*** Central America and Mexico

Central America and Mexico

Guatemala religious percession children
Figure 1.--This is the Good Friday procession in Iztapalapa, Mexico. Mexico like the rest of Central and South America is culturally Catholic, but there is a very low level of Catholic religious observation. There are dynamic Protestant evangelical churches which are growing in membership.

Central America is a political contruct. Geographically it is part of North America. Culturally, Central America and Mexico are destinct from the rest of North America. Central America and Mexico are former Spanish colonies, with the exception of Belize. Thus the culture is predominately Hispanic, but because of the large Native American populations in most of the counties, it is a hybrid Hispanic-Native American culture. North America on the other evolved from former English colonies. And with the exception of Quebec, the culture is predominately English with the admixture of mostly other European countries and cultures. There area a range of cultural differences, but among them is a Hispanic legal structure that has not yet demonstrated the capability of providing the legal structure for a modern, productive capitalist economy. There are many similarities througout the region, because of climate and similasr cultural elements. Each country, however, has its own decinct character because of largely political differences. Panama is dominated by the Canal. Costa Rica has the most European population. Nicaragua has a political culture that has been truncated by the Sandinistas and Communist revolutionary ideology. El Salvador is the most populace country in the region and was ebgulfed in a bitter civil war. Guatemala has a very large Native American population. Mexico is the largest and dominant country in the region. In the early colonial period, Mexico attempted to gain control of Central America. The country's developent has been significantly impacted by the Revolution which its socialist ideology. As a result, Mexico like much of Central America has been unable to construct a modern economy creating well paying jobs for its people. All the countries are predominately Catholic culturally, but observence is in many cases minimally. Mexico in particular has placed significant limits on the Church. We welcome readers from the region to subit their comnments abnd insights in either Englisj or Spanish.


The Maya founded major city/templle complexes in what is now modern Belize, imcluding Caracol, Xunantunich and Lamanai. The major complex of Tikal is just to the west in neigboring Guatemala. The first European settlers were English Puritans who setting up trading posts along the coast of Belize. In sharp contrast, bands of ship-wrecked sailors, buccaneers, and pirates created permanent bases along the coast. This was the beginning of creating a multi-ethnic society. The British Government formally declared the colony of British Honduras (1840s). British Colombia was the only British colony in Central America. European settlers began to marry freed slaves resulting in the Creole majority that today dominates the country's population. Gispanics from Mexico began founding small farms in the north aling the Mexican border. In Southern Belize, the Kekchi and Mopan Maya lived isolated lives in the Maya Mountains. After the Amrican Civil War, a small group of Confederates founded a settlement at Punta Gorda. Further ethnic diversity came from the Garifuna people of the Honduran Bay Islands who settled along the coast. Consideration of independence began in the 1930s. Voting rights were granted (1950s), but formal independence was also achieved in 1981. Independence was delayed by Guaatemla which exerted an earlier Spanish colonial claims. The British presence prevented a Gutemalan take over. American fashions beginning in the 1950s generally replaced English fashions for Belizian boys. A Belezian source reports on fashion trends in the 1980s.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a small Central Americn country, spanning the Istmus between Panama and Nicaragua. The climate is sub-tropical moderated by the elvations that exist in lrge areas of the country. We do not yet have much information on Costa Rica. We have begun a basic history of the country which was the first Central American country to achieve a modicum of stability. In this, Costa Rica is different than much of Centra America. And the ethnic balance is also different. The population is largely of European origins. The indigenous (Native American) and Black population is relatively small. The economy as in other Central American countries has been based on agricultural commodities. Coffee is especially important. Since World War II, tourism has become increasingly important along with foreign retirees. Here stability is an important factor. Costa Rica is both a democratic and peaceful country. It has not even had an army since 1949. The country's biodiversity has attracted increasing interest in recent years. Despite the fact that the coutryb is small, covering a miniscule part of the earth's surfce area, it is the habitat for an estimated 6 percent of the world's biodiversity. We have only limited information on boys' activities at this time. An important activity is religion. Most Costa Ricans are Catholic and the Catholic Church has played an important roile in Costa Rican society. As far as we can tell, clothing in Costa Rica was very similar to that of the other Central American countries during the Spanish colonia era and the early independence period. Here the relatively small Native American population was a factor. Major changes began to occur after World War II when American boys' wear began to be the dominant styles worn. This is today the general pattern throughout Central America and Mexico.


Guatemala is the northernmost of the seven Central American nations. It is bordered by Mexico on the north and west; Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador in the east, and the Pacific Ocean in the south. The country has three major geographic regions. Much of the population live in the highlands that run along the Pacific coast. There is a tropical section that runs along the Pacific coast, and the the eastern border areas into the narrow Caribbean coast. And then there is the poorly watered tropical northern lowlands, known as the Pet�n. The area of modern Guatemala was the birthplace of the ancient Mayan civilization. The Maya was one of the great Meso-American cultures. They flourished not in Guatemala, but and surrounding regions especially the Mexican Yucatan during the first millennium A.D. Modern Guatemala began with the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado (1524). The country after the overthrow of Sanish rule and a brief Mexican Empire, and the collpse United Provinces of Central America, acieved independence (1839). The country, however, failed to establish democratic rule. Like other Latin merican ciuntries, caudillos have played xa major role. A major figure in Guatemala's history was dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera who comtrolled or strongly influenced the country for four decades (1898-1920). Gen. Jorge Ubico Castaneda also ruled as a dictator (1931-44). Guatemalaince World War II has had several military and civilian governments along with a 36-year guerrilla war. The government signed a peace agreement formally ending the conflict (1996). Estimates suggest more than 0.2 million were killed and may have created 1 million refugees. And like many Latin Americn countries, Guatemala has failed to build a prosperous econmy offering prosperity to its people. Guatemala has a very large Native American population.


Honduras is set in the middle of South America along the Caribbean Sea. It is bordered by Guatemala to the northwest, El Salvador to the south, and Nicaragua to the southeast. It is the second largest country in Central America and unlike neigboring El Salvador, relativerly spaesely populated. Western Honduras was at the southern of the Mayan world. Copan is an important Mayan site, one of the best preserved surviving sites. other less-advanced Mesoamerican peoples inhabited eastern Honduras. After Columbus's voyages, Honduras was colonized by Spain and became part of the Spanish Empire. Some beautiful colonial villages survive (Gracias and Comayagua). Honduras as the rest of Central America languished under Spanish rule. Honduras achieved independenve (1821). Stable democratic rule proved more elusive. Military rulers have played a major role in Hinduran history. A democratically elected civilian government took power (1982). The country was involved in both the Salvadoran and Nicaraguan cicil wars. Anti-Sandinista contras found have in Himduras and the Salvadoran Government fighting Marxist guerrillas found support in Hinduras. The country is exposed to annual huricanes, Hurricane Mitch was especially devestaing (1998). Political instability in Central America has adversely affected the economy. The poulation reflectingb the country's history is of mixed ethnicity. The Garifuna peoples (the Black Caribs) are found on the Bay Island of Roatan, on Cayos Cochinos (the Hog Islands), and along the Caribbean coast. The Maya left their ethnic imprint. The modern Maya are known as the Chort�. The Miskito Indians were popularized by Paul Theroux's novel, The Mosquito Coast. The Spanish have also left their ethnic imprunt. The major cities are Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba, Tela, and Utila. Tegucigalpa is the capital of Honduras and located in central Honduras. It was founded as a gold and silver mining center (1536). San Pedro Sula is the financial and industrial center. Honduras is especially infatuated with futbol (soccer).


HBC at this time has relatively little information on Mexican boys clothes. I believe, however, that clothes for boys followed a very similar pattern common throughout much of Latin America. There has historically been very significant differences between the clothes worn by the boys from rich and middle class families and those worn by boys from poor families. Mexican boys' clothing was once sharply affected by social class and ethnicity. Wealthy boys from European origins wore European fashions. More affluent children wore European-styled clothes. Poor Indian and mestizo children wore simple white shirts and pants. The poor rural children which contituted the great bulk of the population wore plain white shirts and white trousers cut above the ankles. Most went barefoot. In more recent years Mexican boys fashions have been largely influenced by the United States and both wealthy and poorer children now wear the same styles. Of course not the quality of those clothes. Gradually Mexican children adopted basically American-styled clothing. We do not yet have any personal contributions from our Mexican readers. Nor do we know of any nooks where Mexican authors hasve decribed their childhood. Mexican readers have provided some individual portaits, although we often know very little about the individuals depicted.


Nicragua is located in the heart of Central America, Cosata Rica is to the south and El Salavador, Gutemala, and Hondurras to the north. It has a beauriful well-watered countrysdide and has beeb valled 'The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes'. The lakes and rivers wouold support another cananl across the Cenhtral American istmus. There are both Caribbean and Pavific ocean beaches. There are three regions which despite the small arrea have varied weather, geography, and population. There is a Pacific, Central, and Caribbean Region, The Caribbean Region consistrs of two sub-regions: the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCN), and the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCS). Nicaragua was the southern limit of the Maya cuklture, but was omhabitd by less sophisticated Native American tribes. Spanush Conquistadores were followed by settlers, first along the Pacific coast. Nicaragua eas part of the Span ish colonia empire which likev mostb of the rest of the rergion has been the primary cultural influence The Pacific coast of Nicaragua was settled as a Spanish colony from Panama in the early 16th century. Settlers achieved independence from Spain (1821). The Spanish colonial culture andcecomomy, however,m was little changed. Britain with its powerful Royal Navy occupied the Caribbean Coast (first half of the 19th century). It bevebtually ceded control of the region, but mich of the black population was introduced by the British. The economy is almost entirely agricultural. The population is centered in the western half of the country, with much of the urban growth centered in the capital city of Managua, There are large population clusters in coastal areas. The political culture and economy in the 20th century have been truncated by the Somoza dictatorship (1936-1979) and then the Sandinista Marrxist Revolution (1979- ) and Communist revolutionary ideology. We have little information on Nicaragua, but we have begun a school uniform page.


Panama is one of the smaller countries in the world, but because of the Panama Canal, is a very well known country. Even more than most other countries, Panama has been shaped by geography. Panam is an istmus, and a very narrow one. Once the Europeans appeared in the Pacific Ocean, the istmus became a very important commercial route. First for the Spanish Empire. The gold and silver from the Ica Empire would be briugjt across the Istmus for shipment to Spain. Eventually the istmus would become importanr for world trade, culminating in the construction of the Panama Canal. The country while located in Central America and was initially part of Colombia. There has since the building of the Panama Canal been an important relationship with the United States. For years the Panama Canal Zone was operated as jurisdiction of the United States. As a result, American fashions affected by the warm tropical climate were major fashion influences. It is not very clear how this boy is dressed. His light , loose fitting, cotton short pants are perfect for a tropical climate. It is hard to make out the details of his shirt, but looks to be a "T"-shirt. He wears ankle socks with leather shoes. We do not know much about Panamanian activities at his time. The most popular sport is soccer. There is also smoe interest in baseball. Although information is still limited, HBC has begun a page on Panamanian schoolwear. Panama is an etnic mix. Most of the population is of mixed race with Europeans (whites) (some 70 percent). This includes both mestizo (Amerindian and white) and mulatto (white and black). There were also Amerindian and West Indian mixes (about 15 percent). Europeans and some Americans are a smaller group (about 10 percent). We are less sure about the Indigenous or Amer-Indian poulation is defined. One sources suggests a small group (about 5 percent), but we have seen larger estimates. It probably depends on just how Amer-Indian is defined. About 0.1 milliom Amer-Indians live in isolation in eastern Panama (the Darrién Gap) and on the San Blas Islands. There is also a Chinese community of about 0.1 million. .

(El) Salvador

El Salvador is a small Central American country wedged between Guatemala and Homduras. It is the only exclusively Pacific-coast Central American country. It was within the rannge of the classical Mayan civilization. Modern El Salvasor is a largely mestizo country (about 90 percent). Very few Salvadorans are pure blood Native Americans. El Salvador achieved independence from Spain (1821) and became involved with both Mexico and a Central ASmerican Federation. The country subsequently became an independent country (1839). Since that time it has had a unstable national existance, often dominated by military dictatorship. Like mny Latin American countries, the ecomnomny has beebn domimnated by commoidities, in the case of El Salvador it has been coffee. Most recently, El Salvador experiebced a 12-year civil war, ewsulting in the loss of about 75,000 lives. The war was ended when the government and leftist rebels signed a treaty that provided for military and political reforms (1992). We have very limited information about El Salvador at this time. The one photograoh we do have shows a brother and sister, we think in the 1880s. If the did not know that it was taken in El Salvador, probably San Slvador, we would have guessed that it was American. This suggests that children in the privlidged classes dressed much like American children. Despite the warm tropical climate, the children are even wearing long stockings. Most Salvadorian boys until after Wotld War II wore light-colored shirts and light colored long trousers, a kind of compesino dress common throughout Latin America.


Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main Latin American page]
[Return to the Main countries page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Cloth and textiles] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Topics]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Created: 2:05 AM 4/26/2011
Last updated: 2:05 AM 4/26/2011