Is It Necessary to Speak Spanish to be Considered Hispanic?

While speaking Spanish is an important part of culture and identity for many U.S. Hispanics, is it an essential one? Survey data from Pew Research Center shines some light on the answer.

In a recent post discussing the National Survey of Latinos, we provided the stat that 62% of U.S. adult Hispanics speak English or are bilingual. That’s a pretty significant number.

But within the U.S. Hispanic community how much is language—specifically the ability to speak Spanish—seen as a cultural identifier?

According to a recent survey from Pew Research Center:

  • 71% of U.S. Hispanics say speaking Spanish is not necessary to be considered Hispanic versus 28% who say it is necessary

Pew also breaks down the answers based on whether the respondents were U.S. born or foreign born. As you can see from the numbers below the perspective shifts notably based on that criteria:

  • 87% of U.S.-born Hispanics say Spanish is not necessary to be considered Hispanic versus 11% who say it is necessary
  • 58% of foreign-born Hispanics say Spanish is not necessary to be considered Hispanic versus 41% who say it is necessary

While speaking Spanish may not be essential to identifying as Hispanic, it still holds great importance and value in the U.S. Hispanic community.

The Pew post mentioned above also refers to these recent survey findings:

  • 95% of Latinos say it’s important for future generations to speak Spanish
  • 3/4 of Latinos, no matter where they are from, speak Spanish at home

The author of the Pew post states:

“While language use differs among Hispanics—some speak only English, some speak only Spanish and some are bilingual—Spanish is still a characteristic that, for the most part, unites much of group.”