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Indo Hispanic Definition Essay

This American Latino Theme Study essay explores Latino arts in the U.S. including the performing arts, visual arts, and literary arts as well as the impact of Latino artists on the nation and the world.

by Tomás Ybarra-Frausto

Latino artistic expressions, including literature and the visual and performing arts, have made fundamental contributions to North American culture. Yet the artistic traditions of the U.S. Latino imagination remain largely unrecognized and conspicuously absent in most Americans' consciousness. To tell one variant of Latino arts in the United States, if only partially, is an act against historical amnesia and cultural erasure. In writing this evolving story, three puntos de partida (points of departure) serve as a preamble:

1.      A Historical Continuum: Latino cultural production is not the result of "a new consciousness." From the imposed European imaginaries during the Spanish exploration and colonization in the 16th century to the cultural assets brought by newly arrived Latino immigrants, North American society and institutions must affirm and integrate the Latino arts as constituent components of U.S. history and culture.

2.      Heterogeneity and Complexity: Latino communities in the U.S. have never been monolithic. Latinos are not a homogeneous ethnicity. They include native-born citizens and immigrants from more than 20 countries in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Across the centuries, immigrants have continued to renew continuities with the Spanish language and the cultures of the ancestral homelands. Latinos in the U.S. can be white, including a range of European extractions, or mestizo (people of Spanish and indigenous or Spanish and African or Asian heritage). How long one has lived in the U.S. affects one's process of self-identification. There is immersive diversification and variation in racial, class, and political persuasion among and between Latino groups. Each national origin group represents a "totality of culture" with diversified social structures composed of a small group of elites, a growing middle class, and a preponderant working class. This complex heterogeneity marks cultural/artistic production and reception.

3.      Latino Art and Culture Are Dynamic, Fluid, and Mutable: Latino cultural and artistic expressions are dynamic and fluid. Expressive forms migrate and intersect across multiple styles and sensibilities. In form and content, Latino literature and visual arts are rooted in the cultures of the ancestral homelands and the U.S. Latino social imagination is converted from cultural practices and shaped into artistic expressions where heritage is simultaneously affirmed, transformed, and reinvented. Latino Arts have been mainly created and disseminated apart from official cultural patronage and institutions. An urgent task is to locate, map, and interpret the community-centered locales where Latino arts have been nurtured and sustained across time.

Settlement and Colonization

The Spanish presence in the U.S. is inscribed in the landscape itself. The names of rivers (Nueces), mountains (Sangre de Cristo), valleys (San Joaquin), cities (San Antonio), states (Nevada), and many other national features testify to America's Spanish origins.

In the Southwest, the Spanish colonial past is evident in the built environment of towns, missions, and presidios (garrisons), as well as in ranchos and haciendas(ranches and estates). Communities continue rich artistic and literary traditions with taproots in sixteenth-century settlement and colonization. The Hispanic heritage of what is now the U.S. begins in 1513 with the exploration of the Florida coast, nearly a century before the 1607 establishment of Jamestown and the 1620 landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth.

The grand epic of exploration begins a literary tradition with eyewitness accounts of the geography, flora, and fauna, and descriptions of Indian societies and customs. Explorers, missionaries, and colonists wrote diaries, memoriales (memoirs), andrelaciones (chronicles). La Relación by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, (translated in English as A Chronicle of the Narvaez Expedition) was published in Madrid in 1542 and is a gripping travel narrative about Cabeza de Vaca, two other Spaniards, and an African slave named Estevanico and their sojourns from Florida to the Pacific slope and down to central Mexico. La Relación narrates their nightmarish struggles for survival and their fantastic adventures in hostile human and natural environments.

Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá's Historia de la Nueva México (History of New Mexico, 1610) is an epic poem written in blank verse. Villagrá, a captain in Juan de Oñate's expedition to colonize New Mexico, was well versed in classical literature, having graduated from the University of Salamanca. His poem is a paean to Oñate's valorous efforts to conquer, colonize, and populate New Mexico.

In their expeditions north from Mexico, Spanish explorers, soldiers, and missionaries wrote relaciones, memoriales, derroteros (itineraries), and cartas (letters) describing the natural wonders of the New World, encounters with Indian tribes, and prodigious efforts to Christianize the Indians and populate the northern borderlands. These narratives are the origins of the U.S. Latino literary tradition.[1] Visual art by Mexican-descended people also goes back to the earliest Spanish explorations. For example, Alessandro Malaspina, an Italian nobleman who spent most of his life as a Spanish naval officer and explorer, hired Mexican artists on his 1791–92 exploration of the Pacific Northwest. These artists recorded the terrain and typography, the native populations, and the flora and fauna with brilliant exactitude. One of these artists, Tomás de Suría, had trained at La Esmeralda in Mexico City and as part of the expedition produced some of the earliest drawings of Alaskan Natives and the Nootka Sound.[2]

The cartographic visions of Spanish draftsmen seen in landscape paintings and drawings together with a vivid ethnographic gaze capturing local social life and customs in realistic styles prefigure later contours of U.S. Latino art. As Spanish pueblos, missions, and presidios grew in the borderlands, especially in places with a large Indian presence, the interaction (both peaceful and antagonistic) of Hispanic and Indian civilizations transformed both cultures. Expressive forms in architecture, drama, and music, as well as religious and ritual practices, exemplify these intercultural Indo-Hispano fusions.

By 1692 the Caminos Reales (Royal Roads), a network of arterial highways, stretched from Mexico City to the borderlands. The Caminos Reales functioned as trading networks and cultural corridors for the reciprocal movement of people and ideas and the exchange of cultural goods.[3] The slow flow of religious artworks to the borderlands prompted folk artisans in northern New Mexico to create their own Christian images based on Mexican prototypes and circumscribed by local materials and their own skills. Thus was born the santero folk art tradition with the creation ofretablos (flat painted images of holy personages), bultos (freestanding sculptures of saints), and reredos (painted altar screens). Santero art was an original interpretation of Catholic iconography reflecting the society's distinctive religious and cultural beliefs. Although many santeros remain anonymous, some, like Fresquís, Antonio Molleno, and José Rafael Aragón, are recognized as originators of the tradition.[4]

1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

After the U.S.-Mexican War in 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded half of Mexico's territory to the U.S. (present-day Arizona, California, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming). Mexicanos living in their ancestral lands became Americans by conquest yet continued to affirm a Mexican heritage that was woven into the Southwest's social fabric. While the American flag flew from official institutions and English became the language of incorporation, borderland communities began the arduous task of reassessing their relationships to both Mexico and the U.S. The violent economic, social, and cultural dispossession resulted in survival strategies of both resistance and accommodation toward Anglo-American institutions and society. From this time forward, Mexican Americans would negotiate identity and cultural allegiance between two cultures and two languages. Cultural production would respond to Mexican-Anglo contact, clashes, adaptations, and active opposition.

Historian Hubert Howe Bancroft collected an extensive group of testimonios (oral histories) of Californios between 1884 and 1890. Mainly dictated in Spanish, the responses of Mexican Spanish settlers to being marginalized in their own land are diverse and contradictory. The nearly 100 narratives in the Bancroft Dictations(Bancroft Testimonios) include María Inocente Pico de Avila, Cosas de California(Things about California); Rafael González, Experiencias de un soldado (Experiences of a Soldier); José del Carmen Lugo, Vida de un ranchero (A Rancher's Life); Eulalia Pérez, Una vieja y sus recuerdos (Remembrances of an Old Woman); and Felipa Osuna de Marron, Recuerdos del pasado (Memories of the Past.[5] The women tell of a way of life before and during the transformative process of Americanization. Fully conscious of their society's patriarchal constraints, they disclose discrete strategies of self-empowerment. Their testimonies are not heroic narratives of resistance but subtle apertures toward becoming autonomous and self-sufficient in a male-dominated society. The Bancroft Dictations reveal the California elite's multiple class and ideological perspectives on confronting Anglo-American subordination. Resentment and dispossession remain evident even in viewpoints toward accommodation.

The systematic depredation of lands, disenfranchisement, and culture loss in the borderlands gave rise to cultural resistance. In South Texas, along the Rio Grande Valley, the corrido, a narrative poem set to music, crossed the border from Mexico. Composed anonymously and sung in Spanish, specific corridos of border conflict celebrate the heroic deeds of Mexican Americans who confronted Anglo aggression "con su pistola en la mano"(with a pistol in his hand).[6] The classic corrido "Gregorio Cortez" tells about a vaquero (cowboy) who kills a Texas sheriff for shooting his brother, and the community's subsequent reaction. Other corridos celebrate legendary rebels and rebellions. Despite periods of decline, composing and singingcorridos to commemorate significant personalities and events in working class communities endures as a major Mexican American cultural expression.

After 1848 cultural production revealed diverse and contradictory responses to the psychic and social rupture of American annexation and the incursion of Anglo-American culture and values. In 1872 María Amparo Ruiz de Burton, a member of the ruling ranchero class in California, published Who Would Have Thought It? The work is recognized as the first novel written in English by a Mexican American. Ruiz de Burton's captivity narrative, set in Boston against the backdrop of the Civil War and Reconstruction, is an acerbic critique of New England mores, Manifest Destiny, American exceptionalism, and imperialism. In 1885 Ruiz de Burton's second novel,The Squatter and the Don, offered a compelling story about the loss of land and decline of an aristocratic family with the rise of capitalist modernity in California. While maintaining the contradictions of colonial identity, Ruiz de Burton's novels granted voice and agency to women and explored the changing constructs of gender, race, and class as the U.S. entered modernity.[7]

Alongside literary productions in 19th-century California, artists like Fortunato Arriola (1827–1872) and Xavier (Tizoc) Martínez (1869–1948) are precursors of Mexican American visual culture. Martínez was born and raised in Guadalupe, Mexico, eventually moving to San Francisco to attend the California School of Design (Mark Hopkins Institute of Art). From 1891 to 1901 he studied in Paris at the École des Beaux Arts. He became friends with Diego Rivera, the prominent Mexican painter, and sat through the Alfred Dreyfus trial, making sketches of all the figures at the trial including Émile Zola. By 1905 Martínez was back in San Francisco as a successful painter of Parisian and Mexican scenes. Later in his life, during the 1920s, Martínez began affirming his Spanish and Tarascan Indian heritage. He changed his first name to Tizoc and began publishing Notas de un Chichimeca in San Francisco'sHispano American newspaper. Notas contains the poetic musings, political concerns, and moral convictions, especially about working class causes, that link Martínez to later generations of socially committed Mexican American artists.

After the 1898 Spanish American War, the U.S. established a sphere of influence in the Caribbean. Puerto Rico came under U.S. rule, and in 1917 the Jones Act made Puerto Ricans U.S. citizens. This colonial relationship continues to define Puerto Rican culture. The island and the mainland remain codependent, yet Puerto Ricans in the U.S. have formed a distinct identity and cultural expressions.

From the 19th century on, migration from the island to the Northeast and later to other regions of the country has been a defining experience of the Puerto Rican diaspora. Early journalistic writing details the migration, settlement, and adjustment to life in the metropolis. Puerto Ricans have maintained and transformed oral traditions and performative expressions especially in music. Songs of migration, African-basedbomba y plena, urban boleros, and rural jibaro peasant music all contribute to a collective pride and identity.[8]

Bernardo Vega, a tabaquero (tobacco worker) and socialist labor activist, arrived in New York in 1916. His Memorias de Bernardo Vega charts the growth and consolidation of the New York immigrant community and its struggles against prejudice and exclusion. Jesús Colón, also a tabaquero and socialist activist, arrived in New York in 1918 and became a community activist, labor organizer, and regular columnist for Gráfico, Bernardo Vega's newspaper. Colón's journalistic writings are acerbic critiques of U.S. society that especially denounce the racial and cultural prejudices he encountered as a black Puerto Rican. A compilation of his newspaper stories, A Puerto Rican in New York and Other Sketches, describes the Puerto Rican working class's struggle to consolidate permanent settlements in metropolitan New York. Vega and Colón anticipate the themes, perspectives, and aesthetics of later Nuyorican literature.

19th-century Spanish-language newspapers were key conduits for disseminating intellectual and political ideas among a community of readers that included natives, immigrants, and exiles. Literary scholar Nicolás Kanellos reminds us that "some 2,500 periodicals were issued between 1808 and 1960, to carry news of commerce, politics, as well as poetry, serialized novels, stories, essays and commentary both from the pens of local writers as well as reprints of the works of the most highly regarded writers and intellectuals of the entire Hispanic world, from Spain to Argentina. The newspapers became forums for discussion of rights, both cultural and civil; they became the libraries and memorias of the small towns in New Mexico and the defensores de la raza (defenders of Hispanics) in the large cities."[9]

Ideals of revolution, independence, and emancipation, key concerns of thinkers like Cuban José Martí and Puerto Rican Eugenio María de Hostos, were published in the network of U.S. Latino periodicals. The utopian ideas of continental pensadores(intellectual thinkers) became the grist for discussion and debate in salons, cafés, andtertulias (literary/artistic salons) frequented by Latino politicians and public intellectuals. Newspaper editorials affirmed ethnic pride and urged participation in local social and political causes.

The Mexican Revolution

During and after the tumultuous Mexican Revolution (1910–20), hundreds of thousands of Mexicanos migrated to the U.S. The new arrivals mostly settled in established Mexicano enclaves in urban centers like San Antonio, Chicago, Detroit, and Kansas City. The immigrants worked in agriculture, mining, railroads, steel mills, and packinghouses and retained a working class consciousness. Immigrant artists and photographers, as well as weavers, ironworkers, furniture makers, and other artisans, reinforced Mexican folk practices such as creating altars, nacimientos(crèches), costumes and masks for pastorelas (nativity mystery plays), and traditional clothing ensembles for ritual dances like Conchero and Matachines. Other aspects of Mexican popular arts were similarly adapted to the colonias and barrios (communities and neighborhoods) of the Southwest. A number of illustrators and caricaturists found employment with Spanish-language newspapers like San Antonio's La Prensaand Los Angeles's La Opinion. Artists also decorated restaurants and cantinas using motifs reflecting the early 20th-century murals found on the walls of Mexico'spulquerías (pulque bars).

The advent of Spanish-language radio in the 1920s, together with the rise of a recording industry eager to capture a growing market for ethnic music, contributed to the sustainability of Mexican American music. Columbia, Victor, Decca, and Bluebird RCA sought out Spanish-language singers and musical groups throughout the Southwest.

In Texas, the corrido, conjunto norteño (folk ensemble), and big band orquestracatered to dance halls, bars, and family celebrations. Lydia Mendoza, Chelo Silva, Rita Vidaurri, and other vocalists made recordings, appeared in clubs, and were featured in tandas de variedad (vaudeville reviews) in luxury theaters like San Antonio's Teatro Nacional and Teatro Zaragoza.

Los Angeles became a mecca for local and immigrant musicians. Downtown restaurants, clubs, and performance spaces nurtured performers, composers, and impresarios, and stardom came to pioneer performers like vocalists Adelina García, Las Hermanas Padilla, Pedro G. Gonzalez, and Lalo Guerrero.

Mariachi, a form of Mexican folk music, had entered the musical repertoire by the 1930s. The standard mariachi ensemble of trumpets, violins, requinto (six-stringed guitar), and guítarron (bass guitar), with the guitarists also singing, were favored entertainment at restaurants, clubs, and family celebrations like baptisms, birthdays, and weddings. Lively instrumental tunes like "La Negra" and the rousing "Guadalajara" as well as the traditional birthday song "Las Mañanitas" and the farewell song "La Golondrina" became wildly popular. Even today the audience often sings along with the music.

The post-revolutionary wave of immigrants and exiles included businessmen, middle class entrepreneurs, academics, and intellectuals. Mexican elites disseminated their nationalist ideology through the Spanish-language newspapers and dramatic, literary, and cultural organizations they established, fostering ethnic pride. For native, working class Mexican Americans, a strengthened emotional and cultural sense of being Mexicano served as a powerful counterweight and resistance to the Anglo cultural hegemony.

Maneuvering Mestizaje

Mestizaje is a central aspect of American Latino life.[10] Mexican philosopher José Vasconcelos introduced the concept in his essay La Raza Cósmica (the Cosmic Race), published in Mexico in 1925. The transcendent and utopian ideal of mestizaje is one of dynamic syncreticism between the diverse racial groups of the New World. According to Vasconcelos, the various races' best material and spiritual qualities would be integrated into a cosmic race fortified by aesthetics and Christian love.

Critics see mestizaje as a strategy of assimilation in which the black and indigenous populations of America are Europeanized and incorporated into the traditions of the Enlightenment. Proponents see mestizaje as a way to nurture intracultural contact across ethnic and sociocultural divides. The concept is an operant paradigm in the cultural productions of many Latino writers, scholars, and visual artists. They recuperate, dislocate, and recombine forms and meanings both old and new from Europe and the Americas. Their "mestizo consciousness" is radically non-Eurocentric and implies an intercultural and spiritual coexistence.

The Legacy of Los Tres Grandes

The so-called tres grandes (three greats) of the Mexican mural movement–Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros–worked on major U.S. mural commissions in the 1930s. American Latino artists read about their exploits in newspapers and saw the muralists in action and in movie newsreels. The muralists' passionate defense of political art and their formal explorations with diverse forms of public art directly influenced many Latino artists and seeded the ground for muralism as a major Latino genre during the Civil Rights era.

In the New Deal projects of the 1930s and 40s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sought to enhance the country's social resources and physical infrastructure. Looking south to Mexican models of public art, especially the 1920s muralism movement, his administration created regional programs in visual art, music, and literature. Under the Work Projects Administration (WPA), whose mission statement was "Art for the People, By the People," artists were employed to research and maintain regional artistic traditions. Latino WPA artists painted murals in schools, banks, and post offices. Others documented the revival of southwestern arts and crafts like furniture making, textiles, and pottery. Musical, oral, and performative traditions in drama, dance, and ritual were archived and published.[11]

New Mexico, with its abundant artistic heritage, developed significant WPA projects. Hispana/o artists revitalized traditional art forms and created original expressions in painting, sculpture, and mixed medias. Patrocinio Barela, Pedro López Cervántez, Carlos Cervántez, Edward Arcenio Chávez, Margaret Herrera, Esquipula Romero de Romero, and Eliseo José Rodriguez, and many other WPA artists helped redefine American art as a composite of regional aesthetic traditions. Repudiating external criteria for making traditional colonial arts and crafts, they created powerful art from an internal understanding of their heritage. Their validation of an aesthetic credo linked to a mutable living culture would become a basic tenant in the evolution of Mexican American art.

In 1948 Luis Muñoz Marín became Puerto Rico's first native-born governor. His administration sponsored massive industrialization and modernization projects that displaced rural populations into urban areas, causing concern that the Puerto Rican identity was being eroded, especially by U.S. culture. In response, the Muñoz Marín administration created the Division of Community Education (DIVEDCO), to support Puerto Rican cultural values and traditions. Prominent artists, authors, composers, and filmmakers came together to produce films, posters, and books to educate people about health, public safety, democracy, literacy, and civic participation.[12]

Rafael Tufiño, Lorenzo Homar, Carlos Raquel Rivera, Antonio Maldonado, and other artists in the DIVEDCO printing workshop created silkscreen posters to promote DIVEDCO films and cultural projects, sometimes in editions of more than 5,000 copies. The posters set high standards for graphic art with powerful images, precise design elements, and unity of text and image. Some of the artists would later become activist educators in New York, serving as direct links in the evolution of Nuyorican art.

World War II

Mexican American soldiers were among the most decorated ethnic groups in World War II, yet upon returning to the Southwest they encountered continual racial discrimination and civic exclusion. With a new empowered sense of participation in mainstream society, ex-servicemen and women joined organizations demanding full citizenship and civil rights. The Mexican American Political Association in California, the Alianza Hispano-Americana in Arizona, and the League of United Latin American Citizens in Texas were organized to sustain struggles for Mexican Americans' inclusion in every aspect of American life. Many GIs took advantage of the educational and housing programs established under the GI Bill to attend college and joined the business and entrepreneurial middle class.

Private art schools and universities prepared the first cohort of academically trained artists. While artists and culture keepers of vernacular arts and crafts have always been integral to Mexican American communities, the postwar generation was the first to be part of the mainstream studios, galleries, museums, and art world discourse.

In Los Angeles, pre– and post–World War II painters Hernando Gonzallo Villa, Alberto Valdés, Domingo Ulloa, Roberto Chavez, and Eduardo Carillo and ceramicist-sculptor Dora de Larios did not constitute a movement, but their individual work is inscribed with prevailing modernist movements like abstraction, surrealism, and expressionism.[13] Some were inspired by the socially conscious graphic and mural art in Mexico and others by the exhibitions of major Mexican artists who lived and worked in California.

Although filtered through an individualized consciousness, there was a persistent attempt by Mexican American artists to generate images responding to a bicultural lived reality. Aspects of lo Mexicano (Mexican heritage) were integrated with lo Americano (the experience of living and working in the U.S.) to represent a Mexican American sensibility. This small cadre of professional and academically trained Mexican American artists became the first educators, role models, and mentors–theveteranos that inspired the self-determined Chicano (Mexican American) artists of the Chicano Civil Rights Movements (El Movimiento).

The 1950s

After World War II, Mexican Americans had heightened aspirations for participation in American civic, political, and cultural life. By the 1950s they mainly resided in urban barrios in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, and San Antonio. The barrio functioned as a spiritual refuge where inhabitants could form bonds of ethnic solidarity and a sense of cultural belonging. A unifying consciousness developed that saw the barrio as a source of literary and cultural expression.

Mario Suárez's short story cycle about the barrio's strengths and tribulations appeared in the Arizona Quarterly beginning in 1947. His characters, in the fictional barrio El Hoyo, are barbers, local politicians, GIs, shop girls, and Mexican immigrants. Suárez's realistic sketches capture daily life in the barrio, affirming the language, values, and aspirations of several generations and showing how inhabitants mobilize against injustice and live with rapidly changing social conditions.

José Antonio Villarreal's novel Pocho, which became a national best seller in 1959, is a saga tracing the Rubio family from the Mexican Revolution to their settlement in California and their painful assimilation into American society. "Pocho" is a pejorative term for an assimilated or Americanized Mexican American. The book's protagonist, Richard Rubio, a precocious adolescent struggling to define his identity and sexuality, is caught between the demands of a conservative, patriarchal culture and an oppressive, intolerant Anglo society that promises redemption only at the price of total assimilation. This quest to create an individual identity from two antithetical cultures would become a paradigmatic theme in later Chicano novels.

The Cuban Revolution

Beginning in 1959, refugees from the Cuban Revolution settled in Florida, New Jersey, and other parts of the country. A Cuban exile presence in the U.S. goes back to the turn of the century. New York, Philadelphia, and Tampa were centers for expatriated Cuban intellectuals and politicians active in Cuban struggles for independence and the insurrection against Spain in 1898. Precursors include the philosopher-priest Félix Varela, who founded the newspaper El Habanero in Philadelphia in 1824 and wrote a historical novel, Jicoténcal, about Spanish abuses of Indians in Mexico. The patriot-intellectual José Martí is a major transnational literary figure who lived and published in New York from 1880 to 1895. Among his works are poetry collections Ismaelillo (1882) and Versos sencillos (Simple Verses, 1891) and the essay collection Cuba y los Estados Unidos (1889).[14]

In the 20th century, with the relocation of Cuban cigar manufacturers, Florida became a hub of theatrical activity. Spanish and Cuban cigar workers in Tampa and Ybor City established mutual aid societies whose missions included maintaining theaters to serve as meeting halls and spaces for dramatic productions.[15]

The most popular dramas included zarzuelas (operettas), melodramas, and the classical Spanish repertoire. Ever present bufos cubanos (Cuban humorous farces) featuring a picaresque Afro-Cuban Negrito and a dimwitted Spanish Gallego (white Spanish immigrant) enjoyed great popularity. From the 1950s on, playwright María Irene Fornés captivated New York audiences with off-Broadway productions. Her 1977 play Fefu and Her Friends concerns a weekend retreat where eight women gather to celebrate and share their aspirations. The play is a complex examination of women's subjectivity and consciousness. Fornés illuminates the human condition from ethnic and gender-specific perspectives.

Ana Mendietta's artistic activity from the mid-1960s to her death in 1985 encompasses hybrid forms of expression in sculpture, film, photography, and performance. The power of the female form is evident in her work, along with a thematic preoccupation with feminism, gender, and identity. Like many later Cuban artists, Mendietta affirms a global identity with themes and iconography that draw on European, American, and Cuban cultural sources.[16]

Starting in the mid-1960s, immigrant visual artists like Juan Boza, Luis Cruz Azaceta, María Brito-Avellana, and Paul Sierra exhibited together with Chicano and Puerto Rican artists and joined the discourse of Latinidad (pan-Latino/a solidarity) with artworks that unite Cuban heritage and the U.S. experience. Roberto G. Fernández's Raining Backward, Oscar Hijuelos's The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, and Christian García's Dreaming in Cuba address themes of hybrid sensibilities and cosmopolitan identities.

From 1959 on, as exile immigrant and native-born Cubans coalesced as a Cuban American community, they became part of the larger U.S. Latino constituency seeking to re-envision American society and culture.

The 1960s: Re-envisioning America

America itself functions as a central character in the stories of the 1960s. In many communities the late 1960s marked a historical juncture of deep introspection and collective action. Decolonizing struggles in the Third World, an international student movement, Black Power's domestic surge, the emergence of a hippie counterculture, and massive mobilization against the war in Vietnam all had ideological and cultural resonance in the rise of a Latino civil rights movement that reaffirmed centuries-long struggles for human and cultural rights. Resistance and affirmation were guiding principles for regional constellations of writers and visual and performing artists banding together in a cultural reclamation project. New art forms aimed to rearticulate cultural traditions with content derived from a bicultural lived reality.

The sociopolitical upheavals of the period–the sit-ins, picket lines, and massive mobilizations for equality and social justice–were core anchors of creative energy. Thousands of Latinos mobilized for better housing, health, and educational opportunities. Farmworker strikes and urban battles against police harassment were among the fronts of political and cultural action.

Artists wrote and voiced the poems, danced the ancient rituals, painted the images, and composed the slogans of solidarity that the marching multitudes chanted: "Viva la Raza!" "Despierta Boricua!" "Sí se puede!" and "P'alante!" Self-determination was buttressed with a transformative sense of progress.

The artists and activists of the civil rights generation self-identified as Chicanos in the Southwest, signaling a new cultural identity apart from Mexican nationals and the previous generation of Mexican Americans. On the East Coast, Puerto Ricans chose the term Nuyorican to signal life rooted in New York as distinct from the Island. Chicano and Nuyorican artists created alternative spaces to create, nurture, and disseminate their cultural production. Centros, talleres, and espacios (centers, workshops, and spaces) flourished in the Chicano barrios of the Southwest, the Nuyorican urban enclaves in Manhattan and Philadelphia, and the Cuban American immigrant communities in Miami and Tampa.

Artists working with community-based activists in centros culturales (cultural centers)stressed a holistic view of culture as inseparable from education, economic development, personal growth, and social and political equity. Among the U.S. Latino arts and cultural organizations founded in the 1970s are Galería de la Raza in San Francisco (1970), Ballet Hispanico in Manhattan (1970), the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio (1973), and the GALA Hispanic Theatre in Washington, D.C. (1976). All helped to extend the robust strand of Latino activism that envisions art and culture as crucial aspects of social transformation.


Chicanos and Nuyoricans found confidence and affirmed pride in their working class bicultural identities. Their poetry, novels, songs, and dramas expressed new worldviews in Spanglish (blended speech of Spanish and English). Other writers chose to write only in Spanish or only in English. Literature in all genres flourished as a primary expressive form, voicing real and fictional experiences and the aspirations of long-repressed imaginations.

Apart from a noble tradition of elite poetry, working class Latino communities also possess a rich and varied repertoire of spoken word. Neighborhoods often claim an individual con el don de la palabra (the gift of being well spoken). Declamadores can move groups to action by their improvised verbal eloquence. It is a badge of honor to be recognized as a skilled storyteller, orator, or recitor of poetry.

Drawing from these traditions, poets voiced the anger, anguish, and hopes of a militant social movement. The rhetorical poetry of Abelardo "Lalo" Delgado, Ricardo Sanchez, and Raúl Salinas, written in Spanglish, echoes traditions of civic oratory, inspires cultural pride, and celebrates ordinary folks' agency to resist and survive. The work of Alurista (Alberto Urista), a major innovator of bilingual poetry, exalts the Chicano's Amerindian past, juxtaposing pre-Columbian themes with contemporary barrio realities. His collections Floricanto en Aztlan and Nationchild Pluma Roja are foundational texts of Chicano poetry.

Writers of the Chicano generation drew historic and mythic themes from pre-Hispanic indigenous cultures and the saga of the Mexican Revolution. Rodolfo "Corky" Gónzalez, founder of the Crusade for Justice in Denver, pulls from these resources in his epic poem I Am Joaquín, published as a chapbook in 1967. The Joaquín of the poem is a Chicano everyman, a collective symbol of mestizaje, Indian and Spaniard, tyrant and slave, the victor and the vanquished. Fortified by the villains and the heroes of his dual ancestry, Joaquín must forge strategies of resistance and survival from past defeats and triumphs. As both a social document and a heroic epic, I Am Joaquín remains a major poetic statement from the militant phase of the Chicano cultural project.


The heroic struggles to unionize California migrant farmworkers led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta were the genesis of El Teatro Campesino (The Farmworkers Theatre), founded by Luís Valdez in Delano, California, in 1965. In the beginning farmworkers improvised short dramatic pieces documenting their lives and aspirations and presented them in union halls and in the fields around Delano. The dramatic vignettes, called actos, were an earthy fusion of colloquial Spanish and English. With only a few props, like masks or signs, to identify characters, the performance style was broad and rambunctious and had a poignant sincerity. Las Dos Caras del Patroncito (The Two-Faced Boss, 1965) and La Quinta Temporada(The Fifth Season, 1966) deal with farmworkers' struggles to form a union.

While actos dramatize political and social concerns, Valdez also created mitos to explore Chicano archetypes, myths, legends, and spirituality. Touring the country to popular and critical acclaim, the Teatro Campesino catalyzed the emergence of a grassroots Chicano teatromovement. Student groups at colleges and universities and activists in community cultural centers formed teatros following the style and approach of the Teatro Campesino. Today a small cadre of teatros continues to provoke and inspire working class audiences.

Teatro Pregones, an internationally known Nu-yorican company based in the Bronx, New York, is a leader in redefining and expanding the meanings of socially committed drama. Now thirty-three years old, Teatro Pregones represents the Nuyorican experience in a repertoire that includes collective creation, musicals, docudramas, avant-garde performances, and full-length plays by emerging Puerto Rican playwrights.

Theater marquees in Latino enclaves from Tampa, Florida to Washington, D.C., announce full seasons of productions ranging from the classical to the experimental by playwrights from Spain and Latin America and the younger generation of U.S. Latino playwrights. Long-standing companies include the Bilingual Theatre Foundation, founded by Carmen Zapata and Margarita Galban, in Los Angeles; Repertorio Español and Miriam Colón's Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre,both in New York City; the GALA Hispanic Theatre in Washington, D.C.; and the Spanish Lyric Theatre in Tampa.


Murals are one of the most powerful and enduring legacies of the Latino cultural reclamation project. This monumental public art form links aesthetics to advocacy and education. Although murals were painted on the walls of Puerto Rican and Cuban communities, they appeared most extensively in the South-west as part of the Chicano movement.

In Mexico Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros worked under official patronage for the embellishment of government buildings. In contrast, Chicano murals were painted on the walls of stores, housing projects, cultural centers, and other community sites. While the Mexican muralists employed few women as helpers and assistants, the Chicano movement included many women muralists. Juana Alicia painted and directed projects in the Bay Area, and Judith Baca founded the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) in Los Angeles, a major center for innovative, socially conscious art. Baca directed the Great Wall of Los Angeles mural, a massive project begun in 1976 that narrates the city's multicultural history in the context of U.S. history. The Mujeres Muralistas, organized in the early 1970s to collaborate on mural programs in San Francisco's Mission District and the Bay Area, aimed to link Latina sociocultural concerns with those of Latin American women.

Muralism engaged a national network of regionally based artists like Leo Tanguma in Houston, Raymond "Ray" Patlán and Mario Castillo in Chicago, and Willie Herrón in Los Angeles. A multitude of other recognized collectives developed community-centered public art. Social issues were illuminated through a localized sensibility that incorporated design elements, color, and visual iconographies from local and regional artistic traditions.

Murals are a symbolic representation of collective values and beliefs expressed in visual language accessible to ordinary people. Their pictorial iconography included indigenous heritage (especially Aztec and Mayan), the Mexican Revolution, and mythic warriors like Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, historical and contemporary social struggles, and barrio life. A major aim was to infuse cultural icons and symbols with new social meaning. Epic in scope and rhetorical in context, Chicano murals were especially potent forces creating historical consciousness. Their dramatic visual narratives linking past and present struggles for self-determination helped viewers remember the past and envision the future.

Literary Arts

During the militant phase of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, scholars Octavio I. Romano and Nick C. Vaca began publishing El Grito: A Journal of Contemporary Mexican-American Thought (1967-1974) at the University of California in Berkeley. El Grito (The Shout) was a journal of Mexican American literature, culture, and the arts. Each issue contained poetry, short stories, and essays focused on the Chicano experience, and some issues featured visual art by early Chicano/a artists. Its affiliate publishing enterprise, Quinto Sol (the Fifth Sun), whose name alluded to pre-Columbian mythical antecedents, aimed to define the canon of Chicano literature by publishing and promoting writers early in their careers as the field of Chicano studies began to develop.

Quinto Sol introduced three exemplary prose writers–Tomás Rivera, Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, and Rudolfo Anaya–who vividly capture the language, emotional depth, and complex cultural worlds of the Chicano experience.Rivera's ...y no se lo tragó la tierra(And the Earth Did Not Devour Him, 1971) explores the migratory experience. Written in a spare, colloquial Spanish, the novel captures the bleak lives and indomitable spirit of poor agrarian workers.

Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, in Estampas del valle y otras obras(Sketches of the Valley and Other Works, 1973), masterfully captures the milieu, human foibles, and historical antagonisms between Anglos and Mexicans in the South Texas borderlands. Rudolfo Anaya's novel Bless Me, Ultima(1972), written in English and set in rural New Mexico, narrates the young boy Antonio Mares' encounters with Ultima, a wise, elderly curandera(healer) who inducts him into the mysteries of nature and the cultural values of his heritage. All three novels are foundational texts of Chicano literature.

The Revista Chicano-Riqueña literary review, founded in 1973 by Nicolás Kanellos at The University of Indiana, introduced a varied cohort of Chicana writers like Ana Castillo, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Denise Chávez, Sandra Cisneros, Pat Mora, Helena María Viramontes, and Evangelina Vigil. The journal, which later became theAmerican Review, has been a significant cultural incubator publishing Latina/o writers' work at diverse stages of their development.

At the Nuyorican Poets Café, founded by poet and playwright Miguel Algarín in Loisaida (Manhattan's Lower East Side) in 1975, self-identified Nuyorican writers could meet, perform their poetry, and cohere as a literary community. Nuyorican poetry is urban, streetwise, music-inflected, and written in combinations of Spanish and English. It explores the stark realities of urban ghetto life. Pedro Pietri, Sandra María Esteves, José Angel Figueroa, Tato Laviera, and others have created the complex human dimensions of the Nuyorican experience. Nuyorican Poetry: An Anthology of Words and Feeling (1975), edited by Miguel Algarín and Miguel Piñero, is a vital overview of Nuyorican writing.

In 1979 Arte Público Press at the University of Houston, became the first U.S. venue to publish literature from every Latino ethnic group in the country. Its singular project, Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage, is an unprecedented effort "to locate, rescue, evaluate and publish collections of primary literary sources written by Hispanics in the geographic area that is now the U.S.from the Colonial Period to 1960."[17]

By the 1980s, with the rise of multiculturalism, Chicana/o writers like Gloria Anzaldúa, Sandra Cisneros and Richard Rodriguez; Cuban writers Oscar Hijuelos and Roberto Fernández; Dominican writer Julia Alvarez; and Puerto Rican writer Judith Ortiz Cofer had achieved a mainstream reading public. Selective historical, modern, and contemporary Latino literary texts were incorporated into school and college curricula, and a new generation of scholars and critics began to integrate Latino authors into a more inclusive American literary canon.


Among the forms of embodied knowledge conserved in Latino communities, dance retains ancient ties to ritual and spiritual practices. Throughout the Southwest, Matachines dance stories of cultural contact and the persistence of the indigenous core of mestizo culture. This primordial strand of native continuity was further strengthened during the Civil Rights era by the revival of danza de la tradición azteca-mexica. Master teachers like Andres Segura traveled from Mexico to form dance groups that perpetuated the spiritual cosmologies and ancestral Indian heritage.

African and indigenous elements were commingled with European sources in vernacular danza folklórica. Folklórica dance troupes are popular components of many cultural organizations. Through the exuberant music, brilliant costumes, and emotional themes, Latino audiences are reminded of a cultural repertoire extending from Spanish flamenco to the hip-hop of the urban barrio.

Ballet Hispánico, founded by Tina Ramirez in 1970 and located in New York City, is one example of how Latino dance expressions negotiate cultural systems to signal that tradition can be simultaneously affirmed and transformed. Here are two program notes from the repertory:

Idol Obsession

The trajectory of the life, singing career, and death of pop star Selena is the basis for this work by Mexican choreographer George Faison. Religious iconography and the images of Mexican folklore are juxtaposed with the lively, upbeat Tejano music, which has come to represent a whole border culture unique to the American Southwest.

¡Si Señor! ¡Es Mi Son!

"Yes, Sir! That's My Son!" is a paean to Cuban culture. A music form popular in Cuba during the 1920s and 30s, the son is the ancestor of salsa and epitomizes the Cuban amalgam of Spanish and African roots. In a series of black and white snapshots, this work depicts five dances, each evoking a particular period of 20th-century Cuban history.

The choreographers and dancers of Ballet Hispánico are recognized for a repertoire that fuses classical ballet and modern dance forms, drawing inspiration from the folkloric and musical idioms of Latino mestizo cultures.

Graphic Arts

Latino image-makers assumed major status as visual educators and memory keepers. The graphic arts, especially posters, were significant for mobilization and indoctrination of the goals of cultural reclamation.

Similar to the mural collectives, Latino graphic artists organized themselves intotalleres (workshops) to expand graphic traditions from ancestral cultures. Two examples are the Taller Boricua in Manhattan and Self Help Graphics & Art, Inc. in Los Angeles. The Taller Boricua (taking its name from Borinquen, the indigenous Taíno name for Puerto Rico) was established in 1972. Nitza Tufiño, Fernando Salicrup, Jorge Soto Sánchez, Marcos Dimas, and other members explore social topics, including Taíno and African heritage, the Puerto Rican immigrant experience in the U.S., and themes related to cultural maintenance. The collective holds exhibitions and sponsors community dialogues and workshops to develop printmakers, helping them move from from novices to master teachers and technicians. A core goal is to use graphic art's educational possibilities to construct a positive Nuyorican identity that synthesizes historical and cultural assets from both Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland.

Self Help Graphics & Art, Inc. was organized by Sister Karen Boccalero, a noted printmaker, and the artist activists Carlos Bueno, Antonio Ibañez, and Frank Hernandez. Emerging in a period of intense militant activism, the organizers understood art as a social practice intimately related to community well-being. One focus was printmaking ateliers, cooperative workshops in which master printers work with artists to explore diverse processes to create print editions for exhibition and marketing.

Since 1972, Self Help Graphics & Art, Inc. has been a catalyst in the resurgence of Day of the Dead celebrations. This ancient celebration of the inseparable duality of life and death has been reenvisioned by artists with new symbols and rituals that speak to contemporary social realities. Artists who produced iconic graphic images in honor of Day of the Dead celebrations include Rupert Garcia, Ester Hernandez, Juan Fuentes, Xavier Viramontes, Malaquias Montoya, Patssi Valdez, and Carlos Cortez.

Visual Arts

An overview of Latino visual art of the 1960s and 1970s reveals an interweaving of art and social context.[18]Chicano, Puerto Rican, and Cuban artists operated in separate and regionally defined artistic spheres. Nascent efforts toward intergroup filiations and cooperation were begun. Two prevalent dispositions in the art production were community-based and politically grounded art and studio-based art of a personal introspective character. While some Latino artists were self-taught and maintained vernacular expressions, most were professional, academically trained artists. They created complex representations of the Latina/o experience with thematic and formal concerns that were eclectic and hybrid and in constant dialogue with modernist and avant-garde procedures derived from expressionism, surrealism, pop, and conceptual art. Western art sources were fused with nonwestern and ethnically specific vernacular and fine art traditions.

In their paintings, sculptures, mixed media, and performative expressions, Latina/os explored "shifting inventories" that moved beyond the standard binary oppositions (us/them, Europe/America, popular/elite). In its incandescent complexity, Latina/o art reflected and codified the lived social scenarios of cultural negotiation, a dynamic process of analysis and exchange between cultures.

Moving between multiple aesthetic repertoires from international and domestic sources, artists questioned and subverted totalizing notions of cultural coherence, wholeness, and stability. Their revisions of identity 

and culture affirmed that both concepts are open and in process, offering the possibility of making and remaking oneself within a living and evolving tradition.

Artists of the Latino civil rights generation sustained an "oppositional consciousness" rooted in longstanding political and cultural struggles against total assimilation into mainstream cultural categories and aesthetic norms. Living between two powerful cultures became a source for creative appropriation and re-elaboration of aesthetic repertoire and values derived both from ancestral cultures and historical lived experience in the U.S. Self-invention and self-determination were intertwined principles of artistic production.

The arts in Latino communities, like the communities themselves, have always been heterogeneous. The philosophical basis of western "fine art"–that art is autonomous and separate from ideological, political, and moral concerns–and the equally powerful principle that art is shaped by social values are both evident in the evolution of U.S. Latino art. Individual artists across time have aligned themselves with either tendency or have adroitly negotiated between them at different stages of their careers. Alongside the "fine arts," Latino communities have sustained rich and multifaceted vernacular and folk art traditions.

Major accomplishments and continuing goals of the civil rights generation of artists include the creation and maintenance of a bank of symbols and images representing the deep structures of Chicano, Puerto Rican, and Cuban ancestral aesthetic traditions; the creation and support of alternative community-based art spaces and Latino-specific art museums; and continual efforts to make art accessible to multiple audiences. A vital scholarly and curatorial task is to center Latino art as a constituent in the historical evolution of American art.

The U.S. Latino Cultural Project

In the global present, a nascent cultural project is being enunciated in Spanish-speaking enclaves throughout the U.S. The new subject is Latino, the new space is transnational, and the new social reality is a country where, according to the 2012 census, the Latino population exceeds 50 million. Due to unbroken immigrant flows from throughout the Americas, Latinos are now the largest ethnic minority in the U.S. and are expected to compose one fourth of the nation's population within two decades.

Yet the politics sustaining relations of inequality and social exclusion remain. Latinos are still shadowy, indistinct ciphers to many non-Latino Americans. The Latino imagination that has made fundamental contributions to American literary, visual, and musical traditions is largely unrecognized and conspicuously absent in the nation's cultural and educational institutions.

Migratory flows and constant movement of people and ideas across hemispheric borders position the contemporary Latina/o experience and cultural expression as part of an incipient transnational imaginary. Today Latina/o culture is nurtured within trans-local spaces and is vibrant in the formation of mobile identities, incipient coalitions and solidarities, and possible social formations of connection, communication, and conciliation within national groups and across borders.

Scholar Mary Louise Pratt calls this continental space a "contact zone." She explains, "Contact Zones are not geographic places with stable significations . . . but are simultaneously sites of multi-vocality, of negotiation, borrowing, and exchange."[19]She adds that these are social spaces where disparate cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in highly asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination.

Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America form dynamic "contact zones" with intellectual goods flowing along multiple cultural corridors. Artists simultaneously go back and forth between different landscapes of symbols, values, traditions, and styles and/or operate within a landscape that encompasses many.

Among the tasks for articulating a new "pan-Latino cultural project" is to search for an embracing collective ethos. Latinos belong to a recognizable U.S. community; however, the very concept of comunidad is relative to each national group's perspectives and positions. Scholar Juan Flores articulates the point:

"Comunidad: the Spanish word, even more clearly than the English, calls to mind two of the key terms–común and unidad–in the conceptualization of this notoriously elusive idea. What do we have in "common," and what "unites" us, what are our commonalities and what makes for our unity? It is important to note that though the two terms point in the same semantic direction they are not synonymous, and their apparent coupling in the same word, comunidad, is not a redundancy. For while común refers to sharing–that is, those aspects in the cultures of the various constitutive groups that overlap–the sense of unidad is that which bonds the groups above and beyond the diverse particular commonalities."[20]

Puertorriqueños, Chicanos, Domincanos, Cubanos, and each distinct national group in the Latino comunidad have specific histories of oppression and colonialism with competing class and generational interests. This variation is marked and mitigated by the length of time lived in the U.S. Despite marked differences, Latina/o creators in all artistic genres continue the quest for an ensemble of shared values and aesthetic concerns expressive of inter-Latino subjectivities.

A new generation of creators is reopening the social context and cultural assumptions of the Latino cultural project. Two guiding principles are the framework of continuity and change and the inclusion of a pan-Latino constituency. Building intellectual platforms of shared cultural histories among artists from diverse Latino national groups calls for establishing networks of support and knowledge. Research and publication projects, conferences, and exhibitions will deepen a shared pan-Latino intellectual agenda. Candor and sincerity are essential for bonds of communication. The remarkable diversity among Latinos must be cherished concurrently with a quest for points of connection and solidarity–not the unity of political expediency but the deeper filiations and bonding of Latino cultural producers who began to feel a sense of shared aspirations and a collective cultural destiny.

A necessary task is to survey, map, and interpret diverse locales fomenting Latino arts and culture. The range of sites include civic spaces (plazas and parks), religious locales (sanctuaries and pilgrimage sites), sacred spaces (moradas, ceremonial and ritual environments), presenting venues (theatres, recital halls, cultural centers, museums), meeting halls (mutual aid societies, patriotic and historical societies), and regional centers of craft and artisanal production.

In addition, a concerted effort is needed to register, evaluate, and interpret community-enabling spaces that have nurtured working class ethos and esthetics. Such places include tienditas (small grocery stores), historic restaurants, cafes, andpanaderías(bakeries). Also places of recreation and diversion such as dance halls, movie theatres, and taverns. A pan-Latino focus will integrate heritage sites that nurture collective well-being and a positive sense of cultural belonging.


Reinforcing pan-Latino artistic networks begins with understanding commonalities of historical experience in the U.S. Whether Salvadoreños, Domincanos, Colombianos, or any other national group trying to make a life in this country, all share colonization, immigration, racialization, and a historical continuum of erasure and oppression. Unique stories are yet to be woven into the meta-narrative of a Latinized 21st century U.S. Pan-Latino interaction must delicately balance the desire for mutuality with the reality of intergroup differences.

The U.S is being reconfigured as a multicultural society in the 21st century. The evolving Latino arts are intrinsic components of Latino heritage acknowledged as a vital national asset. A paramount challenge is to encourage mainstream cultural and educational institutions to recognize Latino cultural production as integral in redefiing the future of American art and culture.

Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, Ph.D., is an Independent Scholar of Latin American and U.S. Latino arts and culture and is located in San Antonio. He was formerly Associate Director of Creativity and Culture at the Rockefeller Foundation. Prior to that, he was a Professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Stanford University. His major works include Houston Hispanic Artists: New Views, Modern Chicano Writers: A Collection of Critical Essays, and Towards a Shared Vision: U.S. Latinos and the Smithsonian Institution. He was awarded the Joseph Henry Medal by the Smithsonian Institution in 1998. In 2007, the Mexican government bestowed "The Order of The Aztec Eagle" on him citing his life work in fostering cultural understanding between the United States and Mexico through the arts and humanities. In 2009, he was named Senior Fellow, Hemispheric Institute at New York University. In 2009-2011, he was Senior Advisor to the Commission to study the potential creation of a National Museum of the American Latino. He received his Ph.D. in Spanish from the University of Washington.


[1]  For a comprehensive historical and cultural overview of Hispanic literary production in the United States, see the ongoing volumes in Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage (Houston: Arte Publico Press).

[2]  See José de la Sota Ruiz, "Spanish Science and the Enlightenment Expeditions," in Spain in the Age of Exploration, ed. Chiyo Ishikawa (Lincoln: Seattle Art Museum and University of Nebraska Press, 2004).

[3]  Bureau of Land Management, New Mexico State Office, El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, vol. 1 and 2 (Santa Fe: Cultural Resources Series No. 11, 1993).

[4]  Elizabeth Boyd, Popular Arts of Spanish New Mexico (Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1974).

[5]  See Rosanna Sanchez, Telling Identities: The California Testimonios(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995), and Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M. Senkewicz, Testimonios: Early California through the Eyes of Women, 1815–1848 (Berkeley: Heyday Books, 2006).

[6]  Américo Paredes, With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and Its Hero(Austin: University of Texas Press, 1958). José E. Limón, Mexican Ballads, Chicano Poems (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992).

[7]  Amelia Maria de la Luz Montes and Anne Elizabeth Goldman, Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton: Critical and Pedagogical Perspectives (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004).

[8]  Juan Flores, "Puerto Rican Literature in the United States: Stages and Perspectives," in Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage, vol. 1, ed. Ramon Gutierrez and Genaro Padilla (Houston: Arte Público Press, 1993).

[9]  Nicolás Kanellos, Herencia: The Anthology of Hispanic Literature in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 3. Nicolás Kanellos with Helvetia Martell, Hispanic Periodicals in the United States, Origins to 1960: A Brief History and Comprehensive Bibliography (Houston: Arte Público Press, 2000).

[10]  José Vasconcelos, The Cosmic Race, trans. Didier T. Jaen (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979).

[11]  Tey Mariana Nunn, Sin Números: Hispana and Hispano Artists of the New Deal Era (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001).

[12]  Posters and Books from Puerto Rico's Division of Community Education (DIVEDCO), 1949–1989 (South Bend, Ind.: Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, 2012). Teresa Pio, "The Poster: A Weapon for Critical Resistance," in Puerto Rico Arte e Identidad (San Juan: Hermanidad de Artistas Gráficas de Puerto Rico, Editorial de la Universidad, 1998).

[13]  Teresita Romo, "Mexican Heritage American Art, Six Angelino Artists," in L.A. Xicano, ed. Chon Noriega, Teresita Romo, and Pilar Tompkins-Rivas (Los Angeles: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press, 2011).

[14]  Rodolfo J. Cortina, "Cuban Literature of the United States: 1824–1959," inRecovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage, vol. 1, ed. Ramon Gutierrez and Genaro Padilla (Houston: Arte Público Press, 1993).

[15]  Nicolás Kanellos, A History of Hispanic Theatre in the United States, Origins to 1940s (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990).

[16]  Olga M. Viso and Anna Mendietta, Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance, 1972–1985 (Washington: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, 2004).

[17]  See volume already published as Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage (Houston: Arte Público Press).

[18]  See Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, "The Chicano Movement/The Movement of Chicano Art," in Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display, ed. Ivan Karp and Steven D. Levine (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991), and Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, "Post-Movimiento: The Contemporary (RE) Generation of Chicana/o Art," in A Companion to Latina/o Studies, ed. Juan Flores and Renato Rosaldo (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007).

[19]  Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 1992).

[20]  Juan Flores, From Bomba to Hip Hop: Puerto Rican Culture and Latino Identity(New York: Columbia University Press, 2000).

The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government.

The term Hispanic (Spanish: hispano or hispánico) broadly refers to the people, nations, and cultures that have a historical link to Spain. It commonly applies to countries once under colonial possession by the Spanish Empire following Spanish colonization of the Americas, parts of the Asia-Pacific region and Africa, principally what are today the countries of Hispanic America where Spanish is the predominant or official language and their cultures are heavily derived from Spain although with strong local indigenous or other foreign influences. It is sometimes extended to the Philippines, Guam, etc., although Spanish is not dominant nor official, and their cultures are largely local indigenous but heavily influenced by Spain. It could be argued that the term Hispanic should apply to all Spanish-speaking cultures or countries, as the historical roots of the word specifically pertain to the Iberian region. It is difficult to label a nation or culture with one term, such as Hispanic, as the ethnicities, customs, traditions, and art forms (music, literature, dress, culture, cuisine, and others) vary greatly by country and region. The Spanish language and Spanish culture are the main distinctions.[1][2]

Hispanic originally referred to the people of ancient Roman Hispania, which roughly comprised the Iberian Peninsula, including the contemporary states of Spain, Portugal, and Andorra, and the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar.[3][4][5]


The term Hispanic derives from Latin Hispanicus ('Spanish'), the adjectival derivation of Latin (and Greek) Hispania ('Spain') and Hispanus/Hispanos ('Spaniard'), ultimately probably of Celtiberian origin.[6] In English the word is attested from the 16th century (and in the late 19th century in American English).[7]

The words Spain, Spanish, and Spaniard are of the same etymology as Hispanus, ultimately.[6]

Hispanus was the Latin name given to a person from Hispania during Roman rule. In English, the term Hispano-Roman is sometimes used.[9] The Hispano-Romans were composed of people from many different indigenous tribes, in addition to Italian colonists.[10][11] Some famous Hispani (plural of Hispanus) and Hispaniensis were the emperors Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Hadrian, Theodosius I and Magnus Maximus, the poets Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, Martial and Prudentius, the philosophers Seneca the Elder and Seneca the Younger, or the usurper Maximus of Hispania. A number of these men, such as Trajan, Hadrian and others, were in fact descended from Roman colonial families.[12][13][14]

Here follows a comparison of several terms related to Hispanic:

  • Hispania was the name of the Iberian Peninsula/Iberia from the 3rd century BC to the 8th AD, both as a Roman Empire province and immediately thereafter as a Visigothic kingdom, 5th–8th century.
  • Hispano-Roman is used to refer to the culture and people of Hispania.[15][16][17]
  • Hispanic is used to refer to modern Spain, to the Spanish language, and to the Spanish-speaking nations of the world, particularly the Americas,[17][18] Pacific Islands and Asia, such as the Philippines[19] and Guam.
  • Spanish is used to refer to the people, nationality, culture, language and other things of Spain.
  • Spaniard is used to refer to the people of Spain.

Hispania was the Roman name for the whole territory of the Iberian Peninsula. Initially, this territory was divided into two provinces: Hispania Citerior and Hispania Ulterior. In 27 B.C, Hispania Ulterior was divided into two new provinces, Hispania Baetica and Hispania Lusitania, while Hispania Citerior was renamed Hispania Tarraconensis. This division of Hispania explains the usage of the singular and plural forms (Spain, and The Spains) used to refer to the peninsula and its kingdoms in the Middle Ages.[20]

Before the marriage of Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon in 1469, the four Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula—the Kingdom of Portugal, the Crown of Aragon, the Crown of Castile, and the Kingdom of Navarre—were collectively called The Spains. This revival of the old Roman concept in the Middle Ages appears to have originated in Provençal, and was first documented at the end of the 11th century. In the Council of Constance, the four kingdoms shared one vote.

The word Lusitanian, relates to Lusitania or Portugal, also in reference to the Lusitanians, possibly one of the first Indo-European tribes to settle in Europe. From this tribe's name had derived the name of the Roman province of Lusitania, and Lusitania remains the name of Portugal in Latin.

The terms Spain and the Spains were not interchangeable.[21] Spain was a geographic territory, home to several kingdoms (Christian and Muslim), with separate governments, laws, languages, religions, and customs, and was the historical remnant of the Hispano-Gothic unity.[22] Spain was not a political entity until much later, and when referring to the Middle Ages, one should not be confounded with the nation-state of today.[23] The term The Spains referred specifically to a collective of juridico-political units, first the Christian kingdoms, and then the different kingdoms ruled by the same king.

With the Decretos de Nueva Planta, Philip V started to organize the fusion of his kingdoms that until then were ruled as distinct and independent, but this unification process lacked a formal and juridic proclamation.[24][25]

Although colloquially and literally the expression "King of Spain" or "King of the Spains" was already widespread,[26] it did not refer to a unified nation-state. It was only in the constitution of 1812 that was adopted the name Españas (Spains) for the Spanish nation and the use of the title of "king of the Spains".[27]The constitution of 1876 adopts for the first time the name "Spain" for the Spanish nation and from then on the kings would use the title of "king of Spain".[28]

The expansion of the Spanish Empire between 1492 and 1898 brought thousands of Spanish migrants to the conquered lands, who established settlements, mainly in the Americas, but also in other distant parts of the world (as in the Philippines, the lone Spanish territory in Asia), producing a number of multiracial populations. Today, the term Hispanic is typically applied to the varied populations of these places, including those with Spanish ancestry. The Filipinos however can be considered Hispanics because of the culture and language that Spanish left behind. Along with English and Tagalog, Spanish used to be one of the official languages in the Philippines before being removed in 1973 by the Cory Aquino government.

Definitions in ancient Rome[edit]

The Latin gentile adjectives that belong to Hispania are Hispanus, Hispanicus, and Hispanienses. A Hispanus is someone who is a native of Hispania with no foreign parents, while children born in Hispania of (Latin) Roman parents were Hispaniensis. Hispaniensis means 'connected in some way to Hispania', as in "Exercitus Hispaniensis" ('the Spanish army') or "mercatores Hispanienses" ('Spanish merchants'). Hispanicus implies 'of' or 'belonging to' Hispania or the Hispanus or of their fashion as in "glaudius Hispanicus".[29] The gentile adjectives were not ethnolinguistic but derived primarily on a geographic basis, from the toponym Hispania as the people of Hispania spoke different languages, although Livy said they could all understand each other, not making clear if they spoke dialects of the same language or were polyglots.[30] The first recorded use of an anthroponym derived from the toponym Hispania is attested in one of the five fragments, of Ennius in 236 B.C. who wrote "Hispane, non Romane memoretis loqui me" ("Remember that I speak like a Spaniard not a Roman") as having been said by a native of Hispania.[31][32]

Definitions in Portugal and Spain[edit]

The term Hispanic signifies the cultural resonance, among other elements and characteristics, of the descendants of the people who inhabited ancient Hispania (Iberian Peninsula). It has been used throughout history for many purposes, including drawing a contrast to the Moors and differentiating explorers and settlers.

Technically speaking, persons from Portugal or of Portuguese extraction are referred to as Lusitanians. In Portugal, Hispanic refers to something related to ancient Hispania, Spain or the Spanish language and culture, Portugal.[33] Portugal and Spain do not have exactly the same definition for the term Hispanic, but they do share the etymology for the word (pt: hispânico, es: hispánico). The Royal Spanish Academy (Spanish: Real Academia Española, RAE), the official royal institution responsible for regulating the Spanish language defines the terms "Hispano" and "Hispánico" (which in Spain have slightly different meanings) as:[34][35]


  • Of Hispania.
  • Belonging or relative to old Hispania.
  • Spanish, as applied to a person.
  • Of or pertaining to Hispanic America.
  • Of or pertaining to the population of Hispanic American origin who live in the United States of America.
  • A person of this origin who lives in the United States of America.
  • People for The Republic of the Philippines


  • Belonging or relative to old Hispania and the peoples which were once part of it.
  • Belonging or relative to Spain and Spanish-speaking countries.

Note that both terms include Portugal as part of "Hispania" as Hispania is the old Roman name given to the entire Iberian peninsula and their peoples, including the Lusitanians.

The common modern term to identify Portuguese and Spanish cultures under a single nomenclature is "Iberian", and the one to refer to cultures derived from both countries in the Americas is "Iberian-American". These designations can be mutually recognized by people in Portugal and Brazil, unlike "Hispanic", which is totally void of any self-identification in those countries, and quite on the opposite, serves the purpose of marking a clear distinction in relation to neighboring countries´ culture.

In Spanish, the term "hispano" as in "hispanoamericano", refers to the people of Spanish origin who live in the Americas; it also refers to a relationship to Hispania or to the Spanish language. There are people in Hispanic America that are not of Spanish origin, as the original people of these areas are Amerindians.

Definitions in the United States[edit]

See also: Ethnic groups in the United States, History of Hispanic and Latino Americans, Race and ethnicity in the United States Census, and Hispanic/Latino naming dispute

Today, organizations in the United States use the term as a broad catchall to refer to persons with a historical and cultural relationship with Spain, such as equitoreal guinea and Philippines which are- regardless of race and ethnicity.[1][2] The U.S. Census Bureau defines the ethnonymHispanic or Latino to refer to "a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race"[36] and states that Hispanics or Latinos can be of any race, any ancestry, any ethnicity.[37] Generically, this limits the definition of Hispanic or Latino to people from the Caribbean, Central and South America, or other Hispanic (Spanish or Portuguese) culture or origin, regardless of race. Latino can refer to males or females, while Latina refers to only females.

Because of the technical distinctions involved in defining "race" vs. "ethnicity," there is confusion among the general population about the designation of Hispanic identity. Currently, the United States Census Bureau defines six race categories:[38]

  • White or Caucasian
  • Black or African American
  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Asian
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
  • Some Other Race

According to census reports, of the above races the largest number of Hispanic or Latinos are of the White race, the second largest number come from the Native American/American Indian race who are the indigenous people of the Americas. The inhabitants of Easter Island are Pacific Islanders and since the island belongs to Chile they are theoretically Hispanic or Latinos. Because Hispanic roots are considered aligned with a European ancestry (Spain/Portugal), Hispanic/Latino ancestry is defined solely as an ethnic designation (similar to being Norse or Germanic). Therefore, a person of Hispanic descent is typically defined using both race and ethnicity as an identifier—i.e., Black-Hispanic, White-Hispanic, Asian-Hispanic, Amerindian-Hispanic or "other race" Hispanic.

A 1997 notice by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget defined Hispanic or Latino persons as being "persons who trace their origin or descent to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central and South America, and other Spanish cultures."[39] The United States Census uses the ethnonymHispanic or Latino to refer to "a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Hispanic culture or origin regardless of race."[36]

The 2010 Census asked if the person was "Spanish/Hispanic/Latino". The United States Census uses the ethnonymHispanic or Latino to refer to "a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race."[36] The Census Bureau also explains that "[o]rigin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person's ancestors before their arrival in the United States. People who identify their origin as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be of any race."[40]

The U.S. Department of Transportation defines Hispanic as, "persons of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, Central or South American, or other Spanish or Portuguese culture or origin, regardless of race."[1] This definition has been adopted by the Small Business Administration as well as by many federal, state, and municipal agencies for the purposes of awarding government contracts to minority owned businesses.[2] The Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Conference include representatives of Spanish and Portuguese, Puerto Rican and Mexican descent. The Hispanic Society of America is dedicated to the study of the arts and cultures of Spain, Portugal, and Latin America.[41] The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, proclaimed champions of Hispanic success in higher education, is committed to Hispanic educational success in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Ibero-America, Spain and Portugal.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission encourages any individual who believes that he or she is Hispanic to self-identify as Hispanic.[42] The United States Department of Labor - Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs encourages the same self-identification. As a result, any individual who traces his or her origins to part of the Spanish Empire or Portuguese Empire may self-identify as Hispanic, because an employer may not override an individual's self-identification.[43]

The 1970 Census was the first time that a "Hispanic" identifier was used and data collected with the question. The definition of "Hispanic" has been modified in each successive census.[44]

In a recent study, most Spanish-speakers of Spanish or Hispanic American descent do not prefer the term "Hispanic" or "Latino" when it comes to describing their identity. Instead, they prefer to be identified by their country of origin. When asked if they have a preference for either being identified as "Hispanic" or "Latino," the Pew study finds that "half (51%) say they have no preference for either term."[45] A majority (51%) say they most often identify themselves by their family’s country of origin, while 24% say they prefer a pan-ethnic label such as Hispanic or Latino. Among those 24% who have a preference for a pan-ethnic label, "'Hispanic' is preferred over 'Latino' by more than a two-to-one margin—33% versus 14%." Twenty-one percent prefer to be referred to simply as "Americans."[46]


Hispanicization is the process by which a place or a person absorbs characteristics of Hispanic society and culture.[47][48][49] Modern hispanization of a place, namely in the United States, might be illustrated by Spanish-language media and businesses. Hispanization of a person might be illustrated by speaking Spanish, making and eating Hispanic American food, listening to Spanish language music or participating in Hispanic festivals and holidays - Hispanization of those outside the Hispanic community as opposed to assimilation of Hispanics into theirs.

One reason that some people believe the assimilation of Hispanics in the U.S. is not comparable to that of other cultural groups is that Hispanic and Latino Americans have been living in parts of North America for centuries, in many cases well before the English-speaking culture became dominant. For example, California, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico (1598), Arizona, Nevada, Florida and Puerto Rico have been home to Spanish-speaking peoples since the 16th century, long before the U.S. existed. (The language of the Native Americans existed before this, until the invasion and forced assimilation by the Spanish.) These and other Spanish-speaking territories were part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, and later Mexico (with the exception of Florida and Puerto Rico), before these regions joined or were taken over by the United States in 1848. Some cities in the U.S. were founded by Spanish settlers as early as the 16th century, prior to the creation of the Thirteen Colonies. For example, San Miguel de Gualdape, Pensacola and St. Augustine, Florida were founded in 1526, 1559 and 1565 respectively. Santa Fe, New Mexico was founded in 1604, and Albuquerque was established in 1660. El Paso was founded in 1659, San Antonio in 1691, Laredo, Texas in 1755, San Diego in 1769, San Francisco in 1776, San Jose, California in 1777, New Iberia, Louisiana in 1779, and Los Angeles in 1781. Therefore, in many parts of the U.S., the Hispanic cultural legacy predates English/British influence. For this reason, many generations have largely maintained their cultural traditions and Spanish language well before the United States was created. However, Spanish-speaking persons in many Hispanic areas in the U.S. amounted to only a few thousand people when they became part of the United States; a large majority of current Hispanic residents are descended from Hispanics who entered the United States in the mid-to-late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Language retention is a common index to assimilation; according to the 2000 census, about 75 percent of all Hispanics spoke Spanish in the home. Spanish language retention rates vary geographically; parts of Texas and New Mexico have language retention rates over 90 percent, whereas in parts of Colorado and California, retention rates are lower than 30 percent. The degree of retention of Spanish as the native language is based on recent arrival from countries where Spanish is spoken. As is true of other immigrants, those who were born in other countries still speak their native language. Later generations are increasingly less likely to speak the language spoken in the country of their ancestors, as is true of other immigrant groups.

Spanish-speaking countries and regions[edit]

Spanish-speaking countries
the map of the spanish language uses

  Spanish identified as sole official language

  Spanish identified as co-official language

  Former Spanish co-official, now identified as auxillary language

See also: Hispanophone, Hispanic America, and List of countries where Spanish is an official language

Today, Spanish is among the most commonly spoken first languages of the world. During the period of the Spanish Empire from 1492 and 1898, many people migrated from Spain to the conquered lands. The Spaniards brought with them the Castilian language and culture, and in this process that lasted several centuries, created a global empire with a diverse population.

Culturally, Spaniards (those living in Spain) are typically European, but they also have small traces of many peoples from the rest of Europe, such as for example, old Germania, Scandinavia, France, the Mediterranean, the Near East and northern Africa.[50][51]

Language and ethnicities in Spanish-speaking areas around the world[edit]

Continent/regionCountry/territoryLanguages spoken[52]Ethnic groups[53]PictureReferences
EuropeSpainSpanish (official) 70%, Catalan 20%, Galician 7%, Basque 2% (official regionally) (Spanish is spoken by 100% of the population)[54]88.0% Spanish, 12.0% others (Romanian, British, Moroccan, Hispanic American, German) (2009)
(See: Spanish people)
AndorraCatalan (official) 57.7%, Spanish 56.4%, French 14.5%, Portuguese 13.9%[57]
North AmericaMexicoSpanish 92.7%, Spanish and other language 5.7%, native/indigenous only 0.8%, unspecified 0.8%; (Native/ Indigenous languages include Mayan languages, Mixtec, Nahuatl, Purépecha, Zapotec, and other) (2005)Mestizo (European, mainly Spanish and Native Mixed) 65%,[58]Amerindian (or predominantly Amerindian) 17.5%, White (full Spanish or other European) 16.5%,[59] other (including Black minority) 1%[58]
(See: Mexican people)
United StatesEnglish 79.4%, Spanish 12.8%, other Indo-European 3.7%, Asian and Pacific Islander languages 3.0%, other 0.9% (2010 census) (Hawaiian is an official language in the state of Hawaii).

(Note: The U.S. is a predominantly English-speaking country. As is true of many immigrant families, the immigrants often speak Spanish and some English, while their children are fluent English speakers because they were born and educated in the U.S. Some retain their Spanish language as is true of other immigrant families. The recent influx of large numbers of immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries into the U.S. has meant that the number of Spanish-speaking U.S. residents has increased, but the children speaking English as is true of the historic U.S. immigrant experience, continues. Migration from Hispanic countries has increased the Spanish-speaking population in the United States. Of those who speak Spanish in the United States, three quarters speak English well or very well.

White 79.96%, Black 12.85%, Asian 4.43%, Amerindian and Alaska Native 0.97%, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific islanders 0.18%, two or more races 1.61% (July 2007 estimate)

(Note: a separate listing for Hispanics is not included because the U.S. Census Bureau considers Hispanic to mean a person of Hispanic American descent (including persons of Cuban, Mexican, or Puerto Rican origin) and of Spanish descent living in the U.S. who may be of any race or ethnic group (white, black, Asian, etc.); about 15–16% of the total U.S. population is Hispanic, not including estimates about alien residents).

Central AmericaBelizeSpanish 43%, Belizean Creole 37%, Mayan dialects 7.8%, English 5.6% (official), German 3.2%, Garifuna 2%, other 1.5%Mestizo 34%, Kriol 25%, Maya peoples 10.6%, Garifuna 6.1%, other 11% (2000 census)
(See:Belizean people)
Costa RicaSpanish (official)White 81%, Mestizo 13%, Black 3%, Amerindian 1%, Chinese 1% Other 1%[63]
El SalvadorSpanish (official)Mestizo 86%, White 12%, Amerindian 1%[64]
GuatemalaSpanish 59.4%, Amerindian languages 40.5% (23 officially recognized Amerindian languages, including K'iche, Kakchiquel, Kekchi, Mam, Garifuna, and Xinca).Mestizo 41%, K'iche 9.1%, Kaqchikel 8.4%, Mam 7.9%, Q'eqchi 6.3%, other Maya peoples 8.6%, indigenous non-Mayan 0.2%, other 0.1%, White 18.5% (2001 census)[65]
HondurasSpanish (official), (various Amerindian languages, including Garifuna, Lenca, Miskito, Ch’orti’, and Tol). English(on the Bay Islands)Mestizo (mixed Amerindian and European) 90%, Amerindian 7%, Black 2%, White 1%[66]
NicaraguaSpanish 97.5% (official), Miskito 1.7%, others 0.8% (1995 census) (English and indigenous languages on Atlantic coast).Mestizo (mixed Amerindian and European) 69%, White 17%, Black 9%, Amerindian 5%[67]
PanamaSpanish (official), English 14% (bilingual: requires verification)Mestizo (mixed Amerindian and European) 70%, Black 14%, White 10%, Amerindian 6%[68]
South AmericaArgentinaSpanish (official), other European and Amerindian languagesEuropean Argentine 86% (mostly from Spanish and Italian ancestries), Mestizo, Amerindian and other non-European or non-White groups (including Arab, East Asian, and Black minorities) 14%
(See: Argentinian people)
BoliviaSpanish 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%, Black minority.[70]
ChileSpanish (official), Mapudungun, other European languagesWhite 52.7%, Mestizo 44.1%, Amerindian 3.2%
(See: Chilean people)
ColombiaSpanish (official), 68 ethnic languages and dialects. English also official in the San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina Islands.Mestizo 49%, White 37%, Black 10.6% (includes Mulatto and Zambo), Amerindian 3.4%, Roma 0.01%, among other ethnic groups.
(See: Colombian people)
EcuadorSpanish (official), Amerindian languages (especially Quechua)Mestizo (mixed Amerindian and White) 65%, Amerindian 25%, White 7%, Black 3%[74]
ParaguaySpanish (official), Guaraní (official)Mestizo (mixed European and Amerindian) 74.5%, White 20%, Mulato 3.5%, Amerindian 1.5%[75]
PeruSpanish (official), Quechua (official), Aymara, and a large number of minor Amazonian languagesMestizo 38%, Quechua 29.7%, Aymara 4.7%, Amazonian 1.8%, White 15.5%, Black 5%, East Asian 3.3%.[76]
UruguaySpanish (official)White (mostly from Spanish and Italian ancestries) 88%, Mestizo 8%, Black 4%, Amerindian (less than 0.5%)[77]
VenezuelaSpanish (official), numerous indigenous dialectsMestizos (mixed Amerindian, White and African) 49,9%, White 42,2%, Black 3,5% and Amerindians 2,7%
(See: Venezuelan people)
Caribbean IslandsCubaSpanish (official)White 69.1% (mostly Spanish and Portuguese, or other European and British Ancestry), Mulattoes 20.7%, Black 10.2% (2002 census)
(See: Cubans)
Dominican RepublicSpanish (official)Mestizo 44%, Mulatto 30%, White 16%, African 10%
Puerto Rico
(Territory of the U.S. with Commonwealth status)
Spanish, EnglishWhite (mostly of Spanish ancestry) 76.2%, Black 6.9%, Asian 0.3%, Amerindian 0.2%, mixed 4.4%, other 12% (2007)[81]
AfricaEquatorial GuineaSpanish 67.6% (official), other 32.4% (includes the other 2 official languages - French and Portuguese, Fang, Bube, Annobonese, Igbo, Krio, Pichinglis, and English) (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)[82]
PolynesiaEaster Island
Territory of Chile
Spanish (official), RapanuiRapanui[83]
The CIA World Factbook is in the public domain. Accordingly, it may be copied freely without permission of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).[84]

Areas with Hispanic cultural influence[edit]

Continent/regionCountry/territoryLanguages spoken [52]Ethnic groups [53]References
AfricaWestern SaharaArabic is the official language of Western Sahara, while Spanish is still widely spoken.The major ethnic group of the Western Sahara are the Sahrawis, a nomadic or Bedouin group speaking Arabic.[citation needed]
pPhilippinesChavacano, a Spanish-based creole language is spoken in the Philippines by 600,000 people.[85]Philippine Spanish is natively spoken by 5,000 people but second- and third-language speakers range from 500,000 to 2,500,000.[86][87][88]Hispanic influences have impacted several native languages, such as Tagalog, Cebuano and Ilocano. Many aspects of Filipino culture including cuisine, traditional dances, music, festivals, religion, architecture, traditional costumes and crafts exhibit Hispanic origin and influences.[85]Spanish Filipino. Various ethnolinguistic groups particularly with some Hispanic heritage that forms up the Filipino people (Chavacanos, Cebuanos, Hiligaynons, Warays, Tagalogs, Ilocanos, Kapampangan, Bicolanos and others)[85]
MicronesiaGuamFormer Spanish territories in Asia-Pacific no longer recognize Spanish as an official language. The predominant languages used in Guam are English, Chamorro and Filipino. Also, in Guam – a U.S. territory – and the Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth in political union with the U.S., a Malayo-Polynesian language called Chamorro is spoken, with numerous loanwords with Spanish etymological origins. However it is not a Spanish creole language.[89]Asians, Chamorro, Filipinos, and others[89]
FSM MicronesiaMicronesia's official language is English, although native languages, such as Chuukese, Kosraean, Pohnpeian, Yapese, Ulithian, Woleaian, Nukuoro and Kapingamarangi are also prominent.[90]Asians, Micronesians, and others[90]
Northern Mariana IslandsIn the Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth in political union with the U.S., a Malayo-Polynesian language called Chamorro is spoken, with numerous loanwords with Spanish etymological origins. However it is not a Spanish creole language. The top four languages used in the Northern Mariana Islands are Filipino, Chinese, Chamorro and English.[91]Asians, Chamorro, and others[91]
PalauIn Palau, Spanish is no longer used; instead, the people use their native languages, such as Palauan, Angaur, Sonsorolese and Tobian.[92]Asians, Palauan, and others[92]
The CIA World Factbook is in the public domain. Accordingly, it may be copied freely without permission of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).[84]


The Miguel de Cervantes Prize is awarded to Hispanic writers, whereas the Latin Grammy Award recognizes Hispanic and Portuguese musicians, and the Platino Awards as given to outstanding Hispanic films.


Main articles: Music of Spain, Hispanic music, and Latin music (genre)

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 nationalities and regions of Spain, there is a lot of music in the different languages of the Peninsula (Catalan, Galician and Basque, mainly). See, for instance, Music of Catalonia or Rock català, Music of Galicia, Cantabria and Asturias, and Basque music. Flamenco is also a very popular music style in Spain, especially in Andalusia. Spanish ballads "romances" can be traced in Argentina as "milongas", same structure but different scenarios.

On the other side of the ocean, Hispanic America is also home to a wide variety of music, even though "Latin" music is often erroneously thought of, as a single genre. Hispanic Caribbean music tends to favor complex polyrhythms of African origin. Mexican music shows combined influences of mostly European and Native American origin, while traditional Northern Mexican music — norteño and banda — polka, has influence from polka music brought by Central European settlers to Mexico which later influenced western music. 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 U.S. communities of immigrants from these countries it is common to hear these styles. Latin pop, Rock en Español, Latin hip-hop, Salsa, Merengue, colombian cumbia and Reggaeton styles tend to appeal to the broader Hispanic population, and varieties of Cuban music are popular with many Hispanics of all backgrounds.


Main article: Hispanic literature

Spanish-language literature and folklore is very rich and is influenced by a variety of countries. There are thousands of writers from many places, and dating from the Middle Ages to the present. Some of the most recognized writers are Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (Spain), Lope de Vega (Spain), Calderón de la Barca (Spain), Jose Rizal (Philippines), Carlos Fuentes (Mexico), Octavio Paz (Mexico), Miguel Ángel Asturias (Guatemala), George Santayana (US), José Martí (Cuba), Sabine Ulibarri (US), Federico García Lorca (Spain), Miguel de Unamuno (Spain), Gabriel García Márquez (Colombia), Rafael Pombo (Colombia), Horacio Quiroga (Uruguay), Rómulo Gallegos (Venezuela), Luis Rodriguez Varela (Philippines), Rubén Darío (Nicaragua), Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru), Giannina Braschi (Puerto Rico), Cristina Peri Rossi (Uruguay), Luisa Valenzuela (Argentina), Roberto Quesada (Honduras), Julio Cortázar (Argentina), Pablo Neruda (Chile), Gabriela Mistral

Stele of a family of celts, hispanus from Gallaecia : Apana · Ambo/lli · f(ilia) · Celtica /Supertam(arica) · / [j] Miobri · /an(norum) · XXV · h(ic) · s(ita) · e(st) · /Apanus · fr(ater) · f(aciendum)· c(uravit)[8]

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