“The Americas A Hemispheric History” Felipe Fernandez Armesto

When we study the Americas, it is very important to understand every aspect of it including the people, the culture, traditions and influences that make up this continent. The Americas have been evolving culturally, socially and economically throughout the years. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, author of The Americas: A Hemispheric History believes we can trace a lot of this change to the time when the Conquistadors first came to the Americas. But how much influence can one nation have on another? Is it possible that a culture so well established be completely removed from its foundation and made completely different? I want us to think about these questions because as we learn more about the Americas, we discover that “Influence” both positive and negative was introduced to the Americas by many European nations that have resulted in the nations and continent that we have now, a culturally diverse continent with many different customs, beliefs and traditions.

We learn that for thousands of years, the people of the Americas lived in isolation and away from any foreign influences. There were many different civilizations established all across the continent. When the first settlers and explores came to the “New World” around the 15th century, the natives from the Americas suffered in many different ways because of the “New People” that were establishing here. We will look at some changes that the Europeans brought to the Americas and how they have impacted how things are today.

The word Conquistador comes from the word Conquistar which means to conquer. The sole purpose of the Conquistadors or Conquistadores was to conquer and nothing else really mattered. It is believed that the reason why many of the civilizations in Latin America disappeared was because of the Conquistadores. The Aztec civilization disappeared within three years from the moment the first Conquistadores came in contact with the civilization. Conquistadores such as Hernando Cortes were responsible for destroying the temples and finishing with the Aztec people. It has been documented that in August 15, 1521 the last Aztec was killed. Other civilizations were also disappeared such as the Mayans, the Olmecs and the Incas, all by men who wanted the riches of the land. The Conquistadores were interested in Gold and would do anything to get their hands on it. The Spaniards wanted to export Gold back to Spain and the result was the death of thousands of natives. The native people fought back against the Spaniards but although they out numbered the Spanish people, they still lost because their weapons still consisted of sticks compared to the Spaniards development of steel swords.

The European nations at the time when the conquest began in the Americas, wanted to establish their ideologies, traditions and have their flags represented in any territory possible.  This eventually led to the establishments of European traditions. Felipe Fernandez Armesto points out how the Spaniards built printing presses. Spanish architecture was introduced and old homes were either destroyed and rebuilt or modified. This is one reason why many of the temples were destroyed because the Spaniards wanted their European architecture. In the northern hemisphere, European nations such as England established their customs as well introducing their English architecture building Victorian style homes. The change in the Americas occurred very quickly. One would think that it took hundreds of years to begin but everything started taking a different spin a few years after the Conquistadores arrived.

The new expansion and building of new homes required labor and a lot of it. The introduction of slaves was a tradition brought to the Americas by the English taken from the Romans and other nations. Most of the slaves were brought from Africa by the hundreds. The slave trade soon became a business. Ships that were bringing goods from Europe soon started shipping slaves as part of their business. In Virginia at around the 18th century, Tobacco was introduced and required many labor workers to work the lands so the English brought these slaves to work the fields in North America. The Spanish in the south needed workers as well to cultivate their crops and build their homes so many slaves were shipped there to work those lands. Slaves mastered these fields and were very good at it. I am curious to ask though. How do you keep so many slaves in control? This is a question I asked myself and I was intrigued on how they managed to control so many slaves. They wouldn’t give slaves Bibles. If the slaves ever figured out that there was a God who loved everyone the same and that equality was an idea that surrounded Christianity then the slaves would revolt and not work.

American civilizations vanished slowly after the arrival of Europeans to the Americas. What was the cause of so many deaths? Massacres and diseases.  The Spaniards massacred many natives in order to get what they wanted. But what did they want exactly? They wanted land and riches like Gold. There has been many writings describing the torture that the natives received from the Spanish which was the cause of many deaths. Diseases also played a big part. The native people were not immune to any sickness that Europeans brought with them so they died. Historians believe that more people died in the Americas due to diseases than that of the Black plague in Europe and Asia between 1347 and 1351. Historians call this “The greatest Human Catastrophe” because millions of people died. The diseases brought by the Europeans were common diseases like smallpox, measles, influenza and malaria. It wasn’t so much that people died from one sickness but getting all the sicknesses all at once is what killed most people. They call this the “Colombian Exchange.” Felipe Fernandez Armesto explains that when Spaniards first explored the Amazon they found villages along the river where thousands of people lived. Twenty years later when other explores came to the same region all the villages and people had vanished. The cause of many displacements was due to the Europeans interacting with natives and them fleeing someplace else. This caused natives to move from their natural homes which resulted in natives not having children and a higher death rate. Eventually villages and cities vanished and were never restored again.

Throughout the years, Europeans established their languages, writing, and ideologies which flourished into what we have now. They instituted politics, rituals of public life, marriage, enmity, peace and war. The institutions that we now have and follow, all came from European influences.  A lot of the original traditions that were first here have now died out and are no longer seen in cultures. One of the newest influences that have penetrated through the years that were very important has been religious influence. In the 16th century, the Portuguese and the Spanish conquered a lot of territory and prohibited natives to worship how they originally did and imposed Catholicism on everyone. Catholicism up to the 19th century was the religion of the state which meant that it was imposed on everyone that lived under that government. Through the years, the church became a political movement rather than a religious institution and the number of baptisms was more important than moral and religious teachings. Today, we have moved from that in some states who now practice freedom of religion but some state governments like Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Venezuela still hold Catholicism as the religion of the state. Religion has played a key role in the lives of Latin Americans for centuries and religion is still one of the biggest movements in Latin America today.

The Americas have changed and have progressed throughout the centuries. It has flourished and flourished to what it is now. Great people lived here and cultures, traditions and life styles have slowly changed. Whether it be positive or negative influence that has lead us to this change, it has shaped the Americas to become what they are now. All we can hope for is that this continent continues to flourish  in the right direction.

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