What Is Latin America?

Arts and Media November 2021 PREMIUM
Latin America identifies a vast region that straddles two continents - all of South America and part of North America.

Latin America identifies a vast region that straddles two continents - all of South America and part of North America. Thus, it encompasses four ecologically diverse geographical regions (Mesoamerica, the Caribbean, the Andean Region and the Southern Cone), and has a population of more than 600 million people.

According to a strict definition of Latin America as countries that speak Romance languages and had an Iberic or French colonial experience, 20 are included: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Haiti.

However, according to the United Nations, the World Bank and other global and regional organizations, Latin America and the Caribbean are grouped together into a single region that encompasses all countries and dependencies located in this geographic area (33 in total). This includes countries where the predominant cultural influence is not “Latin”, but rather English or Dutch: Suriname, Guyana, and countries of the Anglo Caribbean (also known as the West Indies – Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and various smaller islands). This is because many of these countries were initially Spanish or French colonies and have some degree of “Latin” cultural influences in their past. In addition, the fact that they are geographically located amid the Spanish and Francophone Caribbean means that they share many of the contemporary issues of the rest of the region.

Latin America is the only widely used designation that defines a region of the world in terms of its common cultural background – a shared historical experience and a shared linguistic and cultural heritage - rather than merely its geographic location.

Latin America can also be viewed as a concept, an idea that has evolved over time from its origins in the XIX century as an ethnically exclusive term (referring to European-origin elites) to a more inclusive term in the XX century, when it has been used by various political regimes to signify a common and rich mestizo heritage (the mixing of races and ethnicities). Some would argue that it has evolved even further to become a flexible identity marker that blurs the traditional boundaries between Anglo America and Latin America, since the United States is now the second-largest Spanish speaking country in the world and it includes a growing population of “Latino/x Americans”. 

Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, “History of Latin America”,

Michel Gobat, “The Invention of Latin America: A Transnational History of Anti-Imperialism, Democracy and Race” The American Historical Review, Volume 118, Issue 5, December 2013, Pages 1345–1375,

UNEP, Our Work in Latin America and the Caribbean,

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