoirs in the 19th century, re-emerge in how Toba Indigenous men experience being racialized during the Mandatory Military Service in the mid- and late 20th century.

Article

War played a crucial role in the political and administrative development of colonial Brazil. The adoption of different government solutions, from the initial naval expeditions and proprietary captaincies to the establishment of a general government, were, in part, a response to the military challenges the Portuguese faced in the New World. In the 17th century, the leading municipalities in Brazil expanded their political prominence and reinforced their autonomy precisely when they assumed the commitment to feed the troops and pay for the army’s wages. War and military conflicts also played an important role in the formation of the colonial society in Brazil. There was a natural overlay between the hierarchical structure of the military institutions created in, or transplanted to, the colony and the hierarchical society the Portuguese established in America. The armed forces consolidated the social status of local elites; while they provided opportunities for the more marginalized groups of blacks, mixed-race, and Indians—active participants in the defense of Brazil from the outset—they also helped colonial administrators organize society along racial lines. Regulars, militias, ordenanças, and other military units filled different functions in the territory. They often took part in different military operations in a territory that was hardly suitable for large-scale operations, prolonged siege warfare, or coordinated deployment of mass infantry formations. In Brazil, similarly to other colonies in America, a distinct kind of warfare emerged, marked by a synthesis of European, Indian, and African military knowledges. It was called Guerra Brasílica, and it was both admired for its effectiveness and disparaged for not fitting nicely in traditional European military orthodoxies and for being undisciplined and supposedly “uncivilized.” The negative imageries attached to military campaigns in Brazil persisted in the minds of colonial administrators for a long time, underpinning the territory’s undeserving military status (when compared with India and North Africa)—a status that the colony seldom escaped.

Article

Japanese immigration to Brazil started in 1908 as a replacement for European immigrants to work for the state of São Paulo’s expanding coffee industry. It peaked in the late 1920s and early 1930s, in the face of growing anti-Japanese sentiment in Brazil. The Japanese migrated to Brazil in mandatory family units and formed their own agricultural settlements once they competed their colono labor contracts and became independent farmers. Under Getúlio Vargas’s nationalistic policies, a 1934 immigration law severely limited the entry of the Japanese. Strict legal restrictions were also imposed on them during Vargas’s Estado Novo (1937–1945). Japanese immigration was eventually terminated in 1942. Then the number of Japanese immigrants reached 188,986. At the end of the war, the Japanese were sharply divided among themselves over the defeat of Japan, and Sindō Renmei’s attacks on other Japanese factions terrified the nation of Brazil. Having given up their hope of returning to their homeland, the Japanese and their descendants began to migrate on a large scale to the cities, especially São Paulo City. Japanese immigration resumed in 1953 and peaked in 1959–1960. A total of 53,657 postwar immigrants, including many single adult men, arrived in Brazil before 1993. By 1980, the majority of Japanese Brazilians had joined the urban middle class, and many were already mixed racially. In the mid-1980s, Japanese Brazilians’ “return” labor migrations to Japan began on a large scale, due to Brazil’s troubled national economy. More than 310,000 Brazilian citizens were residing in Japan in June 2008, when the centenary of Japanese immigration was widely celebrated in Brazil. But the story does not end there: the global recession soon forced unemployed Brazilians and their Japanese-born children to return to Brazil.

Article

From the earliest days of Spanish and Portuguese colonial rule up until the late 19th century, banana cultivation in the Americas was carried out mostly by smallholders. That changed around 1880, when schooner captains based in Boston and New Orleans began to buy bananas in the Caribbean and sell them in the United States. In the geographically small countries of Central America, a couple of US-based banana companies have wielded enormous influence. The United Fruit Company (now known as Chiquita) acquired so much power in Guatemala and Honduras that it came to function as a state within a state, giving rise to the notion of “banana republics.” The company consolidated its power through various means: it installed authoritarian civilian and military governments that gave concessions to land, railroads, and ports; it divided its labor force along ethnic and racial lines; it built hospitals, schools, workers’ barracks, and houses for its management; and it used massive amounts of pesticides and herbicides in a capital intensive effort to cultivate varieties of the fruit that North American consumers came to expect but which were susceptible to Panama disease and Black Sigatoka. Bananas and plantains are a dietary staple throughout the tropics, and the diseases that beset the Gros Michel and Cavendish varieties that are grown on monocrop plantations threaten a vital source of healthy and relatively cheap calories that much of the world has come to rely upon. In recent years, consumers and civil society groups have organized to demand more socially and environmentally responsible bananas, creating organic and “fair trade” alternatives to conventional “free trade” bananas.

Article

Far from monolithic, the seven Central American countries—Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama—each have unique cultural traditions and historical trajectories. Their different geographies, while not deterministic in any facile manner, influenced their development in ways that continue to shape their national characteristics. The cataclysmic 16th-century Spanish Conquest introduced new peoples and cultural traditions to the region. African slaves, primarily from the sub-Saharan region, accompanied the first Spanish ventures, and, later, as the colonies consolidated and grew, peoples of African descent, both enslaved and free, became a part of the area’s economic and cultural landscape. Starting in the late 18th century, African peoples from the Caribbean—whether forcefully exiled or as a result of searching for economic opportunities—traveled to Central America. Despite a contemporary collective historical amnesia that imagines Africans isolated in specific regions, namely the Caribbean coast, peoples of African descent can be found throughout the Central American nations. Rather than addressing each country, a thematic approach that focuses on the Spanish Conquest, slavery, emancipation, the ethnogenesis of African connected cultures, the historical erasure of Africans, and the contributions of peoples of African descent helps to understand the complex ways that peoples of African descent have impacted the history of modern Central America. For far from isolated to small populations along the Caribbean, the African presence can be discerned throughout the region, even in places often perceived as entirely devoid of its influence.