Who Made ‘Latin America’ Latin?

A guest post and a history lesson from Asombra:

Who Made “Latin America” Latin?

The idea (repeat, idea) goes back to the 1830s, particularly the writings of the Frenchman Michel Chevalier, a follower of Saint-Simon (a utopian socialist). Chevalier argued that this part of the Americas was populated by those of a “Latin race” (I guess the indigenous element was considered irrelevant or too primitive to count) and that, therefore, “Latin” America could join with “Latin” Europe in the struggle against “Teutonic” Europe, “Slavic” Europe and “Anglo-Saxon” America. This theory (repeat, theory) was adopted later in the 19th century by “Latin American” intellectuals who preferred the French cultural model to that of Spain or Portugal. The specific term “Latin America” was coined in France during the reign of Napoleon III (1852-1870) and used politically by him to promote the idea (repeat, idea) of a cultural connection with France, turn France into a major player in the region, and install Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico with French backing.

In other words, this was all a French concoction to benefit France, but the Latrines, I mean “Latin Americans,” bit on it, and the rest is history. I’m telling you all this information because, somehow, I don’t think you’re going to be hearing it from the “Latino” establishment any time soon or in any great detail. Latins, of course, originally and properly refers to the ancient Romans, to whom somebody like, say, Evo Morales or Hugo Chávez bears little or no relation–unless, of course, you’re French.

Napoleon III

4 thoughts on “Who Made ‘Latin America’ Latin?

  1. No, George. That was Maximilian in Mexico in 1867. Napoleon III died in exile (in England, of all places) in 1873. French ambitions for “Latin America” miscarried. For one thing, the US was not amused.

  2. Fascinating stuff. I’ve always noticed a marked Francophilia among my Mexican friends and acquaintances…but somehow all these folks look much more like Salma Hajek and Jorge Castaneda than like George Lopez or the Frito Bandido…?

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