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For the regions of the Americas formerly subject to the Spanish Empire, see Latin America.
Spanish American
Jerry Garcia
Total population
0.23% of the U.S. population (2012)[1]
Regions with significant populations
California, New Mexico, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, New York, Chicago, Western United States
American English · U.S. Spanish · European Spanish
Predominantly Roman Catholicism
minorities of Protestantism, Deism, Agnosticism and Judaism
Related ethnic groups
Spaniards · Basque Americans · Catalan Americans · French Americans · Italian Americans · Portuguese Americans · other European Americans · White Hispanic Americans · Portuguese people

A Spanish American (Spanish: Español estadounidense) is a citizen or resident of the United States whose ancestors originate from the southwestern European nation of Spain.[2] Spanish Americans are the longest-established European-American group with a continuous presence in Florida since 1565[3] and are the eighth-largest Hispanic group in the United States.

Immigration waves

In colonial times, there were a number of Spanish populations in the present–day U.S. with governments answerable to Madrid. The first settlement was at St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565, followed by others in New Mexico, California, Arizona, Texas, and Louisiana. In 1598, San Juan de los Caballeros was established, near present day Santa Fe, New Mexico, by Juan de Oñate and about 1,000 other Spaniards.

After the establishment of the American colonies, an additional 250,000 immigrants arrived either directly from Spain, the Canary Islands or, after a relatively short sojourn, from present-day central Mexico. The Canary Islanders settled San Antonio de Bejar, San Antonio, Texas, in 1731.

Most of the Spanish settlers in present-day Texas, California, New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona were mestizo but self-identified as Spanish-Americans to differentiate themselves nominally from the population of Mexican-Americans who came after the Mexican Revolution and identified as Mestizo, that is mixed native and European ancestry.[4][5]

The earliest Spanish settlements in then northern Mexico were the result of the same forces that later led the English to come to North America. Exploration had been fueled in part by imperial hopes for the discovery of wealthy civilizations. In addition, like those aboard the Mayflower, most Spaniards came to the New World seeking land to farm, or occasionally, as historians have recently established, freedom from religious persecution. Some of the new Spanish settlers were descendants of Spanish Jewish converts, while others were descendants of Spanish Muslim converts.

Spanish-born population in the
United States 1850-2000 [6][7]
Year Population
2010 +100,000
2000 82,858
1990 76,415
1980 73,735
1970 57,488
1960 44,999
1950 59,362
1940 //
1930 //
1920 49,535
1910 22,108
1900 7,050
1890 6,185
1880 5,121
1870 3,764
1860 4,244
1850 3,113

Basques stood out in the exploration of the Americas, both as soldiers and members of the crews that sailed for the Spanish.[8] Prominent in the civil service and colonial administration, they were accustomed to overseas travel and residence. Another reason for their emigration besides the restrictive inheritance laws in the Basque Country, was the devastation from the Napoleonic Wars in the first half of the nineteenth century, which was followed by defeats in the two Carlist civil wars. (For more information about the Basque, and immigrants to the United States from this region, please see the article Basque Americans.)


Immigration to the United States from Spain was minimal but steady during the first half of the nineteenth century, with an increase during the 1850s and 1860s resulting from the social disruption of the Carlist civil wars. Much larger numbers of Spanish immigrants entered the country in the first quarter of the twentieth century—27,000 in the first decade and 68,000 in the second—due to the same circumstances of rural poverty and urban congestion that led other Europeans to emigrate in that period, as well as unpopular wars.The Spanish presence in the United States declined sharply between 1930 and 1940 from a total of 110,000 to 85,000. Many immigrants moved either back to Spain or to another country.

Beginning with the Fascist revolt against the Second Spanish Republic in 1936 and the devastating civil war that ensued, General Francisco Franco established a reactionary dictatorship for 40 years. At the time of the Fascist takeover, a small but prominent group of liberal intellectuals fled to the United States. After the civil war the country endured 20 years of Autarky, as Franco believed that post World War II Spain could survive or continue its activities without any European assistance.

As a result, in the mid-1960s, 44,000 Spaniards immigrated to the United States. In the 1970s, when Franco abandoned Spain's autarkic economic system, prosperity began to emerge in Spain, and Spanish immigration to the United States declined to about 3,000 per year. In the 1980s, as Europe enjoyed an economic boom, Spanish immigrants to the United States dropped to only 15,000. The 1990 U.S. census recorded 76,000 foreign-born Spaniards in the country, representing only four-tenths of a percent of the total populace.

Much as with French Americans, who are of French descent but mostly by way of Canada, the majority of the 24 million strong Spanish American population have come by way of Latin America, especially Mexico, but also Puerto Rico, Cuba, and other areas. Some are descendants of colonial settlers in the southwestern states, especially New Mexico, before they became part of the United States. They are today the largest Latin group in the United States, followed by Italian Americans (18 million) and French Americans (12 million).


See: Hispanic Heritage Sites (U.S. National Park Service)

Spanish Americans are readily accepted into American society.[9] The Spanish work ethic is compatible with the values of both pre– and post–industrial Europe. Leisure time is used to maintain essential social contacts and is identified with upward social movement.

Many Spanish Americans still retain aspects of their culture. This includes Spanish food, drink, art, annual fiestas. Spaniards have contributed to a vast number of areas in the United States. The influence of Spanish cuisine is seen in the cuisine of the United States throughout the country.


See: Spanish Cowboy and Cowgirl

The cowboy has deep historic roots tracing back to Spain and the earliest settlers of the Americas through the New World tradition of the vaquero. The Spanish originated what we now consider the cowboy tradition, beginning with the hacienda system of medieval Spain. This style of cattle ranching spread throughout much of the Iberian peninsula and later, was imported to the Americas, specifically Mexico. The need to cover distances greater than a person on foot could manage gave rise to the development of the horseback-mounted vaquero.

During the 16th century, the Conquistadors and other Spanish settlers brought their cattle-raising traditions as well as both horses and domesticated cattle to the Americas, starting with their arrival in what today is Mexico and Florida.[10] The traditions of Spain were transformed by the geographic, environmental and cultural circumstances of New Spain, which later became Mexico and the Southwestern United States. In turn, the land and people of the Americas also saw dramatic changes due to Spanish influence.

The arrival of horses was particularly significant, as equines had been extinct in the Americas since the end of the prehistoric ice age. Horses quickly multiplied in America and became crucial to the success of the Spanish and later settlers from other nations. As English-speaking traders and settlers expanded westward, English and Spanish traditions, language and culture merged to some degree.

Spanish language in the United States

Spanish was the first European language spoken in North America. It was brought to the territory of what is the contemporary U.S. in 1513 by Juan Ponce de León. In 1565, the Spaniards founded St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest, continuously occupied European settlement in the modern U.S. territory.[11]

Like other descendants of immigrants, Spaniards have adopted English as their primary language.[12]


Many Spanish Americans are less active in Catholic church activities than was common in past generations in Spain; they rarely change their religious affiliation, though, and still participate frequently in family–centered ecclesiastical rituals. In both Spain and the United States events such as first communions and baptisms are felt to be important social obligations that strengthen clan identity.


Since Spanish American entrance into the middle class has been widespread, the employment patterns described above have largely disappeared. This social mobility has followed logically from the fact that throughout the history of Spanish immigration to the United States, the percentage of skilled workers remained uniformly high. In the first quarter of the twentieth century, for example, 85 percent of Spanish immigrants were literate, and 36 percent were either professionals or skilled craftsmen. A combination of aptitude, motivation, and high expectations led to successful entry into a variety of fields.


Spanish communities in the United States, in keeping with their strong regional identification in Spain, have established centers for Basques, Galicians, Asturians, Andalusians, and other such communities.

Immigration to the United States[13]
Years Arrivals Years Arrivals Years Arrivals
1820–1830 2,616 1891–1900 8,731 1961–1970 44,659
1831–1840 2,125 1901–1910 27,935 1971–1980 39,141
1841–1850 2,209 1911–1920 68,611 1981–1990 20,433
1851–1860 9,298 1921–1930 28,958 1991–2000 17,157
1861–1870 6,697 1931–1940 3,258 2001–2005 6,052
1871–1880 5,266 1941–1950 2,898 Total: 308,357
1881–1890 4,419 1951–1960 7,894

These figures show that there was never the mass emigration from Iberia that there was from Latin America. It is evident in the figures that Spanish immigration peaked in the 1910s and 1920s. The majority settled in Florida and New York, although there was also a sizable Spanish influx to West Virginia at the turn of the 20th century, mostly from Asturias.

Some of the first ancestors of Spanish Americans were Spanish Jews who spoke Ladino, a language derived from Castilian Spanish and Hebrew. In the 1930s and 1940s, Spanish immigration mostly consisted of refugees fleeing from the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) and from the Franco military regime in Spain, which lasted until his death in 1975. The majority of these refugees were businessmen and intellectuals, as well as union activists, and held strong liberal anti-authoritarian feelings.

2000 U.S Census

In the 2000 United States Census 299,948 Americans specifically reported their ancestry as "Spaniard," which was a significant decrease from the 1990 Census, wherein those who reported "Spaniard" numbered 360,858.[14] Another 2,187,144 reported "Spanish."

1990 U.S. Census

Demographic distribution


1980 U.S. Census

Demographic distribution

The Twentieth United States Census, 1980 was the first U.S. census that asked someones ancestry.

Spanish Americans are found in relative numbers throughout America, particularly in the Southwestern and Gulf Coast. According to the 1980 U.S. census, 62.7% reported Spanish as their main ancestry, and 66.4% reported Spaniard as their main ancestry.[15][16][17]

Political participation

With the outbreak of the Spanish civil war in 1936 a number of intellectual political refugees found asylum in the United States. Supporters of the overthrown Spanish Republic, which had received aid from the Soviet Union while under attack from National rebel forces, were sometimes incorrectly identified with communism, but their arrival in the United States well before the "red scare" of the early 1950s spared them the worst excesses of McCarthyism. Until the end of the dictatorship in Spain in 1975 political exiles in the United States actively campaigned against the abuses of the Franco regime.

Spanish place names

Some Spanish placenames in the USA include:

  • Arizona - from zona árida, "Arid zone".


See: List of Spanish Americans

See also


External links

  • Colahan, Clark (2008). Spanish American Heritage. Multicultural America.
  • Ramírez, Roberto R. (2004). We the People: Hispanic Population in the United States. Census 2000 Special Reports. U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Pérez, Juan M. (October 2005). The Hispanic Role in America. Coloquio Revista Cultural.
  • Survey: 2005 American Community Survey:Hispanic Origin. U.S. Census Bureau.
  • discussion board for the descendants of Asturian-Americans.

Template:Spanish diaspora

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