The term “Latin America” was coined by a henchman of Napoleon III, as a propaganda weapon to devalue Spanish influence. Don Juan Valera, in his Cartas Americanas, defended, already in 1888, the denomination “Hispano-Americans” as opposed to “Latin-Americans”.
Julián Marías’ book La Comunidad Hispánica de Naciones (published by the Francisco López de Gomara Association as the tenth volume of the series “La Corona y los Pueblos Americanos”, in 1992), on pages 88 to 90, explains the origin of the name “Latin America”: “it was used for the first time in 1861 in the Reveu des Races Latines, by Michel Chevalier, an active collaborator in Napoleon III’s policy in Mexico; this Chevalier, a celebrated economist, was a sectarian free trader and anti-socialist, which is paradoxical and ironic, given the disposition of many supporters of the name “Latin America”. In the following years,” says Marías, “only six French authors and two Spanish-Americans who had been living in France for some time, as John L. Phelan, an admirable historian of Hispanic America, has documented with great precision. The subsequent success of this name among Hispanic Americans is “inexplicable,” says Marías, “because it is a ‘colonialist’ name par excellence, invented to favor an entirely foreign intervention. It is also -and this is the most serious- a false term, because “Latin” as such has nothing to do with America, because nobody includes Quebec in it, which is what could be considered as such, and because to speak of “Latin race” in Latin America, with the presence of millions of Indians, mestizos, blacks, mulattos and people of other ethnic origins, does not make the slightest sense”.
“The usual name – Marías also says – even long after independence, was “Spanish America”.” Furthermore, in his Intelligible Spain (1981), Marías wrote: “For the Hispanic countries of America, the greatest temptation has been the intentional myth of “Latin America” (…); that expression feigns a sufficient unity without reference to Spain, that is, to the effective principle of linking its members among themselves. If the Spanish ingredient is eliminated in the Hispanic countries, any historical community among them is volatilized, their shared roots disappear, and with it any social connection that could articulate them in a coherent world.”
Julián Marías adds (“Problemas de las Españas”), “Hispanoamérica and Iberoamérica seem the preferable and fairest names (and entirely equivalent, since Hispania and Iberia mean the same thing, both include Portugal, and therefore their American compounds equally comprise Brazil; Camoens knew this very well when he sang precisely of the Portuguese as uma gente fortíssima d’Espanha).”
As I manage to talk in depth with a greater number of Hispanic Americans living here in Madrid, the more I realize that many of the ills of their countries of origin and the complexes with which they live here, come from the systematic effort to deprive them of their history and their roots. On the other hand, I do not cease to give a good hiding to those from here who dare to belittle the Spaniards from there. For me, as for Cela (when he received Vargas Llosa at the Academy) there is no doubt: they are Spaniards from Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico… It is incredible that so many people ignore the enlightening history of the term “Latin America”.