In this essay I describe some often ignored North American modes of perceiving Latin Americans; and I suggest that a change in these modes contributed to the Good Neighbor era (1933-1945). I do not presume to argue that shifting attitudes and perceptions should be seen as the principal factors in shaping the Good Neighbor policy. Anyone concerned with the primary determinants of that policy must turn to security and economic considerations. Still, an intellectual—and, really, a psychological—phenomenon of shifting perceptions and stereotypes among North Americans accounted for some of the enthusiasm with which they greeted what they took to be a new approach to Latin America.
In its central thrust this essay suggests that in hemispheric relations, seen from the north-of-the-Rio-Grande perspective, the United States stands generally for culture and Latin America for nature. Symbolizing the capitalist culture of the Yankees, shaped by their struggle to subdue wilderness and nature, has been the white male, often portrayed by Uncle Sam. In contrast, Latin America has been symbolized by Indians, blacks, women, children, and also the idle poor: people assumed to lack the capitalist urge constantly to tame, dominate, and uplift nature.