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Pew Hispanic Center: When Labels Don’t Fit: Hispanics and Their Views of Identity

Pew Hispanic Center: When Labels Don’t Fit: Hispanics and Their Views of Identity

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Nearly four decades after the United States government mandated the use of the terms “Hispanic” or “Latino” to categorize Americans who trace their roots to Spanish-speaking countries, a new nationwide survey of Hispanic adults finds that these terms still haven’t been fully embraced by Hispanics themselves. A majority (51%) say they most often identify themselves by their family’s country of origin; just 24% say they prefer a pan-ethnic label.

Moreover, by a ratio of more than two-to-one (69% versus 29%), survey respondents say that the more than 50 million Latinos in the U.S. have many different cultures rather than a shared common culture. Respondents do, however, express a strong, shared connection to the Spanish language. More than eight-in-ten (82%) Latino adults say they speak Spanish, and nearly all (95%) say it is important for future generations to continue to do so.

Hispanics are also divided over how much of a common identity they share with other Americans. About half (47%) say they consider themselves to be very different from the typical American. And just one-in-five (21%) say they use the term “American” most often to describe their identity. On these two measures, U.S.-born Hispanics (who now make up 48% of Hispanic adults in the country) express a stronger sense of affinity with other Americans and America than do immigrant Hispanics.

The survey finds that, regardless of where they were born, large majorities of Latinos say that life in the U.S. is better than in their family’s country of origin. Also, nearly nine-in-ten (87%) say it is important for immigrant Hispanics to learn English in order to succeed in the U.S.


This report explores Latinos’ attitudes about their identity, including race; their language usage patterns; their core values; and their views about the U.S. and their families’ country of origin. It is based on findings from a national bilingual survey of 1,220 Hispanic adults conducted Nov. 9 through Dec. 7, 2011, by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center.

The report, “When Labels Don’t Fit: Hispanics and Their Views of Identity,” authored by Paul Taylor, Director, Pew Hispanic Center, Mark Hugo Lopez, Associate Director, Pew Hispanic Center, Jessica Hamar Martínez, Research Associate, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, and Gabriel Velasco, Research Analyst, Pew Hispanic Center, is available at the Pew Hispanic Center’s website, www.pewhispanic.org.