Ladino people
Ladino is a Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

 term used to describe various socio-ethnic categories
Ethnic group
An ethnic group is a group of people whose members identify with each other, through a common heritage, often consisting of a common language, a common culture and/or an ideology that stresses common ancestry or endogamy...

 in Latin America
Latin America
Latin America is a region of the Americas where Romance languages  – particularly Spanish and Portuguese, and variably French – are primarily spoken. Latin America has an area of approximately 21,069,500 km² , almost 3.9% of the Earth's surface or 14.1% of its land surface area...

, principally in Central America
Central America
Central America is the central geographic region of the Americas. It is the southernmost, isthmian portion of the North American continent, which connects with South America on the southeast. When considered part of the unified continental model, it is considered a subcontinent...


The term Ladino is derived from "latino
The demonyms Latino and Latina , are defined in English language dictionaries as:* "a person of Latin-American descent."* "A Latin American."* "A person of Hispanic, especially Latin-American, descent, often one living in the United States."...

" and usually refers to the mestizo
Mestizo is a term traditionally used in Latin America, Philippines and Spain for people of mixed European and Native American heritage or descent...

 or hispanicized
Hispanicisation or Hispanisation refers to the process by which a place or person becomes influenced by Hispanic culture or a process of cultural and/or linguistic change in which something non-Hispanic becomes Hispanic...

 population. The demonym
A demonym , also referred to as a gentilic, is a name for a resident of a locality. A demonym is usually – though not always – derived from the name of the locality; thus, the demonym for the people of England is English, and the demonym for the people of Italy is Italian, yet, in english, the one...

 Ladino came into use during the colonial era and referred to the Spanish speaking population that didn't belong to the colonial elite of Peninsulares
In the colonial caste system of Spanish America, a peninsular was a Spanish-born Spaniard or mainland Spaniard residing in the New World, as opposed to a person of full Spanish descent born in the Americas or Philippines...

 or Criollos
Criollo people
The Criollo class ranked below that of the Iberian Peninsulares, the high-born permanent residence colonists born in Spain. But Criollos were higher status/rank than all other castes—people of mixed descent, Amerindians, and enslaved Africans...

, nor to the indigenous peoples.

This term should not be confused with the Sephardi Jews
Sephardi Jews
Sephardi Jews is a general term referring to the descendants of the Jews who lived in the Iberian Peninsula before their expulsion in the Spanish Inquisition. It can also refer to those who use a Sephardic style of liturgy or would otherwise define themselves in terms of the Jewish customs and...

 whose traditional language is known as Ladino.


The ladino population in Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast...

 is officially recognized as a distinct ethnic group, and the Ministry of Education of Guatemala uses the following definition: "The ladino population has been characterized as a heterogenous population which expresses itself in the Spanish language as a maternal language, which possesses specific cultural traits of Hispanic origin mixed with indigenous cultural elements, and dresses in a style commonly considered as western." Consequently, the population censuses include the ladino population as one of the different ethnic groups in Guatemala.

In popular use, the term ladino commonly refers to non-indigenous
Indigenous peoples
Indigenous peoples are ethnic groups that are defined as indigenous according to one of the various definitions of the term, there is no universally accepted definition but most of which carry connotations of being the "original inhabitants" of a territory....

 Guatemalans, as well as mestizo
Mestizo is a term traditionally used in Latin America, Philippines and Spain for people of mixed European and Native American heritage or descent...

s and westernized
Western world
The Western world, also known as the West and the Occident , is a term referring to the countries of Western Europe , the countries of the Americas, as well all countries of Northern and Central Europe, Australia and New Zealand...

Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

. The word was popularly thought to be derived from a mix of "Latino" and "ladrón", the Spanish word for "thief", but is not necessarily or popularly considered a pejorative.

It is sometimes also used to refer to the mestizo
Mestizo is a term traditionally used in Latin America, Philippines and Spain for people of mixed European and Native American heritage or descent...

 middle class, or also to the population of Amerindian peoples who have attained some level of upward social mobility
Social mobility
Social mobility refers to the movement of people in a population from one social class or economic level to another. It typically refers to vertical mobility -- movement of individuals or groups up from one socio-economic level to another, often by changing jobs or marrying; but can also refer to...

 above the largely impoverished indigenous masses, especially with regard to material wealth and imitating the North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

n lifestyle as much as possible. At times it can be used in a wider sense, meaning "any Guatemalan whose primary language is Spanish".

The second of these definitions is often used in indigenist rhetoric as a derogatory term for indigenous peoples who are seen as having betrayed their community to be part of the middle class, people who may go as far as to literally deny their Amerindian heritage. Rigoberta Menchú
Rigoberta Menchú
Rigoberta Menchú Tum is an indigenous Guatemalan, of the K'iche' ethnic group. Menchú has dedicated her life to publicizing the plight of Guatemala's indigenous peoples during and after the Guatemalan Civil War , and to promoting indigenous rights in the country...

's famous and controversial memoir uses the term in such a way, which illustrates the use of the term in Guatemala in both a derogatory way (Amerindian to mestizo/ladino) and in the general mestizo/ladino community to define one's ethnic heritage.

Further reading

  • Adams, Richard N. Guatemalan Ladinization and History. In: The Americas, Vol. 50, No. 4 (Apr., 1994), pp. 527-543. Academy of American Franciscan History.
  • Falla, Ricardo (translated by Phillip Berryman). Quiché rebelde: religious conversion, politics, and ethnic identity in Guatemala. University of Texas Press, 2001. ISBN 0292725329 in Google books
  • Martínez Peláez, Severo. La patria del criollo: Ensayo de interpretación de la realidad colonial guatemalteca. Guatemala: Editorial Universitaria, USAC, 1970.
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