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U.S. Census Bureau History: National Hispanic Heritage Month

Census 2000 Hispanic Poster

President Lyndon B. Johnson first observed Hispanic Heritage Month in
1968. Two years later, the 1970 Census included the Hispanic origin question
on sample questionnaires received by 20 percent of the nation's households.
Since 1980, all household members have been asked if they are of Hispanic origin.

In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau used the artwork by noted Hispanic artist
Carmen Lomas Garza titled "Beds for Dreams" to encourage the nation's 31
million Hispanics to respond to the census.

September is National Hispanic Heritage Month! Each September since 1968, the United States celebrates Hispanics' contributions to our nation's growth and development. With a rich history in and vibrant art, cuisine, music, dance, and literature, the Hispanic population has helped build a stronger, more diverse nation for all Americans to enjoy.

The United States first celebrated the contributions of Hispanic Americans in 1968, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation (Public Law 90-498) establishing Hispanic Heritage Week. Beginning with Johnson's Presidential Proclamation 2869, presidents issued annual proclamations designating a week in mid-September as National Hispanic Week for the next 20 years. In addition to recognizing the contributions of American Hispanics, the timing of the commemoration incorporated September 15 and 16 to also celebrate the anniversary of Mexican independence, as well as the independence of the Central American countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

In 1988, the U.S. Congress passed Public Law 100-402 expanding the celebration of the nation's Hispanics from one week to a 31-day celebration (including September 15–16) and known as National Hispanic Heritage Month. On September 14, 1989, President George H.W. Bush issued the first Hispanic Heritage Month proclamation calling on all Americans to celebrate the rich ethnic heritage of Hispanic Americans and noted that, "as we recognize the many achievements of Hispanic Americans, we also recall the universal appeal of the American ideal of freedom and opportunity for all."

Since President Bush's 1989 proclamation, presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump have issued annual proclamations in recognition of National Hispanic Heritage Month. In addition to recognizing specific contributions of Hispanic Americans, the proclamations also serve as an opportunity for each administration to highlight their own contributions to the Hispanic population. For example, in his September 14, 1995 proclamation, President William J. Clinton praised recent Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Willie Velasquez for his work registering Hispanic voters and raised awareness of his own creation of the President's Advisory Commission and White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. More recently, President Donald J. Trump's proclamation heralded "the accomplishments of Hispanic Americans, who have enriched our culture and society and helped make America into the incredible country it is today." As previous presidents had done, President Trump also noted in his September 13, 2019 proclamation the contributions his administration made to American Hispanics, including record-low Hispanic unemployment and strengthened relationships between the United States and its Latin American neighbors.

Although COVID-19 may mute the traditional celebrations and festivals associated with National Hispanic Heritage Month, there will be many opportunities in the month ahead to show our appreciation and give thanks to the more than 60 million Hispanic Americans who contribute to our nation's prosperity. The United States' Hispanic population is critical to all sectors of our nation's economy and Hispanic-owned businesses—5.6 percent of the nation's total employer firms in 2017—will be essential to our nation's economic recovery, growth, and prosperity.

You can learn more about the nation's Hispanic population and the valuable contributions they have made to our nation's growth using census data and records. For example:

  • The U.S. Census Bureau has hired census takers who reflected the diversity of the regions they canvassed since specially-hired and trained enumerators took over the task of visiting every household to conduct the census from U.S. marshals in 1880. For example, many Hispanic census takers possess the knowledge of their local populations and language skills to communicate with Spanish-speaking communities. Read more about some of our talented and diverse employees—including Jose Miguel Talavera-Toss III, Pedro Valdez, Guilermo Camilo, David Chavez, Fernando Moreno, Emilia de Cordoba y Rubio, and many others—who helped make the censuses a success at our Notable Alumni Web page.
  • Prior to 1970, people of Spanish or Hispanic origin were recorded as “White” on the race question with the exception of the 1930 Census. For 1930, the Census Bureau instructed enumerators to count people as "Mexican" or "Mex" in response to the race question if their parents were born in Mexico. The population of Americans reported as "Mexican" that year was 1,422,533, with the majority of Hispanic households in Texas (134,460) and California (70,890). Today, California leads the nation with more than 15.5 million Hispanics, followed by Texas (11.4 million), Florida (5.6 million), and New York (3.8 million). Maine and Vermont had the smallest Hispanic populations in 2018, with 22,000 and 12,000, respectively.
  • California representatives George E. Brown (D–CA) and Edward Roybal (D–CA) sponsored legislation creating Hispanic Heritage Week which President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law in 1968. Twenty years later, Esteban Torres (D–CA) proposed (and President Ronald Reagan implemented) the expansion of the celebration to become Hispanic Heritage Month. In the decades since the census began asking all households the Hispanic origin question, the Hispanic population in Los Angeles County, CA, has grown from approximately 2.1 million Link to a non-federal Web site in 1980 to 4.7 million in 2010. In 2019, the American Community Survey indicated the county's Hispanic population grew even more, to approximately 4.9 million in 2019.
  • The 1970 Census was the first to include a question asking households about their origin or descent. In that year, the Census Bureau asked additional questions of approximately 20 percent of all households, including a question asking if household members were of Spanish origin. Nearly 9.1 million people identified as being of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or an "Other Spanish" ancestry. In 1980, when the census asked all households the Hispanic origin question, 14.6 million identified as being of Spanish or Hispanic origin. The number grew to 22.4 million in 1990; 35.3 million in 2000; and 50.5 million in 2010. Data from the 2020 Census are not available yet, but in 2019, American Community Survey data estimated that there were approximately 60.7 million Hispanics living in the United States.
  • Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population in the United States grew from 35,305,818 to 50,477,594—a 43 percent increase. According to the 2010 Census, the majority of Americans identifying as Hispanic came from Mexico—totaling31,798,258. Hispanics identifying as "Spaniard" increased by 534.4 percent between 2000 and 2010, followed by Uruguayans (202.5 percent), Hondurans (191.1 percent), and Guatemalans (180.3 percent).
  • Between 2000 and 2010 South Carolina and Alabama saw the greatest growth in their Hispanic populations, with 147.9 and 144.8 percent increases during the decade. Although Vermont and North Dakota saw double-digit increases in their Hispanic populations between 2000 and 2010, the total Hispanic population in each state was just 9,208 and 13,467, respectively.
  • In 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey reported that of the nation's 60,095,000 Hispanics, more than 65 percent were born in the United States. Approximately, 13 percent of the nation's foreign-born Hispanics were naturalized United States citizens.
  • In 2019, the Current Population Survey found that nearly 60.1 million people identified as being of Hispanic origin—approximately 18.5 percent of the nation's total civilian, noninstitutionalized population. The 35 to 44 year age group made up the largest cohort of Hispanics in 2019, with 8.6 million, followed by 45 to 54 year-olds with about 7.1 million. Together, Hispanics aged 35 to 54 accounted for 26 percent of the total Hispanic population and approximately 5 percent of the total U.S. civilian, noninstitutionalized population in 2019.
  • Nearly 99 percent of Puerto Rico's population identifies as Hispanic or Latino according to 2019 American Community Survey estimates. The U.S. Census Bureau first counted Puerto Rico's population following the Spanish-American War in 1899, reporting the Island Area was home to 953,243. The Census Bureau conducted the first economic census in Puerto Rico in 1909, and the island's population has been enumerated along with the rest of the United States every 10 years since 1910. Between the 1910 and 2010 censuses, Puerto Rico's population grew from 1,118,012 to 3,725,789.
  • Miami-Dade County, FL, had the nation's highest concentration of Hispanics of any county in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, with 69.4 percent of the population reporting they were of Hispanic origin according to 2019 American Community Survey data. Other counties with large Hispanic populations included Bexar County, TX (60.7 percent); San Bernardino County, CA (54.4 percent); Riverside County, CA (50 percent); and Los Angeles County, CA (48.6 percent).

Enumerator with crab vendor in Puerto Rico

The U.S. Census Bureau first counted Puerto Rico's population following the Spanish-American War in 1899, reporting the Island Area was home to 953,243.
The Census Bureau conducted the first economic census in Puerto Rico in 1909, and the island's population has been enumerated with the rest of the United States
every 10 years since 1910. Puerto Ricans—like this crab vendor in 1940—helped the island's population grow from 1,118,012 in 1910 to 3,725,789 in 2010.
In 2019, nearly 99 percent of Puerto Rico's 3,193,694 residents identify as Hispanic.




Citing Our Internet Information


Individual census records from 1790 to 1940 are maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration, not the U.S. Census Bureau.



Publications related to the census data collected from 1790 to 2010 are available at https://www.census.gov/prod/www/decennial.html.

Visit the National Archives Web site to access 1940 Census records—http://1940census.archives.gov.

Decennial census records are confidential for 72 years to protect respondents' privacy.

Records from the 1950 to 2010 censuses can only be obtained by the person named in the record or their heir after submitting form BC-600 or BC-600sp (Spanish).

Online subscription services are available to access the 1790–1940 census records. Many public libraries provide access to these services free of charge to their patrons.

Contact your local library to inquire if it has subscribed to one of these services.



Hispanic Origin Question


Mexican Dancer courtesy of Joint Base San Antonio

The 1930 Census was the first to allow households to indicate their Spanish or Hispanic ethnicity with a "Mexican" response to the race question. The option was absent from subsequent census schedules until the agency added the "Spanish origin question" to 1970 sample questionnaires received by 20 percent of the nation's households.

In 1980, all households responded to the "Hispanic origin" question; and in 1990, respondents could print their subgroup if choosing "other Spanish / Hispanic" (i.e., Argentinean, Columbian, etc.).

In 2000, the question added the term "Latino" and asked everyone to respond to both the Hispanic origin and race questions. Instructions were more explicit and bold-printed in 2010 and 2020.

These data help to inform policy makers, planners, and others about the estimated 60 million Hispanics living in the United States.

2020 Census Language Support

The majority of the nation's population will respond to the 2020 Census online and by telephone in English or 12 other languages (Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Tagalog, Polish, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, and Japanese).

Narrated video guides in 59 languages (including American Sign Language) as well as Braille and large-print English editions are also available to assist households that receive the English paper questionnaire in the mail.

Shape your future. Respond today!

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: September 02, 2020