I’ve lived in Latin America for almost two years now.
Nine months in Colombia, ten in Mexico, and two weeks in Cuba.
During that time I’ve noticed interesting cultural differences between my home, America, and those three Latin American countries.
Some are glaring and obvious. But others are more subtle. One big, yet subtle, difference between America and Latin nations?
How people look at race, class, and money.
Here’s what I’ve noticed:
The United States is obsessed with race. But it’s also a pretty egalitarian place. The barriers are lower. Sure minorities in the U.S. might face extra hurdles. But they can achieve wealth and power and status if they really try.
It’s not quite the same in Latin America. Skin color is much more important here. Down here all men are created equal. But your status is based on the color of your skin. The whiter you are the better it will be for you – money or not. That’s just how it is. Light European coloring is prized. Dark skin isn’t. So in Latin America they don’t put blacks or brown-skinned folks on a pedestal they way we do in the States.
And it’s not just hypothetical preference. The ruling classes in Latin America are almost always white-skinned people. It’s rare for an Indio or a black to reach the highest echelons of power here (although it does happen – see Benito Juarez or Evo Morales).
Money matters everywhere. But in some ways it matters more in Latin America than it does in the U.S. For example in the States, women are educated and have good careers. So they tend to have their own money. American girls don’t need a man to take care of them. So they focus on things like looks, height, muscles, sexual ability in their men.
Women in Latin America are generally less educated and make less money. So money will often be their number one priority when selecting a husband or boyfriend. Sure those other factors matter to Latinas – they just matter less.
In Latin America, your class (social status) will largely be decided by two things – your money and skin color. You can’t change your skin. But you can use money to enhance your social status:
Style is vital in Latin America. The dirty back backer look won’t cut it. If you want to be treated with respect here, you must look like a man of means. I’m not saying you need to suit up every day. But dressing well is vital. At the same time, realize that too much fancy clothing and bling in Latin America can make you a target! So dress appropriately based on your location.
How you get around is important here. Poor folks ride the metro. The upper classes ride in cars (or helicopters). So cars are important status symbols in Latin America – more than in the U.S. You don’t necessarily need to own a car. Using Uber sets you apart from the metro-riding masses.
– Being Bi-Lingual
English-speaking ability is prized in Latin America. It’s a status symbol. So many upper-class Latinos invest time and money learning English. But at the same time, they have no respect for gringos who don’t speak any Spanish! So fluency in both English & Spanish is necessary to maximize your social standing here.
Of course there are other factors that influence your social status in Latin America – but those are three big ones.
So as you can see, race, class, and social status are looked at slightly differently in Latin America. And understanding those subtle contrasts will help you successfully navigate this part of the world.
Read More: What To Expect When You Move To Medellín