Paraguay Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Paraguay is not one of the best-known nations in South America, but is a fascinating place. In this lesson, we'll look at ethnicity in Paraguay and see what it means to the nation today.


Real quickly: name the first nation in South America that comes to your mind. I'm not a mind reader, but I'm guessing that many of you thought of Brazil, Colombia, Argentina or Peru. There's a chance you may have thought of Paraguay, but let's be honest, that's probably because you just read the title of the lesson. Paraguay, a landlocked nation pretty much smack-dab in the middle of South America, is not one of the most well known, but is home to a unique people and culture. Let's take a closer look, and get to know this under-appreciated South American nation a little better.


Ethnicity in Paraguay

Thanks to long legacies of colonialism and global immigration, many nations of South America are fairly diverse. Paraguay just happens to be one of the main exceptions. In fact, with over 95% of the population identifying along shared ethnic lines, Paraguay is one of the most ethnically-homogenous nations of the Western Hemisphere. So, what is this ubiquitous ethnicity? The Paraguayans call it mestizo, which refers to a person of mixed European and Amerindian heritage. We'll talk about each of those sides a little more deeply in a minute, but it should be noted that Paraguayans make very little distinction between degrees of ethnicity. This is actually pretty unique. In many Latin American nations, mestizos are socially understood in terms of being more European, or more Amerindian, but most Paraguayans treat all mestizos as basically the same, regardless of degree of ethnic heritages.

Most Paraguayans identify with mixed European and Amerindian heritage
Paraguayan girl

The mestizo identity is understood in such homogenous terms that it's actually the only real recognized ethnic group of Paraguay. The non-mestizo population of the nation is generally grouped into a vague 'other' category, which includes some purely Amerindian people, as well as a few foreigners, but none of statistical significance.

Parts of the Mestizo Ethnicity

So, what are the parts of this mestizo heritage? The European side is almost exclusively Spanish, a result of centuries spent under the Spanish empire. Spanish is an official language of the nation, and the Roman Catholic religion, first introduced by Spaniards, is followed by about 90% of the population. In most terms, Paraguayan culture today is basically European.

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