For other uses, see Hispanic (disambiguation).

Hispanic, as used in the United States, is one of several terms used to categorize native and naturalized U.S. citizens, permanent residents and temporary immigrants, whose background hail either from Spain, the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America or the original settlers of the traditionally Spanish-held Southwestern United States. The term is used as a broad form of classification for this wide range of ethnicities, races, and nationalies who have historically used Spanish as their primary language.


The Term Hispanic

Hispanic population in the USA

Hispanics are the largest minority group in the United States, comprising 13.4% of the population, about 40 million people in 2003. Throughout the early 2000s the Hispanic population growth was around 2.4% per annum, faster than any other ethnic group in the United States. If this growth rate continues, Hispanics in the United States will number anywhere from 80 million to over 100 million by 2050.

Synonyms and antonyms

Often the term Hispanic is used synonymously with the word Latino, and frequently with Latin as well. Even though the terms may sometimes overlap in meaning, they are not completely synonymous.

Latin refers to any of the people related to, or descended from, the original Latin-speaking Romans, and includes all the Romance-speaking European nationalities (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Romania) including their cultures, and their descendants worldwide. Hispanic, on the other hand, specifically refers to Spain and the Spanish-speaking nations of the Americas, as cultural and demographic extenstion of Spain. Meanwhile, Latinos are only those from the countries of Latin America, whether Spanish or Portuguese-speaking.

The confusion that arises is from the similarity between the words Latino and Latin, and between the concept of Hispanic and Latino. Latino is a shortened version of the Spanish noun latinoamericano and is used for the inhabitants of Latinoamérica (Latin America). In the Spanish language "Latín" (Latin) is the name of the language of the Romans, and as such is not confined solely to Hispanics and Latinos.

Thus, of a group consisting of a Brazilian, a Colombian, a Mexican, a Spaniard and a Romanian; the Brazilian, Colombian, and Mexican would all be Latinos, but not the Spaniard or the Romanian, since neither Spain nor Romania are geographically situated in Latin America. Conversely, the Colombian, Mexican and Spaniard would all be Hispanics, but not the Brazilian or the Romanian, since Brazil was conquered and founded by the Portuguese, and neither Portugal or Romanian are extensions of Spain. The one exception for a Brazilian to be considered Hispanic is if his ancestry was Spanish rather than Portuguese. Finally, all of the above nationalities would all be Latin, including the Romanian.

Aside from "Hispanic", "Latino", and "Latin", other terms are used for more specific subsets of the Hispanic population. These terms often relate to specific countries of origin, such as "Mexican", "Mexican-American", "Cuban", "Puerto Rican" or "Dominican", etc. Other terms signify distinct cultural patterns among Hispanics which have emerged in what is now the United States, including "Chicano", "Tejano", "Nuyorican", etc.

History of its US and Latin American usage

The usage of term Hispanic in the United States is believed to have come into mainstream prominence following its inclusion in a question in the 1980 U.S. Census, which asked people to voluntarily identify if they were of "Spanish/Hispanic origin or descent". However, the Spanish language equivalent of the term Hispanic (Hispano) has been in use since much earlier than in the US.

In Latin America, although the term Hispano (Hispanic) is not as often used on the popular level in public discourse as a generalized ethnic label, an Hispano is commonly regarded to be any person whose ancestry and practiced culture both stem — whether in whole or in part — from the people and culture of Spain and to the contrast of the non-Hispanic populations of Latin America. Thus in the Latin American context, when speaking of any given nation's Hispanic population, those who are implied include creoles, mestizos and mulattos, and excludes indigenous Native Americans, the unmixed descendants of black African slaves, as well as excluding all other recent immigrants of various other races and nationalities now residing in Latin America. Also disregarded is whether or not those excluded groups now use Spanish as their first and only language — as is the case with all Blacks, most Native Americans and many recent immigrants.

This Latin American use of the term is more so evident in addresses regarding affairs of indigenous and African descended peoples made by government and minority agencies, where the creole, mestizo and mulatto collective majority and their culture, which is accredited as the national identity, is distinguished as Hispanic for purposes of contrast to the plight of national minorities.

On its use as an ethnic identifier

In the US some people consider Hispanic to be too general as a label, while others consider it offensive, often preferring to use the term Latino, which is viewed as a self-chosen label. The preference of Latino over Hispanic is partly because it more clearly indicates that those it is referring to are the people from Latin America, and not Spain. Different labels prevail in different regions, as well. In places like Arizona and California, the Chicanos are proud of their personal association and their participation in the agricultural movement of the 1960s with César Chávez, that brought attention to the needs of the farm workers.

Previously Hispanics were commonly referred to as "Spanish-Americans", "Spanish-speaking Americans" and "Spanish-surnamed Americans". These terms, however, proved even more misleading or inaccurate since:

  • most U.S. Hispanics were not born in Spain, nor were most born to recent Spanish nationals;
  • although most U.S. Hispanics speak Spanish, not all do, and though most Spanish-speaking people are Hispanic, not all are (e.g. some U.S. Hispanics by the fourth generation no longer speak Spanish, while there are many non-Hispanic of the Southwest that may be fluent in the language), and;
  • although most Hispanics posses a Spanish surname, not all do, and while most Spanish-surnamed people are Hispanic, not all are (e.g. there are many Spanish-surnamed Filipinos, however, Filipinos are not Hispanic).

In the mass-media and in law enforcement, as well as popular culture, Hispanic is often used to physically describe a subject's race or appearance, sometimes with little regard for an individual's language or culture. In general, Hispanics are assumed to have traits such as dark hair and eyes, and olive or brown skin, and are viewed as physically intermediate between whites and blacks or Native Americans. Hispanics with mostly Caucasoid or Negroid features may not be recognized as such by many people, despite the ethnic and racial diversity of most Latin American populations. People of Spanish or Latin American ancestry who do not "look Hispanic" may have their ethnic status questioned or even challenged by others.

Difficulties and criticisms on the U.S. application of Hispanic

Hispanic, as the term is defined and used in the United States, encompasses a very diverse population which often makes efforts toward creating a Pan-Hispanic sense of identity difficult. While in the United States Hispanics are often treated as a group apart from "whites", "blacks" and other racial groups, they actually include people who identify with any of the aforementioned racial and ethnic groups, as well as identifying as various others.

Some people argue that since Spain is in Europe and all indigenous Spaniards belong to the Caucasian race, they should not be included in the Hispanic category, being that in the United States, Hispanic is designated as a "minority group". However, others counter that Spain and the Hispanic American nations, despite their differences, are part of the same greater cultural sphere, and Spaniards may therefore face discrimination based on the assumption that they belong to a particularly discriminated Hispanic nationality.

In the United States, a great proportion of Hispanics identify as mestizo, partly because much of Latin America is of this mixed ancestry regardless of national origin and they constitute majority populations in most Latin American countries. Many other Hispanics may be of unmixed Spanish ancestry, predominantely those from Uruguay and Argentina, or of relatively unmixed Spanish ancestry, not uncommon amongst Costa Ricans and Chileans. Some may also be of unmixed Native American ancestry, many of those from Bolivia, Guatemala, Peru, and a noticeable proportion of those from Mexico, while many Hispanics of Dominican, Puerto Rican, Cuban and Colombian backgrounds may be mulatto or of unmixed black African ancestry. However, the presence of these mentioned races and race-mixes are not country-specific, since they can be found in every Latin American country, whether as larger of smaller proportions of their respective populations.

On occasions the demographics of certain nations may not mirror the demographics of their nationals in the USA. This is the case with Cuban Americans who are predominantely of unmixed or relatively unmixed Spanish ancestry, despite Cuba being a mulatto/black majority country. This demographic disparity between Cubans on the US mainland and those on the island is caused by most Cuban emigrants with the means to flee communist Cuba belong/belonged to the Cuban higher-middle and upper classes, which are predominately white.

To further the confusion, as a result of the very nature of its U.S. definition, a small minority of US Hispanics may also be of non-Spanish European ancestry, Middle Eastern or even Asian ancestry. Examples of these would include Argentinian and Uruguayan-born Italians (around one third of their countries' populations); Colombian, Ecuadorian and Mexican-born Lebanese; Cuban, Puerto Rican and Panamanian-born Chinese; Chilean and Paraguayan-born Germans; or Peruvian-born Japanese. Many of these communities date back three or more generations in Latin America, and despite them being considered nationals of their respective countries of birth, they would never be regarded as Hispanics there. Yet, when these very same people migrate to the United States, they are regarded as "Hispanic", which only further confounds many common notions of what it means to be Hispanic in the United States.

Religious diversity

In regards to religious affiliation among Hispanics, Roman Catholicism is usually the first religious tradition that springs to mind. Indeed, the Spaniards brought the Roman Catholic faith to Latin America along with them, and Roman Catholicism continues to be the largest, but not the only, religious denomination amongst most Hispanics.

A significant number of Hispanics are also Protestant, and several Protestant denominations (particularly Evangelical ones) have vigorously proselytized in Hispanic communities.

There are also Jewish Hispanics, of which most are the descendants of Ashkenazi Jews who migrated from Europe (German Jews, French Jews, Russian Jews, Austrian Jews, Polish Jews, etc.) to Latin America, particularly Argentina, in the 19th century and during and following WWII, and from there to the United States. Some Jewish Hispanics may also originate from the small communities of reconverted descendants of anusim — those whose Spanish and Portuguese Sephardi Jewish ancestors long ago hid their Jewish ancestry and beliefs in fear of persecution during the Spanish Inquisition in Spain (including neighbouring Portugal) and Latin America — or the now Catholic-professing descendants of marranos and the Hispano crypto-Jews believed to exist in the once Spanish-held Southwestern United States and scattered through Latin America. See also: History of the Jews in Latin America and List of Latin American Jews.

Among the Hispanic Catholics, most communities celebrate their homeland's patron saint, dedicating a day for this purpose with festivals and religious services. Some Hispanics syncretize Roman Catholicism and African or Native American rituals and beliefs. Such is the case of Santería in Cuba and Puerto Rico, which combines old African beliefs in the form of Roman Catholic saints and rituals; or Guadalupism (the devotion towards the Lady of Guadalupe) among Mexican Roman Catholics. This latter hybridizes Catholic rites for the virgin Mary with those venerating the Aztec goddess Tonantzin (earth goddess, mother of the gods and protector of humanity) and has all her attributes also endowed to the Lady of Guadalupe, whose Catholic shrine stands on the same sacred Aztec site that had previsously been dedicated to Tonatzín, on the hill of Tepeyac.

Political diversity

Hispanics differ slightly on their political views. For example, many Cubans and Colombians tend to favor conservative political ideologies and support the Republicans, while Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans lean more towards the Democrats. However, because the latter groups are far more numerous (Mexicans alone are nearly 60% of Hispanics), the Democratic Party is considered to be in a far stronger position among Hispanics overall. Some political organizations associated with Hispanic Americans are LULAC, the United Farm Workers and the Cuban American National Foundation.

Cultural trends

Popular culture varies widely from one Hispanic community to another, despite this, several features tend to unite Hispanics from diverse backgrounds. Many Hispanics, including U.S.-born second and third generation Hispanics, use the Spanish language to varying degrees. The most usual pattern is monolingual Spanish usage among new immigrants or older foreign born Hispanics, complete bilingualism among long settled immigrants and their children, and the use of Spanglish and colloquial Spanish within long established Hispanic communities by the third generation and beyond. In some families the children and grandchildren of immigrants speak mostly English with some Spanish words and phrases thrown in.


Folk and popular dance and music also varies greatly among Hispanics. While many people speak of "Latin" music as a single genre, Latin America is home to a wide variety of music. Hispanic Caribbean music tends to favor complex polyrhythms of African origin. Mexican music, depending on region, shows combined influences of Spanish, Native American and African origin, while the traditional Tejano music of Mexican-Americans is more influenced by country-and-western music and the polka, brought by central European settlers to Texas. Meanwhile, native Andean sounds and melodies are the backbone of Peruvian and Bolivian music, but also play a significant role in the popular music of most South American countries and are heavily incorporated into the folk music of Ecuador and Chile and the tunes of Colombia, and again in Chile and Argentina where they play a fundamental role in the form of the greatly followed nueva canción. Latin pop, rock and ballad styles tend to appeal to the broader Hispanic population, and varieties of Cuban music are popular with many Hispanics of all backgrounds.


There is also no single stereotypical Hispanic cuisine. Traditional Mexican, Cuban, Spanish, Argentinian and Peruvian cooking, for example, all vary greatly from each other, and take on new forms in the United States. While Mexican cuisine is the most familiar variety of "Hispanic food" in most of the United States, it is not representative of the cuisine of most other Hispanics.

The cuisine of Mexico can be heavily dependent on staples such as maize, beans, chile peppers and is greatly indebted to the cuisine and diet of the Aztec and Maya. Cuba, on the other hand, may be dependent on starchy root vegetables, plantain and rice and is influenced by the flavours of Africa. The cuisine of Spain often mirrors the cuisines of its Mediterranean neighbours, and in addition to the abundance of olives, olive oil, tomatoes, seafood and meats, other foreign influences, such as the use of saffron, were introduced during the spice trade. Meanwhile, Argentina relies almost exclusively on red meats, consuming almost everything derived from beef, and is heavily influenced by Italian cuisine. In Peruvian cuisine guinea pigs are popular as a source of meat (derived from the diet of the Inca) and staples indigenous to the region, such as maize and the myriad of potato varieties, are the most utilised there. Rice also plays an important role in peruvian cuisine.

This diversity in staples and cuisine is also evident in the differing regional cuisines within the national borders of the individual countries. Most groceries in heavily Hispanic areas carry a wide array of specialty Latin American products, in addition to the widely available brands of tortillas and Mexican style salsa.

See also

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