Information Resource Centers

History and Culture of Latino Life in the United States

It is not uncommon to walk down the streets of an American city today and hear Spanish spoken. In 1950 fewer than 4 million U.S. residents were from Spanish-speaking countries. Today that number is about 27 million. About 50 percent of Hispanics in the United States have origins in Mexico. The other 50 percent come from a variety of countries, including El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia. Thirty-six percent of the Hispanics in the United States live in California. Several other states have large Hispanic populations, including Texas, New York, Illinois, and Florida, where hundreds of thousands of Cubans fleeing the Castro regime have settled. There are so many Cuban Americans in Miami that the Miami Herald, the city's largest newspaper, publishes separate editions in English and Spanish.

The term Hispanic was coined by the federal government in the 1970's to refer to the people who were born in any of the Spanish-speaking countries of the Americas or those who could trace their ancestry to Spain or former Spanish territories. Obviously, this represents a wide variety of countries and ethnic groups with different social, political and emotional experiences. Most Hispanics see themselves in terms of their individual ethnic identity, as Mexican American, Puerto Rican, Cuban, etc. instead of members of the larger, more ambiguous term Hispanic or Latino.

People think of Hispanics as the latest, most recent group to enter the so called "melting pot". This erroneous perception is mostly due to the media attention given to Hispanic groups in the 1980's, after the Bureau of the Census published their 1980 results. Their report revealed that Hispanics were the fastest growing group in the U.S., soon to become the largest minority group. People associated the growth with immigration, ignoring the long history of Hispanics in the United States.

Hispanic heritage in the U.S. goes back a long time. When Plymouth was founded in 1620, Santa Fe was celebrating its first decade and St. Augustine its 55th anniversary. Spanish settlements developed in the southwest of today's U.S. and also in the Gulf coast and the Florida peninsula. Some Latinos can trace their ancestors back to those days.

Other Hispanic groups, like the Puerto Ricans, did not migrate into the U.S. but instead were absorbed into it during the American expansions of the late 19th century. Puerto Ricans were granted American citizenship in 1917. Economic depressions and two world wars forced many Puerto Ricans to migrate from the island in search for better opportunities. Their current political situation still confuses many who think of Puerto Rico as a foreign country.
From: About the USA > U.S. Society > Hispanic Americans, U.S. Embassy Germany (May 2008)


Learning Resources | Background Resources | Articles/ Statistics

Learning Resources

Famous Hispanic Americans
By Kim Overstreet

This WebQuest was created for the ESL students of Leestown Middle School at Fayette County Public Schools in 2007.

Hispanic Heritage
By Judy Curnutte
This WebQuest will support students of 3rd and 4th grades to create a scrapbook about Hispanic Heritage.

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage
The students can learn about the Hispanic history in the Americas and Latinos in history, meet famous Latinos and read about the heritage of people.

Test your knowledge of Hispanic Heritage

Literary Documents

Dominican-American Author Junot Diaz Wins Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Writer’s first novel explores bicultural life of immigrant family in New Jersey
Lauren Monson
U.S. State Department, Bureau of International Information Programs April 9, 2008
"The September 2007 publication of Junot Diaz’s first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, secured the reputation of its Dominican-American author as a singular talent with a highly original literary voice.  That reputation was confirmed by the announcement, on April 9, 2008, that Diaz’s novel had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction -- just one month after it won the National Book Critics Circle Award."

New Immigrant Tales: Junot Díaz and Afro-Latino Fiction
By Glenda Carpio
eJournal USA: Multicultural Literature in the United States Today. U.S. Department of State, February 9, 2009

The writer of Junot Díaz breaks new ground by easily moving between Afro-Latino ethnicities and his American identity formed in urban New Jersey.
Glenda R. Carpio is associate professor of African and African-American Studies and English at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Lost City Radio
By Daniel Alarcón
February 9, 2009
Peruvian-born novelist Daniel Alarcón emigrated with his family from a turbulent Lima, Peru to the United States when he was three years old, in 1980. His uncle, opposed to the Maoist guerilla Shining Path, disappeared and was killed in 1989. The war haunts much of Alarcón’s writing. His first book, War by Candlelight (2006) was a PEN/Hemingway Award finalist. He is recipient of several prestigious fellowships, is associate editor of an award-winning magazine, Etiqueta Negra, published in his native Lima, and currently is visiting scholar at the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

I, Too, Sing América
By Julia Alvarez
American Writers. U.S. Department of State, December 2002

Background Resources

U.S. Society. Hispanic Americans

Gale. Timeline: Events in Hispanic American history
This website shows the imprtant events in Hispanic American history from 1492 until today.

Infoplease. Hispanic Heritage Month
Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15, the anniversary of independence for five Latin American countriesóCosta Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Hispanic Threads in America
Contributions of Hispanics to the development and success of America - overview.

Latin American Network Information Center. Hispanic/Latino. Academic resources
The Latin American Network Information Center of the University of Texas at Austin presents a compilation of web sites focused on Hispanics. The web sites include a wide range of topics like business and economy, community, culture, media, music, and others.

Library of Congress. Hispanic Reading Room. Online collection
The Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress presents Online Collections, reaching from Hispanic Americans in Congress to digitized historical documents.

Pew Hispanic Center
The Pew Hispanic Center is a nonpartisan research organization, founded in 2000, and supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Its mission is to improve understanding of the U.S. Hispanic population and to chronicle Latinos' growing impact on the entire nation. The Pew Hispanic Center regularly conducts and publishes public opinion surveys.

Pew Hispanic Center. Latino Children: A Majority Are U.S.-Born Offspring of Immigrants
By Richard Fry and Jeffrey S. Passel
May 28, 2009
" Hispanics now make up 22% of all children under the age of 18 in the United States--up from 9% in 1980--and as their numbers have grown, their demographic profile has changed. A majority (52%) of the nation's 16 million Hispanic children are now "second generation," meaning they are the U.S.-born sons or daughters of at least one foreign-born parent, typically someone who came to this country in the immigration wave from Mexico, Central America and South America that began around 1980."
Richard Fry is Senior Research Associate at Pew Hispanic Center. Jeffrey S. Passel works as Senior Demographer at Pew Hispanic Center.

Pew Hispanic Center. Who’s Hispanic?
By Jeffrey Passel and Paul Taylor.
May 28, 2009
"Just who is a Hispanic? If you turn to the U.S. government for answers, you quickly discover that it has two different approaches to this definitional question. Both are products of a 1976 act of Congress and the administrative regulations that flow from it.

Public Broadcasting Service. American Family. What It Means to Be Latino
By Clara E. Rodríguez
" It also means that you are part of a group that is growing faster than all other groups (50% since 1990) and is expected to continue to grow rapidly because of high immigration, high fertility rates, and the youthfulness of the current population."
Dr. Clara E. Rodríguez is a Professor at Fordham University, Lincoln Center campus.

Articles/ Statistics

Document Delivery Service for Teachers


Waldinger, Hugo. Between Here and There: How Attached do Latino Immigrants Remain to their Native Country. Pew Hispanic Center (October 25, 2007) 29p

Martin, Hugo. Top 10 Cities for Hispanics to Live. Where Latinos Love to live, work and play.Hispanic (August 2005): 16 - 21
Full text

Rodríguez-Albizu, Raquel. The Next Generation. Hispanic (September 2004): 30 - 31
Full text

Singer, Audrey. The Changing Face of America. From " The United States in 2005: Who we are today". Electronic Journal of the U.S. Department of State (December 2004)

Suarez, Virgil. Hispanic American Literature: Divergence and Commonality. From "Contemporary U.S. Literature: Multicultural Perspectives". Electronic Journal of the U.S. Department of State (February 2000)


Hispanic Heritage Month 2008: September 15 - October 15
U.S. Census Bureau published statistical facts about Hispanic population in the United States.

Hispanic Population in the United States
The nation’s Hispanic population increased 1.4 million to reach 45.5 million on July 1, 2007, or 15.1 percent of the estimated total U.S. population of 301.6 million. National and state estimates by race, Hispanic origin, sex and age released today by the U.S. Census Bureau also show that the Hispanic population exceeded 500,000 in 16 states.
(Resource: U.S.Census Bureau, April 17, 2009)

California (13.2 million) had the largest Hispanic population of any state as of July 1, 2007, followed by Texas (8.6 million) and Florida (3.8 million). Texas had the largest numerical increase between 2006 and 2007 (308,000), followed by California (268,000) and Florida (131,000). In New Mexico, Hispanics comprised the highest proportion of the total population (44 percent), with California and Texas (36 percent each) next in line. The Hispanic population in 2007 had a median age of 27.6, compared with the population as a whole at 36.6. Almost 34 percent of the Hispanic population was younger than 18, compared with 25 percent of the total population.
(Resource: U.S. Census Bureau, April 17, 2009)

U.S. Hispanic Population: 2006
U.S. Census Bureau
A Power Point Presentation of statistical facts like population size, composition of population, age etc.

The American Community. Hispanics: 2004
U.S. Census Bureau February 2007

Hispanic Population of the United States
U.S. Census Bureau
A presentation that highlights past, present and future trends of the Hispanic population.

Statistical Portrait of Hispanics in the United States, 2007
Pew Hispanic Center
This statistical profile of the Latino population is based on Pew Hispanic Center tabulations of the Census Bureau's 2007 American Community Survey (ACS). It is a collection of data in 36 tables.

Created: September 12, 2005 - Last update: June 2009

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