WASHINGTON - Hispanics, the largest and fastest-growing minority in the United States, are changing American society and culture.
The Census Bureau estimates that 48.4 million people in the United States, or 16 percent of the population, are Hispanic or Latino ( the terms are used interchangeably by the bureau ). Hispanics are defined in the census as U.S. residents of any race whose origins are from Spain, Mexico, or the Spanish-speaking countries of Central and South America and the Caribbean. Their numbers are projected to grow to 133 million, or 30 percent of the U.S. population, by 2050.
Hispanics are the nation’s youngest ethnic population, with a median age of 27.4 years — nine years younger than the general population. Slightly more than one-fifth, or 22 percent, of America’s children are Hispanic, and by 2050, some 39 percent will be Hispanic, according to projections.
Nearly two-thirds of Hispanics in the United States are of Mexican heritage, and the rest have origins in one of at least 19 other countries, each with distinctive cultures. They add their traditions to those they find in the United States, introducing new foods, music, arts, celebrations and ideas.
Hispanics “have enriched our culture and brought creativity and innovation to everything from sports to the sciences and from the arts to our economy,” says President Obama. “The story of Hispanics in America is the story of America itself. The Hispanic community’s values — love of family, a deep and abiding faith, and a strong work ethic — are America’s values.”
Latinos fill several top positions in the U.S. government, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Nearly 12 percent of President Obama’s nominees for senior administration positions are Latinos, more than those of any other president. In addition, there are 25 Hispanics in the U.S. Congress and more than 5,600 Hispanic state and local elected officials. In the 2008 presidential election, Latinos cast ballots in record numbers — nearly 10 million. They comprised 7.4 percent of all voters in 2008, up from 6 percent in 2004.
ENTERTAINMENT AND CULTURE
The United States has the world’s fifth-largest Spanish-speaking population. More and more products, advertising and media — both English and Spanish — are targeted to Hispanic consumers, whose purchasing power is projected to grow to $1.2 trillion by 2012.
Americans are familiar with Latino cultural imports, particularly music and food. A popular festival in many communities is Cinco de Mayo [Fifth of May], which celebrates the culture of Mexico. There are hundreds of other celebrations, such as Puerto Rican Day parades in New York City and Chicago, and Carnaval Miami.
Hispanic-American musicians are a lively part of U.S. popular culture, performing in a broad range of genres — from pop, rock, and rap to salsa, Latin jazz and reggaeton. Some well-known performers and groups include Christina Aguilera, Marc Anthony, Joan Baez, Daddy Yankee, Gloria Estefan, Fat Joe, Los Lobos, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Ozomatli and Carlos Santana. International stars such as Ruben Blades, Enrique Iglesias, Juanes, Luis Miguel, Alejandro Sanz and Shakira also have fans in the United States. ( See “Reggaeton Making Inroads in U.S. Music Market.” )
Among many prominent Hispanics in American film and television today are actors Jessica Alba, Cameron Diaz, America Ferrera, Andy Garcia, Salma Hayek, John Leguizamo, Eva Mendes, Eva Longoria Parker, Martin Sheen, Jimmy Smits, Benicio del Toro, comedian George Lopez and director Robert Rodriguez.
A number of visual artists and writers have sought to capture the Hispanic-American experience, including contemporary painters Soraida Martinez, John Valadez, Frank Romero and Arnaldo Roche, and sculptor Richard Serra. In 2007, the Museo Alameda, the nation’s largest museum dedicated to Latino culture and art, opened in San Antonio as an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. ( See Hispanics in U.S. Culture. )
Two Hispanics have won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction: Oscar Hijuelos in 1990 and Junot Diaz in 2008. Many other Hispanic writers have achieved distinction in the United States, such as Isabel Allende, Julia Alvarez, Daniel Alarcon, Sandra Cisneros and Cristina Garcia.
Major Hispanic-American figures in the fashion industry include Isabel Toledo and Narciso Rodriguez, who have designed clothes for first lady Michelle Obama.
Many Latinos have become U.S. sports heroes, like baseball players Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez. More than 25 percent of players in Major League Baseball ( MLB ) are from Latin American countries. Nine Latinos have been inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame; the first was Puerto Rico’s Roberto Clemente, who died in a 1972 airplane crash while delivering humanitarian supplies to Nicaraguan earthquake victims. ( See “U.S. Baseball Stars Martinez, Ortiz Honored for Helping Dominican Town Rebuild.” )
The Hispanic influence is apparent in other sports, notably football ( called soccer in the United States ). The game’s growing popularity in the United States is at least partly attributable to the infusion of Hispanic immigrants. Hispanics make up a third of fans at Major League Soccer matches, according to league statistics. Notable stars have included Tab Ramos, Claudio Reyna and Carlos Bocanegra, the current captain of the U.S. men’s soccer team.
There are well-known Hispanic Americans in other sports, such as Carlos Arroyo ( basketball ), Oscar de la Hoya ( boxing ), the late Pancho Gonzalez ( tennis ), Nancy Lopez ( golf ), Scott Gomez ( hockey ), Lisa Fernandez ( softball ) and Tony Romo ( U.S. football ).
Hispanic contributions to American life have been recognized by the U.S. government, which designates each September 15 to October 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Month.