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Hispanics and Latinos in California

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Hispanics and Latinos in California
Hispanos y Latinos en California
Counties of California by percentage of Hispanics and Latinos in the 2020 Census:
  50% or more
Total population
39.4% (2020)
Regions with significant populations
Imperial County79.6%
Greater Los Angeles44.8%
San Diego County31.6%
San Francisco Bay Area23%
American Spanish, American English, Indigenous languages, Spanglish
Roman Catholicism[1]
Related ethnic groups
Hispanic and Latino Americans

Hispanic and Latino Californians are residents of the state of California who are of Hispanic or Latino ancestry. As of the 2020 U.S. Census, Hispanics and Latinos of any race were 39.4% of the state's population,[2] making it the largest ethnicity in California.

Californios (regional Californian Spanish for "Californians") is a term to refer to the Californian Hispanic community, which has existed in California since 1683, and which is mainly of varying Spanish and Mexican national origin, and from racially broad groups such as Criollo Spaniards and Mestizos, with both European and Amerindian ancestry.[3] Most would identify as Mexican Americans or as Chicanos.


The Hispanic presence in California has existed since the earliest European exploration of the region, the first such explorer of the California coast being Iberian explorer João Rodrigues Cabrilho (Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo). Cabrillo was commissioned by the Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico) and in 1542 he sailed into what is now San Diego, California. He continued north as far as Pt. Reyes, California.[4]

Romualdo Pacheco, the only Hispanic Governor of California since the American Conquest of California.

California became part of the Spanish trading route, but was not well explored due to its remoteness from Europe and challenging terrain. In the 1700s, it was claimed by Spain which divided California into two parts, Baja California and Alta California, as provinces of New Spain (Mexico). Baja or lower California consisted of the Baja Peninsula and terminated roughly at San Diego, California where Alta California started. After the establishment of Missions in Alta California after 1769, the Spanish treated Baja California and Alta California as a single administrative unit, part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, with Monterey, California, as its capital.

In 1821, Mexico gained its independence from Spain, and Alta California became one of the three interior provinces in the First Mexican Empire north of the Rio Grande, along with Texas and New Mexico. The Mexican government was unable to keep full control of its peripheral provinces, leading to the inundation of American immigrants inside its borders and the subsequent annexation of California by the United States in 1846. During Mexican rule, California was sparsely populated, with only a few thousand Mexican residents, compared to tens of thousands of Native Americans, and a handful of Yankee entrepreneurs. At the time of the annexation, "foreigners already outnumbered Californians of Spanish ancestry 9,000 to 7,500".[5] The advent of the California Gold Rush in 1848 led to a massive influx of settlers – including thousands of Mexican miners, but also tens of thousands of Americans from the East. Other substantial immigrant groups included Chileans, Peruvians, and Chinese people. The Mexican Revolution also brought many refugees to California, including many Chinese Mexicans who fled Mexico's anti-Chinese sentiment during the war and settled in the Imperial Valley.

In the early 1930s, the US began repatriating those of Mexican descent to Mexico, of which 1/5th of California Mexicans were repatriated by 1932.

During the first half of the 20th century, Mexican-American workers formed unions of their own and joined integrated unions. The most significant union struggle involving Mexican Americans was the effort to organize agricultural workers and the United Farm Workers' long strike and boycott aimed at grape growers in the San Joaquin and Coachella valleys in the late 1960s. Leaders César Chávez and Dolores Huerta gained national prominence as they led a workers' rights organization that helped workers get unemployment insurance to an effective union of farmworkers almost overnight. The struggle to protect rights and sustainable wages for migrant workers has continued.


Map of Los Angeles County showing percentage of population self-identified as Mexican in ancestry or national origin by census tracts. Heaviest concentrations are in East Los Angeles, Echo Park/Silver Lake, South Los Angeles, and San Pedro/Wilmington.

Spanish is the state's second most spoken language. Areas with especially large Spanish speaking populations include the Los Angeles metropolitan area, San Bernardino, Riverside,[6] the California-Mexico border counties of San Diego and Imperial (largest percentage in all of CA), and the San Joaquin Valley. Mexican American is the largest ethnicity in half the state's 58 counties.

By ethnicity, 38.1% of the total population is Hispanic (of any race).[7] New Mexico and Texas have higher percentages of Hispanics, but California has the highest total number of Hispanics of any U.S. state. As of July 1, 2013, it is estimated that California's Hispanic population has equaled the population of non-Hispanic whites.[8] Hispanics, mainly Mexican Americans, form major portions of the population of Southern California, especially in Los Angeles, as well as the San Joaquin Valley. The city of Los Angeles is often said to be the largest Mexican community in the United States. Census records kept track of the growth since 1850, but Hispanos and Mexican Americans have lived in California since the Spanish period. However, the number and percentage population of Hispanics living in California increased rapidly in the late 20th century. The result is that, today, Hispanics are the largest ethnic group in Los Angeles County, at over 40 percent of the county's population. Hispanics are predominantly concentrated in the older eastern and southern suburbs surrounding downtown Los Angeles and northern Long Beach, the southern/eastern San Fernando Valley, and the San Gabriel/Pomona Valleys. They also comprise sizable communities in Arvin, Bakersfield, Delano, El Monte, Fontana, Fresno, Indio, La Puente, Ontario, Oxnard, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San José, Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Stockton, Vallejo, Watsonville and Yuba City. In Santa Ana in Orange County, Hispanics comprise 75 percent of the population. Nearby Anaheim is over half Hispanic, and Orange County's population is 30–35 percent Hispanic.

The Imperial Valley on the U.S.-Mexican border is about 82-87% Hispanic, including many decedents of Chinese Mexican refugees from the Mexican Revolution. Communities with many Hispanics can also be found in Riverside County, especially at its eastern end, and the Coachella Valley. The Central Valley has many Mexican American migrant farm workers. Hispanics are the majority (and sometimes, plurality) in 14 other counties: Colusa, Fresno, Glenn, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles (the county is 45% Latino), Madera, Merced, Monterey (esp. the Salinas area), San Benito, San Bernardino, Santa Cruz (estimated 30–40% due to migrant labor patterns), Tulare and Yolo counties.

Hispanics make up at least 20% of the San Francisco Bay Area. Many live in San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Clara counties, as well in San Francisco. The Napa Valley and Salinas Valley have predominantly Hispanic communities established by migrant farm workers. San Jose is about 30–35 percent Hispanic, the largest Hispanic community in northern California, while the Mission District, San Francisco and Lower/West Oakland has barrios established by Mexican and Hispanic American immigrants. The Mexican American communities of East Los Angeles and Logan Heights, San Diego, as well the San Joaquin Valley and Riverside county (almost half the population) are centers of historic Chicano and Hispanic cultures.

Most of the state's Hispanics have Mexican ancestry, but there are many Cuban Americans, Puerto Ricans, Guatemalan Americans, Honduran Americans, Salvadoran Americans, and Nicaraguan Americans, Chilean Americans, Colombian Americans and Peruvian Americans. Los Angeles has the United States' largest Central American community, as well as the largest Mexican American community since the 1910s and 1920s.

In Mariposa County, there is a very small community of Californios or Spanish American people as they identify themselves, that dates back before the U.S. annexation of California. Hornitos is home to an estimated 1,000 people and many are "Californio". The community's "Spanish" Californio culture is closely linked with Mexico and other Hispanic American nations.

(self-identified ethnicity, not by birthplace)
Ancestry by origin (2019 surveys)[9] Population %
Argentine 55,935
Bolivian 16,392
Chilean 27,396
Colombian 90,552
Costa Rican 26,741
Cuban 92,451
Dominican 16,422
Ecuadorian 36,689
Guatemalan 460,310
Honduran 107,887
Mexican 12,875,655
Nicaraguan 115,973
Panamanian 20,886
Paraguayan 1,039
Peruvian 108,134
Puerto Rican 226,314
Salvadoran 731,873
"Spanish" 84,186
"Spaniard" 162,356
"Spanish American" 1,370
Uruguayan 4,495
Venezuelan 20,174
All other 325,540
Total 15,574,882
Ancestry by region (2010 census)[10][11] Number %
Mexicans 11,423,146 30.7%
Caribbeans 290,007 0.8%
Central Americans 1,132,520 3.0%
South Americans 293,880 0.8%
Other Hispanic 874,166 2.3%

Spanish language in California[edit]

As of 2010, 28.46% (9,696,638) of California residents age 5 and older spoke Spanish at home as a primary language. California has the second highest concentration of Spanish speakers in the United States.

California's first constitution recognized Spanish language rights:

All laws, decrees, regulations, and provisions emanating from any of the three supreme powers of this State, which from their nature require publication, shall be published in English and Spanish.

— California Constitution, 1849, Art. XI Sec. 21.

By 1870, English-speaking Americans were a majority in California; in 1879, the state promulgated a new constitution under which all official proceedings were to be conducted exclusively in English, a clause that remained in effect until 1966. In 1986, California voters added a new constitutional clause, by referendum, stating that:

English is the official language of the State of California.

— California Constitution, Art. 3, Sec. 6

Spanish remains widely spoken throughout the state, and many government forms, documents, and services are bilingual, in English and Spanish. And although all official proceedings are to be conducted in English:

A person unable to understand English who is charged with a crime has a right to an interpreter throughout the proceedings.

— California Constitution, Art. 1. Sec. 14

Historic Hispanic/Latino population[edit]

Colonial and Mexican era[edit]

Population Statistics of Alta California Province (including California, Nevada, Utah and parts of Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming) [note 1]
Year Pop Spaniards/Mexican/Criollo/Mestizos % pop
1769 300
(first foundation in Spanish California)[12]
1781 600 (Spaniards)[12]
1783 1,000 (Spaniards)[13]
(Revillagigedo census)[14]
19,800 (mostly mestizos and more than 1,100 Spaniards) N/A
1800 1,800 (Spaniards)[15] N/A
1810 2,000 (Spaniards)[13] N/A
1820 3,270 (Spaniards)[13] N/A
1838 3,500 (Spaniards)
(Faxon D. Atherton estimations[16])
1845 7,300 (Spaniards and some Americans)
(Weber estimations (1982:206),[16]
although other sources indicated that in 1846 11,500 Californians were of Spaniard or Mexican descent[17])

California as part of the United States[edit]

California California Number of people of Mexican Origin (1910-1930)
and of Hispanic/Latino Origin (1940-2020) in California
+% of Population of Mexican Origin (1910-1930)
and of Hispanic/Latino Origin (1940-2020) in California
1850 15,000[22] 15% of the Non-Amerindian population/[17]
1860 N/A N/A
1870 22,409 4%[17]
1880 42,311[23] N/A
1890 48,535 4%[22]
1900 47,112[23] N/A
1910 49,928 - 82,217[23] 2.1%
1920 126,793 - 155,085[23] 3.7%
1930 386,053 - 419,309[23] 6.8%
1940 415,113 6.0%
1950 762,208 7.2%
1960 1,430,265 9.1%
1970 2,738,513 (15% sample) 13.7%
1980 4,544,331 19.2%
1990 7,687,938 25.8%
2000 10,966,556 32.4%
2010 14,013,719 37.6%
2020 15,579,652 39.4%

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Almost the entire Spanish and mixed-race population lived in present-day California.


  1. ^ Adults in California who identify as Latino - Religion in America
  2. ^ "California QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau". Quickfacts.census.gov. 2011. Archived from the original on November 9, 2000. Retrieved October 6, 2013.
  3. ^ as quoted in Clark, Donald T. (2008). Santa Cruz County Place Names p.442, Scotts Valley, California, Kestrel Press.
  4. ^ Bankston, John; "Juan Rodgriquesz Cabrillo"; Mitchell Lane Publishers; 2004; ISBN 1-58415-199-4
  5. ^ Larry Gerston, Terry Christensen, California Politics and Government: A Practical Approach (2013), p. 2.
  6. ^ "Riverside, California | City of Arts & Innovation | At Home in Riverside". www.riversideca.gov.
  7. ^ "California QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on November 9, 2000. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
  8. ^ "Latino Population Now Equals That of Whites in California". ABC News. 2 July 2013.
  9. ^ "HISPANIC OR LATINO ORIGIN BY SPECIFIC ORIGIN: 2019 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. 2019.
  10. ^ US Census Bureau: "Redistricting Data, First Look at Local 2010 Census Results" Archived 2013-10-20 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ US Census Bureau, Systems Support Division. "Population by Race and Hispanic or Latino Origin for the United States: 1990 and 2000 (PHC-T-1)". Census.gov. Archived from the original on 20 January 2012. Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  12. ^ a b David P. Coulson; Linda Joyce (August 2003). "United States state-level population estimates: Colonization to 1999" (PDF). USDA. p. 33.
  13. ^ a b c Matt A. Casado (2017). California Hispana: Descubrimiento, Colonización Y Anexión Por Los Estados. Palibrio. ISBN 978-1-5065-1876-3.
  14. ^ "New Spain (Mexico), 1790 Statistics Charts". 24 December 2013. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 23 December 2017.
  15. ^ Linda Thompson (2006). Los españoles en América: Spanish In America. Rourke Publishing. p. 33. ISBN 978-1-60694-183-6.
  16. ^ a b "National Historic Trail Feasibility Study and Environmental Assessment: Old Spanish Trail". University of Minnesota. Government Publications Library. July 2001. p. 40.
  17. ^ a b c "California as I Saw It: First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849 to 1900. Other Californians". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2021-10-02.
  18. ^ "Historical Census Statistics on Population Totals By Race, 1790 to 1990, and By Hispanic Origin, 1970 to 1990, For The United States, Regions, Divisions, and States" (PDF). Census.gov. p. 37. Retrieved 2015-07-30.
  19. ^ "U.S. Census of Population: 1960" (PDF). Www2.census.gov. Retrieved 2012-09-30.
  20. ^ "The Hispanic Population: 2000" (PDF). US Census Bureau. Retrieved 2015-07-30.
  21. ^ "The Hispanic Population: 2010" (PDF). US Census Bureau. Retrieved 2021-10-02.
  22. ^ a b c LESLIE BERESTEIN-ROJAS (4 May 2014). "California's Latino Plurality Brings A Sense Of Déjà Vu". NPR. Retrieved 2021-10-02.Published on May 4, 2014.
  23. ^ a b c d e José A. Cobas; Joe R. Feagin; Daniel J. Delgado; Maria Chávez (2009). Latino Peoples in the New America: Racialization and Resistance. New Critical Viewpoints On Society Series. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-429-75363-3.

Further reading[edit]

  • Tomás F. Summers Sandoval, Jr., Latinos at the Golden Gate: Creating Community and Identity in San Francisco. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2013.

External links[edit]