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Colombia e­ thnicity, and culture have lost their meaning (if, indeed, they ever were valid concepts). In this book, race is used in reference to one’s biological inheritance. Nationality refers to one’s sense of ­self-­identity or belonging. Basically, it is the answer one gives if asked “What are you?” A Colombian who lived for years in the United States, for example, might still reply to such a ques-­ tion with “Colombian.” Ethnicity, as used by most American geographers, refers to a minority ­population. When the Spanish arrived in Colombia, the country already had a native Amerindian population that may have numbered one to 2 million. Soon after their arrival, African slaves were introduced as laborers on tropical plantations. These three groups constitute the foundation of the country’s popula-­ tion. Over time, however, the population became increasingly mixed. Today, only about ­one-­third of the people still identify themselves as belonging to one of the “pure” ­groups. “Whites,” primarily of Spanish ancestry, but including small numbers of British, French, Lebanese, and others, claim about 20 percent of the population. ­Afro-­Colombians, includ-­ ing mulattoes (mixed black and white) and zambos, (mixed black and Amerindian), account for another 21 percent of the people. A small one percent of the population claims Amer-­ indian ancestry. An estimated 58 percent of the population is mestizo, a mixture of white and Amerindian. Today, as is true throughout much of Andean and Middle America, mestizos are the most dominant and often influential members of society. In Colombia, many mestizos hold high positions in government and the business ­community. Language Spanish is the official and almost universal language spoken throughout Colombia. Small numbers of Amerindians, usually those living in very remote locations, continue to speak in their native tongue. Initially, the country’s Amerindian population


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