Spanish Americans

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Spanish Americans
españoles estadounidenses
Total population
Self-identified as "Spanish American"
2,598,873 (2000)

Self-identified with Spanish ancestry
10,017,244 (2006)
Latinos with Spanish ancestry

53,986,412 (2013)
Regions with significant populations
Christianity (Predominantly Roman Catholicism, minority Protestantism); non-religious
Related ethnic groups

Spanish Americans (Spanish: españoles estadounidenses, hispanoestadounidenses, or hispanonorteamericanos) are Americans whose ancestry originates wholly or partly from Spain. They are the longest-established European American group with a continuous presence in Florida since 1565.

Most Latinos living in the United States have Spanish ancestral roots due to five centuries of Spanish colonial settlement and large-scale immigration after independence. By this criterion, white Latino Americans largely overlap with "Spanish Americans", with the caveat that the former group can include European ancestries other than Spanish, and self-reported white Latino Americans often have some Amerindian or African ancestry. However, the term "Spanish American" is used only to refer to Americans whose ancestry originates directly from Spain, and excludes Americans whose Spanish ancestors immigrated to Latin America first before coming to the United States.


Immigration waves

Dominique Bouligny lawyer and politician, elected as U.S. Senator from Louisiana.

Throughout the colonial times, there were a number of European settlements of Spanish populations in the present-day United States of America with governments answerable to Madrid. The first settlement on modern day U.S. soil was San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1521, followed by St. Augustine, Florida (the oldest in the continental United States), 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. Spanish immigrants also established settlements in San Diego, California (1602), San Antonio, Texas (1691) and Tucson, Arizona (1699). By the mid-1600s the Spanish in America numbered more than 400,000.

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. These Spanish settlers expanded European influence in the New World. The Canary Islanders settled in bayou areas surrounding New Orleans in Louisiana from 1778 to 1783 and in San Antonio de Bejar, San Antonio, Texas, in 1731.

The earliest known Spanish settlements in the 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.[citation needed] A smaller percentage of new Spanish settlers were descendants of Spanish Jewish converts and Spanish Muslim converts.

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. Many of them were also wealthy and prosperous merchants, constituting much of the upper class in Spanish colonial society. 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, see Basque Americans.)

19th and 20th centuries

Spanish American actress Anita Page in Our Modern Maidens (1929).
Spanish immigration to the U.S. 1820–2000
Period Arrivals Period Arrivals Period 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 2001–2010 -
1871–1880 5,266 1941–1950 2,898 2011-2020 -
1881–1890 4,419 1951–1960 7,894 - -
Total arrivals: 302,305.

Immigration to the United States from Spain was controversially minimal but steady during the first half of the nineteenth century, with an increase during the 1850s and 1860s resulting from the bloody warfare of the Carlist civil wars during the years of 1833–1876. 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 this first wave of Spanish immigration. The Spanish presence in the United States declined sharply between 1930 and 1940 from a total of 110,000 to 85,000, because many immigrants returned to Spain after finishing their farmwork.

Beginning with the Fascist coup d'état against the Second Spanish Republic in 1936 and the devastating civil war that ensued, General Francisco Franco established a 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, as part of a second wave of Spanish immigration. 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. Like the rest of Europe, 21st century immigrants from Spain are only 10,000 per year at most.

Much as with French Americans, who are of French descent but mostly by way of Canada, the majority of the 41 million massively strong Spanish-speaking population have come by way of Latin America, especially Mexico,[citation needed] but also Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and other areas that the Spanish themselves colonized. Many of the Latino Americans bring their Spanish-speaking culture into the country.[citation needed]

Principal areas of settlement

The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Little Spain, important nucleus for many decades of the Spanish community in New York.
Historical population
Source: Census (Spanish-born pop).

Spanish-Americans in the United States are found in large concentrations in five major states from 1940 through the early twenty-first century. In 1940, the highest concentration of Spaniards were in New York (primarily New York City), followed by California, Florida, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The 1950 US Census indicated little change—New York with 14,705 residents from Spain and California with 10,890 topped the list. Spaniards spilled into New Jersey with 3,382, followed by Florida (3,382) and Pennsylvania (1,790). By 1990 and 2000, there was relatively little change except in the order of the states and the addition of Texas. In 1990 Florida ranked first with 78,656 Spanish immigrants followed by: California 74,784, New York (42,309), Texas (32,226), New Jersey (28,666). The 2000 Census was a significant decline in Spanish-origin immigrants. California now ranked highest (22,459), followed by, Florida (14,110 arriving from Spain), New York (13,017), New Jersey (9,183), Texas (7,202).

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

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. These Asturian immigrants worked in the U.S. zinc industry after having worked in the smelters of Real Compañía Asturiana de Minas in Arnao, on the north coast near Avilés.

It is likely that more Spaniards settled in Latin America than in the United States, due to common language, shared religion, and cultural ties.

Some of the first ancestors of Spanish Americans were Spanish Jews[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] The majority of these refugees were businessmen and intellectuals, as well as union activists, and held strong liberal anti-authoritarian feelings.


Mission Santa Barbara from the east, early 20th century

A Californio (Spanish for "Californian") is a Spanish term for a descendant of a person of Castillian ancestry who was born in Alta California. "Alta California" refers to the time of the first Spanish presence established by the Portolá expedition in 1769 until the region's cession to the United States of America in 1848.

Since 1945, others sometimes referred to as Californios (many appear in the "Notable Californios" section below) include: Early Alta California immigrants who settled down and made new lives in the province, regardless of where they were born. This group is distinct from indigenous peoples of California. Descendants of Californios, especially those who married other Californios.

The military, religious and civil components of pre-1848 Californio society were embodied in the thinly-populated presidios, missions, pueblos and ranchos. Until they were secularized in the 1830s, the twenty-one Spanish missions of California, with their thousands of more-or-less captive native converts, controlled the most (about 1,000,000 acres (4,000 km2) per mission) and best land, had large numbers of workers, grew the most crops and had the most sheep, cattle and horses. After secularization, the Mexican authorities divided most of the mission lands into new ranchos and granted them to Mexican citizens (including many Californios) resident in California.

The Spanish colonial and later Mexican national governments encouraged settlers from the northern and western provinces of Mexico, whom Californios called "Sonorans." People from other parts of Latin America (most notably Peru and Chile) did settle in California. However, only a few official colonization efforts were ever undertaken—notably the second expeditions of Gaspar de Portolá (1770) and of Juan Bautista de Anza (1775–1776). Children of those few early settlers and retired soldiers became the first true Californios. One genealogist estimated that, in 2004, between 300,000 and 500,000 Californians were descendants of Californios.


El Centro Español de Tampa is a cultural house built in 1912 in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa, Florida.

Juan Ponce de León, a Spanish conquistador, named Florida in honor of his discovery of the land on April 2, 1513, during Pascua Florida, a Spanish term for the Easter season. Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded the city of St Augustine in 1565; the first European-founded city in what is now the continental United States.

In the early 1880s, Tampa was an isolated village with a population of less than 1000 and a struggling economy. However, its combination of a good port, Henry Plant's new railroad line, and humid climate attracted the attention of Vicente Martinez Ybor, a prominent Spanish-born cigar manufacturer; the neighborhood of Ybor City was named after him. The El Centro Español de Tampa remains one of the few surviving structures specific to Spanish immigration to the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a legacy that garnered the Centro Español building recognition as a U.S. National Historic Landmark (NHL) on June 3, 1988. ″


Spanish children from the SS Heliopolis after arriving in Hawaii.

Spanish immigration to Hawaii began when the Hawaiian government and the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association (HSPA) decided to supplement their ongoing importation of Portuguese workers to Hawaii with workers recruited from Spain. Importation of Spanish laborers, along with their families, continued until 1913, at which time more than 9,000 Spanish immigrants had been brought in, most recruited to work primarily on the Hawaiian sugar plantations.

The importation of Spanish laborers to Hawaii began in 1907, when the British steamship SS Heliopolis arrived in Honolulu Harbor with 2,246 immigrants from the Málaga province of Spain. However, rumored poor accommodations and food on the voyage created political complications that delayed the next Spanish importation until 1911, when the SS Orteric arrived with a mixed contingent of 960 Spanish and 565 Portuguese immigrants, the Spanish having boarded at Gibraltar, and the Portuguese at Oporto and Lisbon. Although Portuguese immigration to Hawaii effectively ended after the arrival of the Orteric, the importation of Spanish laborers and their families continued until 1913, ultimately bringing to Hawaii a total of 9,262 Spanish immigrants.

Six ships between 1907 and 1913 brought over 9,000 Spanish immigrants from the Spanish mainland to Hawaii. Although many of the Portuguese immigrants who preceded them to Hawaii arrived on small wooden sailing ships of less than a thousand gross tonnage capacity, all of the ships involved in the Spanish immigration were large, steel-hulled, passenger steamships.


Albert Estopinal Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana.

The majority of them descended from Canarian settlers who arrived in Louisiana between 1778 and 1783. Its members are descendants of colonists from the Canary Islands, which is part of Spain off the coast of Africa. They settled in Spanish Louisiana between and intermarried with other communities such as French, Acadians, Creoles, Mainland Spaniards, and other groups, mainly through the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Isleños originally settled in four communities including Galveztown, Valenzuela, Barataria, and San Bernardo. Following significant flooding of the Mississippi River in 1782, the Barataria settlement was abandoned and the survivors were relocated to San Bernardo and Valenzuela with some settling in West Florida.

New Mexico

Hispanos of New Mexico (less commonly referred to as Neomexicanos or Nuevomexicanos) are people of Spanish descendants of the Spanish and Mexican colonists who settled the area of New Mexico and Southern Colorado. From 1598 to 1848, most settlers in New Mexico were of Spanish ancestry (either directly or through Mexico), Like Californios and Tejanos. The descendants of the settlers still retain a community of thousands of people in this state and that of southern Colorado.

New Mexico belonged to Spain for most of its modern history (16th century – 1821) and later to Mexico (1821–1848). The original name of the region was Santa Fé de Nuevo Mexico. The descendants of the settlers still retain a community of thousands of people in this state. Also, there is a community of Nuevomexicanos in Southern Colorado, due to shared colonial history. Currently, the majority of the Nuevomexicano population is distributed between New Mexico and Southern Colorado. Most of the Nuevomexicanos that live in New Mexico live in the northern half of the state. There are hundreds of thousands of Nuevomexicanos living in New Mexico. Those who claim to be descendants of Spanish settlers in this state currently account as the first predominant ancestry in the state.

There is also a community of people in Southern Colorado descended from Nuevomexicanos that migrated there in the 19th century. The stories and language of the Nuevomexicanos from Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado were studied by Nuevomexicano ethnographer, linguist, and folklorist Juan Bautista Rael and Aurelio Espinosa.

New York

Actress Rita Hayworth of paternal Spanish descent.

"Little Spain" was a Spanish-American neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan during the 20th century.

Little Spain was on 14th Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. A very different section of Chelsea existed on a stretch of 14th Street often referred to by residents as "Calle Catorce," or "Little Spain". The Church of Our Lady of Guadelupe (No. 299) was founded in 1902, when Spaniards started to settle in the area. Although the Spanish business have given way to such nightclubs as Nell's and Oh Johnny on the block between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, the Spanish food and gift emporium known as Casa Moneo has been at 210 West 14th since 1929. In 2010 the documentary Little Spain, directed and written by Artur Balder, was filmed in New York City. The documentary pulled together for first time an archive that reveals the untold history of the Spanish-American presence in Manhattan. They present the history of the streets of Little Spain in New York City throughout the 20th Century. The archive contains more than 450 photographs and 150 documents that have never been publicly displayed.

Other important commerces and Spanish business of Little Spain were restaurants like La Bilbaína, Trocadero Valencia, Bar Coruña, Little Spain Bar, Café Madrid, Mesón Flamenco, or El Faro Restaurant, established 1927, and still today open at 823 Greenwich St. The Iberia was a famous Spanish dress shop.

The heart of the Spanish American community in that area were the two landmarks: the Spanish Benevolent Society and the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, founded at the turn of the 19th century, being the first parish in Manhattan with mass in Latin and Spanish.

Another area of influence is the Unanue family of Goya Foods. Its founder, Prudencio Unanue Ortiz, migrated from Spain in the 20th century and established Goya Foods, the largest Spanish-owned food company in the United States. The family's members include Joseph A. Unanue and Andy Unanue. Goya Foods is the 377th largest private American company.


Santa Barbara, California’s annual Old Spanish Days fiesta celebration.

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


In the early 20th century Prudencio Unanue Ortiz and his wife Carolina established Goya Foods, the largest Spanish-owned food company in the United States.

Spanish language in the U.S.

Spanish was the second European language spoken in North America after Old Norse, the language of the Viking settlers. It was brought to the territory of what is the contemporary United States of America 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.

Like other descendants of European immigrants, Spaniards have adopted English as their primary language.

Language spoken at home and ability to speak English (2013 ACS)
Spaniard – Language spoken and ability Percent
Population 5 years and over 703,504
English only 68.5%
Language other than English 31.5%
Speak English less than "very well" 7.1%


Mission Santa Barbara was founded in 1786.

Main articles: Spanish missions in Arizona, California, Carolinas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas, Ajacán Mission

Many Spanish Americans are more active in Catholic church activities than was common in past generations in Spain; they rarely change their religious affiliation and 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.[citation needed]

Number of Spanish Americans



Bob Martinez first person of Spanish descent to be elected to the office of Governor of Florida.

In 1980, 62,747 Americans claimed only Spaniard ancestry and another 31,781 claimed Spaniard along with another ethnic ancestry. 2.6 million or 1.43% of the total U.S. population chose to identify as "Spanish/Hispanic", however this represents a general type of response which will encompass a variety of ancestry groups. Spanish Americans are found in relative numbers throughout United States, particularly in the Southwestern and Gulf Coast. According to the 1980 U.S. census 66.4% reported Spaniard as their main ancestry, while 62.7% reported Spanish/Hispanic as their main ancestry. The table showing those who self-identified as Spaniard are as follows:

Response Number Percent Northeast North
South West
Single ancestry 62,747 66.4% 24,048 3,011 23,123 12,565
Multiple ancestry 31,781 33.6% 9,941 2,209 11,296 8,335
Total reported 94,528 33,989 5,220 34,419 20,900
State Spaniard Spanish/Hispanic %
Florida 23,698 249,196 2.6
New York 21,860 359,574 2.0
California 14,357 539,285 2.3
New Jersey 8,122 126,983 1.7
Texas 6,883 221,568 1.6
Colorado 1,985 154,396 5.3
New Mexico 1,971 281,189 21.6
Louisiana 616 79,847 1.9
United States 94,528 2,686,680 1.43%

Note: Spaniard excludes Spanish Basque.


At a national level the ancestry response rate was high with 90.4% of the total United States population choosing at least one specific ancestry, 11.0% did not specify their ancestry, while 9.6% ignored the question completely. Of those who chose Spaniard, 312,865 or 86.7% of people chose it as their first and main response. Totals for the ‘Spaniard’ showed a considerable increase from the previous census. Percentage is the ancestry only within the U.S. state itself.

State Spaniard %
Florida 78,656 0.6%
California 74,787
New York 42,309
Texas 31,226
New Mexico 24,861
New Jersey 23,666
Colorado 14,052
Arizona 6,385
United States 360,935 0.1%

Note: Spaniard excludes Spanish Basque. As with the previous census ‘Spanish’ was considered a general response which may have encompassed a variety of ancestral groups. Over two million self-identified with this response.


John Garamendi 46th Lieutenant Governor of California.

In 2000, 299,948 Americans specifically reported their ancestry as "Spaniard", which was a significant decrease over the 1990 data, where in those who reported "Spaniard" numbered 360,858. Another 2,187,144 reported "Spanish" and 111,781 people, reported "Spanish American." To this figures we must adhere some groups of Spanish origin or descent that specified their origin, instead of in Spain, in some of the Autonomous communities of Spain, specially Spanish Basques (9,296 people), Castillians (4,744 people), Canarians (3,096 people), Balearics (2,554 people) and Catalans (1,738 people). Less of 300 people indicated be of Asturian, Andalusian, Galician and Valencian origin.

  • Spaniard – 299,948
  • Spanish – 2,187,144
  • Spanish American – 111,781


The 2010 census is the twenty-third and most recent United States national census.

  • Spaniard – 635,253

Statistics for those who self-identify as ethnic Spaniard, Spanish, Spanish American in the 2010 American Community Survey.

  • Spaniard – 694,494
  • Spanish – 482,072
  • Spanish American – 48,810

American Community Survey, 2013

Daisy Fuentes American television host, model, actress.
Charlie Sheen American actor

Of the 759,781 people that reported Spaniard, 652,884 were native-born and 106,897 were foreign-born. 65.3% of the foreign-born were born in Europe, 25.1% were born in Latin America, 8.3% from Asia, 0.6% in Northern America, 0.5% in Africa and 0.1% in Oceania.

  • Spanish – 505,254
  • Spanish American – 21,540

Top 10 states with the largest "Spaniard" ancestry in the 2013 American Community Survey:

U.S. state Population
California California 155,320
Texas Texas 84,923
New Mexico New Mexico 81,279
Florida Florida 58,525
New York (state) New York 45,561
Colorado Colorado 43,313
New Jersey New Jersey 32,266
Arizona Arizona 20,565
Virginia Virginia 13,974
Nevada Nevada 13,185
U.S. born 652,884
Foreign-born 106,897
United States Total 759,781
Source: United States census bureau

In 2013, an estimated 746,000 Latinos of Spanish origin were living in the United States, making them the ninth largest Hispanic origin population residing in the United States. This number also includes people who self-identify as Latino of Spanish origin, such as those who immigrated or have family or ancestors who immigrated from Spain.

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.

Place names of Spanish origin

Year Population
Aviles Street in the St. Augustine Town Plan Historic District, claims to be the oldest street in the nation.

Some Spanish placenames in the USA include:

Notable people

See also

About Spanish Americans

About Spanish Americans and Canadians

Further reading

  • Colahan, Clark. "Spanish Americans." Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, edited by Thomas Riggs, (3rd ed., vol. 4, Gale, 2014), pp. 271–281. Online
  • Martinelli, Phyllis Cancilla and Ana Varela-Lago (eds.), Hidden Out in the Open: Spanish Migration to the United States, 1875-1930. Louisville: University Press of Colorado, 2019.
  • Ramírez, Roberto R. (2004). We the People: Hispanic Population in the United States. Census 2000 Special Reports. U.S. Census Bureau.

External links