Spanish History, Language and Culture in the US

Spanish history in the United States dates back to the 15th century, with Christopher Columbus and other explorers from Spain traveling to North America. People coming from countries where Spanish is spoken have become the largest minority in America. They maintain their history of Spanish language and cultures in the U.S. through the generations, and you can learn about them here with our Spanish history guide below.

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Natasha McLachlan is a writer who currently lives in Southern California. She is an alumna of California College of the Arts, where she obtained her B.A. in Writing and Literature. Her current work revolves around insurance guides and informational articles. She truly enjoys helping others learn more about everyday, practical matters through her work.

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Laura Walker graduated college with a BS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Political Science. She married her husband and began working in the family insurance business in 2005. She became a licensed agent and wrote P&C business focusing on personal lines insurance for 10 years. Laura serviced existing business and wrote new business. She now uses her insurance background to help educate...

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Reviewed by Laura Walker
Former Licensed Agent

UPDATED: Nov 21, 2020

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From the beginning of the formation of the United States of America as a country, Spanish influence has had an impact on American history, language, and culture. Starting with the first trip by Christopher Columbus in 1492, the Spanish Empire and people would reach into North, Central, and parts of South America and become a part of the fabric of the societies that would be formed and reformed in those areas.

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Spanish Influences in American Culture

People coming from countries where Spanish is spoken have become the largest minority in the United States. They maintain their culture, language, and identity through the generations and have had an impact on the United States.

In the performing arts, there have been famous Hispanic actors and singers both in the Spanish speaking community as well as the larger movie and music scenes. Actors and actresses who have become a part of the American fabric have included Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, and Eva Longoria. There has also been a significant impact on mainstream American music with famous singers and performers such as Enrique Iglesias, Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, and Ricky Martin.

When it comes to food, Latin American dishes can be found throughout the American diet. Favorites such as salsa, tequila. churros, burritos, tacos, and quesadillas can be found in restaurants and in grocery store aisles across the nation. The cuisine is often easy to make with affordable ingredients, making it a popular choice. Restaurants such as Taco Bell have been deeply influenced by it.

Even some of the states have Spanish names. California, Colorado, Florida, Montana, and Nevada have all kept the original names they had before they were taken from Spanish speaking territories and made a part of the United States. Also, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah have Hispanicized names.

In addition to the states mentioned above, there are also cities which names that have Spanish origins:

  • El Paso – meaning the pass
  • Fresno – ash tree
  • Los Angeles – Our Lady the Queen of Angels
  • Las Vegas – the meadows
  • Monterey – king’s mountain
  • San Antonio – Saint Anthony
  • San Francisco – Saint Francis
  • Santa Cruz – holy cross

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Anglicized Spanish Words

While everyone in America knows some Spanish words for ordering food, such as tortilla or quesadilla, there are actually many words than that which have been adopted into the English language after being altered slightly to fit.

Here are some common words we use in English that actually have Spanish origins:

  • aficionado – from aficionar
  • bandolier – bandolera
  • barracuda – barraco
  • breeze –brisa
  • canyon – cañón
  • cargo – cargar
  • chaps – chaparreras
  • cockroach – cucaracha
  • desperado – desesperado
  • embargo – embargar
  • flotilla – flota
  • galleon – galleon
  • lariat – la reata
  • lasso – lazo
  • ranch – rancho
  • rodeo – rodear
  • stampede – estampida
  • temblor – temblar
  • tornado – tronada
  • mustang – mesteño
  • matador – matar
  • mojito –mojar
  • oregano – orégano
  • renegade – renegado
  • stevedore – from estibador
  • vanilla – vainilla

Spanish has also adopted a few English words over the years, including parking, zapping, wifi, and tuning.

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Spanish Language Resources

Approximately thirteen percent of the US population speaks Spanish. Learning the language can open up a significant number of opportunities to interact with and learn from Spanish speakers already present in the country. It can also increase employment opportunities for jobs that require interacting with people in more than one language. There are plenty of reasons to learn the language.

For Adults

If you are interested in learning the Spanish language as an adult, visit the following resources to begin your language learning journey. It is never to late to begin!

For Children

Do you want to give your child an advantage when it comes to learning a second language? Go to the following sites to learn how to get them started:

Spanish Festivals and Tourist Destinations in the US

There are many fiestas that occur in the western United States in areas that were once a part of Mexico. These events are often held by churches or communities and are offered for locals to enjoy. Fiestas include food, music, and dancing. Often, people will dress up for the occasions.

Many places in the United States celebrate Cinco de Mayo as well as Dieciséis de Septiembre, which is Mexican Independence Day. There is also Nuestra Señora de Dolores, Semana Santa, and La Virgen de Guadalupe, among other days to celebrate.

America is also a popular tourist destination among Spanish speakers and citizens of Spain. When tourists come from Spain, their top destinations include New York, Florida, and the West Coast. They often come from Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia. America is one of their top destinations to visit.

Among historical sites that show a shared history between the two cultures, there is the El Camino Real de Los Tejas National Historic Trail in Texas and the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail in New Mexico.

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Additional Spanish Resources

Are you still interested in learning more about Spanish influence on American culture, language, and history? You can learn about Hispanic shaping of and involvement in American politics via the National Constitution Center. To read more about the changing face of America, consider reading the information provided by the Population Reference Bureau

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