A list of terms (mostly historical in nature) that might prove useful if you’re not very familiar with Latin America. If this is your first time exploring Latin America in depth, make this your first stop!

A Real Audiencia (Audiencia) was an appellate court in Spain and throughout the Spanish Empire, with audiencias often used as shorthand for administrative divisions within a region. The name of the institution literally translates as Royal Audience.

A Captaincy General was an administrative division of the Spanish and Portuguese Empires. It served as a method of organization in which the monarch delineated colonies and territories to be administered by those the monarch trusted. It was also used in some other countries, such as Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, the Ottoman Empire, and Slovakia.

A Criollo is one of the divisions in the race hierarchy of the Spanish Empire. Criollo signifies a person of sole or mostly Spanish descent who is born in the Americas.

A codex is a text or manuscript in book form. Indigenous peoples in the Americas utilized codices for centuries, but most of the writings were destroyed by missionaries and colonial officials following the Spanish conquest of Latin America.

Dependency theory is the notion that resources flow from a “periphery” of poor and underdeveloped states to a “core” of wealthy states, enriching the latter at the expense of the former. It is a central contention of dependency theory that poor states are impoverished and rich ones enriched by the way poor states are integrated into the “world system.”1

Globalization refers to the worldwide integration and cooperation of humanity throughout the world. In some senses, the expansion of the Spanish and Portuguese Empires in the 15th and 16th centuries ushered in the era of globalization, which has progressed rapidly with the advent of air travel and the Internet.

A hacienda, broadly defined, is a large estate. Some haciendas were plantations, mines or factories, while many haciendas combined these activities.

Hispanic signifies someone whose native language is Spanish or someone whose ancestry is from Spain. Thus, since most Brazilians speak Portuguese rather than Spanish, most Brazilians are not Hispanic, despite being Latinx.

Imperialism is the practice of one country extending its control over another country or culture, typically through militaristic, diplomatic, and/or economic methods. Political opposition to this foreign domination is called “anti-imperialism.”

Latin America is a wide-ranging term that means different things to different people. In its most basic conception, it signifies the parts of the Western hemisphere that the Spanish and Portuguese colonized. In brief, that means every nation of South America except Guyana and Suriname; every part of Central America except Belize; Mexico; and various islands in the Caribbean. More broadly, though, the bonds of culture, economics, and language extend to those other locations, making it sometimes difficult to tell where Latin America ends and Dutch America begins. For simplicity’s sake, I will look at all of these areas–even the ones that are not “strictly” Latin American–in my posts.

Latina/Latino/Latinx signifies someone of Latin American origin or ancestry, but not someone from Spain or Portugal. Thus, Spaniards are not Latinx, despite being Hispanic. Note that historically the terms Latina and Latino have been used to refer to women and men, respectively, but that Latinx is a gender-neutral option.

A Mestizo is one of the divisions in the race hierarchy of the Spanish Empire. Mestizo signifies people of mixed race, sharing both indigenous and Spanish ancestry.

Neocolonialism is a state in which previously colonized countries enjoy formal political independence but continue to remain economically dependent on industrialized countries.

A Peninsular is one of the divisions in the race hierarchy of the Spanish Empire. Peninsulares had Spanish ancestry and were born in Spain, then came to Spanish America.

A Viceroy is an official who runs an area in the name of and as the representative of the monarch of the territory. The viceroyalties of the Spanish Americas and the Spanish East Indies were subdivided into smaller, autonomous units, the audiencias and the captaincies general, which in most cases became the bases for the independent countries of modern Latin America.


  1. Ahiakpor, James C. W. (1985). “The Success and Failure of Dependency Theory: The Experience of Ghana”. International Organization39 (3): 535–552.
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