The term Hispanic American refers broadly to persons of Spanish descent living in the United States. It is not in itself an ethnic designation as it encompasses peoples of diverse national backgrounds, histories, and cultural traditions. Nor is it a racial category—Hispanic peoples may trace their forebears to Caucasian antecedents or to a blend of Caucasian, Indian, and black populations. Latinos is also used to designate this general population, and several terms refer to a specific Hispanic ethnic group; for example, people of Mexican descent may speak of themselves as Chicanos or La Raza (the race), while Puerto Ricans may use the Arawak Indian word boricuas (brave lords).
In 1990, the United States Bureau of the Census enumerated persons of Spanish or Hispanic origin as those who classified themselves in one of four predetermined categories: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, or Other Spanish/Hispanic origin. Those choosing the Other category were additionally asked to provide their country of origin; the most frequent responses indicated Central and South America nationalities.
People of Mexican derivation make up by far the largest segment of Hispanic Americans. In the mid-1990s, they accounted for almost two-thirds (64.3 percent) of this population, followed by Central and South Americans (13.4 percent), Puerto Ricans (10.6 percent), “Other Hispanic” (7.0 percent), and Cubans (4.7 percent).
Hispanic Americans comprise one of the nation’s largest minority groups, second only to African Americans. In 1995, Latinos numbered 27 million while African Americans totaled 32 million. Hispanics are also among the fastest-growing parts of the population. They experienced a 53 percent growth rate between 1980 and 1990, a decade when the national population grew by only 9.8 percent. The Census Bureau projects that the population of Hispanic origin will increase to 31 million by the year 2000 and will be larger than the black population by 2005. If the present projections are correct, Hispanics will double their 1990 population by 2015, and quadruple it by 2050. By that date, they will number 88 million. Almost one of every four Americans will be of Hispanic origin.
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