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 Spain or the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America. The term is used as a form of classification for the immigrants and descendants of a wide range of ethnicities, races and nationalities who use Spanish as their primary language.
Hispanic population in the USA
Hispanics comprise the second-largest ethnic group in the United States at 13.4% of the population, or approximately 40 million people in 2003. Throughout the early 2000s the Hispanic population growth rate 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. However, a Hispanic specifically refers to people from Spain or the various Spanish-speaking nations of the Americas. Latinos, on the other hand, are only those from the countries of Latin America, whether Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking. Thus, a Brazilian, a Colombian, and a Mexican would all be Latinos, but the Brazilian would not be Hispanic (unless his or her European ancestry was also Spanish, rather than Portuguese). Conversly, a Spaniard, Chilean and Venezuelan would all be Hispanic, but the Spaniard would not be Latino, since Spain is not geographically situated in Latin America (Spanish; Latinoamérica, adj. latino, pl. latinos).
In addition to the terms "Hispanic" and "Latino", there is also the term "Latin" (Spanish; Lacio (Latium), adj. latín, pl. latines). This latter term encompases Latin Americans, Spaniards, Portuguese, as well as Italians, Romanians, and the French. The reason for this being that the term "Latin", unlike "Latino", does not solely imply the region of Latin America, and therefore includes all the modern Romance-speaking descendants of the original Latins.
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" or "Tejano".
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 is not as often used on the popular level in public discourse as a generalized ethnic label, a Hispano (Hispanic) 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, 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 includes Spaniards, creoles, Mestizos and Mulattos, but 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, regradless of whether these excluded groups now use Spanish as their first and only language - as is the case with Blacks and many Native Americans and 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. 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.
Some people would argue that since Spaniards are Europeans by geography, 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, nor were most born to recent Spanish nationals;
- although most US Hispanics speak Spanish, not all do, and though most Spanish-speaking people are Hispanic, not all are (eg. some US Hispanics by the fourth generation no longer speak Spanish, while there are many non-Hispanic Whites 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 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.
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-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 US.
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.
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 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 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 cusine 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 cusine 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 cusines 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.
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