Hispanic (hispano, hispánico; hispânico; Hispānus, adjective from Hispānia, the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula) is a term that historically denoted relation to the ancient Hispania (geographically coinciding with the Iberian peninsula; modern day Spain, Portugal, Andorra, and Gibraltar) or to its pre-Roman peoples.

The term is now being propagated within the U.S. to convey the notion of a homogeneous culture and people despite overshadowing the diversity of cultures in countries formerly ruled by colonial Spain. The diversity of Spanish dialects are also being eclipsed such as Andalusian Spanish, Canarian Spanish, Castilian Spanish, Extremaduran as well as dialectical differences across the Americas. True to its colonialistic origins, this political movement seeks to market Spanish speakers as a powerful, transnational group from countries and regions around the world despite other linguistic, cultural or racial backgrounds, including the Southwestern United States and Florida; the African nations of Equatorial Guinea, Western Sahara, and the Northern coastal region of Morocco; the Asia-Pacific nations of the Philippines, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands; and throughout the traditional lands of indigenous peoples of the Americas which also often include descendents of Africans or other European immigrant groups.


The etymology of the term Hispanic is derived from Hispania, a Greek word for the Iberian Peninsula (present-day Spain, Portugal, Andorra, and Gibraltar).

Hispanus was the Latin name given to the people of Hispania, the Hispano-Romans. The construction of ethnic identities were used as a means to gain legitimacy and to organize in overcoming the Roman world similar to methods used in the United States in the design of Hispanism. The Hispano-Romans were composed of people from many different tribes of Hispania. Some famous Hispani (plural of Hispanus) were Seneca the Elder, Seneca the Younger, Lucan, Martial, Prudentius, the Roman Emperor Trajan, the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, and also Magnus Maximus and Maximus of Hispania. The etymology of the words Hispanic, Spanish, and Hispano-Roman find their origins in, Hispania, a Latin word derived from Greek.

  • Hispano-Roman is used to refer to the culture and people of Hispania, ancestors of the Portuguese and Spanish peoples. (historical meaning).
  • Hispania meant the Iberian Peninsula to the Greeks while the native land of the Hispano-Romans later became a province of the Roman empire and even later became known as Al-Andalus to Muslim occupiers which heavily influenced the development of the Andalusian civilization.
  • Hispanic is used to refer to modern Spain, to the Spanish language, and to the Spanish-speaking nations of the Americas.
  • Spanish is used to refer to the Spanish language, the culture, and the people of Spain
  • Spaniard is used to refer to the people of Spain.

Prior to the marriage of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon in 1469, the four Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula, namely the Kingdom of Portugal, the Crown of Aragon, the Crown of Castile, and the Kingdom of Navarre, were collectively referred to as Hispania, the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula. This usage in medieval times appears to have originated in Provençal and appears to be first documented at the end of the 11th century. In the Council of Constance, the four kingdoms shared one vote.

Portugal adopted the word "Lusitanic, or "Lusitanian" to refer to its the culture and people in reference to the Lusitanians, one of the first Indo-European tribes to settle in Europe, from which later on derived the name of the Roman province of Lusitania, which was a part of Roman province of Hispania. Portugal's name in Latin is Lusitania. The expansion of the Spanish Empire between 1492 and 1898 brought thousands of Spanish migrants to the conquered lands, creating a large settlement that stretches all over the world and producing several multiracial populations. Portuguese speakers, however, are not considered "Hispanic" by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Definitions in the USA

The terms Hispanic and Latino tend to be used interchangeably in the United States even though, in some Spanish speaking countries, they are not commonly used. Latino, from American Spanish, is an abbreviation for Latinoamericano, originally referring to someone from South America residing in the United States. Latin, of course, is the language of the ancient Romans, from a people earlier known as Latins habitating in a region of central Italy known as Latium.

During the 1970s, various groups lobbied the United States Government to formally define Spanish speakers as "non-white Hispanics" (in disregard of actual skin color or racial background) for Census data in order to qualify them for affirmative action programs. The lobbying efforts resulted in Public Law 94-311, "Economic and Social Statistics for Americans of Spanish Origin" on June 16, 1976. The 1970 Census was the first time that an "Hispanic" identifier was used and data collected with the question being modified in each successive Census. The 2000 Census placed the "Hispanic" question before the race question asking if the person was "Spanish/Hispanic/Latino" and requiring a box to be checked "No" if the person was not Spanish/Hispanic/Latino.

The ethnic label Hispanic was the result of efforts by a New Mexican U.S. Senator, Joseph Montoya, who wanted a label that could be used to quantify the Spanish-speaking population for the U.S. Census. The label Hispanic was chosen in part because in New Mexico people of Spanish descent such as Montoya referred to themselves as Hispanos, which was anglicized to "Hispanic."

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget currently defines "Hispanic or Latino" as "a person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race".


Hispanization is the process by which a place or a person absorbs characteristics of Hispanic society and culture. Modern hispanicization of a place, namely in the United States, is illustrated by, but not limited to, Spanish language newspapers, radio stations, churches, as well as Latin restaurants, tortilla factories, panaderias (bakeries), taquerias (taco restaurants) and specialty music stores, clothing stores, and nightclubs. Hispanization of a person is illustrated by, but not limited to, speaking Spanish, making and eating Latin food, listening to Spanish language music, dressing in Santa Fe style or other Hispanic styles, and participating in Hispanic festivals and holidays. Hispanization is the opposite of assimilation. Assimilation is the process by which a minority culture absorbs characteristics of the dominant society and culture. In the United States Anglo culture has long been the dominant culture and, historically, U.S. immigrants have assimilated by the third generation. For example, by the third generation most Ukrainian-Americans have lost the ability to speak Ukrainian, make Ukrainian easter eggs, cook Ukrainian food, play Ukrainian music, or dance like a Cossack. A few immigrant groups to the U.S. have been slow to assimilate--Greeks, Chinese, and especially Hispanics.

One of the reasons why the assimilation of Hispanics in the U.S. is not comparable to that of other cultural groups is that Hispanics have been living in some parts of North America for centuries, in many cases well before the Anglo culture became dominant. For example, California, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico(1598), Arizona, Nevada and Florida have been home to Hispanic peoples since the 17th century, even before the U.S. gained independence from Great Britain. These and other Spanish-speaking territories were part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, and later Mexico, before these regions joined the United States in 1848. Some cities in the U.S. were founded by Spanish settlers in the 17th century, prior to the creation of the Thirteen Colonies. For example, Pensacola and St. Augustine, Florida were founded in 1559 and 1565 respectively, Santa Fe, New Mexico was Founded in 1604, and Alburquerque, New Mexico was established in 1660. Therefore, in some parts of the U.S. the Hispanic cultural legacy is older than the Anglo-Saxon origin. For this reason many generations of U.S. Hispanics have largely maintained their cultural traditions and Spanish language.

Language retention is a common index to assimilation, and according to the 2000 census, about 75 percent of all Hispanics spoke Spanish in the home — even many Hispanics who can trace their ancestry to the original Spanish settlement of the U.S. Southwest between 1598 and 1769. Spanish language retention rates vary geographically; parts of Texas and New Mexico have language retention rates over 90 percent, whereas parts of Colorado and California have retention rates lower than 30 percent.

Hispanic retention rates are so high in parts of Texas and New Mexico and along the border because the percentage of Hispanics living there is also very high. Laredo, Texas; Chimayo, New Mexico; Nogales, Arizona and Coachella, California, for example, all have Hispanic populations greater than 90 percent. In these pockets, Hispanics have always been the majority population. These communities are known within the Hispanic community as "continuous communities" because Hispanics have continuously been the majority population since they were settled in the 16th or 17th centuries. Interestingly, Anglo Americans moving into these communities often Hispanicize, creating a situation where assimilation and Hispanization are one and the same.

Spanish Speaking Countries and Regions

During the Spanish colonial period between 1492 to 1898, many people migrated from Spain to the new lands they conquered. The Spaniards brought with them their language, culture and religion, seeking to assimilate the peoples they had conquered and enslaved, and in the process, created a large empire that spanned the globe while producing several multiracial populations. Unfortunately, they also brought disease and genocide to the indigenous populations; however, the the diaspora of survivors are reflected through the descendants of those that were colonized by the Spanish, and in addition to the motherland of Spain, are found throughout their Former Spanish colonies in the continents and countries shown in the table below.
Spanish speaking countries

Language and Ethnicities in Spanish Speaking Areas Around the World
Continent/Region Country/Territory Languages Spoken Ethnic Groups Statistics References
Europe Spain Castilian Spanish (official) 74%, Catalan 17%, Galician 7%, Basque 2%, are official regionally composite of Mediterranean and Nordic types
Central America Belize Spanish 46%, Creole 32.9%, Mayan dialects 8.9%, English 3.9% (official), Garifuna 3.4% (Carib), German 3.3%, other 1.4%, unknown 0.2% (2000 census) mestizo 48.7%, Creole 24.9%, Maya 10.6%, Garifuna 6.1%, other 9.7% (2000 census)
Costa Rica Spanish (official), English white (including mestizo) 94%, black 3%, Amerindian 1%, Chinese 1%, other 1%
El Salvador Spanish, Nahua (among some Amerindians) mestizo 90%, white 9%, Amerindian 1%
Guatemala Spanish 60%, Amerindian languages 40% (23 officially recognized Amerindian languages, including Quiche, Cakchiquel, Kekchi, Mam, Garifuna, and Xinca) Mestizo (mixed Amerindian-Spanish - in local Spanish called Ladino) and European 59.4%, K'iche 9.1%, Kaqchikel 8.4%, Mam 7.9%, Q'eqchi 6.3%, other Mayan 8.6%, indigenous non-Mayan 0.2%, other 0.1% (2001 census)
Honduras Spanish, Amerindian dialects mestizo (mixed Amerindian and European) 90%, Amerindian 7%, black 2%, white 1%
Nicaragua Spanish 97.5% (official), Miskito 1.7%, other 0.8% (1995 census) Note: English and indigenous languages on Atlantic coast mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 69%, white 17%, black 9%, Amerindian 5%
Panama Spanish (official), English 14%; note - many Panamanians bilingual mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 70%, Amerindian and mixed (West Indian) 14%, white 10%, Amerindian 6%
South America Argentina Spanish (official), Italian, English, German, French white (mostly Spanish and Italian) 97%, mestizo (mixed white and Amerindian ancestry), Amerindian, or other non-white groups 3%
Bolivia Spanish 60.7% (official), Quechua 21.2% (official), Aymara 14.6% (official), foreign languages 2.4%, other 1.2% (2001 census) Quechua 30%, mestizo (mixed white and Amerindian ancestry) 30%, Aymara 25%, white 15%
Chile Spanish (official), Mapudungun, German, English white and white-Amerindian 95.4%, Mapuche 4%, other indigenous groups 0.6% (2002 census)
Colombia Spanish mestizo 58%, white 20%, mulatto 14%, black 4%, mixed black-Amerindian 3%, Amerindian 1%
Ecuador Spanish (official), Amerindian languages (especially Quechua) mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 65%, Amerindian 25%, Spanish and others 7%, black 3%
Paraguay Spanish (official), Guarani (official) mestizo (mixed Spanish and Amerindian) 95%, other 5%
Peru Spanish (official), Quechua (official), Aymara, and a large number of minor Amazonian languages Amerindian 45%, mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 37%, white 15%, black, Japanese, Chinese, and other 3%
Uruguay Spanish, Portunol, or Brazilero (Portuguese-Spanish mix on the Brazilian frontier) white 88%, mestizo 8%, black 4%, Amerindian (practically nonexistent)
Venezuela Spanish (official), numerous indigenous dialects Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Arab, German, African, indigenous people
Caribbean Islands Cuba Spanish white 65.1%, mulatto and mestizo 24.8%, black 10.1% (2002 census)
Dominican Republic Spanish mixed 73%, white 16%, black 11%
Puerto Rico (territory of the U.S. with commonwealth status) Spanish, English white (mostly Spanish origin) 80.5%, black 8%, Amerindian 0.4%, Asian 0.2%, mixed 4.2%, other 6.7% (2000 census)
North America Mexico Spanish only 92.7%, Spanish and indigenous languages 5.7%, indigenous only 0.8%, unspecified 0.8%; note - indigenous languages include various Mayan, Nahuatl, and other regional languages (2005) mestizo (Amerindian-Spanish) 60%, Amerindian or predominantly Amerindian 30%, white 9%, other 1%
The United States English 82.1%, Spanish 10.7%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 2.7%, other 0.7% (2000 census) Note: Hawaiian is an official language in the state of Hawaii.

Note: While the U.S. is an English speaking country, the large influx of immigrants from Spanish speaking countries in recent years has grown a population where 10% speak Spanish. Although, it's too early to know what percentage of these Spanish speakers are legal residents or citizens as there has been an unprecedented rise in both legal and illegal migration into the United States where the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that the unauthorized population could be upwards of 12 million people as of March 2006 (where 78% were from Spanish speaking countries, 56% from Mexico and 22% from the rest of Latin America, primarily Central America). However, Spanish is not reflected in the common culture of the U.S. nor has it changed the status of English as a global language or the world's common business language.
white 79.96%, black 12.85%, Asian 4.43%, Amerindian and Alaska native 0.97%, native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander 0.18%, two or more races 1.61% (July 2007 estimate) Note: a separate listing for Hispanic is not included because the US Census Bureau considers Hispanic to mean a person of Latin American descent (including persons of Cuban, Mexican, or Puerto Rican origin) living in the US who may be of any race or ethnic group (white, black, Asian, etc.); about 15.1% of the total US population is Hispanic
Africa Equatorial Guinea Spanish 67.6% (official), other 32.4% (includes French (official), Fang, Bubi) (1994 census)
Note: Equatorial Guinea was the only Spanish colony in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Fang 85.7%, Bubi 6.5%, Mdowe 3.6%, Annobon 1.6%, Bujeba 1.1%, other 1.4% (1994 census)
Western Sahara Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic
Note: While Spain did have a colonial presence in Western Sahara, there seems to be an absence of any quality documentation online that a Spanish speaking population remains in this country despite a number of Wikipedia pages making such claims without any authentic citations.
Arab, Berber
(northern coastal region)
Arabic (official), Berber dialects, French often the language of business, government, and diplomacy.
Note: Spanish is probably minimal and not mentioned in the CIA World Factbook. "Spanish presence in Morocco...was short lived and left little visible imprint on Moroccan cultural life.
Arab-Berber 99.1%, other 0.7%, Jewish 0.2%
Asia and Oceania None Note: Some have mistakenly identified the Philippines, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands to be Spanish speaking countries/territories. However, as noted in the CIA World Factbook, the two official languages of the Philippines are Tagalog and English with no significant percentage of a Spanish speaking population mentioned. Although, Chavacano, a Spanish Creole language spoken in the Philippines is spoken by more than 600,000 people, and is part of the Latin language family. In the case of Guam (a U.S. territory) and the Northern Mariana Islands (a commonwealth in political union with the U.S.), some have confused the presence of the Chamorro language to mean that these are Spanish speaking countries or that they use a Spanish Creole. Chamorro does use some words with Spanish etymological roots as well as a number of loan words from Spanish as does English and other languages. Although, Chamorro is classified as part of the Malayo-Polynesian languages, and uses Spanish words in the style of Micronesian languages (eg: bumobola "playing ball" from bola "ball, play ball" with verbalizing infix -um- and reduplication of first syllable of root). Furthermore, the use of Chamorro is in decline by younger generations opting for English. The predominant languages used in Guam are English, Chamorro and Philippine languages. The top four languages used in the Northern Mariana Islands are Philippine languages, Chinese, Chamorro and English.
The CIA World Factbook is in the public domain. Accordingly, it may be copied freely without permission of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).


Folk and popular dance and music also varies greatly among Hispanics. For instance, the music from Spain is a lot different from the Hispanic American, although there is a high grade of exchange between both continents. In addition, due to the high national development of the diverse identities of Spain, there is a lot of music in the different languages the Peninsula (Catalan and Basque, mainly). See, for instance, Music of Catalonia or Rock català.

On the other side, Latin America is home to a wide variety of music, instead it's usual to speak about "Latin" music as a single genre. Hispanic Caribbean music tends to favor complex polyrhythms of African origin. Mexican music shows combined influences of mostly Spanish and Native American origin, while traditional Northern Mexican music — norteño and banda — is more influenced by country-and-western music and the polka, brought by Central European settlers to Mexico. The music of Hispanic Americans — such as tejano music — has influences in rock, jazz, R&B, pop, and country music as well as traditional Mexican music such as Mariachi. 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 where they play a fundamental role in the form of the greatly followed nueva canción. In US communities of immigrants from these countries it is common to hear these styles. Latin pop, Rock en Español, Latin hip-hop, and Reggaeton styles tend to appeal to the broader Hispanic population, and varieties of Cuban music are popular with many Hispanics of all backgrounds.


There is a huge variety of literature from US Hispanics and the Hispanic countries. Of the most recognized writers are Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Gabriel García Márquez, Romulo Gallegos, Rubén Darío, Mario Vargas Llosa, Julio Cortázar, Pablo Neruda, Jorge Luis Borges and Ernesto Sabato, amongst others.

Religious diversity

With regard to religious affiliation among Hispanics, Christianity — specifically Roman Catholicism — is usually the first religious tradition that comes to mind. Indeed, the Spaniards took the Roman Catholic faith to Latin America, and Roman Catholicism continues to be the overwhelmingly predominant, but not the only, religious denomination amongst most Hispanics. A small but growing number of Hispanics belong to a Protestant denomination.

There are also Hispanic Jews, of which most are the descendants of Ashkenazi Jews who migrated from Europe (German Jews, Russian Jews, Polish Jews, etc.) to Latin America, particularly Argentina, Peru and Cuba (Argentina is host to the third largest Jewish population in the Western Hemisphere, after the United States and Canada) in the 19th century and during and following World War II. Some Hispanic Jews 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 by the Spanish Inquisition and Portuguese Inquisition in the Iberian peninsula and Latin America. There are also 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. Additionally, there are Sephardic Jews who are descendants of those Jews who fled Spain to Turkey, Syria, and North Africa, some of who have now migrated to Latin America, holding on to some Spanish/Sephardic customs, such as the Ladino language which mixes Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic and others, though written with Hebrew characters. Though, it should be noted, that Ladinos were also African slaves captive in Spain held prior to the colonial period in the Americas. (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, popular with Cuban Americans and which combines old African beliefs in the form of Roman Catholic saints and rituals. Other syncretistic beliefs include Spiritism and Curanderismo.

While a tiny minority, there are some Hispanic Muslims in Latin America and the US.

In the United States some 70% of U.S. Hispanics report themselves Catholic, and 23% Protestant, with 6% having no affiliation. A minority among the Roman Catholics, about one in five, are charismatics. Among the Protestant, 85% are "Born-again Christians" and belong to Evangelical or Pentecostal churches. Among the smallest groups, less than 4%, are U.S. Hispanic Jews and U.S. Hispanic Muslims. Most U.S. Hispanic Muslims are recent converts.



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