Hispanic & Latino Americans

Over 36% of Latinos living in the United States are under the age of 18. Although many children adapt to new environments more easily than adults, they experience difficulties from multiple pressures. Knowledge of acculturation processes and dilemmas are therefore essential to working with children who have relocated recently. Useful information includes familiarity with concepts of familismo (close family ties), personalismo (people-centered living), and simpatía (easy going, pleasant personal qualities).

History & Background

Long before English immigrants came to North America, the Spanish had explored, settled, and claimed lands such as California and Florida. The United States later annexed lands claimed by Mexico that are present-day Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and California.

Individuals of Latin American origin comprise over 14% of the population of the United States, and this ethnic group is the fastest growing in Utah and surrounding states. Much attention has been focused on new waves of immigrants, but professionals need to be aware of the wide variety of needs and experiences across different Latino subpopulations. Although about 80% of Latinos in Utah originated from Mexico, many other nationalities are represented here. Many individuals raised in the U.S. speak only English and have assimilated to European American culture.

Notable Events

Cinco de Mayo: This holiday celebrates Mexico’s defeat over France in Puebla, Mexico on May 5th, 1862. Although this is not an official holiday of the United States, many people celebrate on this day. Lesson plans are available for teachers wishing to recognize this holiday.

Hispanic Heritage Month: September 15th is the Independence Day for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico declared its independence on September 16, and Chile did so on September 18.

Culture & Traditions

The term Hispanic is used in the United States to describe all people of Latino and Spanish descent. It is a broad ethnic classification of people originating from over 20 countries in Central and South America. Educators need to account for diversity among Hispanic students.

The family is the nucleus of Hispanic life. Involving the family as much as possible in the education process will not only help the student, but also increase the likelihood of future educational success among all family members. Many Hispanic students are bilingual. If they are not proficient in their native language or the language spoken at home, they may have difficulty with English language skills or reading comprehension in school. Teachers should encourage increasing English skills through bilingual education programs or methods, understanding that true bilingualism means being proficient in both English and the native language.

Educators should also understand and respect cultural differences. For example, Hispanics tend to have closer personal space and value physical contact. Appearance and group memberships are very important. Latinos will work hard for the goals of a group and will work hard for the needs of the community. Educators can better serve their Latino students when they learn and accommodate for their cultural heritage and traditional ways of interacting with others.