Generally, when the average American thinks of Latinos or Hispanics, they do not differentiate between the many ethnic groups that are lumped into this category. Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans, and Central and South Americans are a part of this grouping. These ethnic groups are diverse and different, though similar in some aspects. When one looks at the different ethnicities that make up Hispanics and Latinos, one can see the unique differences in these ethnicities.
First, Mexican Americans are the largest ethnic minority group in the United States, according to Roosa, Liu, Torres, Gonzalez, Knight, and Saenz (2008). They range from immigrants to families that have been living in the United States for many generations. Some Mexican Americans speak Spanish exclusively (mostly immigrants), some speak English and Spanish, and some don’t speak any Spanish at all. This is likely determined by how long a person has been in the United States and if Spanish is or is not spoken in the home by other family members. According to information from Racial and Ethnic Groups (n.d.), “As of 2002, about 23 percent of Mexican Americans are English dominant, 26 percent are bilingual, and 51 percent are Spanish dominant” (Ch. 9, p. 241). Most Mexican Americans are Catholic, as are most people from their homeland. According to Lee (2008), “…by the year 2010 the majority of Catholics in the United States of America will be Hispanic or of Hispanic origin” (p. 961). Mexican Americans hold traditional beliefs when it comes to their families. According to Ojeda, Rosales, and Good (2008), “…Mexican American men held significantly more traditional attitudes toward male roles on all nine indicators of masculinity compared to a normative sample of U.S. men” (p. 1). Mexican Americans are typically middle class working families, though a few fall below and above the middle class. According to Roosa, Liu, Torres, Gonzalez, Knight, and Saenz (2008), “About two out of five families had incomes less than $25,000, about two-fifths had incomes between $25,001 and $50,000, and almost one-fifth had incomes above $50,000” (p. 298). Politically, Mexican Americans are active and mostly Democrat.
Likewise, Puerto Ricans speak Spanish and English, just as Mexican Americans do. Since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, English is common. According to Nickels (n.d.), “After the occupation of 1898, one of the first steps under the new colonial rule, in 1902, was to declare both English and Spanish as the official languages of government in the new U.S. unincorporated territory” (p. 2). Puerto Ricans are the second largest Latino group in the United States. Some Americans do not recognize that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. According to Racial and Ethnic Groups (n.d.), “Puerto Ricans, who are American citizens, are often mistakenly viewed as an immigrant group and lumped with all Latinos or Hispanics” (ch. 9, p. 237). Puerto Ricans are predominately Catholic in religion. According to Puerto Ricans: Religion and Expressive Culture (n.d.), “Catholic icons are common in Puerto Rican households, often intermingled with photographs of family members and clusters of ceramic and porcelain figures” (p. 1). A few Puerto Ricans are Protestant. Puerto Ricans are close knit families that hold traditional values, though as families become more Americanized, this changes somewhat. Their way of living is influenced by Spanish culture. Politically, Puerto Ricans are not as individually influential in the United States government as some other ethnic groups. They largely follow their religion and what their priest or minister directs them to do (Mongillo, 2009). Generally, Puerto Ricans are in the lower to middle class.
Additionally, Cuban Americans are the third largest Latino group in the United States. Most Cuban Americans live in Florida (Racial and Ethnic Groups, n.d.). They are close knit families that often keep in contact with their families in Cuba. Many stay in Florida because of its proximity to Cuba. Cuban Americans are predominately Catholic. According to Gonzalez (2008), “Cuban American exiles placed a strong emphasis on the Catholic roots of Cuban identity, focusing on the centrality of La Caridad del Cobre and infusing an anticommunist political energy to their self-understanding” (p. 277). Cuban Americans keep their heritage close. They open up ethnic related businesses and build communities much like that of Cuba (Racial and Ethnic Groups, n.d.). In contrast, young Cuban Americans are more interested in being known as American rather than identifying with Cuba. Most Cuban Americans belong to the middle class.
Last but certainly not least, Central and South Americans are extremely diverse. Racial and Ethnic Groups (n.d.) state that “Indeed, most government statistics treat its members collectively as ‘other’ and rarely differentiate between them by nationality” (ch. 9 p. 251). Some do not speak Spanish at all. Those from Brazil, French Guyana, and Suriname do not speak Spanish. They speak Portuguese, French, and Dutch, respectively. Many are from African descent. They rely on a color gradient to describe their various skin colors (Racial and Ethnic Groups, n.d.). Little is known about Central and South Americans that has come to the United States. Most likely they do not make the same wages as Whites, as is common among many other ethnic groups. They are most likely on the lower end of the income skill, and some may be middle class. However, some are financially secure, like Nicaraguan exiles. Many are skilled in technologies and other professionals (Racial and Ethnic Groups, n.d.). Central and South Americans stay together to find a sense of identity and support. Many work several jobs to support their families and often every member of the family contributes by working, if possible. Religiously, Central and South Americans are as diverse as their ethnic identities.
In conclusion, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans and Central and South Americans have many differences, despite their being grouped into one category labeled “Hispanic” or “Latino”. These differences range from places of origin, income, skin color, and even dialects of Spanish (or do not speak Spanish at all). The group does have some similarities, such as close families, most are Catholic, many are close on the income scale, and all feel some sort of connection to their places of origin. All are proud of their ethnicity and do not want to be grouped into one category with other ethnicities. As these groups struggle to put forth their own identities in the great melting pot of America, the rest of America needs to recognize these individual ethnic groups as unique – not just as Hispanics or Latinos.
C. Chase,”Costa Rican Americans”, Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America.
I. Mongillo. “Puerto Rican Cultural Differences in Politics”, Yale.
“Puerto Ricans: Religion and Expressive Culture”, World Culture Encyclopedia.