Cultural minorities – Concept, characteristics and examples

We explain what cultural minorities are, their attributes and their relationship with other groups. We are also presenting a few examples from around the world.

cultural minorities
Cultural minorities are often the product of complex historical and social processes.

What are cultural minorities?

In sociology, a cultural minority is called a sector of the population of a country or a State, which despite being a legal part of it, distinguishes itself from the majority population in terms of its cultural identity, that is, their language, their religion, their traditions, their folklore and / or their founding stories.

Cultural minorities are often ethnic minorities as well. They cohabit with the majority group (known as “hegemonic” or “dominant”) in a relationship of subordination, that is, of submission and marginalization regarding the benefits of the State.

This is the key aspect of the concept of cultural minority, since in some cases minorities can be, paradoxically, more numerous in population than the dominant group, as happened in Apartheid South Africa, in which a white population minority dominated for decades a majority black population, but that for sociological purposes behaved as a cultural and ethnic minority.

In general, however, cultural minorities are also a minority in population terms, since they are often the product of complex historical and social processes, such as migration, conquest and colonization. That is why they tend to demonstrate a very narrow sense of belonging and collective identity, capable of resisting the hegemonic culture of the country: that which is taught in schools.

Examples of cultural minorities

cultural minorities examples china
The Iugur people have been the victim of selective repression by the Chinese government.

Some examples of cultural minorities today are:

  • The Kurdish people. Inhabitants since prehistoric times of the border region between Iran, Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Armenia, do not have their own state and in each of these nations it is considered a cultural minority. For example, Kurds speak the Kurdish language, not officially recognized in any country except the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq, along with Arabic.
  • The Ranquel people. Pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Argentine pampas, along with the puelches and huarpes, were baptized as “Ancient Pampas” by the Spanish conquerors, with whom they had a hostile relationship that the Argentine State inherited in the 19th century. Defeated in 1878 during the so-called “Desert Campaign” of the Argentine Republic, only about 14,000 descendants survive in the central states of the country, in 19 communities whose legal status has only been recognized since 1995.
  • The Uyghur people. An ethnic group that inhabits the northwest of the People’s Republic of China, mostly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the Uyghurs have a presence in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as well. Within all the aforementioned countries, they constitute a marked cultural minority. Speakers of the Uyghur language and practitioners of Islam do not exceed a population of 20 million world-wide. The Uyghurs have become “famous” at the beginning of the 21st century due to the accusations made against the Chinese government of being victims of selective repression and internment, in confinement and “re-education” camps.
  • The Zapotec people. Descendants of one of the main pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures, the Zapotecs mainly inhabit the southern regions of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Its population, estimated at 800,000 people, speak their own language (bilingual alongside Spanish) and keep some of their traditions alive, despite the 500 years of Hispanization that took place after the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards and the establishment of the Viceroyalty of New Spain.