How complete was the social transformation of Mesoamerica and South America and how much of native traditions remained?

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Throughout the Americas, but especially the region known as Mesoamerica (more commonly referred to today as Central America), the legacy of European, primarily Spanish when the subject is confined to Central and South America, colonization was the destruction of Native American cultures and traditions.  While some traditions survived, the cultures of the Mayans of southern Mexico and Guatemala, Miskitu and Rama of Nicaragua, Mura and Piraha (and dozens of others) of Brazil, Incas of Peru, and many others all witnessed the decimation of their cultures.  There is no getting around the fact that the result of centuries of colonization and warfare waged against indigenous peoples has left many of them destitute and struggling to retain remnants of their ancient pasts.

Just as Manifest Destiny would eventually result in the subjugation of Native American tribes across North America, the arrival of the Spanish and Portuguese in Meso- and South America would result in the subjugation of hundreds of native tribes.  The civil wars that raged across Central America during the 1980s were characterized in no small part by the efforts of indigenous peoples to reassert themselves in the face of the cultural genocide to which they had been subjected by the heirs to the conquest of these regions centuries earlier.  In Nicaragua, for example, grievances among the Miskitu provided the moral basis for the guerrilla insurgency that would eventually topple the government there and establish in power the Sandinistas.  In southern Mexico, a high-profile insurgency waged by the native Mayan in the Chiapas region was grounded in historical grievances against the Iberian legacy that resulted from the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica.  The Zapatista Army of National Liberation that suddenly and dramatically emerged from the jungles in 1994 was a Mayan revolt against centuries of discrimination and subjugation at the hands of the descendants of the Spanish empire.  

Today, indigenous tribes throughout the Americas struggle to retain their identity in the face of institutionalized racism and discrimination.  Virtually all of these tribes have been marginalized in the countries in which they reside, yet they cling tenaciously to their native languages and customs.  The poverty and discrimination to which these peoples have been subjected has made their plight a cause of occasional militancy that served to raise awareness of their situations.  Their economic, social and spiritual well-being, however, remains dismal.  Occasionally, they experience political successes, as occurred in Bolivia with the 1997 election of Evo Morales, a member of that region's indigenous Aymara people.  Morales' victory was seen as a victory for all of Bolivia's economically-destitute indigenous peoples, and his tenure as president has met with consistent opposition from the wealthier classes comprised overwhelmingly of the descendants of European colonizers.

The transformation of Meso- and South America was virtually complete with the Spanish and Portuguese colonization of those regions.  Little of the ancient customs have survived centuries of attempts by the descendants of those colonizers to disenfranchise them.  In remote locations at the geographic and social fringes of these societies, though, the old ways do survive. Indigenous tribes continue to use their native languages and to practice their traditions.  It remains, however, an uphill battle for most.

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