Hispanics and Latinos in California

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Hispanics and Latinos in California
Hispanos y Latinos en California
Total population
38.1% (2010)
Regions with significant populations
Los Angeles metropolitan area40%
San Francisco Bay Area20%
American Spanish, American English
Roman Catholicism in the United States
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 2010 U.S. Census, Hispanics and Latinos of any race were 38.1% of the state's population.[1]

Californios (historical, regional Spanish for "Californian") are the Hispanic residents native to California, who are culturally or genetically descended from the Spanish-speaking community which has existed in California since 1542, of varying Mexican American/Chicano, Criollo Spaniard, and Mestizo origin.[2]


The Hispanic presence in California has existed since the earliest European exploration of the region, the first such explorer of the California coast being Portuguese explorer and adventurer João Rodrigues Cabrilho (Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo). Cabrillo was commissioned by the Viceroy of New Spain and in 1542 he sailed into what is now San Diego, California. He continued north as far as Pt. Reyes, California.[3]

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 unstable, leading to the 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".[4] 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, and Chinese people.


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,[5] 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).[6] 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.[7] 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 70–75% Hispanic; 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.

In Southern California, Hispanic numbers grew in all the population centers, not just the larger centers of Los Angeles and San Diego. In 2018, Hispanics doubled since the 2000 census in the large suburban expansion areas around Murrieta and Hemet in Riverside County and Victorville in San Bernardino County. Smaller, less known areas of Hispanic increase include Oxnard and other parts of Ventura County, El Centro in the Imperial Valley, Desert Hot Springs and the Coachella Valley (50-52% of the local population), and California City in the Mojave Desert. In Orange County, an absence of dots locates the Santa Ana Mountains that separate the county from the lower-priced housing in the interior. The Hispanic population increased in the Sacramento region.[8][9] The Hispanic population also grew in the Antelope Valley. The Latino population grew in Palmdale, which is one of 2 Los Angeles county’s fastest growing cities (Lancaster). 26 percent of the population in Palmdale is foreign born.[10]

Spanish language in California[edit]

Spanish language in California by county.

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "California QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau". Quickfacts.census.gov. 2011. Archived from the original on November 9, 2000. Retrieved October 6, 2013.
  2. ^ as quoted in Clark, Donald T. (2008). Santa Cruz County Place Names p.442, Scotts Valley, California, Kestrel Press.
  3. ^ Bankston, John; "Juan Rodgriquesz Cabrillo"; Mitchell Lane Publishers; 2004; ISBN 1-58415-199-4
  4. ^ Larry Gerston, Terry Christensen, California Politics and Government: A Practical Approach (2013), p. 2.
  5. ^ "Riverside, California | City of Arts & Innovation | At Home in Riverside". www.riversideca.gov.
  6. ^ "California QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on November 9, 2000. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
  7. ^ News, A. B. C. (2 July 2013). "Latino Population Now Equals That of Whites in California". ABC News.
  8. ^ "Info" (PDF). www.csun.edu. Retrieved 2019-11-21.
  9. ^ "Presentatiom" (PDF). regionalchange.ucdavis.edu. Retrieved 2019-11-21.
  10. ^ "Invisible CA" (PDF). edpolicyinca.org. Retrieved 2019-11-21.

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]