In Spanish-speaking areas, the word vecino is today used either as equivalent to the English word "neighbour" or to mean a resident of a place. Historically in Spain and its empire, it referred to a householder of considerable social position in a town or a city, similar to the term of "freeman" or "freeholder."
Historically, throughout the Spanish Empire a vecino was a person who has a house and home in a town or city and contributes to its expenses, not necessarily living near to the person referring to him; a local figure of some worth but not an aristocrat, often the encomendero holding land in the surrounding countryside with a house within a nearby city. A person with a house in a place that he contributes to can be a vecino although not currently living there. In the old sense it was closer to "freeman" or "freeholder" than "neighbour".
In the American colonies a vecino was sometimes a person of relatively high status, more than just free. In the "Indies" (Indias)—the American colonies such as the Viceroyalty of the River Plate—a vecino had to be married, living in the location, a property-owner, and of good public reputation. There were military formations of vecinos, and only vecinos were summoned to an open cabildo (an extraordinary open meeting of the administrative council). Although many laws referred to vecinos, and others specified qualifications of residence, property, and respectability, the term vecino as such was in general use and not explicitly defined.
In the Viceroyalty, the status of vecino was important enough that the sons and daughters of vecinos who did not themselves qualify were referred to as "hijo de vecino" (son or daughter of a vecino), and qualified for some privileges. According to the relevant laws, the Leyes de Indias, IV, V, 8: "the sons and daughters and legitimate descendants of the residents are honoured with the title well-born sons (or daughters) from a known location (hijosdalgos de solar conocido) so that the population of that place (according to law 6 of book IV) and others of the Indies [i.e., Americas] should know them as such and as people of noble lineage, granting them all honours and privileges due to the well-born and gentlemen of Castile."
- Royal Spanish Academy Dictionary, "vecino", 2 and 3 (Spanish)
- Viviana L. Grieco (15 March 2014). The Politics of Giving in the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata: Donors, Lenders, Subjects, and Citizens. UNM Press. pp. 50–51. ISBN 978-0-8263-5447-1. "[In America] vecindad became a social construction ... that granted rights. The gap between Spanish vecinos and ... outsiders widened."
- Fundadores de la patria - BUENOS AIRES, CAPITAL DEL VIRREINATO Y LA REVOLUCION DE MAYO DE 1810(Spanish)
- Original: A los hijos y descendientes legitimos de los pobladores se los honraba con el titulo de HIJOSDALGOS DE SOLAR CONOCIDO, para que en aquella poblacion (dice la Ley 6, del Libro IV) y otras de las Indias, sean tenidas por tales y como personas de noble linaje, concediendoseles todas las honras y preminencias que deben haber y gozar los HIJOSDALGOS y CABALLEROS de Castilla.