Spanish Americans

Citation metadata

Author: Clark Colahan
Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 7,789 words
Lexile Measure: 1340L

Document controls

Main content

Full Text: 
Page 271

Spanish Americans

Clark Colahan


Spanish Americans are immigrants or descendants of people from Spain, a southwestern European nation occupying the greater part of the Iberian Peninsula. The Spanish mainland shares a border with Portugal to the west and France to the north. The Mediterranean Sea borders mainland Spain's southern and eastern shores. Spain also consists of seventeen additional autonomous communities, most of which are islands northwest of Africa, near Morocco. Spain's total land area is 195,365 square miles (505,992 square kilometers). Some of the country's major regions are Castile, which contains the capital city of Madrid; Cataluña, which contains Barcelona; Andalucía, which contains Seville; Extremadura; Galicia; and the Basque Country. Spain is the fifth-largest country in Europe, roughly the size of California.

Data from the National Statistics Institute of Spain indicates that the nation had a population of approximately 47.2 million in 2011. According to an April 2012 study by the Spanish Center of Sociological Research, about 71 percent of Spaniards self-identify as Catholics, 2.7 percent as practicing another faith, and about 24 percent as practicing no religion, among which 9.4 percent are atheists. Spain is a member of the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organisation for Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The first Europeans to settle in what is now the United States, Spanish immigrants arrived on the mainland in 1565, when the first-known Spanish settlement was established in what now is known as St. Augustine, Florida. This was followed by several other colonial-era Spanish settlements, in modern-day New Mexico, California, Arizona, Texas, and Louisiana. Most Spanish immigrants at this time came to the New World seeking new land to explore, claim, and farm. Spain is a developed country with the twelfth-largest economy in the world (by nominal gross domestic product) and—like the United States—very high living standards. As of 2005 Spain had the tenth-highest quality-of-life index rating in the world. However, since 2008 Spain's economy has weakened, and the unemployment rate has risen dramatically, from 8 percent of the population in 2007 to 26 percent in 2012.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey estimates for 2009–2011, approximately 682,000 U.S. residents identified themselves as Spaniards (that is, having ancestors from Spain). Including people who have come to the United States from countries and territories in the Western Hemisphere once colonized by Spain, such as Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, the number of Spanish Americans in the United States is approximately 24 million. The majority of Spanish Americans have settled in California, with other large settlements in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Florida, and New York. Smaller populations of Spanish Americans also live in Arizona and New Jersey.


Early History The origins of Spain's Latin name, Hispania, is much debated. Some believe it to have been a name, meaning “land of rabbits,” given by Carthaginian settlers who arrived on the peninsula around 800 BCE. Another theory suggests that the name may have derived from the Basque word for “border.” Colonized by a series of important civilizations, Spain became heir to the cultures not only of Carthage but also of Greece and Rome. It was the home country of legionaries, several emperors, and philosophers, including Seneca, the founder of Stoicism. Later, with the fall of the Roman Empire in approximately 476 CE, it was settled by Germanic Visigoths, then Arabs and Moors.

In the fifteenth century—under the rule of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the same monarchs under whom Christopher Columbus's famous envoy was launched—Christian forces recaptured Spain from the Moors. Historians view the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as the golden era of Spain, when the country acquired great power and wealth from its New World possessions and its arts and literature flourished. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however, Spain's wealth declined, as a vast amount of money was spent by the country's monarchs on a number of European wars and revenues declined from the New World territories. This period culminated with France's Napoleon Bonaparte forcing Spain's King Charles IV and his son Ferdinand VII into exile in 1808. For a brief time, the Spanish Crown was given to Joseph Bonaparte. It was reclaimed, Page 272  |  Top of Articlehowever, by Ferdinand VII in 1814 and then passed to his daughter Isabella, an unpopular queen who ruled until 1868. Her rule was challenged in a series of civil wars known as the Carlist Wars, and she was eventually overthrown by rebel forces made up of both liberals and conservatives led by General Juan Prim. The overthrow became known as the Glorious Revolution, and Isabella was forced into exile. For the following two years, Spain was led by Prince Amadeus of Italy, who had been enlisted to rule by the victorious leaders of the revolution. After Prince Amadeus's rule, Spain existed for two years as a republic before restoring monarchal status to Isabella's son, Alfonso XII, who held the throne from 1874 to 1885.

Spain maintained neutrality in World War I, which allowed the country a degree of economic stability. In the years following the war, however, public unrest led to an increase in worker revolts, strikes, and riots. Eventually the reigning monarch, Alfonso XIV, was forced to leave the country, and Spain's second incarnation as a republic was proclaimed in 1931. A new constitution was drafted at this time, after which Spain experienced a short period of unification under the new coalition. In the mid-1930s, however, the worldwide economic depression that preceded World War II generated much social and political unrest in Spain. The country's political climate fostered a sharp divide between right- and left-wing factions. Tensions reached a head in 1936 with a military revolt in Morocco that marked the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, which lasted until 1939 and pitted the country's conservative fascist party, led by General Francisco Franco, against Republican loyalists on the left. The loyalists, despite receiving some aid from the Soviet Union, were defeated largely because of military support provided from the fascist governments of Germany's Adolf Hitler and Italy's Benito Mussolini.

After the Spanish Civil War, Franco aligned Spain more closely with Germany, though Spain again remained neutral in World War II. In 1955 Spain became a member of the United Nations. Franco, meanwhile, governed Spain as a dictator until his death in 1975.

Modern Era The contemporary history of Spain essentially began with the death of Franco, followed by the accession of King Juan Carlos I to the throne and the reestablishment of a parliamentary monarchy. The Spanish Constitution of 1978, which is still in force, defined the status of Spain's autonomous entities (autonomías) and established Spain as a parliamentary monarchy, with a prime minister responsible to the bicameral Cortes (Congress of Deputies and Senate) elected every four years. On February 23, 1981, rebels in the Spanish security forces seized the Cortes and attempted to impose a military-backed government. However, a majority of military forces remained loyal to King Juan Carlos, who used his personal authority to overcome the coup attempt.

In October 1982 the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), led by Felipe González, won both the Congress of Deputies and Senate by an absolute majority. Gonzalez and the PSOE ruled for the following thirteen years. During this period, Spain joined both NATO and the European Union.

In March 1996 José María Aznar's People's Party (PP, or Partido Popular in Spanish) won a plurality of votes. Aznar lobbied to decentralize powers in the region and stir the economy through privatization of businesses, labor-market reform, and measures designed to increase competition in selected markets, such as telecommunications. During Aznar's initial term, Spain integrated fully into European institutions, including the European Monetary Union. Spain also took part, alongside the United States and other NATO allies, in military operations in the former Yugoslavia. Spanish planes participated in the air war against Serbia in 1999, and Spanish armed forces and police personnel were employed in the international peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Kosovo. President Aznar and the PP won reelection in March 2000 by a landslide, garnering absolute majorities in both houses of parliament.

A decades-long conflict with Basque separatists had made fighting terrorism a top priority for the Aznar government. The Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) had relied on terrorist tactics since its 1959 founding, attempting to establish Basque nationalism through violent means. After the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Aznar became a key ally in the United States' fight against terrorism. Spain backed military action against the Taliban in Afghanistan and took a leading role within the European Union (EU) as it pushed for increased international cooperation on terrorism. The Aznar government also supported U.S. intervention in Iraq.

Spanish parliamentary elections on March 14, 2004, were held only three days after a devastating terrorist attack on Madrid commuter rail lines that killed 191 and wounded more than 1,400. This event was thought to have increased voter turnout, resulting in a victory for the PSOE and its leader, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who took office on April 17, 2004.

As he promised during his campaign, Zapatero removed all Spanish soldiers from Iraq. His government also approved a same-sex marriage law, which was supported by the majority of the Spanish population. However, the Roman Catholic Church and social conservatives, many of whom were associated with the People's Party, strongly opposed the law.

The Spanish general election of 2011 took place on November 20. It was the eleventh general election since the transition to renew seats for both chambers of the Cortes: 350 seats for the Congress of Deputies and 208 of the 266 seats of the Senate. It was a snap election, called by Zapatero four months earlier than expected after his government's perceived failure in Page 273  |  Top of Articleattempting to reverse the fortunes of Spain's flagging economy, and it was the first time since 1996 that the country's general election was not run concurrently with an Andalusian regional election. Andalusia held its election separately in March 2012.

After several years of unpopular decisions and austerity cuts, the PSOE, in power since 2004, was defeated in a landslide by the PP. The PP received 44.6 percent of the vote and 186 of the 350 seats in the lower house, an absolute majority of the seats, which ensured that PP leader Mariano Rajoy would become the next prime minister.


In the first century of Spain's presence in the New World, many of the explorers and soldiers came from Andalucía (in the south) and Extremadura (in the west), two of the poorest regions of the country. The early and lasting influence of these immigrants explains why the standard dialect spoken today in the Western Hemisphere retains the pronunciation used in the south of Spain instead of the characteristics of the older variant still spoken by those living north of Madrid. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the region that produced the most emigrants was Galicia, together with similar parts of Old Castile that border it on the south. During most of this time, Galicia was an isolated, non-industrialized corner of the peninsula. Its inheritance laws either divided farms among all the siblings in a family, resulting in unworkably small minifundios, or denied land entirely to all but the first born. In either case, the competition for land was intense, compelling many Galicians to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

Adjoining Galicia to the east on Spain's north coast is Asturias. Until the nineteenth century, the economic situation in Asturias was similar to that in Galicia, but it later became a national leader in industrial development based on coal mining, metalworking, and shipbuilding. From 1900 to 1924, thousands of Spaniards came to the United States from Asturias. Many of these immigrants labored in heavy industries such as the mining of coal and zinc.

The southern provinces of Spain, which include Almería, Málaga, Granada, and the Canary Islands, have been another major source of Spanish 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 have also immigrated to the United States in large numbers. Traditionally both hardy mountain farmers as well as seafaring people, 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

Sidebar: HideShow


Stereotypes of Spanish immigrants derive in part from the leyenda negra, or the “black legend,” a particular style of propagandalike writing that was aimed specifically at vilifying the conquistadores and the Spanish Empire. The “black legend” was created and spread by the English in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when England and Spain were rivals for European domination. Revulsion is expressed at the alleged cruelty of the Spanish sport of bullfighting, which is believed by its 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 sensuality of Georges Bizet's opera heroine Carmen. Most of these stereotypes are connected to a degree with the southern region of Andalucía. As in matters of religion, northern Spaniards often view the character of life in their own regions as profoundly different.

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 Carlist Wars.

In colonial times there were a number of Spanish-controlled settlements in America. The first settlement was in what would become Florida, followed by others in New Mexico, California, Arizona, Texas, and Louisiana. In 1598, when the first town in New Mexico was established, there were about 1,000 Spaniards north of Mexico; today, their descendants are estimated at 900,000. 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 (known then as New Spain) were the result of the same forces that later led the English to come to that area. Exploration had been fueled in part by imperial hopes for the discovery of wealthy civilizations. Many of the first settlers to New Mexico, for instance, were sent by the Spanish leadership in Mexico City to stake claim to new land and to build colonies that could serve as shields for the profitable silver mines in northern Mexico against attacks by European powers.

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. 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

Page 274  |  Top of Article


Europeans to emigrate in that period. In 1921, however, the U.S. government enacted a quota system that favored northern and western Europeans, limiting the number of entering Spaniards to 912 per year, a number 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 back to Spain. 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 Gijón in Asturias, 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 regions.

Beginning with the fascist revolt against the Spanish Republic in 1936 and the devastating civil war that ensued, General Francisco Franco established a reactionary dictatorship that ruled Spain for forty years. At the time of the fascist takeover, a small but prominent group of liberal intellectuals fled into exile in the United States. The civil war wreaked havoc upon Spain's economy. The country's infrastructure was damaged, many workers were killed in fighting, and businesses were hindered. The poor economic conditions lasted nearly twenty years under Franco's rule. 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 those 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. In contrast, the largest Hispanic group—Mexicans born outside the United States—numbered over 2 million, approximately 21 percent.

Five areas of the United States have had significant concentrations of Spaniards: New York City, Florida, California, the mountain regions of the West, and the industrial areas of the Midwest. For nineteenth-century U.S. immigrants, New York City was the most common destination. Until 1890 most Spaniards in the United States lived either in the city itself, with a heavy concentration in Brooklyn, or in communities in New Jersey and Connecticut. 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.

Page 275  |  Top of Article

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 Asturias, and in the second half of the century, they immigrated in substantial numbers—first to Cuba, later to Key West, and eventually to Tampa, Florida—taking thousands of workers with them. Several thousands of their descendants still live in the vicinity.

California is home to descendants of southern Spanish pineapple and sugar cane workers who had moved to Hawaii at the beginning of the twentieth century. The great majority of those immigrants moved on to the San Francisco area in search of greater opportunities. In southern California's industrial sector, there have been large numbers of skilled workers from northern Spain.

The steel and metalworking centers of the Midwest attracted northern Spaniards. In addition, rubber production and other kinds of heavy industry accounted for large groups of Spaniards in Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. In the U.S. censuses of 1920, 1930, and 1940, West Virginia was among the top seven states in number of Spanish immigrants, due to sizable contingents of Asturian coal miners. However with the decline of the manufacturing sector of the American economy such centers of industry have largely lost their drawing power, accelerating the dispersal and assimilation of these Spanish communities into other sectors of the workforce.

According to the American Community Survey estimates for 2009–2011, California was the state with the largest population of Spanish Americans (144,081). Other states with large numbers of Americans of Spanish descent are Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Florida, New York, Arizona, and New Jersey.


While Spain's centralist regimes of the past favored a standard national language, the its government today encourages the schooling in and general use of regional dialects. For example, Galicians, who occupy the northwest corner of the peninsula, speak Gallego. It is a language that reflects in vocabulary and structure the region's proximity to Portugal to the south and Castile to the east. Residents of Cataluña speak Catalan, a romance language that shares many features with other romance languages, such as Spanish and French, but is nonetheless distinct. In Castile, the country's central region, the residents speak Castellano, which is also the language of most Latin American countries and, outside of Spain, is commonly thought of as the standard Spanish dialect.

As Spanish becomes more and more the second language in the United States, the American-born generations of families that emigrated from Spain have been increasingly likely to retain it in both its spoken and written forms. Current communication with Hispanic countries is highly developed, including such media as newspapers, magazines, films, and Spanish-language television networks. Consequently, immigrants arriving in recent years have found themselves less obliged to learn English than their predecessors. These newcomers integrate easily into the Latin American communities that in several parts of the country function mainly in Spanish.

Strong believers in the value of their culture, Spanish Americans make every effort to keep their native language alive in the home. Many, however, are opposed to bilingual education in the schools, a position grounded in their awareness of the need to assimilate linguistically in order to compete in an English-speaking society.

Common expressions among Spaniards include: ¿Qué hay? (pronounced “kay I,” meaning “What's new?”) and Hasta luego (pronounced “ahsta lwego,” meaning “See you later”). Spaniards can easily be distinguished from other Spanish speakers by their ubiquitous use of vale (pronounced “bahlay”), employed identically to the American “okay.”


Many Spanish Americans are less active in Catholicism than were past generations. 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 viewed as social obligations and serve to strengthen clan identity.

Strong believers in the value of their culture, Spanish Americans make every effort to keep their native language alive in the home. Many, however, are opposed to bilingual education in the schools, a position grounded in their awareness of the need to assimilate linguistically in order to compete in an English-speaking society.


The presence of Spanish Americans has seemed less pronounced in recent decades, due to their willingness to blend in with the Hispanic sector and a general decrease in the flow of Spaniards to the United States. Features of a knightly ruling class still indirectly influence Hispanic societies, including those in the United States. These qualities include a firm grounding in family and other personal relations, a thorough personalismo that leads to loyalty in business and politics and to friendships in personal life. Personalismo, especially among males, is deeper and more common than among Anglos and is thought to provide greater security for one's self and family than the provisions of government.

The Spanish work ethic is compatible with the values of both pre- and post-industrial Europe. Though

Page 276  |  Top of Article

Spanish American Isabel Arevalo, 1933. Spanish American Isabel Arevalo, 1933. CORBISBETTMANN. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.

they often work long, intensive hours, Spaniards have generally not felt that a job in itself will guarantee either success or happiness. Instead, leisure has a primary value: it is meant to maintain essential social contacts and is identified with upward social movement. Another element of the Spanish character is an aristocratic concern with a public image that is in harmony with group standards. The opinions of others serve to validate a Spaniard's sense of self, as exemplified by the Spanish phrase ¿Quédirán? (What will they say?).

Cuisine Spanish food varies from region to region, though the use of olive oil instead of butter is widespread. Seafood is also a common element of Spanish meals; few parts of the peninsula are without daily deliveries of fresh fish and shellfish from the coast, and these items are the featured ingredients in the rice-based casserole of the Mediterranean coast called paella. Much of the agriculture in the south of Spain is involved with olive production, and a typical dish of this region is gazpacho, a thick, cold tomato and vegetable soup originally concocted to be served during the heat of the day to harvest workers. The southern town Jérez de la Frontera, where a particular type of white grape is grown to make the popular fortified wine known as sherry, contributed the word “sherry” to the English language. In the opposite corner of the country, the Galicians and Asturians drink hard cider and eat a stew called favada, made from two kinds of sausage, garlic, saffron, and white beans. Some Spanish foods that are particularly common in the United States are gazpacho, paella, tapas (various types of appetizers), flan (a dessert), and churros (a Spanish-type doughnut).

Traditional Dress The most commonly pictured Spanish clothing—as in representations of the annual spring fair in Seville, Spain, that served as the prototype for the California Rose Parade—is the traditional Andalucian ruffled dress for women and the short, tightly fitted jacket for men. This jacket is cut for display both while on horseback and in the atmosphere of stylized energy and romance that characterizes flamenco dancing. Throughout much of Spain, however, holiday attire is based on everyday work clothes, but richly embroidered and appointed. The western region surrounding Salamanca has an economy based on cattle raising, and the extravagantly large hat and embroidered jacket worn by that province's charros were passed on to the Mexican cowboys.

Dances and Songs Flamenco is perhaps the most recognized Spanish style of music and dance in the United States. It is mainly associated with the southern region of Andalucía, where Arabic and Romani influences are strong. Flamenco music is characterized by rapid, rhythmic hand clapping and a specialized form of guitar playing. The dancing that accompanies this music is typically done in duet fashion and includes feet stomping and castanet playing. Dancers generally wear the traditional Andalucian costumes described above: ornate, ruffled dresses for women and short, tightly fitting jackets for men. In the United States, flamenco can be found in restaurants in major urban areas that have significant Spanish American populations.

Holidays Most Spanish holidays are also found in American culture through the shared influence of Catholicism. One exception is the Sixth of January, Día de los Reyes Magos, “Day of the Three Wise Men.” Known in English as Epiphany (formerly Twelfth Night), this holiday has remained vital in Spain as the occasion when Christmas gifts are given. In the United States, Spanish children usually are the beneficiaries of a biculturalism that supplies them with gifts on January 6 as well as on Christmas.


In keeping with their strong regional identifications in Spain, Spanish Americans have established centers for Galicians, Asturians, Andalucians, and other such groups. Writing in his 1992 book Arts, Culture and Society in Spanish Emigration to America, Moisés Llordén Miñambres, a specialist in emigration patterns from Spain, regards this as a given—a natural condition—and refers in passing to how the “ethnic” groupings of recent Spanish immigrants reflect the individual characteristics of the “countries” from which they come. This diversity is reflected in the number of clubs and associations formed by Spanish Americans. A listing by Llordén Miñambres shows twenty-three in New York City, eight in New Jersey, five in Pennsylvania, four in California, and lesser numbers in Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York State, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Florida.

Llordén Miñambres divides these organizations into several categories: Beneficent societies, such as the Unión

Page 277  |  Top of Article

Sidebar: HideShow


En boca cerrada no entra mosca (“en boca therrada no entra mosca”).

Don't put your foot in your mouth.

Uvas y queso saben un beso (“oobas ee keso saben un beso”).

Grapes and cheese together taste as good as a kiss.

Salud, dinero y amor, y tiempo para disfrutarlos (“saluth, deenayro, ee ahmor, ee tyempo pahra deesfrutahrlos”).

Health, wealth, and love, and time to enjoy them.

Benéfica Española of New York, have aimed to provide charitable help for the needy and also information and recommendations to Spanish immigrants. Mutual-aid societies such as the Española de Socorros Mutuos, or “La Nacional”, founded in New York in 1868, began as examples of trade-union associations and were important in providing families with medical care and help during economic crises. Members of educational and recreational societies often have been drawn from among the more successful members of the local Spanish community; activities include literary readings, musical performances, banquets, and dances. Also prevalent are athletic associations, such as the Sporting Club of New York; Spanish chambers of commerce; and cultural associations such as the Instituto Cervantes in New York, which offers courses in Spanish language, arranges lectures, and collaborates with museums and other cultural centers.

Gender Roles The structure of the Spanish family has come to resemble the American and European model, as grandparents often live in their own house or a retirement home and women frequently have jobs. The obligation of children to 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 not marrying in order to live with and care for the parents during their last years has not been maintained in the United States. The notion that Spanish mothers are completely devoted to their children—especially the boys—while fathers spend much of their time socializing outside the home is not as true as it once was. Yet despite the various changes within the family structure that have expanded female roles, the majority of political and community leaders in Spain are still men.

Today, Spanish women often serve “double duty,” functioning in their traditional household roles while also holding jobs. In recent years, however, Spain has been recognized for demonstrating a greater commitment to gender equality. In 2004 major legislation was introduced addressing gender-based violence, while the 2007 Law on Guaranteeing Equality between Women and Men sought comprehensive reform for social inequality between the genders. A predominantly female cabinet that was appointed in 2008 under Prime Minister José Zapatero also helped establish new standards for female political participation. These changes echo the developmental U.S. gender roles in the past fifty years, and they have made the assimilation into American culture less problematic for Spaniards.

Education Because careers outside the home are now the norm for Spanish women, differences in the schooling males and females pursue are minimal. In Spain, similar to France, there is a greater emphasis on vocational school, as opposed to a getting a broader liberal arts education. Additionally, in the Spanish system of education, there are no grades; students either pass or fail exams at the end of courses, determining whether or not they advance. Unlike in the United States, Spanish culture does not attach a great stigma to failing results. These differences can make it difficult of Spanish immigrants to adapt to the U.S. educational system. As in the United States, higher education is stressed in Spain. Approximately 89 percent of Spaniards graduate from high school, compared to 86 percent of all Americans. Thirty-one percent of those graduates go on to complete a bachelor's degree (compared to 28.5 percent of all Americans) and 13.2 percent obtain a graduate or professional-level degree (compared to 10.6 percent of all Americans). Consequently, a significant number of Spanish physicians, engineers, and college professors have become successful in the United States.

Courtship and Weddings At one time, young Spanish women were allowed to date only when accompanied by a chaperon, but this custom has been entirely discarded. Family pressure for a “respectable” courtship—a vestige of the strongly emphasized Spanish sense of honor—has largely eroded in both Spain and the United States. Long engagements, however, have persisted, giving the couple and their relatives a chance to get to know each other.

Traditional Spanish weddings are often characterized as being less extravagant than full-blown American weddings. It is not customary for the male to present the female with an engagement ring, and there are no bridesmaids or groomsmen during the ceremony. Often the couple exchange las arras, or unity coins, which symbolize the sharing of lives and property. Also in Spanish ceremonies, the mother of the groom walks him down the aisle just as the father walks with the bride. Throughout most of Spain, the wedding band is worn on the middle finger of the

Page 278  |  Top of Article

Spanish American artist Richard Serra is depicted with an exhibition at one of the Gagosian Galleries. Spanish American artist Richard Serra is depicted with an exhibition at one of the Gagosian Galleries. DAILY MAIL / REX / ALAMY

right hand, except in Catalonia, where it is worn on the left hand. According to the American Community Survey estimates for 2009–2011, among the Spanish-born population living in the United States (over the age of fifteen), 59 percent were married, 22 percent were never married, 11 percent were divorced or separated, and 8 percent were widowed.


Spain's history of patriarchal politics fostered a culture that, until recent years, kept women from fully participating in the labor market. According to current data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 53 percent of Spanish women participate in Spain's workforce. According to the American Community Survey's estimates for 2009–2011, 65 percent of the Spanish American population over the age of fifteen was in the labor force, as were 61 percent of Spanish American women. Throughout the history of Spanish immigration to the United States, the percentage of skilled workers has 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. Of Spanish American workers 41 percent are in management, business, science, or the arts, 26 percent are in sales or office occupations, and 24 percent are in educational services, health care, or social assistance fields. Seventy-four percent of Spanish Americans are private-wage and salary workers, 19.5 percent are government workers, and 6.4 percent are self-employed. The median household income for Spanish Americans in 2011 was $54,808, while the median family income was $65,712. (Household income statistics reflect one or more individuals living at the same residence—not necessarily married or related—and family income statistics apply to blood-related or married individuals living at the same residence.) Single-female households earned an average of $33,723 per year, while single-male households made $46,421.


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 Page 279  |  Top of Articleoverthrown Spanish Republic, which had received aid from the Soviet Union while under attack from fascist forces, were sometimes incorrectly linked to communism, but their arrival in the United States well before the “red scare” of the early 1950s spared them the worst excesses of McCarthyism. Ever since the dictatorial government of Spain under Franco, Spanish Americans have tended to vote Democratic as a lasting response to that politically oppressive era. 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. They gained the sympathy of many Americans, some of whom formed the Abraham Lincoln Brigade during the war and fought in Spain against the fascists.


Art Richard Serra (1939–) is a sculptor whose large steel works have appeared outdoors in the United States, Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands, among other places. Serra's massive, often zigzagging and rusting sculptures have drawn both lavish praise for their arresting visual qualities and harsh criticism for taking up too much space. Serra also made a number of successful short films and documentaries, notably Television Delivers People (1973), which criticizes mass media and American corporate life.

Business Thomas García-Borras (1926–), a leading figure in the American heating oil business, was born in Barcelona and arrived in the United States in 1955. In 1983 he published Manual for Improving Boiler and Furnace Performance, and he was also president of U.S. Products Corporation in Las Vegas.

Literature Poet Angel González (1925–), an Asturian who experienced the Spanish Civil War as a child, is known as the clearest and most honored lyrical voice to describe the emotional fatigue and near-despair of life under the Franco dictatorship. Living in the United States but traveling frequently throughout the Hispanic world from the 1960s until 1992, he taught during most of that period at the University of New Mexico. He then retired in Spain.

Alfred Rodriguez (1932–), writer, has won literary prizes in both Spain and the United States, including the Spanish government's Golden Letters award for outstanding Spanish-language narrative written in the United States. Born in Brooklyn to immigrants from Andalucía, he sojourned in Spain during the bleakest years that followed the civil war. His work continues the classic Spanish tradition of the picaresque tale, a penetrating and grimly humorous exploration of the strategies for survival in decayed or traumatized societies.

Novelist Ramón Sender (1902–1982) settled in the United States after fleeing the Franco regime to Mexico and then Guatemala. A professor of Spanish literature at the University of New Mexico, University of Southern California, and University of California, he published in the United States under the pen name of José Losángeles. He is well known for his depiction of the impact of political events on human lives, as in the short novel Requiem por un campesino español (Requiem for a Spanish Peasant, 1960). He managed to keep a sense of humor throughout the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and humor is paramount in his Nancy novels, in which the protagonist is a typical American undergraduate student.

Music Pablo Casals (1876–1973), an internationally celebrated cellist, was among the political refugees from the Spanish Civil War. In addition to his lyrically beautiful playing, he was known for his adaptations of Spanish folk music, especially from his own region of Cataluña. He was also active in efforts to help other victims of the civil war.

Jerry Garcia (1942–1995) was the wildly popular guitarist and singer for the counter-cultural band the Grateful Dead. Fans of the group, known as Dead Heads, were known to follow the group from stop to stop on its tours. Garcia's father was born in La Coruña, Spain.

Julio Iglesias (1943–) is a singer of international fame, having sold more than 300 million records in fourteen languages worldwide. Born in Madrid, Iglesias released his first full-length album in 1969 and quickly became a star. His son, Enrique Iglesias (1975–), is a singer-songwriter who has sold more than 100 million records internationally.

Politics Henry Cisneros (1947–) served as mayor of San Antonio, Texas, from 1981 to 1989. During President Bill Clinton's administration, Cisneros was secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

William Blaine “Bill” Richardson III (1947–) was governor of New Mexico from 2003 to 2011. Richardson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1980, and in 2004 he served as chairman of the Democratic National Convention.

Science and Medicine Luis W. Alvarez (1911–1988) was a physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II and won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1968. He spent the majority of his professional career on the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley.

Neurologist Luis García-Buñuel (1931–) was born in Madrid and immigrated to the United States in 1956. He headed neurology services in several American hospitals and in 1984 became chief of staff at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona.

Sports Mary Joe Fernández Godsick (1971–), born María José Fernández, is a tennis player who finished second in the Australian Open in 1990 and 1992 and the French Open in 1993. She also won the gold medal in women's doubles in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics.

Page 280  |  Top of Article

Keith Barlow Hernandez (1953–) played Major League Baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets. He won the World Series with the Cardinals in 1982 and again with the Mets in 1986. The winner of eleven consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Awards, Hernandez is also remembered for his clutch hitting and leadership in the clubhouse.

Anthony “Tony” La Russa Jr. (1944–) was a major league infielder who went on to become one of the most successful managers of all time. When he retired after the 2011 season, La Russa ranked third among major league managers with 2,728 wins. La Russa managed the Oakland Athletics to three consecutive World Series appearances (1988–1990), winning the championship against the San Francisco Giants in 1989. He also won two World Series titles as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, in 2006 and 2011. La Russa won Major League Baseball's Manager of the Year Award four times.

Louis Victor Piniella (1943–) achieved success in Major League Baseball both as a player and manager. As a player, he won two World Series with the New York Yankees (1977, 1978). As a manager, he won a World Series title with the Cincinnati Reds in 1990 and had several winning seasons with the Seattle Mariners in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Stage and Screen Cameron Michelle Diaz (1972–) became widely known after starring in the blockbuster romantic comedies My Best Friend's Wedding (1997) and There's Something about Mary (1998). The recipient of numerous Golden Globe nominations, Diaz has also done voiceovers in animated movies, including the part of Princess Fiona in the Shrek franchise, and she has taken roles in dramatic films such as Any Given Sunday (1999) and Gangs of New York (2002).

Emilio Diogenes Estévez (1962–), the son of Martin Sheen and brother of Charlie Sheen, was an actor, writer, and director. He was part of the “Brat Pack” in the 1980s, a group of famous young actors that included Judd Nelson, Allie Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, and Demi Moore. His acting credits include the popular The Mighty Ducks film series.

Rita Hayworth (1918–1987), born Margarita Carmen Cansino, was one of Hollywood's biggest movie stars during the 1940s. At the height of her fame, she appeared on the cover of Life magazine five times. Her father, Eduardo Cansino Sr., was a dancer and actor born in Seville, Spain.

Maria Rosario Pilar Martinez Molina Baeza (1951–), better known by her stage name Charo, reached a wide American audience with her numerous appearances on the ABC television show The Love Boat in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Charo, who became famous for her catchphrase “cuchi-cuchi” and for wearing provocative clothing, was a successful singer and flamenco guitarist in addition to being a popular comedienne.

Charlie Sheen (1965–), born Carlos Irwin Estévez, is an actor known for his roles in such films as Platoon (1986), Wall Street (1987), and Major League (1989). From 2003 to 2011, he starred on the television show Two and a Half Men. He was fired from that show due to conflicts with the producers but went on to star in another sitcom, Anger Management, starting in 2012.

Martin Sheen (1940–), born Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez, is the father of Emilio Estévez and Charlie Sheen. He is perhaps most famous for his role as President Josiah Bartlet in the television series The West Wing (1999–2006). Some of his movie credits include Apocalypse Now (1979), Wall Street (1987), The Departed (2006), and The Amazing Spider-Man (2012).

Raquel Welch (1940–), born Jo Raquel Tejada, rose to fame in the mid-1960s. She is perhaps best remembered for posing in an animal-skin bikini in the 1966 British film One Million Years B.C. Her other movies include Bedazzled (1967), Bandolero! (1968), 100 Rifles (1969), and Myra Breckinridge (1970). She is of both Spanish and Bolivian descent.


Full Text: 


Full Text: 

El Diario/La Prensa

A major Spanish-language newspaper founded in 1913.

Rosanna Rosado, Publisher
West Coast Headquarters
700 South Flower
Suite 3000
Los Angeles, California 90017
Phone: (213) 622-8332
East Coast Headquarters
1 Metrotech Center
18th Floor
Brooklyn, New York 11201
Phone: (212) 807-4785
Fax: (212) 807-4617

Nat Geo Mundo (Spanish National Geographic)

A magazine about travel, geography, and the natural sciences.

1211 Avenue of the Americas
31st Floor
New York, New York 10036
Phone: (212) 822-9083


Full Text: 

WADO-AM (1280)

A Spanish-language station serving New York City. Owned by Univision, it broadcasts news and talk shows.

Page 281  |  Top of Article

85 Madison Avenue
Floor 3
New York, New York 10022
Phone: (212) 310-6000

WAMA-AM (1550)

A Spanish-language sports radio station serving the Tampa, Florida, area.

5203 North Armenia Avenue
Tampa, Florida 33603
Phone: (813) 875-0086

WKDM-AM (1380)

Serves the New York City area with Spanish-language programming.

449 Broadway
2nd Floor
New York, New York 10013
Phone: (212) 966-1059


Full Text: 


An American television network that broadcasts in Spanish.

Emilio Romano, President
2340 West 8th Avenue
Hialeah, Florida 33010
Phone: (305) 884-8200


Spanish-language television network in the United States.

605 Third Avenue
12th Floor
New York, New York 10158
Phone: (305) 487-5464


Full Text: 

Hispanic Institute

Provides an effective education forum for an informed and empowered Hispanic America.

Gus K. West, Board Chair and President
906 Pennsylvania Avenue SE
Washington, D.C. 20003
Phone: (202)-544-8284
Fax: (202) 544-8285

Repertorio Español

Presents and tours Spanish classic plays, contemporary Latin American plays, zarzuela (Spanish light opera), and dance.

Gilberto Zaldívar, Producer
138 East 27th Street
New York, New York 10016
Phone: (212) 225-9999
Fax: (212) 225-9085

Unión Española de California

Organizes cultural events from the traditions of Spain.

Francisco Perez, President
2850 Alemany Boulevard
San Francisco, California 94112
Phone: (415) 587-5504


Full Text: 

Hispanic Society of America

A free museum that exhibits paintings, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, costumes, and decorative arts representative of the Hispanic culture.

Mitchell A. Codding, Director
613 West 155th Street
New York, New York 10032
Phone: (212) 926-2234
Fax: (212) 690-0743

Southwest Museum (part of the Autry National Center)

Collections include artifacts from the Spanish colonial and Mexican eras.

234 Museum Drive
Los Angeles, California 90065
Phone: (323) 667-2000


Fernández-Shaw, Carlos. The Hispanic Presence in North America from 1492 to Today. Translated by Alfonso Bertodano Stourton et al. New York: Facts On File, 1991.

Gómez, R. A. “Spanish Immigration to the United States.” The Americas 19, no. 1 (July 1962): 59–78.

King, John, editor. The Cambridge Companion to Modern Latin American Culture. London: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

McCall, Grant. Basque Americans. Saratoga, CA: R & R Research Associates, 1973.

Michener, James A. Iberia: Spanish Travels and Reflections. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett, 1968.

Pereda, Prudencio de. Windmills in Brooklyn. New York: Atheneum, 1960.

Rosenthal, Debra J. Race Mixture in Nineteenth-Century U.S. and Spanish American Fictions: Gender, Culture, and Nation Building. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300169