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Integration of Latin America

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The integration of Latin America into the global economy after years of colonization by the Europeans in the 1500's brought with it the destruction of the traditional culture and a radical restructuring of Latin America's politics and economy. The new power structure, based on the colonial conception of race and class also played an ominous role in constructing new gender relationships. Before colonization men and women were equally respected and contributed equally toward maintaining traditional values. After colonization gender relationships became more complex and relied heavily on a patriarchal system. These changes had a detrimental impact on the native women of Latin America, as well as the women that traveled from the west, and the slaves that were brought over from Africa.

Before the arrival of the west the native people had a self sufficient and communal economy that included relative equality between males and females. Native women had certain rights such as allocating food supplies and were well respected. Everyone in the tribe had an important role in the society. However, when the Europeans arrived they forced both labor and Christianity on the native people. Christianity required a strict hierarchical society which in turn destroyed the native Indians complementary society and communal economy.

The Europeans established a dominant relationship with the native Indians while exploiting the females in many different ways. Although the native people were not paid, the Europeans could not legally call them slaves so they used the term "laborer". It was quite easy for the Europeans to use the female native Indians as "laborers". They simply removed the women from their tribes. The women were most frequently forced to perform domestic services, but they also worked in the fields. As laborers the native women were exploited economically and sexually.

The Europeans also forced the Indians to work as laborers in the fur trade. More specifically they used the native men, since their primary productive role in the tribe was hunting large game for fur. Women's role in the tribe before the Europeans arrived consisted of hunting small game, providing a good portion of the daily diet, and many other tasks that were vital aspects of daily life. After colonization the women were used to prepare the fur, which placed them in a secondary position in the fur trading process. Women were no longer directly contributing to the community so their importance diminished in the tribe. Also, women were not nearly as important as men in the European community. Native women lost most of their rights and respect in European colonial society.

When the Europeans colonized Latin America they not only used the native people as laborers, they also used the black slaves that were purchased from Africa. Unlike the native Indians, the black slaves could legally be called slaves. They were forced to perform exhausting physical tasks and were the lowest class in colonial Latin America. Almost all of the female slaves were used as agricultural workers; only a small percentage worked in Europeans' homes. If the women did not comply with their owners they were punished by either whipping or burning.

Along with economic and physical exploitation, black slave women also experienced sexual exploitation from their owners, white laborers, overseers, and even black laborers. The reasons for the sexual exploitation can be attributed to race, class and gender depending on the person committing the offence. Violent sexual abuse was an attempt to elevate white women and degrade black women, which led to racism becoming a product of colonization. "The basis of male assumptions that field women were, or should be, available for sexual exploitation was slave owners' attribution of social inferiority and lack of honor to these women, and therefore a degradation of the value of their sexuality" (Hughes 102).

Native and black slave women were not



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