Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month (Yes, really!)

September 15 through October 15 is Hispanic Heritage, and a time to celebrate the long and important presence of Hispanic Americans in our country.  And it is our country, and our history.

A map of late 18th century North America shows this extent of this presence, from the small outpost of San Francisco founded in the desolate wilderness of Alta California in 1776, through the Spanish province of Texas with its vaqueros (cowboys), to the fortress of St. Augustine, Florida — the first continuous European settlement in North America founded in 1565, decades before Jamestown, Virginia.

Spanish explorers traveled further north along the Pacific Coast to Canada in 1774 and by the late 1700s had established a military post on Vancouver Island, 350 miles north of Seattle. The Spanish sailed up the Atlantic Coast through the Chesapeake Bay in 1526, then called the Bahía de Santa María, about 80 years before the romanticized English encounter with Pocahontas. In the 1520’s Spanish navigators also explored as far north as Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and the present site of Bangor, Maine. The Spanish settled the southwest of North America in the 16th century and officially founded Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1610.

As part of the Treaty of Paris (1763) peace settlement of the French and Indian War, the territories west of the Mississippi River, including Louisiana and New Orleans, were ceded to the Spanish. Nearly all of the surviving 18th century architecture of the famed Vieux Carré French Quarter dates from this Spanish period.

At this point in our turbulent times, I think that looking to the past is the most profound way to view the present.

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