This flow of immigrants from Spain was never large, and Spanish settlers were always a tiny minority in a colonial society numerically dominated by Meridians and rapidly growing populations of Africans, creoles (whites born in America to European parents), and people of mixed ancestry. The most powerful conquistadors and early settlers sought to create a hereditary social and political class comparable to the European nobility. But their systematic abuse of Meridian communities and the catastrophic effects of the epidemics of the sixteenth century undermined their control of colonial society.
With the passage of time colonial officials, the clergy, and the richest merchants came to dominate the social hierarchy. Europeans controlled the highest levels of the church and government as well as commerce, while wealthy American-born creoles exercised a similar role in colonial agriculture and mining. Although tensions between Spaniards and creoles were inevitable, most elite families included both groups. Before the Europeans arrived in the Americas, the native peoples were members of a large number of distinct cultural and linguistic groups.
The effects of conquest and epidemics undermined this rich social and cultural implement, and the relocation of Meridian peoples to promote conversion or provide labor further eroded ethnic boundaries among native peoples. Application of the racial label Indian by colonial administrators and settlers helped organize the tribute and labor demands imposed on native peoples, but it also registered the cultural costs Of colonial rule… With the opening of a direct slave trade with Africa, the cultural character of the black population of colonial Latin America was altered dramatically.
While Afro-Iberian spoke Spanish or Portuguese and were Catholic, African slaves arrived in the colonies with different languages, religious beliefs, and cultural practices. European settlers viewed these differences as signs of inferiority that served as justification for prejudice and discrimination. ” – The Earth and Its peoples 1 – How did race affect class hierarchy in colonial Latin America?