Every nation’s flag reflects the history, geography or aspirations of its citizens. The flags (banderas) of the nations of the Caribbean, Central America and South America tell many stories, such as the quest for independence or the richness of the land. And many intriguing designs can be seen, from the stellar constellations on Brazil’s flag to the eagle and snake on Mexico’s flag.
From Monday, October 7 to Friday, October 11, as part of Governor Pat Quinn’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, the flags of many Latin American nations will be on display in the busy James R. Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph, Chicago. For those of you unable to see them, see below for a look at each flag and brief description of its design.
The Argentinean flag was created by Manuel Belgrano and first rose at the city of Rosario in 1812 during the Argentine War of Independence. In 1818, a yellow “Sun of May” was added to the center to symbolize the revolution of May 1810. In 1978, the color of sun was specified to be “golden yellow”. The full flag with the “Sun” is the official ceremonial flag and the flag without the sun is considered the ornamental flag. Both versions are equally considered the national flag, but the ornamental version must always be hoisted below the official ceremony flag.
The official flag of Belize was adopted in 1981, and features Belize’s coat of arms in front of a deep blue background, with thin strips of red on the top and bottom borders. The coat of arms contains depictions of mahogany (including a mahogany tree, which was vitally important to Belize’s economy for centuries) and celebrates Belize’s logging industry. Surrounding the scene, which depicts two loggers, is a border of 25 leaves and, underneath, an inscription of the national motto SUB UMBRA FLOREO, which translates to “Under the Shade I Flourish.”
The flag of Bolivia was originally adopted in 1851, and its simple design has remained unchanged since then. It consists of three horizontal stripes of equal width: red on the top, yellow in the middle, and green on the bottom, with the national coat of arms in the center. The red stripe represents the heroes who have kept Bolivia secure, the yellow stripe signifies wealth and natural resources, and the green stripe represents cultural strength and expresses a spirit of hope for Bolivian society.
Brazil’s national flag was adopted in 1889 and revised in 1992. It features a blue disc depicting a starry sky with nine constellations, spanned by a curved band inscribed with the national motto, all within a yellow rhombus on a green field. In 1992, the flag was revised to include 27 stars (instead of 21 stars) that represent the sky over Rio de Janeiro, with each star representing a state in Brazil. The motto - Order and Progress – is inspired by Auguste Comte’s theory of positivism: “Love as a principle and order as the basis; progress as the goal.”
Adopted in 1817, the flag of Chile (nicknamed “The Lone Star”) consists of a white band on top and a red band below, with a blue patch in the top corner containing a white five-pointed star. “Flag Day” is celebrated every year on July 9th, commemorating the 1882 Battle of La Concepción, a battle during the War of the Pacific in which 77 Chileans lost their lives. The colors of the flag celebrate the country’s fundamentals: white for the snow-capped Andes, blue for the sky and ocean, and red for the soldiers who fought for Chile’s independence.
Derived from the flag of Gran Colombia - which also inspired the Ecuadorian and Venezuelan flags – Colombia’s flag was adopted in 1861. It features three colors (yellow, blue, and red) in horizontal stripes, with yellow on top (a slightly larger horizontal bar) and blue and red below. The yellow symbolizes gold, the blue represents Colombia’s two coasts (bordering two oceans), and red honors those who spilled blood for freedom. The flag of Gran Colombia was inspired by Goethe’s theory of primary colors.
Costa Rica’s national flag was designed by then-first lady Pacifica Fernandez Oreamuno and officially adopted in 1906 with a slight modification to reflect changes on their coat of arms in 1998. The colors on the flag are inspired by the French flag. The blue stripes symbolize growth opportunities in the nation, independent thinking and spirituality. The red stripe represents the hospitality and vibrancy of the land as well as the blood spilled during the fight for freedom. Finally, the white stripes stand for peace, wisdom and happiness.
The flag of Cuba was designed in 1848 during a period of social change, when various movements arose to declare independence from Spanish rule. The flag is made up of five alternating bands of color (three blue and two white) and a red isosceles triangle containing a single five-pointed star. The blue stripes represent the three parts into which the country was divided during the war. The white stripes symbolize the purity of the patriot’s cause for freedom. The star, representing independence, is within a red triangle symbolizing the blood that had been and would be shed for independence. Later, the flag inspired the designers of the Puerto Rican flag.
The Dominican Republic’s current flag was adopted in 1844. The original model was designed by the leader of La Trinitaria, a secret society which eventually led the fight for independence. The blue rectangles symbolize liberty, the red symbolize bloodshed of heroes and the white stands for faith. The coat of arms in the middle features a ribbon with the phrase Dios, Patria, Libertad (“God, Fatherland, Liberty”).
The 8th national flag of Ecuador, this design was adopted in 1860 after the Battle of Guayaquil. The coat of arms in the center features the Chimborazo mountain and Guayas River. The condor represents Ecuador’s strength and majesty. The flag’s designer said he was inspired by Goethe’s theory of primary colors.
El Salvador’s current flag was adopted in 1912. For official government functions, this flag is used. For civil activities, an alternative flag is usually displayed, which instead of donning the Salvadorian coat of arms on the white stripe, displays in yellow letters the motto "Dios Union Libertad" (“‘God, Union, Liberty”). The blue and white stripes were inspired by the flag used by the short-lived Federal Republic of Central America.
The Guatemalan flag was adopted in 1871 and features two colors: sky blue and white. The two sky blue strips represent the fact that Guatemala is a land located between two oceans and the sky over the country, while the white signifies peace and purity. The coat of arms features the national bird of Guatemala, the “Resplendent Quetzal” with a parchment scroll, bearing the date of Central America’s independence from Spain (September 15, 1821).
The Honduran flag was inspired by the former Federal Republic of Central America, of which Honduras was a part. In 1866, Honduras amended the flag by placing five blue stars in the center representing the five nations that comprised the Federation. The blue stripes represent the waters bordering Honduras: the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean. The white stripe represents peace and prosperity.
Inspired by the 1821 tricolor bandera, this is the fourth national flag of Mexico, with the coat of arms revised in 1968. The green stripe represents the independence movement, the white represents the purity of the Catholic faith, and red stands for the blood of the national heroes. The coat of arms (center) in the white band is the badge of Tenochtitlan - now Mexico City - the country’s capital. It symbolizes an Aztec legend telling the people to build their new city on the exact sport where they saw an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus with a snake in its talon.
The Nicaraguan flag was officially adopted on August 27, 1971, and was inspired by the Argentine flag. The coat of arms features a triangle with Nicaragua’s volcanoes, a rising sun, the Cap of Liberty and a rainbow, encircled by the words, Republica de Nicaragua America Central. The sunshine and rainbow represent a positive outlook for Nicaragua’s future. The Cap of Liberty - the Phrygian cap - is a symbol of freedom from Ancient Rome.
Panama’s current flag was designed by Maria Ossa de Amador and officially adopted in 1925 (after rejecting a controversial design which celebrated the Panama Canal). The two colored rectangles symbolize the two leading political parties in Panama, red for liberals and blue for conservatives. The white symbolizes the peace between them. Additionally, the blue star stands for purity and honesty, and the red star stands for rule of law.
Paraguay’s flag is of special interest in that it is the only national flag that has different obverse and reverse sides. It was originally adopted in 1842 and modified in 1991. The emblem on the obverse side of the flag is Paraguay’s national coat of arms, while the emblem on the reserve side is the seal of the treasury and bears the words Paz y Justicia ("Peace and Justice"). The stripes’ colors are taken from the French flag, and symbolize liberty and independence.
The flag of Peru was adopted February 25, 1825. There are several variations to the flag, where the national flag is just a vertical tri-band with red outer bands and a single middle white band, while the other variants include a coat of arms, which is mostly used for naval, state, and war. The coat of arms includes a vicuna (a relative of the llama and alpaca), the quina tree and a cornucopia of gold. The coat of arms varies in the different types of flags. The colors of the flag - red and white - represent the blood spilt for independence and the peace that now prevails.
Developed in its original form when Puerto Ricans fought against Spanish rule of the island in 1868, the flag of Puerto Rico resembles the United States flag, with five alternating bands of color (three red and two white) and a blue isosceles triangle containing a single five-pointed star. The three points of the triangle represent the three branches of Puerto Rico’s government. The red and white stripes symbolize the sacrifice that was required and the vigilance that is necessary to keep democratic ideals intact.
Spain’s current flag was adopted on December 6, 1978 and features three horizontal stripes of yellow and red, with a coat of arms. Also known as the “La Rojigualada,” the origin of the flag dates back to 1795 and was chosen by King Charles III, but it was not until 1820 that Queen Isabella II would make the flag official. Throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries, the flag remained the same, with the exception of a change in the coat of arms during the Second Republic period in the 1930’s.
Suriname became independent in 1975, and adopted their national flag immediately. Its design is of five horizontal bands, with green on the top and bottom, white bands next to the green bands, and a center of red which contains a golden five-point star. Red is said to stand for progress and love; white for peace, freedom, and justice; and green for hope and fertility. Red and green were also the colors of the political parties which flourished during the independence. This is tied together by the star, the focal point of the flag, which represents hope and the unity of all who reside in Suriname.
Uruguay’s flag was designed by Joaquin Suarez, who defended the capital during the 8-year “Siege of Montevideo”. When it was originally adopted in 1828, it donned 17 stripes, but two years later that number was reduced to nine stripes representing the nine original ‘departments’ or states of Uruguay. The top left corner of the flag displays the “Sun of May”, to symbolize the birth of a new nation. The “Sun of May” is also on the Argentine flag.
The color scheme of Venezuela’s flag remains true to the original design issued in 1811 during the War of Independence. The yellow stripe represents Venezuela’s richness, the blue stripe symbolizes independence from Spain and the red stripe stands for courage. The nation’s coat of arms rests on the upper left. Two changes were made in 2006. The horse in the coat of arms now faces the left instead of the right, and the number of stars was increased from seven to eight.