Answer Man: What does the term 'Latin' America mean?

May 14, 2013 

Please explain why we call the countries south of the United States "Latin" America? I was reminded of this when the media began hailing Francis as the first Latin American pope. What does Latin have to do with South America or Mexico? -- F.B., of New Athens

Have you heard the old expression "All roads lead to Rome"? Well, the saying may seem dated now, but it still explains how Central and South America acquired this seemingly unlikely name.

To understand, you have to go back to at least 1000 B.C. That's roughly when a tribe known as the Latinis was starting to thrive in a region of central western Italy known as Old Latium. Naturally, they spoke a language that we call Latin today.

But if you're even versed a little in ancient history, you know what happened next: Rome was founded, which led to an empire that would take over much of Europe, western Asia and northern Africa.

As it did so, the traditional Latin language began to evolve. As the Roman Empire spread, Latin became the basis for what we call the "Romance" languages -- most notably Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and French. Hence, these people often were referred to as Latin, too, because their language derived from Latin.

But, as we all know, the story didn't stop there. Eventually many of these European "Latins" braved the challenging voyage across the Atlantic to explore and conquer the lands south of the United States. As a result, countries that wound up with Spanish and Portuguese -- and, to some degree, French -- as their primary language became known as Latin America.

You can trace the groundwork for the idea back to the 1830s and the writing of French engineer and economist Michel Chevalier. Because of its history, he suggested that this part of the Americas should ally itself with Latin Europe as opposed to Teutonic Europe, Anglo-Saxon America or Slavic Europe.

Chevalier must have struck a chord. In 1861, the term "Latin America" was reportedly printed for the first time in La revue des races Latines, a magazine "dedicated to the cause of Pan-Latinism," according to a 1968 book on the subject by J.L. Phelan.

Some, however, suggest the term was coined by Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon III) in 1861, when his Second French Empire was looking to justify its control over Mexico. Now, even though those countries have achieved independence, "Latin America" remains almost synonymous with everything south of the Rio Grande.

Final note: Although often used interchangeably, the terms "Latino" and "Hispanic" are technically not the same. Hispanics can trace their ancestry to the Iberian peninsula, which the ancient Romans annexed as a province they called Hispania. Latino is a more general term that can apply to anyone who has roots in the region. "Chicano" probably is a shortened version of "Mexicanos," which was what Spanish conquerors called native Mexican Indians. It is viewed by many today as derogatory.

Whatever happened to Maggie Crane on KMOV-TV? I haven't seen her in quite a while. -- Dale, of Swansea

I suppose one good way to ensure job security is to latch onto a politician who just can't lose.

That's what former KMOX Radio and KMOV broadcaster Jeff Rainford did many years ago. Now chief of staff to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, Rainford was ranked as one of the city's 50 most powerful people way back in 2006 by St. Louis Magazine.

Now, after four years at the station, Crane is joining her fellow KMOV colleague. The 31-year-old St. Charles, Mo., native, left Jan. 25 to become Slay's press secretary.

"I will certainly miss it," she told TVSpy of TV news. "But I look forward to lending my voice to the inside workings of the city I love and call home."

Today's trivia

What important role did Belleville (yes, Belleville, Illinois) play in the first-ever appearance by a U.S. women's gymnastics team at the Olympics -- in Berlin, 1936?

Answer to Sunday's trivia: In the 1870s, French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was chosen to design the Statue of Liberty as a gift from France to the United States. But when engineer Eugene Viollet-Le-Duc died in 1879, Bartholdi was in desperate need of help to realize a dream that would stand 151 feet high. So he called on Gustave Eiffel, designer of the Paris' famed Eiffel Tower, who wound up playing a pivotal role in the Statue of Liberty. He devised an internal structure strong enough to support the monument's copper sheeting, which weighs 100 tons. Dedicated Oct. 28, 1886, it remains the tallest statue ever built in the United States, although it would be dwarfed by the 420-foot Spring Temple Buddha in China, finished in 2002 as the tallest in the world.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 239-2465.

Belleville News-Democrat is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service