When analysts talk about migration in America, they usually skip the fact that our continent is a land of migrants. Science has stated that for centuries and new archaeological findings have added more evidence to the discussion. As far as we know, most scientific theories state that human life in America appeared in Prehistory, around 38,000 years ago, when the Bering Land Bridge began appearing between northeastern Asia and northwestern North America, joining both regions with drylands. That was the most recent event involving Bering (since other events happened at more remote times) and the one that allowed living creatures, plants, animals, and men who were chasing big beasts like the mammoth to pass from Asia to America, according to most theories, more than 12,000 years ago. They found the Beringia crossing and then took the MacKenzie corridor to set out to the South.
Other theories state that these individuals bordered Greenland or the crossing of the North pole, among other paths, to reach our territories and that some might have used boats to do it. Then, after thousands of years, they finally stepped into the end of the continent in South America. However, evidence found in Monte Verde, Chile, in the 1970s threatened all the conventions reached by scientists worldwide and suggested that the migration might have happened long before, around 18,000 years ago. Likewise, other voices aver that the groups of people who first inhabited this continent took other routes and that they might have sailed from Oceania to these territories. Finally, considering the evidence found in Chile, some scientists conclude that the migrants might have come from different lands and used different paths to arrive in American soil at different times in history. Regardless of that, after the arrival of these individuals an admixture process originated the aboriginal tribes, cultures and civilizations that the European conquerors found in the 15th century, whose physical characteristics after thousands of years differed from their supposedly Asian ancestors.1
In general, the trends in immigration during the Prehistoric period implied the development of activities performed by hunters and gatherers and eventually led to the practice of agriculture which led as time passed by to the settlement of migrants and the appearance of densely populated urban centers. These areas in places like Mesoamerica, the Andes and other regions meant the development of advanced cultures like the ones located in current Mexico, Peru and Colombia.2
With all the previous information in mind, a new revision of the national cultures becomes necessary since the origin of some of our typical traits may be in distant lands and ages. As some authors point out, the seed of the most advanced Neolithic American cultures like the ones previously mentioned is in the Nile valley and Mesopotamia in Northwestern Asia. Therefore, it was in Africa where migration to all the continents began and eventually ended up stepping into the American continent.3
1. See Salzano, F and Sans, M. in https://doi.org/10.1590/S1415-47572014000200003
2. See Adhikari, K., Chacón-Duque, J. et al. In https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-genom-083115-022331 and Dussel, E. in http://bibliotecavirtual.clacso.org.ar/clacso/otros/20120223111419/historia.pdf
3. See Dussel, E. in http://bibliotecavirtual.clacso.org.ar/clacso/otros/20120223111419/historia.pdf
Looking at this background, we may speculate that the encounter between men from the New and Old World in 1492 that is described as a clash of civilizations was technically an encounter between cultures with a common root. Certainly, time, distance and progressive admixtures contributed to the abyss that separates the European culture from the aboriginal groups. The environment also appears on the picture when we analyze the geographic differences we find between both continents. In turn, these traits created what authors like Olstein call divergencies4, term that explains the different development both continents had. The existence of large mammals, a larger variety of plants, and its geographical position favored Europe, what progressively fostered or hindered the diffusion of products or germs, and the division of labor and specialization that increased the gap between territories.
Ironically, this abundance receded as the population in Europe increased. The extensive exploitation of lands, rivers and seas depleted the resources and an important migration wave from the Old World began. The international context also fueled the adventure. The quest for new lands, treasures, and resources was pioneered by the two Iberian powers, followed by Britain, France and the Netherlands. For the European powers it was also urgent to find new routes to reach the products from Asia and skip intermediaries. Finally, to add to this, the Iberian nations were desperate to pay their debts after they expelled the Muslims. This long conflict together with the other wars the crowns were fighting in commercial and territorial fields against their European enemies were responsible for the impoverishment of the crown’s treasures. In the specific case of the Spanish Empire, the monarchs had to struggle with the expenses that keeping the noble men implied.
This context of war and competition was the one that modelled the character of the European conquerors: They were trained to fight and arrived in a continent in which they found almost no opposition. The admixture process in our continent was complete with the African slaves that were brought to the new lands.
To sum up, there were three groups involved in the admixture process that happened in the continent. Other groups that are mentioned are the ones coming from Asia and Polynesia, but they settled down in countries like Peru, Brazil, Guyana and Suriname mainly.5 Even though it is hard to tell the exact number, estimates about the total size of the aboriginal population by the time the conquerors arrived reveal the existence of tens of millions of souls, distributed across the continent.6 An interesting observation deals with the influence of the Semitic-Christian cultures in the formation of our identity. The extensive Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula7 had enduring consequences on the cultures and identities of these nations. Therefore, the Muslims also contributed to the formation of the local and national identities in Latin America through their participation in the construction of the Spanish identity for seven centuries and, to be more accurate, long before since the cultures were the first migrants come from have a Semitic origin.8
4. See Olstein, D. in https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/s2178-14942017000100014
5. See Adhikari, K., Chacón-Duque, J et al. in https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-genom-083115-022331
6. See See Adhikari, K., Chacón-Duque, J. et al. In https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-genom-083115-022331; Dussel, E. in http://bibliotecavirtual.clacso.org.ar/clacso/otros/20120223111419/historia.pdf and Salzano, F and Sans, M. in https://doi.org/10.1590/S1415-47572014000200003
7. See https://www.britannica.com/place/Spain/Muslim-Spain
8. See https://www.britannica.com/topic/Semitic-languages
On the other hand, the forced migration of African slaves from the 15th century on meant the introduction of about 10 million people who were taken to Brazil, as well as to British, Spanish and French colonies.9 Logically, we may not forget the contribution of most recent groups of immigrants to the genetic configuration of Latin America. They are the ones who came long after the colonial period and the Independence and may be traced back to the period after World War II, from areas like the Mediterranean region and Eastern Europe, as well as from Africa and Asia.
These historical and anthropological antecedents are also supported by genetic studies carried out in the continent. The evidence proves that the Latin American genetic pool is made up of mostly the three groups that mixed after the discovery and conquest in the 15th century. Furthermore, the current population Latin American population inherited diseases like type 2 diabetes, obesity, gallbladder disease, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and prostate cancer among others being the Native and Latino populations more frequently affected than people from European ancestry. Other worth mentioning illnesses are breast cancer and melanoma.10
With these antecedents in mind, we can state that migration is a phenomenon that is closely attached to the birth of the continent, a process that in its first stage was led by the Iberian powers, constituted mainly by men and attached to the religious organization of the Catholic Church. In a second wave, the one headed by other European forces like the British, French and Dutch a more commercial approach was evidenced. The most striking feature of this wave was its capitalist spirit. Thus, even though there was a religious force struggling to break the Catholic monopoly, the connection between this force and the state was less clear. In the 20th century a third migration wave involved European war refugees fleeing to America to save their lives whereas in the present time, the environmental and economic justifications for the migrating process correspond to motivations that have more lingering consequences on societies. For that reason, governments and states will have to adapt and find creative solutions. Obviously, in the nearest future Latin Americans will go through a new admixture process that will contribute to the already diverse origin of our citizens and will put more challenges to the different nations. Let us see what comes out of all this.
9. See Adhikari, K., Chacón-Duque, J., et al. In https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-genom-083115-022331
10. See Salzano, F and Sans, M. in https://doi.org/10.1590/S1415-47572014000200003
Adhikari, K., Chacón-Duque, J., Mendoza-Revilla, J., Fuentes-Guajardo, M., & Ruiz-Linares, A. (2017, August). The Genetic Diversity of the Americas. Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics, 18. Retrieved February 16, 2021, from https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-genom-083115-022331
Augustyn , A. (Ed.). (n.d.). Britannica.com. Retrieved February 16, 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/place/Maghreb
Cord, L., & Genoni, M. e. (2015). Shared Prosperity and Poverty Eradication in Latin America and the Caribbean. Retrieved February 16, 2021, from https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/21751/SharedProsperityOverview.pdf?sequence=8
Dussel, E. (n.d.). A history of the church in Latin America : colonialism to liberation (1492-1979) . 1981. Retrieved February 16, 2021, from http://bibliotecavirtual.clacso.org.ar/clacso/otros/20120223111419/historia.pdf
Gorney, C. (2019, August). African migrants in Europe trade one hardship for another. National Geographic. Retrieved February 16, 2021, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/2019/06/african-migrants-in-europe-trade-one-hardship-for-another-feature/
Olstein, D. (2017). Latin America in Global History: An Historiographic Overview. Estudos Históricos, 253-272. Retrieved February 16, 2021, from https://doi.org/10.1590/s2178-14942017000100014
Salzano, Francisco Mauro, & Sans, Mónica. (2014). Interethnic admixture and the evolution of Latin American populations. Genetics and Molecular Biology, 37(1, Suppl. 1), 151-170. https://doi.org/10.1590/S1415-47572014000200003