The Hispanic population in the United States has grown exponentially in recent decades. The term Hispanic refers anything or anyone from Spain, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Latin America, or South America. “Hispanic” encompasses many different dialects, countries, and cultures. The common factor for each different culture is speaking Spanish. Spanish is a Romance language that evolved from Vulgar Latin in the Iberian Peninsula area, which includes current day Spain and Portugal. Spanish developed in the 1200s as the Castilian version of Vulgar Latin blended with the Arabic spoken by Moors. Currently, Spanish is the official language in more than twenty countries, and is widely spoken in many more countries, including Andorra and Belize. Spanish is one of the most-spoken languages in the world, with almost four hundred million people that speak Spanish as a primary or second language. The Spanish language connects people and cultures of different nationalities, and these different cultures have spread to the United States.
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In 1980, The Hispanic population represented 6.5% of Americans, with 14.8 million Hispanic people. By 2015, this number had increased 56.5 million Hispanic-Americans, which is 17.6% of the United States population. Before the 2000s, most of the increase in the population came from immigration rather than native births. Throughout the 2000s and 2010's, however, there was a steep increase in native births which overwhelmed the number of immigrants by over three million people. With forty-one million native speakers and twelve million that speak Spanish as a second language, the U.S. is the second-largest Spanish speaking country in the world. One study even predicts that the U.S. will have the most Spanish speakers of any country in the world by 2050. As the Hispanic population continues to grow in the United States, Hispanic people are forming the largest minority group in the United States. American culture is becoming more enriched with the cultures of Spanish-speaking countries. Hispanic culture has greatly impacted American culture through music, food, and dance.
The impact of Hispanic culture in the United States is undeniably vast and extreme. The magnitude of this impact is often overlooked, ignored, or unappreciated by Americans. There are many things that have Hispanic origin that are not acknowledged to be Hispanic. Hispanics have historically not been represented enough in mainstream culture despite being the largest ethnic minority group in the U.S. Additionally, many of the products associated with Hispanic culture are not authentic; they have changed in order to appeal to non-ethic or non-Hispanic audiences and their origin is forgotten. Though the accomplishments of Hispanics may not be recognized, the impact is apparent through the many foods and products that are Hispanic or have Hispanic origin and the many Hispanic celebrities in American culture.
As more Latino musicians are becoming popular in the United States, Americans are continually exposed to and influenced by new styles and genres of Hispanic music. One of the first times that Americans were exposed to Spanish music was El Vez in the early 1990s. El Vez is an Elvis impersonator that adds a Spanish flare to Elvis’s music. By reintroducing Elvis, an already extremely well-known figure, as Hispanic, El Vez made Americans aware of Latin music through music that had been previously popularized. El Vez began to open the minds of Americans to Spanish influences. While Americans were not totally accepting of Hispanic culture during this time, they were more aware of foreign cultures.
As the twentieth century continued, more Hispanic artists became popular in U.S. mainstream culture. Selena Quintanilla, who performed as “Selena” was born in Texas and had Mexican heritage. Selena became popular singing Tejano music, a genre previously dominated by men. Tejano music is a genre of Latino music that originated in the Texas-Mexico border area. She became popular around 1985 as she played smaller shows across the country and gained national popularity in 1989 with the release of her self-titled debut album. Selena was mostly popular throughout Spanish-speaking audiences, but her image and music impacted all of America. While Selena was an extremely influential figure for Latinos, she was just as meaningful for non-Latinos. Her story is not limited to her Latino heritage; she also illustrates a story of a family that had previously experienced hardship now living the American dream. This is the reason her impact on the U.S. is truly significant. She represents a larger demographic than just her ethnicity; she represents all those who have had to work hard to achieve something. She was the first Hispanic singer in the U.S. to become popular in mainstream media. Selena was murdered by her fan club president Yolanda Saldivar on March 31, 1995. Her impact on American culture was marked by more than fifty thousand mourners who attended her wake in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Hispanic music continued to impact American culture into the twenty-first century. Reggaeton music became extremely mainstream in this century. Reggaeton began in Panama Canal construction Zone as Jamaican rhythms with Spanish lyrics. The Puerto Rican group, The Noise, furthered the popularity of Reggaeton in the 90's, but only in Spanish-speaking countries. Daddy Yankee, Tego Calderon and Wisin & Yandel continued the movement. Daddy Yankee has had several songs that dominated not only pop charts in Spanish-speaking countries, but in the U.S. too. The release of Gasolina in 2004 signaled an introduction of reggaeton and a revival of Hispanic representation in the mainstream, especially in America. Spanish music had not been popular in the United States since the success of Selena. Reggaeton is brought into the American mainstream yet again in 2017 with the success of Daddy Yankee and Louis Fonsi's Despacito. Despacito remained at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for 16 weeks, the second longest time in Billboard’s fifty-nine-year history.  The Hot 100 chart had previously been dominated by English music. The fact that Despacito was able to achieve this feat further proves the impact of Hispanic culture on the U.S. Music is not the only Hispanic thing to have a significant influence on the U.S.
From Mexican restaurants to large corporate taco chains, different Hispanic dishes have become an integral part of American cuisine. In the United States, the most recognizable icon of Mexican and, by extension, Hispanic food is the taco. Americans tend to believe that tacos have hard shells shaped like a “U” filled with ground beef, cheese, and lettuce. While this is how Americans see the taco, this is not its authentic form. The story of how the taco evolved and spread to the U.S. is a complicated story. The taco originated in Mexico City, and historians can pinpoint the origin of the modern taco with a photograph taken in the early 1920s. The image records a woman selling tacos to paperboys. These tacos were fried tortillas that usually consisted of potatoes and salsa. As Mexicans immigrated to the United States in the early nineteenth century, mostly in California, Americans became exposed to different Mexican culinary traditions. California served as a fusion for American and Hispanic cultures as people immigrated north from Mexico west from the rest of the U.S. After the Great Depression, Mexican food had assimilated to American culture, but it was perceived as an unsanitary, lower-class food. This status prevented Hispanic food and overall culture from being accepted and Mexicans continued to be discriminated against and marginalized. Despite having a similar reputation as unsanitary, other Mexican products such as tamales became a popular item to all social classes. The popularity of the tacos and other Mexican foods began to spread to the rest of the U. S. The authenticity of tacos immediately became compromised as corporate companies saw wanted to capitalize on this popular new item.
The efficient and lucrative business model that involved cheap ingredients being produced easily in mass quantities had begun in the 1950s with the opening of McDonald’s. Glen Bell saw the potential of the taco to be a similar source for success, so he opened Taco Bell in 1962. The contents and style of the original, Mexican taco had to adapt to the resources available in the United States. Cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce, flour tortillas and ground beef were used in place of pork product. Hispanic people were unaccustomed to these processed items and were used to fresh pork and produce. The “American” forms of the taco were not supposed to appeal to the ethnic population of the United States; Glen Bell simply transformed the taco in a way that would appeal to non-ethnic consumers. This new form of the taco became extremely popular across the United States. A map of Los Angeles in the 1950s showed more than thirty tacos shops and more than sixty Mexican restaurants across different ethnic communities. Other Mexican foods became popular too. Another Mexican item, the tamale, also saw success in the U.S. The original form tamales have changed with the different regions it has spread. In central Mexico, they were composed of maize cakes with different fillings. After Spanish conquest, tamales became corn dough and pork. As colonizers began to settle the North, tamales moved north and were introduced to the Southwestern United States. Immigrants began selling tamales on street carts in places with large Hispanic populations, such as San Diego and Los Angeles. Tamales had a similar reputation to tacos; they were seen as dirty and unregulated. The Progressive reformers during this time wanted to transform the city by getting rid of these street carts. However, some city elites recognized the value of these carts and transformed them into tourist attractions. Both tamales and tacos are Hispanic foods that have impacted American cuisine. Hispanic culture has also impacted dance.
Hispanic dance has spread across the Unites States to everywhere from nightclubs to workout classes. A primary example of a dance from a Hispanic country that has spread to the U.S. is the tango. Tango is a dance style that originated in Buenos Aires, Argentina that involves marked rhythms, specific movements and intentional, abrupt, pauses. Tango reached the New York in the winter of 1913-14, and “the ability of the dance to shock and delight lost nothing on the transatlantic journey” because on January 4, 1914, the New York Times reported: ALL NEW YORK NOW MADLY WHIRLING IN THE TANGO.  Americans adopted a different kind of tango. It was less about technique and more about passion. This tango involved dancing closer and clasping each other more tightly and intimately. This dance was so inauthentic that professional tango dancers in Argentina were embarrassed by the spread of a dance. Despite the tango transforming as it reached the U.S., it still had a Hispanic origin. Its success and popularity in the United States proves the cultural impact of the tango on American culture.
Salsa is another type of dance that has impacted the U.S. The salsa is Cuban dance that spread through the United States through night clubs in white, suburban areas. A primary example was the twin-city region of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in the 1990s, an area that was seventy-eight percent white. Salsa was introduced by a graduate student began teaching classes who began teaching salsa classes and asking nightclubs to include “salsa nights” during the week. Different clubs began incorporating salsa performances into her schedule, and salsa immediately became very popular and generated a significant amount of revenue. The style was not distinct to any country; this style of salsa was a mix of different styles of dance. There were some recognizable techniques of Cuban, Colombian, and Mexican styles. Because this salsa was not authentic to any single style or country, dancers were able to participate however they chose, without being confined by techniques and styles. In that community, salsa served to connect different races and socio-economic groups. It was for all races and classes. Salsa was not just a way to earn money through clubs and performances. Salsa dancing and the mixing of different dance techniques is an expression of Latino culture that every race can enjoy and appreciate. This instance is only one example of a community impacted by Hispanic dance, but this was a national occurrence. Salsa has spread throughout the U.S. and has impacted the U.S. through the sharing of a traditional dance and the blending of different Latin dance styles.
Zumba additionally has impacted the United States, but in a different way. Zumba began in 1990s Colombia when Alberto Perez, a dance teacher, was teaching a music class. He forgot his regular music, so he used his salsa and merengue tapes. This new combination of Latin music and dance became extremely popular across the world. Currently, there are certified Zumba instructors in 125 countries and has more than twelve million participants. Zumba involves salsa, cumbia, bachata, and other Latin dance styles, but also involves a workout. The instructor may be in the middle of a Latin step when he or she pauses to execute a jumping jack. The Latin flare of Zumba was combined with challenging workouts. Zumba has become not only a popular workout class but also a cultural immersion. Participants hear Latin music while dancing Latin steps. The impact is extremely profound as Zumba is popular in many American communities that had not previously been exposed to Latin culture. Zumba was and still is a way for Americans to learn about and appreciate Latin culture, one workout class at a time.
The impact Hispanic culture is having on the U.S. is continuous as representation of Hispanic is becoming increasingly important in television shows, movies, and music. Hispanic people are being included in mainstream American culture more than in previous decades and are able to share their culture with others. The Super Bowl LIV halftime show in 2020 consisted of two Hispanic women, Shakira and Jennifer Lopez. Shakira is Colombian and Lopez is Puerto Rican. The guest performers, J. Balvin and Bad Bunny, were also Hispanic, being from Colombia and Puerto Rico respectively. Their performance was rather controversial not because of the quality of the performance, but because of the language being spoken and the race of the performers. Some of the performance was in Spanish, which was a point of controversy. There is no official language of the U.S. and therefore no obligation for performers to sing in any specific language. Some discounted the performance because they could not understand what they were saying rather appreciating the entire performance. Some Americans chose to judge the performance on the basis of the race. The performance was an assertion of racial equality. While each race technically has equal rights, discrimination and racism are still very much prevalent in the U.S. Some of the criticism of the Superbowl performance was from those who could not accept that Hispanic people should be represented too. While this is only one event, it illustrates a larger problem. Hispanic people face discrimination on a daily basis as they face prejudice not only for their skin color but also for speaking another language. These instances of racism and close-mindedness prevent the spread of different cultures. Americans must be accepting of different races and nationalities in order for the influence Hispanic culture is having on the U.S. to continue. In order for America to continue being impacted by Hispanic culture, Americans must continue to be accepting of all races. When people accept and try to understand different cultures, they can more easily understand one another. Both Americans and the human race as a whole need to allow their differences to connect them, not separate them.
1. Dylan Lyons, "How Many People Speak Spanish, and Where Is It Spoken?," Babbel Magazine, last modified April 19, 2017, https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/how-many-people-speak-spanish-and-where-is-it-spoken.
2. Antonio Flores, "2015, Hispanic Population in the United States Statistical Portrait," Pew Research Center: Hispanic Trends, last modified September 18, 2017, https://www.pewresearch.org/hispanic/2017/09/18/2015-statistical-information-on-hispanics-in-united-states/.
3. Lyons, "How Many," Babbel Magazine.
4. Michelle Habell-Pallán, Loca Motion: The Travels of Chicana and Latina Popular Culture (New York City, NY: New York University, 2005), 183-184, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=174195&site=eds-live.
5. Deborah Paredez, "Remembering Selena, Re-Membering 'Latinidad,'" Theatre Journal 54, no. 1 (2002): 64, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25069021.
6. Paredez, "Remembering Selena," 74.
7. Paredez, "Remembering Selena," 69.
8. Jhoni Johnson, "The Unstoppable Rise of Reggaeton," Crack, accessed January 24, 2019, https://crackmagazine.net/article/what-just-happened/unstoppable-rise-of-reggaeton/.
9. Jeffrey M. Pilcher, "Was the Taco Invented in Southern California?," Gastronomica 8, no. 1 (2008): 28, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2008.8.1.26.
10. Pilcher, "Was the Taco," 30.
11. Jeffrey M. Pilcher, "'Old Stock' Tamales and Migrant Tacos," Social Research 81, no. 2 (2014): 450, https://www.jstor.org/stable/26549626.
12. Pilcher, "Was the Taco," 31.
14. Ibid., 36.
15. Ibid., 34.
16. Pilcher, "'Old Stock,'" 444.
17. Ibid., 450.
18. Simon Collier et al., Tango (London, England: Thames and Hudson, 1995), 91.
19. Collier et al., Tango, 94.
20. Joanna Bosse, "Salsa Dance as Cosmopolitan Formation: Cooperation, Conflict and Commerce in the Midwest United States," Ethnomusicology Forum 22, no. 2 (August 2013): 4, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aqh&AN=89552602&site=eds-live.
21. Bosse, "Salsa Dance," 8.
22. Yowei Shaw, "Zumba Is a Hit, but Is It Latin?," NPR: Pop Culture, last modified March 5, 2012, https://www.npr.org/2012/03/05/147818919/zumbas-a-hit-but-is-it-latin.
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