Before you begin working your way to foreign language fluency, it helps to understand the culture behind the language you’re learning. After all, language exists to help a group of people express their ideas and beliefs. Spain is an old country with a rich history and culture. As you begin your Spanish language program, gaining a strong grasp on this history, the values, and the etiquette will help you rapidly achieve success. In particular, the Spanish speaking world has a mixed influence from the Christian religion and its traditions.
The Spanish set out to America right after ridding Spain of the 800-year Muslim rule by the Islamic Moors from North Africa. During this period, there was an extreme intolerance towards other religions, which culminated in the fierce Spanish Inquisition seeking to root out heresy. All Jews and Muslims who were in Spain at that time were forced to either convert to Christianity or leave the country.
After subduing the Aztecs and other indigenous kingdoms in America, the Spanish established a hierarchical system of classifying people called the “Casta” system. Spanish-born “Peninsulares” were at the top of this hierarchy, followed by the “Criollos” (Creoles) who were locally born but of Spanish descent. “Mestizos” were in the middle and the class was composed of people of mixed indigenous and Spanish backgrounds; “Indios” (indigenous people) and black slaves who were brought in from Africa were at the bottom of the hierarchy.
Since independence, people in Latin America had celebrated indigenous heritage, especially between the 1920s and 1940s when writers, artists, and archaeologists began restoring structures that represent Latin America’s pre-Hispanic past. However, despite current gains in social mobility, the issue of racism still exists in significant levels. The Afro-Spanish communities of Oaxaca, Veracruz, and Guerrero started receiving recognition only recently. Up until 2015, there was no box to indicate the African race in the national census form. It took the efforts of activists to push for the recognition of the race. Consequently, more than 1.4 million Latin Americans and Spaniards registered themselves as being black or of African descent.
There are many superstitions in Latin America, which play a crucial role in the regions cultural traditions. Some of the superstitions originate from the European ancestors and others from the Roman Catholic Church, while others are from the surviving indigenous Latin Americans. The most popular of these superstitions is the belief that black cats are a sign of bad luck and that the number 13 is unlucky. However, unlike in Western culture, Tuesday 13 is the day that spells doom with bad luck rather than Friday 13. In cases where people feel the need to be wary of an impending disaster, they make the cross sign with their fingers in keeping with the Roman Catholic tradition.
In Latin America, witchcraft is not about the old witches on broomsticks but is an essential aspect of daily life. Markets in Latin America sell items believed to have the ability to bring good fortune and shielding one from harm. In rural areas, people believe that there is a type of curse called the “evil eye” (“mal de ojo”) that can adversely affect children. The children wear amulets to protect them from the evil eye and those believed to have been affected require the intervention of shamans to cure them. The art of witchcraft is widespread throughout the country, and the shamans, witches, and spiritual healers partner with doctors, as well as the church, to offer spiritual healing to those who require it.
The Roman Catholic Church has been around in Latin America since the 16th century when native Spaniards brought Christianity to the region’s population. Given its long tradition in Latin America, the church greatly influences the Latin America region to date. More than 80 percent of the Latin American and Spanish population identify as Catholics, who widely practice all festivities associated with the Catholic Church. These celebrations dominate the calendar. The lives of most Latin Americans revolve around baptism, first communions, weddings, and funeral cycles.
The success of Catholicism in Latin America is a result of the high levels of pragmatism that were exhibited by Franciscan and Jesuit monks. The Jesuit and Franciscan monks led conversions into Christianity and allowed Spaniards, as well as indigenous Latin Americans, to integrate their cultural beliefs with the new form of worship. The integration of the two ways of life is evident from the folk festivals held on Catholic feast days and exhibit pre-Columbian aspects. Latin America’s and Spain’s Day of the Dead ritual makes the Latin Americans and the Spanish unique in the Catholic religion due to its playful and joyous nature.
However, the number of members joining Protestant denominations is gradually increasing. The shift is prevalent in Brazil, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Brazil has a significant number of people who identify as the Liberation Theology movement stemming from the Roman Catholic Church. Anglicanism is also taking root in Latin America.
Disapproval by the Roman Catholic Church and the macho culture hold back gay rights across the Latin America region. However, things are changing rapidly for the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) community. New laws in conjunction with growing social media campaigns have played a critical role in raising awareness of LGBT issues. These efforts have established higher levels of acceptance of the LGBT community in the Latina American and Spanish societies.
Mexico City has led the way in embracing LGBT rights despite being within a mostly conservative country. The city legalized same-sex marriage in 2009 and held a mass wedding in Zocalo, the main city square. Hundreds of LGBT couples from all over Mexico attended the event. The move faced stiff opposition from other parts of the country, but the government stepped in to ensure there was equality for all.
Annual LGBT events such as the Gay Pride Festival, which lasts for a week, happen in Spain and some Latin America cities. The festival entails carnival floats and processions in June. One particular place of interest is the Puerto Vallarta beach resort, which holds an LGBT party for twelve days in May. However, not everyone in Latin America and Spain is friendly to LGBT activities. There have been cases of police warning LGBT couples of indecency for exhibiting public displays of affection like kissing and holding hands. In response to such incidents, the LGBT community created social media campaigns and a ‘Kissathon’ to advocate their rights to have the same freedoms that heterosexual couples have.
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