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Hispanic, as used in the United States, is one of several terms used to categorise US citizens, permanent residents and temporary immigrants, whose background hail either from the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America or relating to a Spanish-speaking culture. According to the US Census Bureau, Hispanics form an ethnic group and defines ethnicity as "the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person's parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States". The term Hispanic is used as a form of classification for the immigrants and descendants of a wide range of ethnicities, races and nationalities, foreign and native born, who use either English or Spanish as their primary language. Hispanics are the only ethnic group for which the US Census Bureau keeps statistics. Everybody else is classified as non-Hispanic and categorised by race.


Hispanic population in the USA

Hispanics comprise 13.4% of the US population, or approximately 40 million people in 2003, 40% of which are Latin American citizens. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in mid 2001 there were 7.8 million unocumented Latin American nationals residing in the United States. Throughout the early 2000s the Hispanic population growth rate was around 2.4% per annum. If this growth rate continues, Hispanics in the United States will number anywhere from 80 million to over 100 million by 2050.

History of its US and Latin American usage

United States

The Hispanic origin population of the United States was defined three different ways in 1970 census reports:

(1) as the Spanish language population (the population of Spanish mother tongue plus all other individuals in families in which the head or wife reported Spanish mother tongue);

(2) as the Spanish heritage population (the population of Spanish language and/or Spanish surname, the population of Puerto Rican birth or parentage; and

(3) as the population of Spanish origin or descent based on self-identification.

The Spanish origin population in 1970 was overstated in some states, especially in the Midwest and South, because some respondents interpreted the questionnaire category of "Central or South American" to mean central or southern United States.

Since 1980, the Census Bureau has used a single core question on the decennial form, but for a variety of reasons, over the past three censuses (1980, 1990, and 2000) the agency has modified the Hispanic question.

Latin America

In Spanish, "hispano" means "relating to Spain". In Latin America, people are never asked to state their race or ethnicity when filling out forms so they only learn they are "Hispanic" upon crossing the US border.

On its use as an ethnic identifier

The US Census Bureau has used and rejected several racial and cultural identifiers to describe this human grouping they wish to ennumerate: "Mexican", "Spanish speaking," "Spanish surnamed" and "not black, not white". In 1980, after rejecting "Latin" as too closely associated with an ancient language, the Census Bureau adopted "Hispanic".

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. The preference is also regional. In Texas, "Latino" is the label of choice, since heavy racism and anger had been directed to Mexicans given the land fight of Texas Independence. While in other parts, like Arizona and California, the Chicanos are proud of their personal association and their participation in the agricultural movement of the 60's with César Chávez, that brought attention to the needs of the farm workers.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center/Kaiser Family Foundation 2002 National Survey of Latinos, 46% of the US-born Hispanics preferred the label "American", 29% identified with their ancestors' country of origin and 24% preferred the term "Hispanic/Latino". Among the Latin American-born Hispanics, 68% identified with their country of birth, 24% as "Hispanic/Latino" and 6% as "American".

Some people would argue that since Spaniards are Europeans, they shouldn't 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 many differences, are part of the same greater cultural sphere.

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 US Hispanic weren't born in Spain or to Spanish nationals;
  • although most US Hispanics speak Spanish, not all do, and though most Spanish-speaking people are Hispanic, not all are (eg. most third generation US Hispanics do not 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 (eg. there are many Spanish-surnamed Filipinos, however, Filipinos are classified by the US Census as Asian, not Hispanic).

Racial diversity; difficulties and criticisms on its US application

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 easy. 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 groups, as well as identifying as various others.

A great proportion of Hispanics in the US identify as Mestizo, partly because much of Latin America is of this mixed ancestry, regardless of national origin since Mestizos form majority populations in most Latin American countries; many others may be of unmixed or relatively pure Spanish ancestry, most of those from Uruguay, Argentina and to a lesser extent Costa Rica and Chile; some are also of unmixed Native American ancestry, in particular those from Bolivia, Guatemala, Peru, and a noticible proportion of those from Mexico; while those of Dominican, Puerto Rican, Cuban and Colombian backgrounds may be Mulatto or of unmixed black African ancestry.

Furthermore, as a result of the very nature of its US 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 of Italian descent (around one third of their countries' populations); Colombian, Ecuadorian and Mexican of Lebanese descent; Cuban, Puerto Rican and Panamanian of Chinese descent; Chilean and Paraguayan of German descent; or Peruvian of Japanese descent.

Religious diversity

Although the religious tradition most commonly associated with Hispanics is that of Roman Catholicism, and despite it being the largest religious denomination amongst most Hispanics, the Catholic faith does not hold a monopoly on all religiously affiliated Hispanics.

Catholicism was first introduced by the Spaniards to Latin America, where it has left a profoundand legacy that can be felt in the everyday lives and culture of the people. Many Hispanic communities celebrate the saint's day of their homeland's patron saint with festivals and religious services. The Roman Catholicism of many Hispanics is also often syncretized with African or Native American rituals and beliefs. Such is the case of Santería in Cuba and Puerto Rico, which combines old African beliefs and adoration of deities in the form of Catholic rituals and saints. Guadalupism, the devotion towards the Lady of Guadalupe among Mexican Roman Catholics, combines Catholic rites for the virgin Mary with those venerating the Aztec goddess Tonantzin, earth goddess, mother of the gods and protector of humanity, all attributes also endowed to the Lady of Guadalupe. The Catholic shrine dedicated to Guadalupe also stands on the same sacred Aztec site that had previsously been dedicated to Tonatzín, on the hill of Tepeyac.

A significant number of Hispanics are also Protestant, and several Protestant or Evangelical denominations have vigorously proslytized in Hispanic communities. There are also Jewish Hispanics, although they are very few, and are mostly descended from non-Spanish Ashkenazi Jews who migrated from Europe to Latin America during 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 - or the now Catholic-professing descendants of marranos. Hispano crypto-Jews are also believed to exist in the once Spanish-held Southwestern United States and scattered through Latin America.

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 US-born second and third generation Hispanics, use the Spanish language to varying degrees. The most usual pattern is monolingual Spanish usage among Latin Amemican-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 melodys 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, Chile, and regional music of Colombia and northwestern Argentina. Again in Chile and Argentina andean melodies play a fundamental role in the popular musical genre of 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 cooking 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 cusine of Mexico can be heavily dependant on staples such as corn and beans and is greatly indebted to the cuisine of their Aztec forebears, while the cusine of Cuba may be dependant on root crops, plantain and rice and is be greatly indebted to the influences of their African roots. Meanwhile, the cuisine of Spain is abundant in olive oil, tomatoes, seafood and meats, and often mirrors the cuisines of its Mediterranean neighbours. Furthermore, Argentina relies almost exlusively on red meats (consuming almost everything derived from beef) and is heavily influenced by Italian cooking, while in Peru staples such as corn and potatoes are those most used, and much of its cusuine derives from the diet of their Incan progenitors. This diversity in staples and cusine 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

Last updated: 02-04-2005 21:08:27
Last updated: 02-25-2005 20:49:10