Latinos have a long, rich, and diverse history in the ​Americas. With origins stretching back many centuries before the founding of the United States, the complex Latino history has ​​shaped the culture of our nation. Latino ancestry can be traced back to Indigenous populations, such as the Maya, Aztec, Taíno, and Inca civilizations, as well as to European and African roots from colonization
Learning and understanding more about the early Latino history and diverse heritage and experiences of Latinas and Latinos provides a window into the multicultural development of the United States. 
Discover more about how Latino history is American history.  

Juan Rodriguez, a native of what is now the Dominican Republic and the first non-Native American to settle in New York. 

Indigenous Civilizations and ​Colonization

For thousands of years before European colonization, the Americas were inhabited by Indigenous populations, such as the Pueblo, Aztecs, Taíno, and Mayans. Each civilization had distinct traditions, beliefs, and social structures. When Spain first began to colonize the Americas around the late 15th century, there were major consequences. 
Some of the Indigenous communities resisted Spain’s rule. However, due to the brutality of European colonization and new diseases like smallpox, measles, and influenza brought to the area, many groups were weakened and forced to live under colonial control. 
Beginning with early European colonization around the 1500s, Africans and their descendants were enslaved throughout the Americ​as. When possible, they fled to escape slavery, sometimes alongside Indigenous people. Together, they built new communities and customs, often fighting the many injustices of colonization. 
Learn more about early colonization and the resistance of different colonized peoples
Over many centuries, Spain’s colonial rule expanded across Central and South America, as well as what is now the Southern United States. The Spanish language and culture blended with African and Indigenous influences to shape new ways of life that created unique Latino cultures and experiences. The complex interactions between these distinct groups have defined the diverse history of the Latino ​​community. 

Expansion of the United States

The Mexican-American War and the Spanish-American War significantly impacted the United States Latino communities. Both wars greatly expanded the United States with new territories but resulted in great ​changes for the established Latino communities living in impacted ​areas. 
Learn more about how the Latino community expanded throughout the United States as a result of war. 
The Mexican-American War began in 1846 over a boundary dispute between the border of Texas and Mexico. The war officially ended in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Through this treaty, the United States gained a significant amount of ​territory, including the present-day states of California, Nevada, Utah, and most of New Mexico and Arizona. The Mexicans living in those states at the time became citizens of the United States, yet many lost their land and representation to Anglo-Americans and Europeans moving to the ​area. 
An additional expansion of the Latino community in the United States came as a result of the Spanish-American War. ​The war ended in​ 1898 when the United States and Spanish governments signed the Treaty of Paris. As a result, the United States gained several territories and islands, including Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. 
Learn about the expansion of the United States beyond the continent

Historical ​Profiles

Throughout history, the Latino community has shaped our nation. Learn about some of the Latinas and Latinos whose legacies have left their mark on the United States. 

Luisa Capetillo was a Puerto Rican feminist and labor activist. In her lifetime, Capetillo was a prolific writer, rejected gender norms, and worked with the labor organization Free Federation of Workers.
Encarnación Pinedo  – Pinedo grew up in what is now California. Following the Mexican-American War, Pinedo’s family lost their land and wealth. Despite their struggles, Pinedo combined her writing and culinary skills to publish the cookbook, “El Cocinero Español” (The Spanish Cook).
José Martí Martí was a leader in the Cuban independence movement. He is even considered by many as the father of Cuban independence. After he was exiled from Cuba in 1880, he helped found the Cuban Revolutionary Party in New York. 
Lola Rodríguez de Tió – A poet, feminist, and political activist, Rodríguez de Tió was a strong champion for the independence of Puerto Rico. She wrote the original lyrics of the Puerto Rican revolutionary anthem, inspiring revolutionaries. 
Sotero Figueroa – A leader of New York City’s Black Spanish-speaking community in the late 1800s, Figueroa edited the newspaper “Patria,” working with advocates for Cuba and Puerto Rico’s independence from Spain. 
​​Pablo Tac – An Indigenous Luiseño born in present-day California, Pablo Tac relocated to Europe in 1834 to study for the priesthood. Throughout his life, Tac worked to preserve the Luiseño culture and identity through his writings and creation of the first Luiseño writing system.