Cultures of the Western Hemisphere Lesson for Kids

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

The western hemisphere includes a huge number of peoples living in North and South America. Learn about their societies, languages, food, and other cultural aspects in this lesson.

Home Sweet Home

The Earth can be divided into halves, just like if you cut an apple in half: top and bottom, as well as side and side. Each side of the earth is called a hemisphere. The southern hemisphere, for example, is the bottom half of the world and has the continent of Antarctica.

The western and eastern hemispheres of Earth are very different. The eastern hemisphere has the two largest continents, Asia and Africa, as well as many more people. However, the people of the western hemisphere also have a multitude of cultures that reflect how many different peoples call this place home.

In the Beginning

About 500 years ago, the western hemisphere's cultures came from the natives who lived all over, from the Eskimos of the cold arctic north to the Maya in jungles of Central America to the Inca Empire of the Andes Mountains. While some of these cultures had similarities (for example, many depended on corn as a main food source, since it grows all over North and South America), each group of people had their own religious beliefs, languages, technologies, and ideas about life.

Photo of native Mapuche man and woman from Chile, South America
Photo of natives

Some native civilizations in North and South America have been wiped out forever by foreigners, disease, or warfare, but many still remain and some still have the same culture as their ancestors did. In fact, some tribes in South America's rainforest have not been contacted by outsiders - they have no idea that anything like the internet or cars or ice cream exists.

Latin Lands

Since the Spanish Empire took over almost all of the western hemisphere about 500 years ago, you can travel from Mexico all the way to Argentina and get by speaking Spanish. These areas are known as Latin America, and the Spanish-speaking inhabitants of North and South America are broadly referred to as Hispanic. Hispanic culture varies by location across the western hemisphere, but has some shared features. For example, many Hispanics are Catholic, which means that Catholic holidays like Carnival are popular across much of the western hemisphere.

Photograph of Brazilian schoolgirls celebrating Carnival
Girls at Carnival

Other shared traditions include the popular piñata party ornament that has to be hit open to allow kids to get to candy or small toys inside. This tradition dates back to the ancient Mayans, and is popular today from Mexico to Venezuela. A big day on the calendar for many parts of Latin America is Day of the Dead, where ancestors are remembered and celebrated.

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