How to Define North, South, Latin and Anglo America

Learn the Geographic and Cultural Differences Within the Americas

'South America (America Meridionalis): from the Atlas of Gerardus Mercator', 1633, (1936)
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The term 'Americas' refers to the continents of North and South America and all of the countries and territories that lie within them. However, there are other words used to describe geographic and cultural subsections of this large land mass and it can be quite confusing.

What is the difference between North, South and Central America? How do we define Spanish America, Anglo-America and Latin America?

These are very good questions and the answers are not as clear cut as one might think. It's probably best to list each region with its commonly accepted definition.

What is North America?

North America is a continent that includes Canada, the United States, Mexico, Central America and the islands of the Caribbean Sea. In general, it is defined as any country to the north of (and including) Panama.

  • Geographically, the North American continent also includes Greenland, though culturally and politically, the country is more aligned with Europe.
  • In some uses of 'North America',  Central America and the Caribbean are excluded and in others, even Mexico is left out of the definition.
  • North America includes 23 independent countries.
  • A number of the Caribbean islands are territories or dependencies of other (often European) countries.

What is South America?

South America is the other continent in the Western Hemisphere and the fourth largest in the world.

It includes the nations south of Panama, including 12 independent countries and 3 major territories.

  • In some uses, 'South America' may include the portion of Panama south of the Isthmus of Panama.
  • Islands near the main continent are also considered to be part of South America. These include Easter Island (Chile), the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), the Falkland Islands (U.K.) and South Georgia Islands (U.K.).

    What is Central America?

    Geographically, what we think of a Central America is part of the North American continent. In certain uses - often political, social or cultural - the seven countries between Mexico and Colombia are referred to as 'Central America.'

    • Central America includes the countries of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.
    • Central America can also sometimes include the area of Mexico east of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, such as the Yucatan Peninsula.
    • Central America is an isthmus, a narrow strip of land that connects North and South America.
    • At its narrowest point in Darién, Panama, it is only 30 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. At no point is the isthmus more than 125 miles wide.

    What is Middle America?

    Middle America is another term used to refer to Central America and Mexico. At times, it includes the islands of the Caribbean as well.

    • When looking at the United States alone, 'Middle America' refers to the central part of the country.
    • Economically speaking, 'Middle America' may also refer to the middle class of the United States.

    What is Spanish America?

    We use the term 'Spanish America' when referring to the countries settled by Spain or Spaniards and their descendants.

    This excludes Brazil but includes some of the Caribbean islands.

    How Do We Define Latin America?

    The term 'Latin America' is often used to refer to all of the countries south of the United States, including all of South America. It is used more as a cultural reference to describe all Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking nations in the Western Hemisphere.

    • Latin America includes a very diverse group of people who differ by nationality, race, ethnicity and culture.
    • Spanish is common throughout Latin America and Portuguese is the main language of Brazil. Native languages such as Quechua and Aymara are also spoken in South American nations like Bolivia and Peru.

    How Do We Define Anglo America?

    Also speaking culturally, the term 'Anglo-America' is commonly used. This refers to the United States and Canada where many immigrant settlers were of English, rather than Spanish, decent.

    In general, Anglo-America is defined by white, English-speakers.

    • Of course, the U.S. and Canada were founded by people from many European countries, including the area of French-speaking Canada, and is far more diverse than this narrow term.
    • Anglo-America is used to distinguish people of these nations from those of Latin America.
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    Rosenberg, Matt. "How to Define North, South, Latin and Anglo America." ThoughtCo, Mar. 31, 2017, thoughtco.com/define-north-south-latin-anglo-america-4068990. Rosenberg, Matt. (2017, March 31). How to Define North, South, Latin and Anglo America. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/define-north-south-latin-anglo-america-4068990 Rosenberg, Matt. "How to Define North, South, Latin and Anglo America." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/define-north-south-latin-anglo-america-4068990 (accessed November 20, 2017).