The modern United States includes those areas annexed in 1848 as a result of the American war with Mexico. The descendants of those Mexican people, as well those of other culturally Spanish countries, are referred to as Hispanics or Latinos. Four primary groups of Hispanics exists in the United States today: Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and smaller Spanish‐speaking groups from Central and South America. Whether due to large waves of immigrations since the 1960s or the tendency to have large families, the Hispanic population in this country is increasing at a remarkable rate. The Hispanic population may overtake the black population within the next few decades.
Although Mexican Americans live throughout the United States, the largest numbers tend to be concentrated in the Southwest. Although most Mexican Americans live in cities, they generally live in barrios, which are Spanish‐speaking neighborhoods. Some 20 percent live in poverty, and most work in menial jobs. Because many speak only minimal English, they can expect few educational and job opportunities. Some Mexican Americans have resisted assimilating into the dominant English‐speaking culture, instead preferring to preserve their own cultural identity.
Illegal immigration of workers from Mexico has been a problem for some time. Wages and benefits are significantly better in the United States, which prompts some desperate families—however great the risks involved—to attempt to enter the United States illegally in the hopes of securing an adequate future. Large numbers of these Mexicans are intercepted and sent back each year by immigration officials, but most simply try again. Illegal immigrants, who are usually willing to perform jobs that others will not, are employable at much cheaper wages than American workers. This leads to a variety of social and political issues for Americans, including increased welfare costs and discrimination.
Puerto Ricans have been American citizens since the early 1900s, when Puerto Rico became a self‐governing Commonwealth of the United States. Because Puerto Rico is a poor island, many of its residents have immigrated to the mainland to improve their circumstances. Puerto Ricans have tended to settle in New York City, where nearly half continue to live below the line of poverty. This has resulted in a reverse migration of Puerto Ricans back to their island in the hopes of finding a better life.
Puerto Rican activists continue to argue over the destiny of Puerto Rico. Today, Puerto Rico is not a full state within the United States; it is a commonwealth, or self‐governing political entity that maintains a voluntary relationship with a larger nation. Whether Puerto Rico will become the 51st state of the United States, continue as a Commonwealth, or seek independence remains to be seen.
More than half a million Cubans left their home following Fidel Castro's rise to power in 1959. Unlike other Hispanic immigrants, most of these settled in Florida and came from professional and white‐collar backgrounds. These early Cuban Americans have thrived in the United States, many in comparable positions to those they left in Cuba. In the 1980s another wave of Cuban immigration occurred, although these people tended to come from poorer conditions. Unlike their predecessors, these later Cuban immigrants have been on par with other Hispanic communities in this country. Both groups of Cuban immigrants are primarily political refugees.