Spanish Language in the United States

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Spanish Language in the United States

In 1565 Spanish conquerors and explorers established the settlement of Saint Augustine in what is now Florida. It was the first permanent European settlement in what is now the United States. In the 1600s and 1700s Spanish explorations and settlements extended the Spanish language North from Mexico into present-day Arizona, California, Southern Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. When the United States annexed these areas following the Mexican War (1846-1848), many of the region’s Spanish-speaking inhabitants remained, creating a distinct linguistic and cultural population in the Southwestern United States.

After the Spanish-American War (1898), the United States gained control over Cuba, Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico. Over time, many Spanish speakers from these countries moved to the mainland of North America. The immigrants primarily settled in neighborhoods in California, Florida, New York, and New Jersey, where they continued to use Spanish.

Immigration by Spanish speakers further increased during the 20th century. Many legal and illegal immigrants crossed the border between Mexico and the United States to work in agriculture and industry, and other immigrants fled political instability in Chile, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Also, many Latin American students came to North America to study at colleges and universities.

The presence of Spanish in American culture grew throughout the late 20th century. As more native Spanish speakers sent their children to school, elementary and high schools established bilingual classes. Television executives also recognized the Spanish-speaking market and created television networks and shows in Spanish. The government printed forms and tests in Spanish. By the 1990s more than 17 million people in the United States spoke Spanish as their primary language at home.

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