Uspallata Train Station in Argentina

   There was room for growth in Latin America after independence was established. The many nations resulting after the Spanish crown left Latin America, all saw a better and brighter future. They wanted to expand and had big aims of achieving modernization. Aspiring to establish themselves and make their mark as newly formed countries. Many important things started to come to question with expansion and modernization. Such as communication, transportation, and unification. All important and necessary factors in better establishing a modern and efficient society. Remote and isolated areas of Latin America were important in making them more accessible. Much of Latin America started to take advantage of it’s natural resources. In order to do so, these isolated areas abundant in cacao, coffee, etc., needed to be reached. Therefore to improve civilization and the economy, railroad systems were vital for success in economic expansion. Latin America is a very diverse and large land. Each country can have varying climates and terrains. Reaching from coastal beaches, to Andean plains, to dense and tropical jungles. These unique circumstances created very real challenges in trade and transportation. With the unification that came with railroads, this was a problem of the past. Industrialization, Governments, and trade better reached communities. The prospect of new job opportunities arose as well. Hence, setting forth modernization in Latin America.   

   The period between 1830’s-1900’s was a great economic boom for Latin America. Changes and new technologies were emerging rapidly. The technology of the railroad  pushed forth the anticipated renewal. Brought unity in countries and economic stability for a period. This picture taken in Argentina, circa 1850-1900. Shows exactly the great changes brought forth by the railroad. Argentina reaped many of the benefits that followed through with modernization. It is a great example of what positive changes were made in South America. “In the early twentieth century, Argentines could proudly claim that theirs was one of the ten richest countries in the world. Buenos Aires, like a number of Latin American cities, was a modern showpiece with a population of 1.5 million people, complete with new mansions, electric lights, department stores, and trolleys”, Dawson, pg. 122.  Argentina saw new waves of immigration as well, further developing the nation. The image shows, the Andes, we can see the train carts. A woman waiting and about to board her cart. She’s dressed in a hat and nice clothes. In faint small letters in Spanish, “Primera Classe”, meaning first class. To be more accurate, this photo was taken in Mendoza, a small city in Argentina. A city compromised of high plains and foot hills east to the andes. The addition of the railroad here certainly met the expectations of what come with the idea of expansion and modernity.


Dawson, Alexander. Latin America since Independence: A History with Primary Sources. 2nd ed. Taylor & Francis, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central.Ch 4, pg.122-123

The Spanish Casta System

To better understand Latin American civilization and history, we’ll be analyzing a primary and visual source.“Costumes, animals, and modes of transportation of Peru”.  It dates back to 1748, to a significant and turbulent period. The colonial era of Latin America. This primary visual source is from the work of Antonio de Ulloa. By the title of,  “Relacion historica del viage a la American meridional … Segunda parte”. Which  translates to, “Historical relations from the travels of the American Meridian, Second Part”.

From looking at this antiquated illustration, we see five people to the left; with letters by their sides, Andean animals like llamas and others, a person mounted on a horse, and all the way far; a carriage with people being driven. The setting consists of a small house to the far left of the image. Trees are present and the geography of the location is very hilly and mountainous. We can most likely presume, that the figures present are in the Andean Mountainous regions of Peru. At the very bottom, we see the illustrator’s name Diego de Villanueva. To the far right, there is a map key to identify the five people with letters. The key also identifies other objects in the picture such as the llamas and other animals. The really interesting thing about the map key, is that it provides a deep insight into who these people are. Although in Spanish, we can translate it to the race classes instilled during the Spanish colonial era. Following: A. A woman from Lima with a riding suit. B. A woman in a house keeping outfit. C. A Spaniard in a Peruvian suit. D. A Mulatto woman. E. A black slave, born in Peru. F. A mulatto woman riding a horse. This illustration from 1748, shows a look into how society was run.

The Spanish Casta system was a hierarchical pyramid that organized and labeled people according to their status. This status was determined based on one’s “ethnic purity” or place of birth. From top to bottom it follows from, the Peninsulares, the Criollos, Mestizos/Mulattoes, Native Americans, and enslaved individuals/Africans. The Peninsulares were of Spanish origin and born there. Criollos were of Spanish descent, but had lower status automatically because they were born in the Spanish colonies. Mestizos and Mulattoes were of mixed decent, Spaniard with Native American or African, life was hard for them as well. Below, were the Native Americans of Latin America. They had some autonomy within their communities but still oppressed from the upper classes. Finally at the very bottom, the slaves from Africa. There was little social mobility, these labels determined what one’s life was to be. The majority of the caste system was oppressed by the elite Peninsualres and Criollos. However, the Criollos were also oppressed.

Knowing the significant past behind this not so simple illustration, gives us a clearer understanding to the deep foundations of the Spanish colonies. The highly restricted confines of one’s social group came with specific duties and given occupations. Usually the hard, extortive labour was given to the majority of the social groups of the Casta system. The Natives and African slaves. One such example was the Mita. Where native labour was privatized for the use of mining gold or minerals for the Spanish Crown. Where often the Spanish heads were abusive towards their laborers. Sometimes crimes against them would see the courts to settle these matters.

Reflecting on this piece, we can pose many questions from this small glimpse of the past. We see the Casta system at play, just alone in the illustration. The one Spanish woman from Lima with a Spaniard enjoying the prospects of horseback riding. Behind them, their help, the housekeeper and slave. The mulatto woman also appears to have a house work costume as well. We have to ask, when would the Spanish realize that the lower Castas are people too? They have needs to be met, to improve their quality of life. They aren’t a back bone to extort from, to feed the Spanish Crown’s greed.

1748.Record number:
34066-5.©John Carter Brown Library, Box 1894, Brown University, Providence, R.I. 02912

JCB Archive of Early American Images; Costumes, animals, and modes of transportation of Peru”, Accessed 16 Sept. 2020.