Significant elements of Spanish culture represent one of the major strands of the American social fabric. Although Spanish immigration has been modest since the foundation of the United States, the descendants of the settlers of Spain’s New World empire—including Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans, Costa Ricans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, Panamanians, Salvadorans, Argentineans, Bolivians, Chileans, Colombians, Ecuadoreans, Paraguayans, Peruvians, Uruguayans, and Venezuelans, with their own mestizo cultures that incorporate indigenous, African, and Spanish cultural traits and customs—composed 12.5 percent of the population of the United States in 2000, making it the largest single minority group in the country. Latin Americans account for less than 1 percent of Canada’s population. According to the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 861,911 Americans and 213,105 Canadians claimed Spanish descent. Spanish Americans are spread widely throughout the United States, with the greatest concentrations being in New York City and Tampa, as well as Florida generally, and the former Spanish Empire lands in the American Southwest. Spanish Canadians were heavily concentrated in both Quebec and Ontario.
Spain occupies 192,600 square miles of the Iberian Peninsula in southwest Europe. Also on the peninsula, Portugal lies to the west and France to the north on the continental mainland. In 2002, the population was estimated at 40,037,995. The people are a mixture of Mediterranean and Nordic types, and the chief religion is Roman Catholicism. Spain was among the first European states to create a strong national monarchy, late in the 15th century. As a result of the voyages of Christopher Columbus and other explorers, from 1492 through the 16th century, Spain claimed the entire Caribbean Basin, most of Central and South America (excluding Brazil), and the southwestern portion of the modern United States, including all or parts of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. The first permanent Spanish settlement in the United States was at St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565, whereas the British, French, and Dutch had begun to establish themselves in unsettled territories in North America early in the 16th century. In the New World, Spain created an efficient and highly bureaucractic colonial government, headed in Madrid. This stemmed in part from Spanish feudal traditions and also from the desire to control the wealthy gold and silver trade coming out of Mexico and Peru. During 300 years, Spain effectively imposed its culture on the indigenous societies through force—war, death, disease, and forced labor—and intermarriage. By the 18th century, the mestizo population was larger than either the Spanish or Indian population, though the percentages varied widely throughout the empire. By the 19th century, almost all subjects of the Spanish Crown had been Christianized, though colonial Catholicisms embraced numerous elements from native religions. Although Spanish immigration to the New World was substantial, estimated at almost a half million between 1500 and 1700, most settled in Mexico, Cuba, and South America. Settlement in the northern borderlands that would later become part of the United States was small. Between 1809 and 1825, Mexico and most of Central and South America gained their independence from Spain. Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836 and joined the Union in 1845. Three years later, an estimated 75,000 Mexican citizens of modern California, Arizona, and New Mexico became U.S. citizens when the region was transferred to the United States following the U.S.-MEXICANWAR, 1846–48. In Texas, Anglo-American settlers composed the majority population even before Texas gained its independence from Mexico. In California, within two years of the discovery of gold (1848), settlers completely overwhelmed the 13,000 Spanish Californians.
Spanish immigration to the New World between 1846 and 1932 ranked fifth behind Great Britain, Italy, Austria- Hungary, and Germany, but most of Spain’s almost 5 million immigrants went to the remaining colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico. Immigration to North America remained small during the 19th century, averaging less than 500 per year between 1821 and 1900. As a result of the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War of 1898, however, substantial numbers of Cubans and Puerto Ricans, a large percentage of whom were of direct Spanish descent, immigrated to the United States over the years. The United States annexed Puerto Rico in 1898, and its people eventually gained free access to the United States as citizens. The U.S. government also became heavily involved in Cuban politics, particularly during the post–World War II cold war period, and thus for decades granted Cubans special immigrant status. Direct Spanish immigration jumped dramatically between 1900 and passage of the restrictive Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, more than 100,000 immigrants coming during that period, but the number was small compared to that of many other European countries. Spanish immigration revived somewhat during the 1960s, with a little more than 100,000 coming between 1961 and 1990. Since then, the numbers have declined. Between 1991 and 2002, Spanish immigration to the United States averaged less than 1,900 per year.
Spanish Basques were among the first immigrants to arrive in Canada in the 16th century, plying the waters off Newfoundland for fish and whales (see Basque immigration). In the late 18th century, Spain established a fort on Vancouver Island, but no permanent settlement was then made. With opportunities for New World immigration in many Spanish-speaking lands, few Spaniards chose Canada. During the first half of the 20th century, only a few thousand arrived. The first organized Spanish immigration began in 1957, when Spain and Canada signed an agreement facilitating the immigration of Spanish farmers and domestic workers. Between 1957 and 1960, about 400 Spaniards were brought into the country to provide these badly needed services. After 1960, there was a steady but small number of Spanish immigration, averaging less than 600 per year between 1961 and 1989. Of 10,275 Spanish immigrants in Canada in 2001, only 1,250 arrived between 1991 and 2001.