Hispanic is one of several terms used to describe residents of the US whose background are the Spanish speaking countries of Latin America. It is used to identify immigrants and their descendants of a wide range of ethnicities, races, cultures and nationalities, who use Spanish as primary language. Hispanics are the largest minority group in the United States, comprising 13.4% of the population, i.e. about 40 million people in 2003. The Hispanic population grows at about 4% per year, much faster than other ethnic groups in the United States.
Often the term Hispanic is used synonymously with the word Latino. However, a Hispanic specifically refers to people from Spain or the various Spanish speaking nations. Latinos are people of Latin American origin. For example a Brazilian would be Latino, but not specifically Hispanic (unless he or she is of Spanish origin as well). Likewise a Spaniard would be Hispanic according to most common definitions of the term, but not Latino. Some people would argue that as Spaniards are Europeans, they should not be included in a category designated as a "minority group" in the United States. However, others would counter that Spain and the Hispanic American nations, despite there many differences, are part of the same greater cultural sphere.
Some people consider Hispanic to be too general as a label, and some consider it offensive, often preferring instead to use the term Latino, which is viewed as a self-chosen term. This term states more clearly that it refers to people from Latin Amercia, excluding Spain. The current use of the term Hispanic to describe the Spanish speaking peoples gained acceptance relatively recently, as a result of its promotion by the United States government. Previously, this group was commonly referred to as "Spanish-Americans", "Spanish-surnamed Americans", or "Spanish-speaking Americans", however these terms proved misleading or inaccurate in many cases.
Aside from "Latino", other terms are used for more specific subsets of the Hispanic population. These terms often relate to specific countries of origin, such as "Mexican American", "Cuban", "Dominican" or "Puerto Rican". Other terms signify distinct cultural patterns among Hispanics which have emerged in what is now the United States, including "Chicano" or "Tejano".
The diverse nature of the Hispanic population often makes efforts toward creating a Pan-Hispanic sense of identity difficult. While Hispanics are often treated as a group apart from "whites", "blacks", and other racial groups in the United States, the Hispanic population inculdes people who identify with different racial and ethnic groups. Many Hispanics, particularly those of Mexican and Central American ancestry, identify as mestizos (of mixed Spanish and Native American ancestry). Many other Hispanics with Dominican, Puerto Rican, Colombian or Cuban backgrounds are of black African or mixed black ancestry. A number of Hispanic-Americans have Asian, Middle Eastern, and non-Spanish European ancestry, and further confound many common notions of what it means to be Hispanic.
However, several features tend to unite Hispanics from diverse backgrounds. Many Hispanics, including American born second and third generation Hispanics, use the Spanish language to varying degrees. The most usual pattern is monolingual Spanish usage among new immigrants or older foreign born Hispanics, complete bilingualism among long settled immigrants and their children, and the use of Spanglish and colloquial Spanish within long established Hispanic communities by the third generation and beyond.
The Spaniards brought the Roman Catholic faith to Latin America and Roman Catholicism continues to be the largest religious denomination within most Hispanic communities. Many Hispanic communities celebrate the saint's day of their homelands patron saint with festivals and religious services. Devotion toward the Lady of Guadalupe is particularly important among Mexican Roman Catholics. Some Hispanics syncretize Roman Catholicism and African or Native American beliefs in beliefs such as Santerķa as well.
A significant number of Hispanics are Protestant, and several Protestant or Evangelical denominations have vigorously proslytized in Hispanic communites. Jewish Hispanics include descendants of Jewish families who have immigrated to Latin America and later to the United States, as well as Anusim, or reconverted Jewish people who's ancestors long ago hid their Jewish beliefs due to fear of Spanish persecution (see inquisition, Sephardim).
Popular culture varies widely from one Hispanic community to another. While many people speak of Latin music as a single genre, Latin America is home to a wide variety of music. Hispanic Caribbean music tends to favor complex polyrhythms of African origin.Traditional Mexican-American Tejano music is more influenced by American country music and the polka, brought by central European settlers in Texas. Latin pop, rock and ballad styles tend to appeal to the broader Hispanic population, and varieties of Cuban music are popular with many Hispanics of all backgrounds.
There is also no single Hispanic cuisine. Traditional Mexican, Cuban, Spanish, and Peruvian cooking vary greatly from each other - and take on new forms in the United States. While Mexican cooking is the most familiar variety of "Hispanic food" in most of the United States, it is not representative of the cuisine of most other Hispanics. Most groceries in heavily Hispanic areas carry a wide variety of specialty Latin-American products, in addition to the widely avaliable brands of tortillas and Mexican style salsa.