The Latin American is an amalgam of bloodlines: Spanish, Arabic, native American, African, and northern European. Out of this combination of cultures emerged one culture-the Latino. However, among the 20 different Latin American nationalities, all of which have established a presence in el Norte, there are significant differences in food, slang, values, and immigration history. Though tacos and chimichangas are part of the Mexican culinary experience, a Puerto Rican would rather have arroz con gandules (black-eyed beans with yellow rice) and a Cuban ropa vieja, a meat preparation whose literal translation is "old clothes." That sounds as strange to Colombians as it does to Anglos. And a Peruvian in need of money seeks plata, while a Mexican hustles for lana.

The following is a brief description of some ways Hispanic groups in the U.S. differ from one another:

Los Mexicanos (12 million). It is historically inaccurate to speak of Mexicans as immigrants. This largest Hispanic group mostly lives in California and Texas, territory that belonged to Mexico until the Mexican-American War in 1848 when it lost half of its territory to the United States. Many other Mexicans immigrated in this century because of labor needs in both the agricultural and industrial sectors. The majority of the over 1 million legal and illegal immigrants into the U.S. each year come from across the Rio Grande.

Los Puertorriqueños (2 million). The second largest group of Hispanics resides mostly in New York, New Jersey, and Chicago. Because of Puerto Rico's commonwealth status as a result of the Spanish-American War, its people are U.S. citizens by birth. By the end of this century, Puerto Ricans might have the chance to vote on ...

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