Latin America is generally understood to consist of the entire continent of South America in addition to Mexico, Central America, and the islands of the Caribbean whose inhabitants speak a Romance language. The peoples of this large area shared the experience of conquest and colonization by the Spaniards and Portuguese from the late 15th through the 18th century as well as movements of independence from Spain and Portugal in the early 19th century. Even since independence, many of the various nations have experienced similar trends, and they have some awareness of a common heritage. However, there are also enormous differences between them. Not only do the people live in a large number of independent units, but the geography and climate of their countries vary immensely. The inhabitants’ social and cultural characteristics differ according to the constitution of the occupants before the Iberian conquest, the timing and nature of European occupation, and their varying material endowments and economic roles. Since the Spanish and Portuguese element looms so large in the history of the region, it is sometimes proposed that Iberoamerica would be a better term than Latin America. Latin seems to suggest an equal importance of the French and Italian contributions, which is far from being the case. Nevertheless, usage has fastened on Latin America, and it is retained here.