Though many of us in the US may consider think of Latin Americans as all the same, the bishops at Aparecida are insistent on the cultural diversity of Latin America and the Caribbean which they as a wealth that can be found there.
56. Moreover, the cultural wealth and diversity of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean are obvious. In our region there are different indigenous, Afro-American, mestizo, rural, urban, and peripheral-urban cultures.
In paragraph 56, the bishops briefly mention a few aspects of these cultures.
Indigenous cultures are especially notable for their deep attachment to the earth and community life, and for a certain search for God.
The evangelization of the indigenous has been a concern in Latin America for many years. Though small groupings of the indigenous can be found throughout the region, Guatemala, Perú, Bolivia, and Ecuador have some of the highest percentages of indigenous populations. The evangelization of the indigenous has grown into a ministry of the indigenous, in which their cultural values are more seriously taken into account not as something to be overcome but as contributing to the search for God and in which the indigenous are the protagonists of the evangelization process.
Characteristic features of Afro-American cultures include bodily expressiveness, family-rootedness, and sense of God.
More recently the concerns of Afro-American cultures, particularly in Brazil have come to the fore.
Rural culture revolves around the agricultural cycle.
Though most of Latin American nations are becoming more urbanized, there is still a distinct rural culture.
But most of the region is dominated by a culture that mixes these various elements, a mestizo culture – even though that mixture takes on different forms in different parts of Latin America.
Throughout history and in the midst of contradictions, mestizo culture, which is the most widespread among many peoples in the region, has sought to combine these multiple original cultural sources, facilitating the dialogue of their respective worldviews, and enabling them to converge into a shared history.
But, there is also another element that the bishops note:
To this cultural complexity would also have to be added that of the many European immigrants who settled in the countries of our region.
Many of these immigrants arrived in the twentieth century. Among these were the Italian parents of Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis.
Many of these immigrants – from Italy, Germany, and other countries, settled in the southern cone countries of Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. Though I have never visited these countries, I have noted the European influence in many of the people I have met from those countries.
Another set of immigrants came to Latin America in the first years of the twentieth century from the Ottoman Empire. That is why one can find numerous Palestinians and Lebanese in places like El Salvador, Honduras, and Bolivia – though they also settled in other Latin American countries (e.g., Chile).
These various cultural currents thus provide a diversity that is hidden by talking about Latin America as a whole. Even as there are elements of culture found throughout Latin America, the culture of an urban Argentinian is very different from the culture of a Mayan Indian in the hills of Guatemala.
But for the bishops at Aparecida, this is part of the richness of Latin American cultures.
NOTE: I just finished Edward Cleary’s How Latin America Saved the Soul of the Catholic Church, which notes in more detail Latin American ministry with the indigenous and among Afro-American cultures. It would be a good place to start studying these phenomena, though the book is introductory and generalizes the situation.