The United States and Latin America: Myths and Stereotypes of Civilization and Nature

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The lazy greaser asleep under a sombrero and the avaricious gringo with money-stuffed pockets are only two of the negative stereotypes that North Americans and Latin Americans have cherished during several centuries of mutual misunderstanding. This unique study probes the origins of these stereotypes and myths and explores how they have shaped North American impressions of Latin America from the time of the Pilgrims up to the end of the twentieth century. Fredrick Pike's central thesis is that North Americans have identified themselves with civilization in all its manifestations, while viewing Latin Americans as hopelessly trapped in primitivism, the victims of nature rather than its masters. He shows how this civilization-nature duality arose from the first European settlers' perception that nature-and everything identified with it, including American Indians, African slaves, all women, and all children-was something to be conquered and dominated. This myth eventually came to color the North American establishment view of both immigrants to the United States and all our neighbors to the south.