Country Listing

Uruguay Table of Contents


Contemporary Ethnic Composition

In 1990 about 88 percent of Uruguay's population was white and descended from Europeans, and the nation has always looked to Europe for its cultural cues. Eight percent of the population was mestizo, and 4 percent was black. Although in 1990 Uruguay had an aging population, it was once a young nation of immigrants. According to the 1908 census, over two-fifths of the population was foreign born. While the descendants of the original Spanish colonists (known as criollos) predominated in the interior, the origins of the population were varied in the densely populated areas of Montevideo and the coast. In these areas, citizens of Italian descent were particularly numerous, constituting as much as one-third of the population.

In 1990 estimates of the number of Uruguayans of African descent ranged from as low as 40,000 to as high as 130,000 (about 4 percent). In Montevideo, many of them traditionally made a living as musicians or entertainers. Few had been allowed to achieve high social status. As many as three-quarters of black women aged eighteen to forty were employed in domestic service. In the interior, citizens of African or mixed descent were concentrated along the Brazilian border. Early in the twentieth century, the traditional folkways of Afro-Uruguayans were captured in the impressionist paintings of Pedro Figari. Although vestiges of African culture survived in the annual carnival celebrations known as the Llamadas, Uruguay's black population was relatively assimilated in 1990.

Uruguay's Indian population had virtually disappeared and was no longer in evidence in 1990. Even the mestizo, or mixed-race, population was small--8 percent--by Latin American standards. In 1990 signs of intermarriage between whites and Indians were common only in the interior. The slightly derogatory term chino was still applied by the inhabitants of Montevideo to the somewhat darker-skinned migrants from the interior.

Montevideo also had a highly assimilated Jewish population of some importance. Estimated at 40,000 in 1970, the Jewish community had fallen to about 25,000 by the late 1980s as a result of emigration, particularly to Israel. Anti-Semitism was not uncommon, but it was less virulent than, for example, in Argentina.

Data as of December 1990