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Dia de la Raza, Indigenous Day or Columbus Day: Why so many names?

Latin America, including Mexico, Central America, the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and most of South America, hold a diverse tapestry of cultures and histories that were shaped significantly by the Spanish conquest during the Age of Exploration. In this examination of the countries conquered by Spain, we will focus on the indigenous tribal groups that inhabited these lands before the Spanish arrival, the influence other cultures brought to these countries, and the relevance of Día de la Raza in lieu of Columbus Day for these multicultural communities.

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Dia de la Raza or Columbus Day?

The celebration of Columbus Day has long been a subject of debate due to the negative impact of colonization on indigenous populations. In response, several Latin American countries have officially replaced Columbus Day with "Día de la Raza" (Day of the Race) as a way to honor Hispanic diversity and to recognize the indigenous heritage intertwined with European influences. This shift reflects a growing awareness of the need to acknowledge the impact of colonization on indigenous populations and promote respect for their rights and cultures.

Unlike Columbus Day, which often focused on the European perspective, Día de la Raza embraces the entire spectrum of cultures that have contributed to the Americas. It acknowledges the complex history of the continent as an amalgamation of indigenous, European, African, and Asian influences.

For example, indigenous customs are present in the cuisine, in the dances and festivities, in the handicrafts and artifacts, in the music, and in the cultural and social manifestations of everyday life. Brazil’s indigenous people have a direct influence on how the cultural identity of the Brazilian people is formed. Habits such as walking barefoot, drinking and eating açaí, sleeping in hammocks, and fishing all come from indigenous culture.

Mexican cuisine has also inherited many habits and customs from indigenous culture, mixed with Spanish culture. Typical dishes such as Tortilla (the natives’ main food), Burrito, Nacho, Mixiote, Chilli and other foods primarily composed of corn, beans and chili are all of pre-Columbian origin. Africans also brought with them their own style of cooking and also their own herbs and spices. They altered Portuguese dishes in Brazil using their condiments.

In Bolivia, the famous “Bolivian flutes” and wind instruments are of indigenous descent, and the country’s folklore and carnivals have a direct connection to the legends and celebrations performed by native Bolivians. Although the main spoken language is Spanish, the indigenous languages of Aimara and Quíchua are commonly used, and another 34 indigenous languages are officially recognized.

The African influence to Latin America is very visible in the arts, cuisine and in religion. African influence is prominent in the music of Trinidad, as seen in soca's deep roots in African rhythms and drumming. Trinidad's Carnival, featuring soca music, draws from African and Afro-Caribbean traditions. Cuban salsa music is known for its fusion of African, Spanish, and other influences, with African-derived drumming and rhythmic patterns like clave at its core. The Dominican Republic's merengue genre also incorporates African influences, particularly in its rhythmic patterns and percussive elements rooted in the African diaspora of the Caribbean.

Even Religion has several indigenous influences. In Cuba, the mixing of Catholicism and African rituals formed a religion known as Santeria, while in Brazil similar religious traditions developed and are known by various names, including umbanda and candomble.

How is Día de la Raza celebrated in Latin America?

The tradition of Día de la Raza is celebrated across Latin America in various ways, emphasizing cultural diversity. Parades, cultural events, and exhibitions showcase the rich tapestry of Indigenous, European, African, and Asian influences that shape the region's identity. It is a day deeply rooted in Latin American history with the aim of unity, celebrating the unique blend of cultures that defines Latin America. Let’s take a deeper look.

Interesting Facts About Día de la Raza:

These countries carry a rich and complex history of indigenous cultures, immigrant cultures and Spanish colonization, which are the foundation of why Día de la Raza is celebrated. While the impact of colonization was often devastating, the legacy of some of these communities endures, fostering a deep sense of identity and resilience. The celebration of Día de la Raza reflects a growing awareness of the importance of cultural diversity and respect for indigenous heritage, and represents a positive step toward honoring and acknowledging the value and variety of cultures that have contributed to the vibrant and diverse history of these regions.

Día de la Raza promotes understanding, unity, and respect for the many races and cultures that make up Latin America, and also acknowledges the ongoing struggles of indigenous peoples. It serves as a reminder of the need for continued efforts to protect the rights and promote the well-being of indigenous communities, as well as to learn from the past as we move forward in the spirit of inclusivity and appreciation for our shared heritage.

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