Ethnic Groups in Latin America

Instructor: Natalie Klema

I have been a high school math instructor for 10 years. I have a Master's degree in Leadership.

Latin America has several nations and many ethnic groups. We will focus on the seven primary ethnic groups in this lesson - which include Native, European, African, and Asian cultures - and what they bring to Latin America as we know it today.

Ethnic Groups in Latin America

Latin America (excluding the Caribbean islands) is made up of 20 countries. Within these countries, there are seven main ethnic groups. The majority of these groups are made up of European, African, or Amerindian descent, or a mix of these. It is one of the most diverse regions in the world!

The Main Ethnic Groups


Amerindians, also called Native Americans, came to Latin America before 8000 BC and were the first to live in this part of the world, making them the indigenous population. However, due to extensive immigration, they are now the minority in most Latin American countries. Their population endured a serious decline in numbers because of disease when the explorers came. While their numbers have recovered slightly, they are now the majority only in Bolivia and Guatemala.


Spanish and Portuguese explorers came to Latin America beginning in the late 15th century. They were called Iberian settlers (Iberia is a mountainous region in Spain and Portugal). Whites - are those primarily of European descent - presently compose the largest racial group in Latin America.


Because the European explorers did not bring women with them, there were many unions of the male explorers and the female natives. This began shortly after the Europeans arrived. The intermixing of two races created Mestizos and provided the majority of the population in half the countries in Latin America.


Many Japanese and Chinese immigrants also came to Latin America. Asians live mostly in Brazil and Peru. The largest Japanese community outside of Japan is in Brazil, and Peru has one of the largest Chinese communities in the world. Numerous Asians started small businesses in these areas and were quite successful in their communities, leading to the extensive population growth.


Blacks, or Africans, were brought to Latin America through the slave trade beginning in the 16th century. Although the slaves' lives were very hard, they were allowed to buy their freedom, unlike slaves in North America. Blacks have had a strong influence on music, dance, and the arts in Latin America.


Mulattoes are people of European and African descent. They are primarily Spanish or Portuguese and African. Most Mulattoes live in Brazil. There are many more Mulattoes than Blacks in Latin America.


Africans and Native Americans combined to establish the Zambos. This was often due to slaves escaping and being cared for by the natives. They currently make up a minority in a few countries in Latin America.

In addition, Latin America also has a large number of tri-racial peoples coming from African, Native American, and European ancestry.

This map illustrates the distribution of the Latin American population geographically.

Population Distribution in Latin America
Population Distribution in Latin America

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