When the Spanish arrived in the New World, rich cultures converged to begin centuries of a new tradition. Indigenous, Spanish, and African customs, social institutions, and traditions melded together to create a new culture through the exchange of goods and ideas. While not unique to Latin America, this impact defined an entire region and created a legacy that continues today. This lesson has students broadly examine the nature of culture in Latin America and analyze specific characteristics that are derived from indigenous, Spanish, and African influences.
- As a class, define culture and discuss how Latin American culture was formed
- Analyze three elements of Latin American culture (religion, food, and dance) and determine factors that influence the development of cultural identities
- Ask students to brainstorm the definition of a culture. Using a dictionary or an online source, focus their definition on common characteristics shared by a group of people (see this Texas A&M website for a detailed description).
- Next, ask students to explain how cultures can develop and what happens when two cultures converge and coexist for a long period of time.
- Show the When Worlds Collide video clips:
- Discuss the video clips. Explore the idea that Latin America is a product of indigenous, Spanish, and African influences. Even though Spain dominated the people of the New World, the indigenous peoples maintained many aspects of their original cultures, often integrating the two together.
- In small groups, have the students review the provided resources and analyze how Latin American Catholicism, salsa the food, and the salsa the dance developed. Use the following questions as a guide in their analysis:
- What specific aspects of each original culture helped create this new blend?
- What types of tensions defined how the cultural element formed?
- Did one of the cultures dominate the new integrated form? Why?
- Discuss the findings as a class.
Optional Extension #1 - Cultural Tensions
The tensions that push and pull different cultures is still experienced today as people move throughout different regions. All people impacted by globalization, such as immigrants and married couples from different backgrounds, face issues of cultural adaptation. Expand the discussion by reading The Worlds that Collide in Me by Rubén Martínez, the narrator of the film. Consider the following questions:
- How does the author define his cultural background?
- What does he struggle with as he searches for his cultural identity?
- What are some of the key factors that separate cultures in today's world? Are they the same in your community?
- In what way do you identify with the author? How do you embrace your cultural influences? In what ways are you a product of a mestizo culture?
As a follow-up, have students write a narrative of their own cultural identities or use an online presentation or graphic organizer application (e.g. Google Docs , VoiceThread , Prezi , Webspiration ) to create a visual representation of those identities. They should analyze the integration of multiple cultures and the tensions that were or still are a factor in shaping their individual cultural identities. They should also include the role that technology plays in changing their perceptions of their place in the world.
Optional Extension #2 - Building Culture in the United States
The United States, like Latin America, is the product of many different cultures that have merged over the centuries. For this extension, have students select an aspect of American culture (e.g., food, music, sports).
- Help individuals or small groups select a cultural item, artifact, or custom that has multiple influences.
- Provide time for the students to research the background of the cultural item and determine the different factors that helped to shape it.
- Using an online presentation or graphic organizer application (e.g. , VoiceThread , Prezi , Webspiration ), students should create a visual representation of those influences. The final product should include the following items:
- An examination of the tensions and compromises that helped shape the cultural item.
- Which culture was ultimately more dominant? What was lost during the transformation?
- Will this item continue to evolve?
- Have students present their project.
- Discuss the factors that define a culture and how cultures form.