8 minute read

Ethnicity Race and Culture

Latino Growth

The 2000 U.S. census counted 35.3 million Latinos in the fifty states (and counted 39.1 million if the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is included). By 2010, the Latino population of the United States is projected to be 45.1 million, at which time this country will have a larger Spanish-speaking population than Spain, Colombia, or Argentina, and will trail only Mexico. By 2050, the U.S. Latino population is projected to be around 96.5 million, and one out of every four U.S. residents will be a Latino.

During the last half of the twentieth century, the Latino population was concentrated in nine states. In 2000, these nine states still had the largest Latino population (11.0 million in California, 6.7 million in Texas, 3.8 million in Puerto Rico, 2.9 million in New York, 2.7 million in Florida, 1.5 million in Illinois, 1.3 million in Arizona, 1.1 million in New Jersey, and 1.0 million in New Mexico), and 82 percent of all Latinos in the United States lived in those areas. However, Latino population growth has occurred in many states not traditionally thought of as Latino population strongholds, such as Georgia, Iowa, and Pennsylvania.

Most Latino population growth is due to births, rather than immigration. As a result, the school-age population in many areas will have a higher percentage of Latinos than the overall population. In California, 43.8 percent of all children age eighteen and under are Latino; 40.5 percent in Texas; 50.8 percent in New Mexico; and 36.1 percent in Arizona.

Immigration has been a secondary, but important, factor in Latino population growth. Some states such as California and Florida received a large number of Latino immigrants from 1960 through 2000, while others such as New Mexico and Colorado received relatively few.

Educational Attainment

The educational attainment of the Latino population in 2000 was generally lower than non-Latino populations in the same area. Nationally, a lower percentage of Latino adults (57.0%) age twenty-five and older have graduated from high school, compared with 88.4 percent of non-Hispanic whites. However, the Latino figure needs to be taken with caution, for it combines the educational attainment of two very different Latino groups: the U.S.-born and immigrant Latino adults.

Generally, Latino immigrants have far lower educational attainment than U.S.-born Latinos. In the 1998 California Current Population Survey conducted by the U.S. Census, 75.1 percent of U.S.-born Latinos age twenty-five and older had graduated from high school, while only 38.1 percent of immigrant Latino adults had done so. In California, of Latino adults age 20 to 39, 62.2 percent are immigrants. Combining the educational attainment levels of both groups gives a blended picture that misses important educational dynamics: Latino immigrants tend to be young adults who do not immigrate to seek education, but to join the labor force. Hence, even though they have low educational levels, their behavior–high labor force participation, low welfare utilization, strong family formation–is not typical of high school dropouts. U.S.-born Latinos who do not complete high school are closer to the image of the high school dropout, in that their labor force participation is lower, welfare utilization rates higher, and family formation lower than immigrants with far lower educational levels.


U.S.-born Latinos are usually either monolingual English speaking or are bilingual, but with an ability to speak English very well. Immigrant Latinos usually start as monolingual Spanish speakers, but over the course of the years acquire some facility in English. School-age Latino children are overwhelmingly U.S.-born; 90.2 percent of Latino children age five through nine in California were U.S.-born in 2000. Not surprisingly, most Latino children speak English well, in addition to speaking Spanish. In the 1990 census, 85 percent of Latino children age five through seventeen in Los Angeles spoke English well, as did 87 percent of children in Miami, 86 percent of children in Chicago, 92 percent of children in San Antonio, and 88 percent of Latino children in New York.

While Latino children are predominantly U.S.-born, in states such as California, Texas, Florida, and New York, the parents are largely immigrant (in 2000, 62% of Latino children in California had at least one immigrant parent). These largely immigrant parents are less fluent in English. As measured by the 1990 census indicator of limited English proficiency (not to speak English at all, or not to speak it very well) in Latino adults age nineteen to sixty-four, 37 percent in Los Angeles, 35 percent in Miami, 32 percent in Chicago, and 28 percent in New York were not functional in English. Only in San Antonio were few parents–12 percent–not able to communicate well in English.

Latino parents want their children to learn English. A survey conducted in Los Angeles County in 2000 showed that 98 percent of U.S.-born Latino parents and 96 percent of immigrant Latino parents agreed that their children should be taught English in the schools. However, Latino parents also want their children to know how to speak Spanish. In the same Los Angeles county survey, 96 percent of U.S.-born Latino parents and 98 percent of immigrant Latino parents wanted their children to speak Spanish. Interestingly, 86 percent of non-Hispanic white parents and 90 percent of African-American parents also wanted their children to learn to speak Spanish. In that population-based survey, the only group that did not agree with the notion of children learning to speak Spanish were non-Hispanic whites who were not parents of children.

Latinos and Race

The largely "mixed race" (or mestizo) Latino population has never fit comfortably into the U.S. biracial algorithm. In the 1930 census, Latinos of Mexican origin were considered a separate race, distinct from white, black, Indian, or Asian. Certainly, racial exclusion policy such as segregated schools, segregated public facilities, and restricted residential areas treated Latinos as a race. But in 1940, the Census Bureau reversed itself and counted Latinos as members of the white race. In spite of being classified racially as white, Latinos were still subject to racial restrictions.

In 1973 the Federal Office of Management and Budget developed a definition of the word Hispanic that was not a racial category, nor a national origin category, but a sui generis category, defined by the U.S. Census in 1993 as "those who indicated that their origin was Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or some other Hispanic origin." In the 1980 and 1990 censuses, a person had to chose first a racial category, then declare if he or she were Hispanic, in addition to the chosen racial category. In the 2000 census, all respondents were asked first to determine if they were Hispanic, then later to select a race, or combination of races. As Latinos may be any combination of Indian, European, African and Asian, the majority in many states (such as California) did not choose any of the racial categories offered (white, black, Indian, or Asian) but instead chose the residual category "Other," often writing in terms such as mestizo or "raza. " In 1993 the U.S. census reported that "it should be noted that persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race." The Mexican author Carlos Fuentes best summed up the mestizo background of many Latinos when he described that he was "Indo-Afro-Ibero-American."

Latinos and Culture

Modern Latino culture is the outgrowth of the meeting of indigenous, Iberian, African, and some Asian populations in most of the western hemisphere. The proportion of these elements varies from place to place in Latin America, with some regions more markedly indigenous (Mexico, Peru, Bolivia), others more markedly African (Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba) others more markedly European (Argentina, Uruguay, Chile). Unlike the "Indian removal" policy followed in the United States, during the colonial period the Spanish Crown sought to incorporate indigenous populations into its realms, where they provided a population base for cultural development. The devastating smallpox epidemics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries reduced the native populations by nearly 95 percent. The hemisphere became gradually repopulated, but with an increasingly mestizo population that embodied a fusion of the various population, hence cultural, inputs. While Castilian Spanish was imposed as an official language spoken by a small ruling minority shortly after the Conquest, it is spoken by around 95 percent of residents of Latin America in the early twenty-first century, but with distinctive vocabulary and accents in various regions, again reflecting the process of cultural fusion unique to each region.

In the southwest United States, Latino culture antedated the arrival of Atlantic-American culture, hence the names of many towns are in Spanish, such as Los Angeles, San Antonio, Nogales, and Santa Fe. The meeting of Latino and Atlantic-American cultures in that region gave rise to the "cowboy culture," often considered worldwide to be the quintessential American image. In the northeast, Latino culture arrived during the last half of the twentieth century, along with the waves of immigrants from Latin America. Modern communications such as television, radio, telephones, coupled with a globalization of population made possible by modern transportation, allow Latino cultural regions in the United States to communicate with one another, with the rest of the hemisphere, and with Atlantic-American cultural communities.

While the expectation in the mid-twentieth century was that Latinos would assimilate as had other immigrant groups, the perhaps unique dynamics and nature of Latino culture (a culture of fusion) coupled with population and economic growth, makes it unlikely that it will simply disappear. Instead, it will likely have a two-way dialogue with Atlantic-American culture, which will probably result in some new cultural fusions wherever there are large Latino populations.


U.S. CENSUS BUREAU. 1994. "The Hispanic Population in the United States: March 1993," Current Population Reports, Population Characteristics, Series P20-475. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.


Additional topics

Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineEducation EncyclopediaEthnicity Race and Culture - Latino Growth, Racial And Ethnic Minority Students In Higher Education - CULTURAL EXPECTATIONS AND STUDENT LEARNING