Harvest of Empire Themes

The main themes in Harvest of Empire are colonialism, American imperialism and foreign policy, and race and politics.

  • Colonialism: Gonzalez explores how the two empires’ approaches to religion and governance shaped their colonies.
  • American Imperialism and Foreign Policy: Since the nineteenth century, the United States has covertly dominated Latin America, militarily and economically.
  • Race and Politics: Latinos in the United States have grown more politically vocal and more active as voters in recent decades.


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Last Updated on June 24, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 937


The major theme of “Roots” is the legacy of colonialism and how the different approaches of the colonial powers to managing their colonies has impacted various regions of Latin America. British and French rule in North America tended to focus on separatism from the native populations, with limited trade and a negative attitude towards intermingling and cohabitation. By contrast, the Spanish took a more aggressive approach and actively converted the native peoples of their colonies to Catholicism. They also made the effort to intermingle and interbreed with the natives in an effort to suppress native culture and identity. Religious homogeneity contributed greatly to these differing approaches, as the Spanish colonies were unified by their shared Catholicism and the North American colonies lacked a central religious authority. 

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Gonzalez traces how these varied approaches impacted various North and Latin American efforts at independence. Many North American settlers were fleeing religious persecution in Europe, and the various colonies often lacked any concrete attachment to British culture and politics. This shared feeling of persecution and exclusion aided the North American colonies in their efforts to pursue independence. By contrast, Spanish-controlled territories often had firmer ties to Spain and the Catholic Church as a result of generations of intermingling, making independence a more difficult goal. Furthermore, despite Latin American support for US independence, the United States did not reciprocate, instead choosing to profit from the instability in many Latin American colonies. 

American Imperialism and Foreign Policy

In the wake of the United States gaining independence, the Western Hemisphere was at a crossroads: the United States could either utilize its newfound regional power to support the revolutions of other colonized countries, or it could capitalize on the instability of neighboring colonies in order to expand its own power. The burgeoning empire chose the latter strategy and began a century-long crusade that resulted in the annexation of large swathes of territory—including what would become Texas, Florida, and California—that had previously belonged to Latin Americans. This opportunistic expansion resulted in many Latin American territories being unceremoniously subsumed into the United States, and many regions of the southwestern United States have deeply ingrained Latin American influences. However, in spite of these influences, racism and anti-immigrant sentiment led to cultural tensions and divisions across the Southern border of the United States, many of which persist into the modern day. 

The United States’ growing influence did not end at its solidified borders; instead, the government utilized its financial resources and mounting military power to install and support dictators who promoted the United States’ regional interests. This led to the development of what are colloquially called “banana republics,” or countries that produce a limited variety of crops and resources designed to be exported to more economically developed countries. Countries like Honduras and Guatemala were essentially owned by major US-based corporations that financially exploited the underpaid agricultural workers....

(The entire section contains 937 words.)

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