Hispanic Cultural Characteristics

Audrey King, Paulina Bouzas
  • Author
    Audrey King

    Audrey King has taught high school English for over eight years. She has a Masters in Teaching from Wilmington University and a Bachelors in Adolescent English Education from Nyack College. She is also ESL (formerly TESOL) certified.

  • Instructor
    Paulina Bouzas

    Paulina holds an M.A. in Linguistics from the University of Eastern Finland and is currently doing an MSc in Psychology at Northumbria University in England.

Learn what defines a Hispanic American and where they come from. Discover Hispanic culture in America and uncover influential Hispanic figures in American history. Updated: 05/26/2022

Table of Contents


What is a Hispanic American?

The term "Hispanic American" refers to a person living in the United States who is a descendant of a Spanish-speaking person. Today, Hispanic Americans make up about 19% of the U.S. population, and Hispanic American culture has profoundly influenced the U.S.

Although at times used interchangeably, the words "Hispanic", "Latino/a," and "Latinx" do have different, while slightly overlapping, meanings. "Hispanic" refers a person with a Spanish-speaking background, whereas "Latino/a" refers a person who has descendants from a Latin American country. The word "Latinx" (pronounced Latin-ex) has gained some traction because the "x", rather than an "o" or "a", gives the word a gender neutral connotation. While there is debate around the different terms, many Hispanic and Latinx Americans prefer to identify with their specific country of origin rather than one of the more general identifiers.

Considering the many geographic locations and people groups that speak Spanish, it is clear that Hispanic culture encompasses many unique cultures and traditions. Still, there are some similarities. The most common cultural similarity is the Spanish language. A majority of second- and third- generation Hispanic Americans are bilingual because passing down the language is viewed as a part of the culture. In Hispanic culture, emphasis is also placed on maintaining close family relationships, with Hispanic American families being more likely than other U.S. families to have two or more generations living under the same roof. Another similarity is a Christian religious identification. Among Hispanic Americans, Catholicism is the most common religious belief, but the number of Protestant Christian and non-religious Hispanic Americans is growing with each new generation.

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Where Do Hispanics Come From?

Hispanic people have descendants in a Spanish-speaking country. Most Hispanic Americans are of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Guatemalan, Salvadoran, Dominican, or Colombian origin. The term Hispanic, however, is not embraced by the majority of Hispanic Americans. A 2019 Pew Research Survey found that 47% of Hispanics most often identify themselves by their family's country of origin, and only 39% use the terms Latino or Hispanic to identify themselves. The term Hispanic is very broad, and while it is used often in surveys and discussions, it does not have the same personal or cultural meaning as a person's country of origin.

Interestingly, there is some debate and confusion over whether being Hispanic is an issue of race or ethnicity. The U.S. government does not recognize being Hispanic as defining a person's race. Rather, people of Hispanic origin could have roots that are African, Native American, European, or multi-racial. In the 2010 U.S. Census, the choices for race included white, Black, Asian, American Native, or Pacific Islander. While 94% of the U.S. population chose one of those options, amongst Hispanic Americans, only 63% selected one of those choices. Instead, 37% of Hispanics selected "some other race," or wrote in their answer as "Mexican," "Hispanic," "Latin American," or something similar. Race is mostly defined by physical traits and characteristics, while ethnicity refers more to cultural and linguistic similarities.

Hispanic American History

Hispanic American history is also not homogenous. The two largest groups of Hispanics are Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. The third and fourth largest groups are Cubans and Salvadoreans.

Mexican American history largely began in the mid-1800's, after the annexation of north Mexico meant that 80,000 Mexican people became U.S. citizens. In the early 1900's, migration increased due to Mexico's civil war, but the largest migration occurred in the mid- to late- 1900's, and led to Mexican-American campaigns for equity and rights in the 1960's and 70's.

Puerto Rican American history began in 1900, after Spain ceded the territory to the U.S. in the Spanish American War and U.S. citizenship was given to all Puerto Ricans. The 1950's to 1970's marked The Great Migration in Puerto Rico that involved almost a quarter of the population relocating to the U.S.

Cuban and Salvadorean American history began more recently. Cuban American history is characterized by the mass emigration of citizens from the island of Cuba after the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Salvadorean Americans represent some of the most recent growth in migration to the U.S. in the past decades.

Hispanic Culture in America

The influence of Hispanic culture is changing the cultural landscape of America. Hispanic cultural characteristics are becoming more and more prevalent in the lives of Americans who are from a non-Hispanic background. From September 15 to October 15, National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated in the U.S. This celebration honors the culture, traditions, and achievements of Hispanic Americans. Hispanic Americans are now the largest minority group in the U.S., and that month of celebration reflects the significant impact that Hispanic Americans have had on American culture.

Spanish Language

Speaking Spanish is an incredibly important part of Hispanic American culture and heritage. Almost 70% of Hispanic Americans above the age of five are bilingual in social English and Spanish. With almost 1 in 5 Americans identifying as Hispanic, it is not surprising that Spanish is the second most spoken language in America. Many Spanish words are now included in the English language, such as patio, plaza, vigilante, cargo, cafeteria, and many more. Bilingualism is also on the rise amongst non-Latino Americans. Since the U.S. is physically located in close proximity to several Spanish-speaking countries, many U.S. citizens are choosing to learn Spanish as their second language to help improve communication with Hispanic community members.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between Hispanic and Hispanic American?

A person who is Hispanic has descendants who are from a Spanish-speaking country. A Hispanic American is a Hispanic person who is currently living in the U.S.

What are some Hispanic culture traditions?

Two prominent Hispanic cultural traditions are Fiesta Quinceañera, the coming-of-age celebration for a young woman when she turns fifteen, and El Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead ceremony, which is dedicated to remembering family members and friends who have passed. Many Hispanic cultural traditions have roots in either Catholic, Mayan, or Aztec beliefs.

What is considered Hispanic American?

A Hispanic American is a person who is currently living in the U.S, but has descendants who are from a Spanish-speaking country.

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