|EDINBURG, November 2 - Very few U.S. history books fully explain the vast contributions of Hispanics via many centuries to the development of the United States of America.
Except for a few mentioned names, and events, most texts leave out much in the area of human events that covers almost five centuries of Hispanic presence. Thus, one sometimes must return and trace the Hispanic presence that has always been part of this country. In many cases, America’s present day obsession with undocumented immigrants has clouded this vast and long lasting Hispanic presence among us.
Long before the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth Rock, explorer Ponce de León was the first Hispanic to set foot on present day American soil in 1512, exploring Florida, and four years later in 1526, Captain Alonso Pineda first mapped the coast of México to include present day Texas also. Explorer Vásquez de Ayllón was the first Hispanic who established a village, San Miguel de Guadalupe in 1526 in present day South Carolina; followed by explorer Pánfilo Narváez who landed in Florida, and later his crewman Alvar Núnez Cabeza de Vaca with a few Hispanic soldiers were the first non-Native Americans to land on present Texas soil in 1528.
Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s adventures living among the Native-Americans of Texas for several years was the topic of his “Naufragios” published in Spain in 1542. In this volume of valuable information about early Texas, Cabeza de Vaca details for the first time in history, the life, customs, traditions, the tribal society, different Native-American ethnic groups, all different from one another, their religious beliefs, thus becoming the first ethnographer, and also performing surgery on a Native-American, and later on the Texas Surgical Society named Cabeza de Vaca as its patron saint.
In 1539, Hernando de Soto was the first Governor of Florida, and in or around present day Tallahassee de Soto celebrated the first ever Christmas in the history of this country. Between 1539 and 1543 Hernando de Soto explored Florida, and nearby Georgia, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and northeast Texas; along the way discovering the Mississippi River, and upon his demise was buried in this same river. It was Francisco Vásquez who in 1540 made expeditions and discovered the Grand Canyon of Colorado.
In 1543 Juan Rodríguez Carrillo explored the coasts of Oregon, and Washington; and in Florida in 1560 the first Church was established in this country, where later on in 1565 San Agustín was established by Captain General Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, thus the oldest city in present USA, also celebrating there the first Thanksgiving Mass.
In 1598 Juan de Oñate, not only founded New Mexico, but also celebrated the first Thanksgiving Mass in the Southwest; and his soldiers also presented the first Theater: "Moros y Cristianos" in that territory. In 1598 Gaspar Villagrá wrote "History of New Mexico" relating his encounter with the Native-Americans and the first European encounter with a tornado on this land. On July 4, 1598, Vicente Solano and María Vicente married, being the first Hispanic matrimony registered in the USA archives; and on that same year (1598) Juan de Oñate conquered New Mexico and established the second oldest city in present USA, San Gabriel de los Españoles, now called Chamita, north of Santa Fe, this city founded also by Oñate as the oldest state capital of the USA. In 1769, Fray Junipero Sierra established San Diego de Alcalá, the first of twenty-one Christian Missions he founded in California.
In 1769, Gaspar de Portola founded the Bay of San Francisco, and in 1781 the City of Los Angeles was founded by Felipe de Neve. This was during the time of the American Revolution of 1776, so in 1775 the Continental Congress rejected the Sterling Silver as a monetary unit and adopted the "dólar español" as its legal unit, and the signal we now see in the dollar was adopted from the Spanish Coat of Arms, represented in the columns of the Royal Spanish Army with its motto of " Plus Ultra." Much credit is given to France as an eternal ally of the USA, especially during the American Revolution, when in fact, history tells another view, and that is that Hispanics played a much larger role in this conflict between England and George Washington's Continental Army. It was Spain who authorized the use of the Guipúzcoa port in the northern region of the Basque area so that French General Lafayette could easily plan his strategy, since France had authorized his part in the American Revolution. In 1770, Spain declared war against England and sided with the Army of Washington; allowing King Carlos III of Spain to lend them five million "pesos duros," signaling the first such outside contributions toward financing the American Revolution of 1776. Later on then Governor of Louisiana Bernardo de Gálvez defeated the English and took over Baton Rouge, and other ports, as well as Pensacola and Mobile; at the same time holding prisoners close to ten thousand English soldiers, which weakened England's war against the Americans. Also, under orders from Spain, the then Governor of Cuba gave the Continental Army almost two million "pesos" and countless uniforms, and troops who left Cuba in twelve ships contributing to the defeat of the English at Yorktown, and ending the conflict then. In the Bahamas, England attempted to reorganize but was defeated again by Spanish forces who overran England's Admiral Maxwell.
During the War of Independence of 1776, more than 100 ships were deployed from México and other parts of New Spain to aid in the fight against Britain. Two other Hispanics who played major parts in this conflict aiding the Continental Army were Francisco de Miranda, and Captain Jorge Farragut. The Spanish colonies in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California donated troops, arms, and money in support of the American Revolution, with Tejano cattlemen such as: Santiago Seguín, Marcos Hernández, Manuel González, Carlos Martínez and Félix Gutiérrez and their "vaqueros" herding their cattle to Louisiana ports helping to feed the hungry soldiers in their struggle against Britain. It is, indeed, sad that most history books mentioned heavily France's participation and leave out almost three times as much participation of Hispanics in the American Revolution, a participation that when studied carefully goes beyond the call of duty. Perhaps there are two reasons for this neglect: a.) The Battle of the Alamo of 1836, which some authors see as only an Anglo-Mexican dynamics (actually Tejanos initiated the framework and sentiment in 1811 on Texas soil answering Padre Miguel Hidalgo's call for Independence in 1810, and thus, this lead to the Battle of the Alamo- 1836) b.) The Mexican-American War of 1848 after which the USA took over almost two thirds of the Mexican Empire. Since then any mention of Hispanic participation in the affairs of the USA is seen via this distorted glasses, and this view has, for decades, injured the Hispanic psyche, and in many cases leaving this segment out of any participation in the development of this country .
Before the so called "Westward Movement" depicted in texts, Hispanics had already cleared the land, Christianized the Native-Americans, established schools, religion, farming that later provided the incoming Northerners with sustenance, cattle, goats, pigs, and domestic animals, were all cultivated long before any other European culture arrived in the Spanish Southwest, now comprising almost two thirds of present USA. Thus, the heavy lifting, the earlier work, the sacrifices of human labor, the clearing of forests, had already been done by early Hispanic settlers and explorers years before the popular Lewis-Clark Expedition. Of special interest was the availability of the horses brought into this land by Hispanics during the 16th Century, and made available to the Northerners coming in late 19th Century into a work already accomplished. The "vaquero" culture with its language and attire later on imitated by the American cowboy was introduced by early Spanish settlers. Had not all of the above happened before the so called "Western Movement" depicted in regular texts and by Hollywood occurred in late 19th Century, this adventure by the Northerners would have been, indeed, difficult, slow, bloody, and difficult to achieve.
Congratulations Hispanics, via centuries of sacrifice you have earned your place in America. Proceed!
Dr. Lino García, Jr., is an 8th generation Tejano, and holds the Chair of Professor Emeritus of Spanish Literature at UTPA. He can be reached at: LGarcia@UTPA.Edu