Part 1: Roots, Chapter 1 Summary
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 814
Chapter 1: Conquerors and Victims: The Image of America Forms (1500–1800)
Gonzalez suggests that the differences between Latin American societies and Anglo American societies are, at least in part, the result of each group’s distinct colonial history. The fundamental differences of language, culture, customs, and political system in the European countries of Spain and Great Britain are responsible for the ways contemporary Latinos and Anglos seemingly clash. Furthermore, Gonzalez says that the Amerindian cultures predating European colonization also shaped societal development.
In the first subsection of the chapter, Gonzalez summarizes how notable Amerindian civilizations functioned prior to European colonization. Of these, the Central and South American civilizations were by far the most advanced, from the ancient Mayans and subsequent Aztecs in Mexico to the metropolitan Inca in the Andes. Contrary to modern assumptions, these civilizations were sophisticated, organized, and vast. For instance, Gonzalez notes that the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had a population of nearly 250,000 at the same time that London had only 50,000.
In contrast with these groups, North American civilizations were far more isolated and disproportionately developed. While powerful groups like the Iroquois Federation and the Pueblos mirrored some of the strengths of their South American counterparts, many North American Indian tribes lacked technological advancement and sociocultural unification.
In the next subsection, Gonzalez discusses how Spanish and British history and culture affected their respective colonial legacies. By the time Columbus made his transatlantic voyage in 1492, the European continent had only recently begun to recover from a series of plagues that wiped out large swaths of the population.
In Spain, the dominant influence of Catholicism and the unification of Spanish kingdoms to oust the Moors during La Reconquista prepared Spanish explorers to use military strategy in their conquest of America.
Unlike the unified Spain, Great Britain took nearly a century to establish its first settlement in America. Gonzalez attributes this to internal conflicts, including the War of the Roses and religious schisms sparked by the Reformation. Despite these conflicts, the British system of government was relatively egalitarian compared to the rest of Europe, including Spain.
Each nation’s unique characteristics impacted the way its American colonies were organized and the kinds of conflicts they faced.
In the subsequent sections of the chapter, Gonzalez explains that the Spanish colonizers believed that religious conversion of indigenous tribes was a fundamental goal from the beginning. As a result, Catholic monks settled in Spanish colonies throughout the Americas in hopes of spreading Christianity to what they perceived as an ignorant group who would be receptive. This religious mission coincided with the massive genocide that Spaniards carried out, most heavily so in Central America. The Spanish massacred, enslaved, and procreated with the indigenous peoples they conquered. Gonzalez explains that this contradictory treatment of the native peoples led to the proliferation of a unique mestizo race.
Unlike the Spanish, British colonizers segregated themselves from the North American tribes that surrounded their settlements. Gonzalez suggests that this tendency to isolate paired with the sporadic arrangement of tribes and villages contributed to the lower rates of Amerindian deaths in the north. Furthermore, the British did not enslave nor encourage procreation with the native peoples, instead viewing them as inherently sinful or evil.
Throughout each of these sections, Gonzalez cites the various expeditions across the American continents to explain how certain regions within the United States, such as the Southwest, have maintained a heavy Latino cultural influence.
Gonzalez furthers the claim that Spain bore greater influence in regions that later became British colonies than historians have previously believed. He discusses how Spanish missions established in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama provided cultural education to Indians and Africans that would last long after the facilities shuttered. The Catholic Church’s supremacy in the Spanish colonies served as a unifying force among their populations.
On the other hand, Protestant British settlers had numerous denominations within their colonies, making it difficult for one particular religious order to exert its influence on a broad scale. This religious diversity also led to the adoption of worship freedom laws in many British colonies, including Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. After universal religious freedom became law in 1689, immigrants with diverse beliefs from throughout Europe joined the British in North America.
In the final sections of the chapter, Gonzalez explores how European traditions and Amerindian practices shaped the economies and governments of the Americas. Whereas the Spanish favored a system that ceded control to the monarchy and the Church, the British preferred a democratic system influenced in part by the Iroquois Federation. Elite Spanish colonists purchased the majority of the land, whereas elite British colonists leveraged land speculation to their benefit.
The result of these differences was a divergence of attitudes that would continue beyond the colonial period. Gonzalez says that Latin America developed a system of “social inclusion” and “political exclusion,” whereas North America had more ideological freedom and “social and racial” segregation.