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A Spanish American is a citizen or resident of the United Statesmarker with ethnic origins in the southwestern European nation of Spainmarker.

Spanish Americans are the earliest European American group, with a continuous presence since 1565.

For 2007, the American Community Survey estimates give a total of 354,019 Americans classified as "Spaniard". Of these, 293,295 were U.S.-born. Of the 60,724 who were born abroad, 67.6% were born in Europe, 26.1% in Latin America, 4.2% in Asia, 1.2% in Northern America, and 0.4% in Africa and Oceania each. A further 675,172 were estimated to identify as "Spanish", and another 74,386 as "Spanish American". For more on these latter two groups, see the section titled Number of Spanish Americans.

Immigration waves

Spain is the country where Hispanicity has its origins. It is one of 21 Hispanic nations and the only one located in Europe (Andorramarker and Portugalmarker, both in Europe, are sometimes considered Hispanic, also). The southern provinces of Spain, which include Almeríamarker, Málagamarker, Granadamarker, and the Canary Islandsmarker, have been major sources of immigration to the United States. A number of factors combined to compel citizens to leave these regions: the hot, dry climate; the absence of industry; and a latifundio system of large ranches that placed agriculture under the control of a landed caste.

Basques stood out in the exploration of the Americas, both as soldiers and members of the crews that sailed for the Spanish. 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).

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 in St. Augustine, Floridamarker, followed by others in New Mexicomarker, Californiamarker, Arizonamarker, Texasmarker, and Louisianamarker. In 1598, when the first New Mexican town was established, there were about 1,000 Spaniards north of Mexico. Since the founding of the United States, an additional 250,000 immigrants have arrived either directly from Spain or following a relatively short sojourn in a Latin American country.

The earliest Spanish settlements north of 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.

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 in Spanish Morocco. In 1921, however, the U.S. government enacted a quota system that favored northern Europeans, limiting the number of entering Spaniards to 912 per year, an amount soon reduced further to 131.

The Spanish presence in the United States continued to diminish, declining sharply between 1930 and 1940 from a total of 110,000 to 85,000. Many immigrants moved either back to Spain or to another Hispanic country (mostly neighboring Mexicomarker). Historically, Spaniards have often lived abroad, usually in order to make enough money to return home to an enhanced standard of living and higher social status. In Spanish cities located in regions that experienced heavy emigration at the beginning of the twentieth century, such as the port city of GijĂłn in Asturiasmarker, there are wealthy neighborhoods usually referred to as concentrations of indianos, people who became rich in the New World and then returned to their home region. Most Cuban Americans who immigrated into the United States after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 are Spanish-Cubans, further augmenting the Spanish presence in the states, accounting for more than a million people of Spanish extraction.

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 that ruled Spainmarker for 40 years. At the time of the Fascist takeover, a small but prominent group of liberal intellectuals fled into exile in the United States. After the civil war the country endured 20 years of extreme poverty. As a result, when relations between Spain and most other countries were at last normalized in the mid-1960s, 44,000 Spaniards immigrated to the United States in that decade alone. In the 1970s, with prosperity emerging in Spain, the numbers declined to about 3,000 per year. Europe enjoyed an economic boom in the 1980s, and the total number of Spanish immigrants for the ten years 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.

Areas of settlement

Five areas of the United States have had significant concentrations of Spaniards: Texasmarker, New Yorkmarker City, Floridamarker, Californiamarker, the Mountain West, and the industrial areas of the Midwest and Appalachia. For nineteenth-century immigrants, New York City was the most common destination in the United States. Until 1890 most Spaniards in this country lived either in the city itself, with a heavy concentration in Brooklynmarker, or in communities in New Jerseymarker and Connecticutmarker. By the 1930s, however, these neighborhoods had largely disintegrated, with the second generation moving to the suburbs and assimilating into the mainstream of American life.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Florida attracted the second largest group of Spaniards in the country through its ties to the Cuban cigar industry. Most of the owners of factories were originally from Asturiasmarker, and in the second half of the century they immigrated in substantial numbers, first to Cubamarker, then later to Key Westmarker, and eventually Tampamarker, taking thousands of workers with them. Several thousands of their descendants still live in the Tampa Bay areamarker. Many also reside in nearby South Floridamarker and the Florida Keysmarker.

California is also home to descendants of southern Spanish pineapple and sugar cane workers who had moved to Hawaiimarker at the beginning of the twentieth century. The great majority of those immigrants moved on to the San Franciscomarker area in search of greater opportunity. In Southern California's heavy industry, there have been substantial numbers of skilled workers from northern Spain.

The steel and metalworking centers of Appalachia and the Midwest also attracted northern Spaniards. In the censuses of 1920, 1930, and 1940, due to sizable contingents of Asturian zinc workers, West Virginiamarker was among the top seven states in number of northern Spanish immigrants. Rubber production and other kinds of heavy industry accounted for large groups of Spaniards in Ohiomarker, Illinoismarker, Michiganmarker, and Pennsylvaniamarker. With the decline of this sector of the American economy in the second half of the twentieth century such centers of industry have largely lost their drawing power, accelerating the dispersal and assimilation of these Spanish communities.

People born in Spain

Following are the top 20 highest percentages of people born in Spain, in U.S. communities with 500 or more total inhabitants (for the total list of the 101 communities, see the reference):

  1. Ruth, NVmarker 3.8%
  2. Key Biscayne, FLmarker 2.6%
  3. Island Park, NYmarker 2.4%
  4. Surfside, FLmarker 2.3%
  5. Harrison, NJmarker 2.3%
  6. Salton City, CAmarker 2.2%
  7. Mountainhome, PAmarker 2.0%
  8. Wetherington, OHmarker 2.0%
  9. Clearview Acres, WYmarker 1.9%
  10. Kearny, NJmarker 1.8%
  11. East Newark, NJmarker 1.6%
  12. Verplanck, NYmarker 1.5%
  13. Tacna, AZmarker 1.4%
  14. Bal Harbour, FLmarker 1.4%
  15. Westchester, FLmarker 1.3%
  16. Hastings, FLmarker 1.3%
  17. Dorchester, WImarker 1.3%
  18. Bruce, MSmarker 1.2%
  19. Big Coppitt Key, FLmarker 1.1%
  20. Coral Gables, FLmarker 1.1%

Assimilation in the United States

The decrease in the flow of Spaniards to the United States in recent decades, combined with their ability and willingness to form part of both the Hispanic sector and the society at large, has largely obscured any specifically Spanish presence in the States. Spanish Americans are readily accepted into American society.

The Spanish work ethic is compatible with the values of both pre– and post–industrial Europe. Spaniards have a strong work ethic. Leisure time is used to maintain essential social contacts and is identified with upward social movement. Another element of the Spanish character is a concern with a public image in harmony with group standards, even if at variance with the private reality. As in other cultures that motivate people through the fear of shame rather than the sting of guilt, the achievement of these goals is substantially validated through the opinions held by others. This notion is exemplified by the Spanish phrase ¿Qué dirán? (What will they say?).

Stereotypes of Spanish immigrants derive in part from legends created and spread by the Englishmarker in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when the two countries were rivals for European and world domination. Revulsion is expressed at the alleged cruelty of bull fighting, a sport that is believed by supporters to exalt individual worth through the demonstration of almost chivalric courage. Other stereotypical images, including exaggerated ideas of wild emotional intensity, create the misperception of Spain as the land of the tambourine and castanets, fiery flamenco dancing, and the reckless sensualism of Bizet's opera heroine, Carmen. Most of these elements are only connected, and in a much attenuated degree, with the southern region, AndalusĂ­amarker. As in matters of religion, northern Spaniards often view the character of life in their own regions as profoundly different.

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 LeĂłn. In 1565, the Spaniards founded St. Augustine, Floridamarker, the oldest, continuously occupied European settlement in the modern U.S. territory.

Historically, the Spanish-speaking population increased because of territorial annexation of lands conquered earlier by the Spanish Empire and by wars with Mexico and by land purchases, while modern factors continue increasing the size of this population.

Family structure

The structure of the Spanish family resembles the American and European pattern. Grandparents often live in their own house or a retirement home; women frequently work outside the home. The obligation of children to personally care for elderly parents, however, is somewhat stronger among Spaniards—even those raised in the United States—than among the general American population; a parent often lives part of the year with one child and part with another. The traditional practice of one daughter's not marrying in order to live with and care for the parents during their last years has not been maintained in this country. The traditional pattern of mothers' being completely devoted to their children—especially the boys—while fathers spent much of their time socializing outside the home has diminished. Despite various changes within the family structure that broadened women's roles, most community leaders are men.

At one time, young Spanish women were allowed to date only when accompanied by a chaperone, but this custom has been entirely discarded. Family pressure for a "respectable" courtship—a vestige of the strongly emphasized Spanish sense of honor—has been largely eroded in both Spain and the United States. Long engagements, however, have persisted, helping to solidify family alliances while children are still relatively young, and giving the couple and their relatives a chance to get to know each other well before the marriage is formally established.

Because careers outside the home are now the norm for Spanish women, differences in the schooling men and women pursue are minimal. A large segment of the community stresses higher education, and, in line with the sharper class distinctions that differentiate Spain from the United States, professional pursuits are highly respected. A significant number of Spanish physicians, engineers, and college professors have become successful in the United States.

Spanish American influence


See: Hispanic Heritage Sites

Many Spanish Americans still retain aspects of their culture. This includes Spanish food, drink, art, annual fiestas. In movies that deal with cultural issues, Spanish American words and lingo are sometimes spoken by the characters. Although most will not speak Spanish fluently, a dialect of sorts has arisen among Spanish Americans, particularly in the urban Floridamarker and Southwest, often popularized in film and television.

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 Hispanic community throughout the country, especially in New York and the Southwest. The most famous brand of food is Goya Foods, founded in 1936 by two Spanish immigrants who settled in New York City. It has become the largest Hispanic-owned food business and its owners, the Unanue family, are the second richest Hispanic family in the United States, with a net worth of $750 million.


See: Spanish Cowboy and Cowgirl

The cowboy has deep historic roots tracing back to Spainmarker and the earliest settlers of the Americas. 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 peninsulamarker and later, was imported to the Americas. Both regions possessed a dry climate with sparse grass, and thus large herds of cattle required vast amounts of land in order to obtain sufficient forage. 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 Mexicomarker and Floridamarker. The traditions of Spainmarker were transformed by the geographic, environmental and cultural circumstances of New Spain, which later became Mexicomarker and the Southwestern United States. In turn, the land and people of the Americas also saw dramatic changes due to Spanish influence.

Thus, though popularly considered an Americamarker icon, the traditional cowboy actually began with a Hispanic tradition, which evolved further in what today is Mexicomarker and the Southwestern United States into the vaquero.The arrival of horses was particularly significant, as equines had been extinct in the Americas since the end of the prehistoric ice age. However, 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.Today it is unknown how many cowboys or cowgirls are of ethnic Spanish ancestry since the settlers of other numerous ethnic groups have blended together and is not seen to be strictly a tradition within the modern Spanish-American community.

Spanish communities

Spanish communities in the United Statesmarker, in keeping with their strong regional identification in Spain, have established centers for Galicians, Asturians, Andalusians, and other such groups. Writing in 1992, Moisés Llordén Miñambres—the specialist in emigration patterns from Spain—regarded this as a given, a natural condition, and referred in passing to the "ethnic" grouping of recent Spanish emigrants reflecting the individual characteristics of the "countries" from which they come. But these were certainly not the only type of community organizations to spring up in the United States; a variety of clubs and associations were formed. The listing by Llordén Miñambres shows 23 in New Yorkmarker City, eight in New Jerseymarker, five in Pennsylvaniamarker, four in Californiamarker, and lesser numbers in Indianamarker, Ohiomarker, Illinoismarker, Massachusettsmarker, Michiganmarker, New York Statemarker, Rhode Islandmarker, Vermontmarker, and Floridamarker.

Fiestas and events

Fiestas called "Old Spanish Days" are celebrated every year in Santa Barbara, Californiamarker, following traditions handed down from Spain, Mexico, and the California Rancho period.

First held in 1924, celebrates the Rancho period (1830-1865) of 19th century Spanish California known as Las Californias and important part of Santa Barbara's history. Old Spanish Days Fiesta is Santa Barbara's largest civic celebration and is staged annually in the first week of August. It is a celebration of the community's history, which harkens back to a period when Santa Barbara was a remote rural area under the influence of Spanish, Mexican, and local Chumash Indian cultures. Fiesta celebrates a period of romance and hospitality through pageantry, music, costume, and cuisine.

Santa Barbara has a large Hispanic community of (39%) 156,500 out of 404,197 total in Santa Barbara countymarker, and (36%) 32,657 out of 89,959 total in Santa Barbara Citymarker.


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.

Employment and economics

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.

Politics and Government

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 Unionmarker 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.

Emigration from Spain to the United States

Immigration to the United States
Years Arrivals Years Arrivals
1820–1830 2,688 1891–1900 6,662
1831–1840 2,004 1901–1910 48,944
1841–1850 2,091 1911–1920 102,954
1851–1860 9,038 1921–1930 41,954
1861–1870 6,390 1931–1940 4,945
1871–1880 5,266 1941–1949 3,287
1881–1890 4,419 Total (129 yrs) 240,642

These figures show there was never the mass emigration from Iberia as 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 Virginiamarker at the turn of the last century, mostly made up of zinc workers from Asturias. Spanish Americans have intraethnic connections with other European Americans, Hispanic groups, and even, in minor proportion with African Americans. In addition, they may choose not to answer the "Hispanic or Latino" category in official surveys. Since "Spaniard/Spanish" ethnicity is often classified under this category, their total population is often greatly underestimated.

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.

Number of Spanish Americans

Snapshot of the U.S. Census

Spanish/Hispanic/Latino Origin, Race, and Ancestry in the US Census
The 2000 U.S. census asked respondents about their ethnicity (Spanish/Hispanic/Latino origin), race, and ancestry. Here's a Spaniard, White respondent:

5. Is the person Spanish/Hispanic/Latino? Mark [x] the '"No" box if not Spanish/Hispanic/Latino.
âś— No, not Spanish/Hispanic/Latino

âś— Yes, Mexican, Mexican Am., Chicano

âś— Yes, Puerto Rican

âś— Yes, Cuban

[x] Yes, other Spanish/Hispanic/Latino — Print group.
|S|P|A|N|I|A|R|D| | | | | | | | | | | |

6. What is this person’s race? Mark [x] one or more races to indicate what this person considers himself/herself to be.

[x] White

âś— Black, African Am., or Negro

✗ American Indian or Alaska Native — Print name of enrolled or principal tribe.
| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |

| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |

✗ Some other race — Print race.
| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |

10. What is this person's ancestry or ethnic origin?
|S|P|A|N|I|A|R|D| | | | | | | | | | |

(For example: Italian, Jamaican, African Am., Cambodian, Cape Verdean, Norwegian, Dominican, French Canadian, Haitian, Korean, Lebanese, Polish, Nigerian, Mexican, Taiwanese, Ukrainian, and so on.)

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. Another 2,187,144 reported "Spanish". However, the Census Bureau views "Spanish", as well as "Spanish American", as a general response; i.e. as not specific to Spain. People who specifically responded "Spanish American" or "Spanish" were not tabulated with those who responded "Spaniard", and were instead tabulated as "Other Hispanic response", along with people who wrote in other generic responses such as "Latin American", people of mixed Hispanic ethnicities (only collected in Census 2000), and people who checked the "Other Hispanic" box but did not provide a write-in entry.

The responses to the Hispanic or Latino origin question (see the Snapshot at right) differed from the Ancestry question's: there were 100,135 "Spaniards", 686,004 "Spanish", and 75,772 "Spanish American" Hispanic or Latino respondents in the 2000 census.

The Census Bureau attributes the decrease to the trend, among increasing numbers of Hispanics of all national groups, including those of Spanish ancestry, of identifying themselves with general labels such as "Hispanic" rather than a specific national origin. Among the reasons given at the Bureau for this trend are the changes to the wording and format of the Hispanic or Latino origin questions in the 2000 and previous censuses.

2006 American Community Survey

These statistics show only Spanish Americans who identified as "Hispanic or Latino."

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