I went for a hike in the country outside Esquel, a small frontier city in Argentina you probably have never heard of. It lies on a plain near the foothills of the Andes in a province called Chubut, in northern Patagonia. There in the country, away from the mountains, it is very low and flat with miles of unpaved road. Because of that I could see, even after losing sight of the bus, the tendril of dust it trailed as it began its hour-long journey back to town—having missed me by only a few minutes.
So, then, I was stranded. I missed the last bus. I was four hours by foot from the middle of nowhere—that is, Esquel. I started walking, because what else do you do? The sun was setting slowly on a summer’s day in South America when, suddenly, I heard the hum of a vehicle. I saw the truck coming my way on the gravel road. I waved and the man stopped. His name was Raoul. He owned a “finca” that had a little stream running through it and, also, many horses and some cattle. He told me he was proud of his son who was attending University in Mendoza.
We were silent for a while before he asked me—¿de donde sos?—where are you from?
I said “America.”
And he laughed. “I am from America, too,” he said. “Sudamerica.” He pointed at himself. Then he pointed at me.
America, it was the name that stuck. A word coined—or at least this is the best guess—by a European cartographer who had no clue where the hell he was.
Raoul was American. Latin American. South American. Argentinian. And so on. So here are eleven things to understand about Latinos in the United States. Especially if you only think about Latin Americans in terms of tacos, or pupusas, or arepas, or the million ways to make arroz con pollo.
1. They have been here a while
A huge chunk of what are now California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Texas were once territories of Mexico. This was all land ceded to the United States after the Mexican American War, fought between 1846 and 1848. Who then are the immigrants?
2. Yet not all Latin Americans in America are Mexican
They are in fact an immensely diverse group. Mexicans comprise roughly 65% of the approximate 50 million Latinos in the US, with Puerto Ricans comprising the second largest percentage at 9%, or 4.5 million. Cubans, at 3.7%, Salvadorans, at 3.6%, Dominicans, at 3%, and Guatemalans, at 2.2%, follow. Rounding out the first ten are Colombians, Hondurans, Ecuadorians and Peruvians, each at less than 2% of the total Hispanic population.
3. They are spread throughout the country
Mexicans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans are mostly clustered in western states, while the northeast contains the largest numbers of Ecuadorians, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. Nearly half of the entire Cuban population lives in the Miami-Dade County in Florida.
4. They are the nation’s largest minority group
At roughly 50 million, Hispanics are 16.4% of the entire United States population. Non-Hispanic blacks are second at 12.3%, while non-Hispanic Asians comprise 4.7% of the population
5. And their numbers are growing
Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population in the US grew from 35 million to 50 million. Their percentage of the overall US population is expected to rise to 29% by 2050
6. But this is because of births, not increased levels of immigration.
More than a quarter of America’s children under 1 year of age are Hispanic (26.3%). 58% of the total increase in the Hispanic population between 2000 and 2010 came from births within U.S territory.
7. Roughly in thirds, Latinos speak English, Spanish, or both (as you might have guessed)
36% of Latinos in the US are bilingual. 25% speak mainly English, while the remaining 38% use Spanish primarily. (Though this doesn’t factor in the thousands of indigenous languages spoken by many Latin Americans)
8. They place immense value on speaking both
In a 2011 survey by Pew Research Center, 87% of Latino adults said Latino immigrants needed to speak English well to succeed in America. At the same time, 95% stated it is important that future generations of Hispanics in the US speak Spanish.
Roughly 18% of Latinos in America are undocumented/unauthorized/illegal—whichever word you prefer. Approximately 37% of the Hispanic population living in the US are immigrants. Of the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants living in America, approximately 58% are Mexican. 51% of current Mexican immigrants (not citizens or Green Card holders) are unauthorized.
10. And net migration from Mexico is zero
After a forty-year wave of Mexicans emigrating to America, the overall influx currently stands at zero, or close to it. Less opportunity in the US, attributable in part to the financial crisis in 2008 and its aftermath, and increasing prospects in Mexico are seen as the primary reasons for the dramatic dip in immigration. Also, former American anti-immigration policies had a great influence.
11. Those who have made homes here will stay (probably) because:
With an executive order in November 2014, President Obama levied protections to parents of US citizens and permanent residents who have lived in the US for at least five years. The order removes the threat of deportation for some 4 million people, while another 1.2 million maintain a level of protection under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). For the remaining undocumented immigrants, the threat of deportation is a constant concern.
Now go ahead. Pig out on tacos: you’ve earned it.