Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
The issue of race and its relation to socioeconomic status and mobility among Latinos in the United States has become an issue of importance among academics from different disciplines. Yet, the concept of race within Latin American and Caribbean cultures, in the region and among their foreign- and domestic-born populations in the United States, is entirely different. Racial conceptualizations in the United States have historically been bifurcated into the extremes of black and white; however, race perceptions within Latin America and the Caribbean have been extraordinarily more complex because of the extensiveness of race mixture.
First and foremost, there never has been a finite, absolute, or static definition of race within Latin America and the Caribbean from the onset of Spanish and Portuguese colonization in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Europeans, of white ancestry, brought free and enslaved Africans to the Americas from the first voyages of discovery initiated by Columbus in the 1490s. Whether white or of African origin, free or slave, they all interacted extensively with indigenous women voluntarily or through the use of force, and this began the construction of complex multiracial societies whose characteristics evolved in distinctive rhythms over time and by geographical region.