The term Hispanic derives from Latin Hispanicus ('Spanish'), the adjectival derivation of Latin (and Greek) Hispania ('Spain') and Hispanus/Hispanos ('Spaniard'), ultimately probably of Celtiberian origin. In English the word is attested from the 16th century (and in the late 19th century in American English).
The words Spain, Spanish, and Spaniard are of the same etymology as Hispanus, ultimately.
Stele of a family of celts
, hispanus from Gallaecia
: Apana · Ambo/lli · f(ilia) · Celtica /Supertam(arica)
· / [j] Miobri · /an(norum) · XXV · h(ic) · s(ita) · e(st) · /Apanus · fr(ater) · f(aciendum)· c(uravit)
Hispanus was the Latin name given to a person from Hispania during Roman rule. The ancient Roman Hispania, which roughly comprised what is currently called the Iberian Peninsula, included the contemporary states of Spain, Portugal, and Andorra, and the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar. In English, the term Hispano-Roman is sometimes used. The Hispano-Romans were composed of people from many different indigenous tribes, in addition to Italian colonists. Some famous Hispani (plural of Hispanus) and Hispaniensis were the emperors Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Hadrian, Theodosius I and Magnus Maximus, the poets Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, Martial and Prudentius, the philosophers Seneca the Elder and Seneca the Younger, or the usurper Maximus of Hispania. A number of these men, such as Trajan, Hadrian and others, were in fact descended from Roman colonial families.
Here follows a comparison of several terms related to Hispanic:
- Hispania was the name of the Iberian Peninsula/Iberia from the 3rd century BC to the 8th AD, both as a Roman Empire province and immediately thereafter as a Visigothic kingdom, 5th–8th century.
- Hispano-Roman is used to refer to the culture and people of Hispania.
- Hispanic is used to refer to modern Spain, to the Spanish language, and to the Spanish-speaking nations of the world, particularly the Americas, Pacific Islands and Asia, such as the Philippines.
- Spanish is used to refer to the people, nationality, culture, language and other things of Spain.
- Spaniard is used to refer to the people of Spain.
Hispania was divided into two provinces: Hispania Citerior and Hispania Ulterior. In 27 B.C, Hispania Ulterior was divided into two new provinces, Hispania Baetica and Hispania Lusitania, while Hispania Citerior was renamed Hispania Tarraconensis. This division of Hispania explains the usage of the singular and plural forms (Spain, and The Spains) used to refer to the peninsula and its kingdoms in the Middle Ages.
Before the marriage of Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon in 1469, the four Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula—the Kingdom of Portugal, the Crown of Aragon, the Crown of Castile, and the Kingdom of Navarre—were collectively called The Spains. This revival of the old Roman concept in the Middle Ages appears to have originated in Provençal, and was first documented at the end of the 11th century. In the Council of Constance, the four kingdoms shared one vote.
The word Lusitanian, relates to Lusitania or Portugal, also in reference to the Lusitanians, possibly one of the first Indo-European tribes to settle in Europe. From this tribe's name had derived the name of the Roman province of Lusitania, and Lusitania remains the name of Portugal in Latin.
The terms Spain and the Spains were not interchangeable. Spain was a geographic territory, home to several kingdoms (Christian and Muslim), with separate governments, laws, languages, religions, and customs, and was the historical remnant of the Hispano-Gothic unity. Spain was not a political entity until much later, and when referring to the Middle Ages, one should not be confounded with the nation-state of today. The term The Spains referred specifically to a collective of juridico-political units, first the Christian kingdoms, and then the different kingdoms ruled by the same king.
With the Decretos de Nueva Planta, Philip V started to organize the fusion of his kingdoms that until then were ruled as distinct and independent, but this unification process lacked a formal and juridic proclamation.
Although colloquially and literally the expression "King of Spain" or "King of the Spains" was already widespread, it did not refer to a unified nation-state. It was only in the constitution of 1812 that was adopted the name Españas (Spains) for the Spanish nation and the use of the title of "king of the Spains". The constitution of 1876 adopts for the first time the name "Spain" for the Spanish nation and from then on the kings would use the title of "king of Spain".
The expansion of the Spanish Empire between 1492 and 1898 brought thousands of Spanish migrants to the conquered lands, who established settlements, mainly in the Americas, but also in other distant parts of the world (as in the Philippines, the lone Spanish territory in Asia), producing a number of multiracial populations. Today, the term Hispanic is typically applied to the varied populations of these places, including those with Spanish ancestry. Because of their historical, linguistic, and cultural ties with Spain, Filipinos can be considered Hispanic.
Definitions in ancient Rome
The Latin gentile adjectives that belong to Hispania are Hispanus, Hispanicus, and Hispanienses. A Hispanus is someone who is a native of Hispania with no foreign parents, while children born in Hispania of (Latin) Roman parents were Hispaniensis. Hispaniensis means 'connected in some way to Hispania', as in "Exercitus Hispaniensis" ('the Spanish army') or "mercatores Hispanienses" ('Spanish merchants'). Hispanicus implies 'of' or 'belonging to' Hispania or the Hispanus or of their fashion as in "glaudius Hispanicus". The gentile adjectives were not ethnolinguistic but derived primarily on a geographic basis, from the toponym Hispania as the people of Hispania spoke different languages, although Livy said they could all understand each other, not making clear if they spoke dialects of the same language or were polyglots.
The first recorded use of an anthroponym derived from the toponym Hispania is attested in one of the five fragments, of Ennius in 236 B.C. who wrote "Hispane, non Romane memoretis loqui me" ("Remember that I speak like a Spaniard not a Roman") as having been said by a native of Hispania.
Definitions in Portugal and Spain
Technically speaking, persons from Portugal or of Portuguese extraction are referred to as Lusitanians. In Portugal, Hispanic refers to something related to ancient Spain or the Spanish language and culture. Portugal and Spain do not have exactly the same definition for the term Hispanic, but they do share the etymology for the word (pt: hispânico, es: hispánico).
The Royal Spanish Academy (Spanish: Real Academia Española, RAE), the official royal institution responsible for regulating the Spanish language defines the terms "Hispano" and "Hispánico" (which in Spain have slightly different meanings) as:
- From Spain
- Belonging or relative to Spain
- Spanish, as applied to a person
- Of or pertaining to Hispanic America
- Of or pertaining to the population of Hispanic American origin who live in the United States of America
- A person of this origin who lives in the United States of America
- People from the Republic of the Philippines
- Belonging or relative to Spain and Spanish-speaking countries
The modern term to identify Portuguese and Spanish territories under a single nomenclature is "Iberian", and the one to refer to cultures derived from both countries in the Americas is "Iberian-American". These designations can be mutually recognized by people in Portugal and Brazil, unlike "Hispanic", which is totally void of any self-identification in those countries, and quite on the opposite, serves the purpose of marking a clear distinction in relation to neighboring countries' culture.
In Spanish, the term "hispano" as in "hispanoamericano", refers to the people of Spanish origin who live in the Americas; it also refers to a relationship to Hispania or to the Spanish language. There are people in Hispanic America that are not of Spanish origin, as the original people of these areas are Amerindians.
Definitions in the United States
While originally the term referred primarily to the Hispanos of New Mexico within the United States, today, organizations in the country use the term as a broad catchall to refer to persons with a historical and cultural relationship with Spain regardless of race and ethnicity. The U.S. Census Bureau defines the ethnonym Hispanic or Latino to refer to "a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race" and states that Hispanics or Latinos can be of any race, any ancestry, any ethnicity. Generically, this limits the definition of Hispanic or Latino to people from the Caribbean, Central and South America, or other Hispanic (Spanish) culture or origin, regardless of race. Latino can refer to males or females, while Latina refers to only females.
Because of the technical distinctions involved in defining "race" vs. "ethnicity," there is confusion among the general population about the designation of Hispanic identity. Currently, the United States Census Bureau defines six race categories:
- White or Caucasian
- Black or African American
- American Indian or Alaska Native
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
- Some Other Race
According to census reports, of the above races the largest number of Hispanic or Latinos are of the White race, the second largest number come from the Native American/American Indian race who are the indigenous people of the Americas. The inhabitants of Easter Island are Pacific Islanders and since the island belongs to Chile they are theoretically Hispanic or Latinos.
Because Hispanic roots are considered aligned with a European ancestry (Spain/Portugal), Hispanic/Latino ancestry is defined solely as an ethnic designation (similar to being Norse or Germanic). Therefore, a person of Hispanic descent is typically defined using both race and ethnicity as an identifier—i.e., Black-Hispanic, White-Hispanic, Asian-Hispanic, Amerindian-Hispanic or "other race" Hispanic.
A 1997 notice by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget defined Hispanic or Latino persons as being "persons who trace their origin or descent to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central and South America, and other Spanish cultures." The United States Census uses the ethnonym Hispanic or Latino to refer to "a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Hispanic culture or origin regardless of race."
The 2010 Census asked if the person was "Spanish/Hispanic/Latino". The United States Census uses the ethnonym Hispanic or Latino to refer to "a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race." The Census Bureau also explains that "[o]rigin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person's ancestors before their arrival in the United States. People who identify their origin as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be of any race."
The U.S. Department of Transportation defines Hispanic as, "persons of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, Central or South American, or other Spanish or Portuguese culture or origin, regardless of race." This definition has been adopted by the Small Business Administration as well as by many federal, state, and municipal agencies for the purposes of awarding government contracts to minority owned businesses.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Conference include representatives of Spanish and Portuguese, Puerto Rican and Mexican descent. The Hispanic Society of America is dedicated to the study of the arts and cultures of Spain, Portugal, and Latin America. The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, proclaimed champions of Hispanic success in higher education, is committed to Hispanic educational success in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Ibero-America, Spain and Portugal.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission encourages any individual who believes that he or she is Hispanic to self-identify as Hispanic. The United States Department of Labor – Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs encourages the same self-identification. As a result, any individual who traces his or her origins to part of the Spanish Empire may self-identify as Hispanic, because an employer may not override an individual's self-identification.
The 1970 Census was the first time that a "Hispanic" identifier was used and data collected with the question. The definition of "Hispanic" has been modified in each successive census.
In a recent study, most Spanish-speakers of Spanish or Hispanic American descent do not prefer the term "Hispanic" or "Latino" when it comes to describing their identity. Instead, they prefer to be identified by their country of origin. When asked if they have a preference for either being identified as "Hispanic" or "Latino," the Pew study finds that "half (51%) say they have no preference for either term." A majority (51%) say they most often identify themselves by their family's country of origin, while 24% say they prefer a pan-ethnic label such as Hispanic or Latino. Among those 24% who have a preference for a pan-ethnic label, "'Hispanic' is preferred over 'Latino' by more than a two-to-one margin—33% versus 14%." 21% prefer to be referred to simply as "Americans."
Hispanicization is the process by which a place or a person absorbs characteristics of Hispanic society and culture. Modern hispanization of a place, namely in the United States, might be illustrated by Spanish-language media and businesses. Hispanization of a person might be illustrated by speaking Spanish, making and eating Hispanic American food, listening to Spanish language music or participating in Hispanic festivals and holidays - Hispanization of those outside the Hispanic community as opposed to assimilation of Hispanics into theirs.
One reason that some people believe the assimilation of Hispanics in the U.S. is not comparable to that of other cultural groups is that Hispanic and Latino Americans have been living in parts of North America for centuries, in many cases well before the English-speaking culture became dominant. For example, California, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico (1598), Arizona, Nevada, Florida and Puerto Rico have been home to Spanish-speaking peoples since the 16th century, long before the U.S. existed. (The language of the Native Americans existed before this, until the invasion and forced assimilation by the Spanish.) These and other Spanish-speaking territories were part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, and later Mexico (with the exception of Florida and Puerto Rico), before these regions joined or were taken over by the United States in 1848. Some cities in the U.S. were founded by Spanish settlers as early as the 16th century, prior to the creation of the Thirteen Colonies. For example, San Miguel de Gualdape, Pensacola and St. Augustine, Florida were founded in 1526, 1559 and 1565 respectively. Santa Fe, New Mexico was founded in 1604, and Albuquerque was established in 1660. El Paso was founded in 1659, San Antonio in 1691, Laredo, Texas in 1755, San Diego in 1769, San Francisco in 1776, San Jose, California in 1777, New Iberia, Louisiana in 1779, and Los Angeles in 1781. Therefore, in many parts of the U.S., the Hispanic cultural legacy predates English/British influence. For this reason, many generations have largely maintained their cultural traditions and Spanish language well before the United States was created. However, Spanish-speaking persons in many Hispanic areas in the U.S. amounted to only a few thousand people when they became part of the United States; a large majority of current Hispanic residents are descended from Hispanics who entered the United States in the mid-to-late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Language retention is a common index to assimilation; according to the 2000 census, about 75% of all Hispanics spoke Spanish in the home. Spanish language retention rates vary geographically; parts of Texas and New Mexico have language retention rates over 90%, whereas in parts of Colorado and California, retention rates are lower than 30%. The degree of retention of Spanish as the native language is based on recent arrival from countries where Spanish is spoken. As is true of other immigrants, those who were born in other countries still speak their native language. Later generations are increasingly less likely to speak the language spoken in the country of their ancestors, as is true of other immigrant groups.