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All of the Western Hemisphere south of the U.S.-Mexican border and north of Antarctica, including South America, Central America, Mexico, and the islands of the Caribbean. This large and variegated portion of the globe is known as Latin America because of the mark left upon it by its Spanish and Portuguese colonizers who spoke Romance languages that were derived from Latin. Spanish or Portuguese is still spoken in most Latin American countries.

Christopher Columbus had ventured to cross the Atlantic in search of the “Indies.” He believed that by sailing westward he would discover a sea route to India, the home of silk, spices, elephants, gold, and all the “riches of the Orient.” Instead, he stumbled on the Americas, which he believed to be the “West Indies.” It was soon realized, however, that this was neither India nor the Indies, but a “New World” no less rich and exotic than the fabled Orient. Within 30 years this New World was overrun with Spanish and Portuguese adventurers intent on exploiting the wealth of their newly discovered empire which they came to call “New Spain.”

As colonists settled in the Americas, traffic sprang up between New Spain and European countries. Ships bore rich ores to Europe and returned with manufactured goods for the colonies. Soon it was discovered that the riches of the New World lay not in metals alone. Sugar, tobacco, coffee, and other items that could be grown in the fertile valleys and tropical islands of the Americas commanded high prices on the markets of the old world. Trade boomed.

Among the masters of this trade were Marranos, Spanish Jews who had converted to Catholicism rather than go into exile or be burned at the stake. The year 1492, when Columbus discovered America, was a monumental year in the annals of Spain

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