People, Ethnic Groups
Spanish conquistadors, anthropological research, coffee industry, Native American communities, Cultural characteristics
El Salvador was home to Native Americans 3,000 years before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1524. Inhabited by early Maya peoples, it was later settled by Nahuatl people from Mexico. The country’s mestizo majority has its roots in these ethnic groups, but the tiny elite class that arose with the development of the coffee industry in the 19th century became increasingly more Caucasian because of immigration and marriage with Europeans and North Americans. This Europeanization of the elite class over the past century sets it apart somewhat from the dominant mestizo character of the middle and lower classes.
Cultural characteristics—language, dress, and customs—have been more important than ethnic background in differentiating mestizo from indigenous populations in El Salvador. Although some Native American communities have survived in the country, most of them have adopted European ways as a result of the systematic repression of native people, especially after an uprising in 1932. Estimates of the Native American population range from the official 1992 government census figure of 5 percent to a figure of 10 percent, suggested by anthropological research.
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