Mexico and Mexican-descent immigrants continue to be ignobly thrown into the U.S. public opinion arena without mercy.
This time, extremists are uptight to hear the sound of Spanish. That is, they dislike the language of Cervantes being spoken “on this side of the border.” Quick to blame it on recent immigration, their attacks are inconsistent with the chronology of U.S. history.
As the most senior European language in America, Spanish must merit as high a degree of respect as that given to English. The question is, why isn’t it? In answering that question, I offer the following five reasons justifying its positive influence in our nation. I do so with two goals in mind. First, give notice to skeptics who insist on keeping Mexico and the Spanish language out of the U.S. story. Second, get the attention of Mexican-descent U.S. citizens who may be unaware of their long, honored history in the U.S.
Reason 1. None other than Stephen F. Austin saw Mexico as a bright future for poor, sharecropper Anglo families. Economically excluded by the U.S. upper class, this first wave of anguished citizens sought refuge in Mexico, adopting its distinctive way of life. In fact, Austin legally changed his first name from “Stephen” to “Esteban” and was proud to be bi-lingual. Sadly, revisionist mainstream Texas historians changed that initial white Anglo Saxon migration to Mexico from one of despair and want, to one contrived in 1836 Texas Revolution myths.
Reason 2. The large number of Spanish-named places in the U.S. is not the work of recent Mexican immigrants “bringing their culture over here.” In truth, it was U.S. Anglos who swam across at least three rivers (Mississippi, Red, and Sabine) to reach these Spanish-speaking towns. For example, San Antonio, Texas; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Tucsón, Arizona; and Los Angeles, California are the best known 16th-18th Century towns settled by Spanish Mexican pioneers. (Key Point: Santa Fe, New Mexico, born in 1610, is the oldest capital city in the U.S. Thus, Spanish traces are quite visible still, creating the vibrant Spanish Mexican (Native American) ambiance the region is known for today.)
Reason 3. Our New Spain ancestors (for instance, Las Villas del Norte in Nuevo Santander (Tamaulipas), San Antonio, Nacogdoches, and La Bahia/Goliad) helped the English colonies with soldiers, food, war materiel, clothing, and financial support. Specifically, they donated money; (Españoles, two pesos; Mestizos and Indios, one peso each). Oddly, mainstream historians ignore the Spanish-speaking Americans’ quick response to the colonists’ needs. Rather, U.S. history today supports only an English viewpoint. That’s in spite of the fact that we vigorously celebrate July 4th, 1776, as our day of independence from, yes, England. Ironic, isn’t it?
Reason 4. Last year, after nearly 240 years since it was first proposed, General Gálvez received U.S. honorary citizenship for his vital help to General George Washington. Upon hearing the news, most citizens (sadly many of Hispanic-descent) were surprised to hear about General Gálvez’ Independence involvement. To be sure, General Marquis de Lafayette was given the prestigious honor in 2002. The reason why General Galvez wasn’t saluted at the same time lies in the selective teaching of mainstream U.S. history. That’s the same mindset that contributes to today’s negative view of Mexico and the Spanish language in the U.S.
Reason 5. There is much the U.S. owes to the Spanish Mexican culture. For example, Mexican currency was a preferred legal tender for merchants and citizens alike in the U.S. colonies. Too, over two-thirds of U.S. land has Spanish footprints. For example, Spanish-speaking people inhabited the entire middle-lower tier of states, from Florida to California. Again, Anglo settlers moving west used Spanish maps and Camino Real trails. In the words of Author H. E. Bolton, “Half of the U.S. rests on Spanish land; perhaps more if only the U.S. respected Spanish territorial claims from the 16th-18th centuries.”
To be fair, in encountering weaker civilizations around the world, all European countries ruthlessly exploited native cultures. Spain and England both led the pack. In fact, Walt Whitman said it this way in 1883, “It is time to realize that there will not be found any more cruelty, tyranny, and superstition in the résumé in past Spanish history than in the corresponding résumé of Anglo-Norman history.”
As shown above, there is no basis in fact regarding today’s nasty, negative view of the Spanish language in the U.S. political rhetoric field. As they gain strength in numbers, Spanish Mexican-descent students deserve a more positive picture of their heritage in the classroom. If they are taught that the U.S. Northeast is favorably known as New England, then their teachers should also teach them that the Southwest is New Spain.
In closing, authoritative writers consider human historical events as common property belonging to all mankind. So it must be for the Spanish influence in U.S. history. As to its importance, the narrative has for too long been written by unfriendly hands. Clearly, it’s time for fairness and balance — time for belated recognition.
The year 2019 marks the 500th anniversary of the arrival of our Spanish ancestors on the Texas coast in 1519. All Spanish Mexican-descent citizens must unite in calling for celebration from Texas to California! There’s no better time to do the right thing for the right reasons. ¡Viva América Española!
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this guest column shows Sante Fe, the oldest capital city in the U.S.