HIGHLIGHTING HISPANIC CONTRIBUTIONS TO AMERICA Dr. Lino García, Jr.

On October 12, 1492, Cristóbal Colón and his Spanish crew aboard three ships “La Pinta, La Niña”, and “La Santa María”, sailed from the mother country of Spain and landed on what later became known as America. Thus began the colonization of the New World, later on known as “La Nueva España”. These efforts by the Spanish authorities were so huge, so impressive in their methods, so widespread, and marvelously designed that no other nation since has, indeed, emerged to equal the splendor of this adventure into newfound lands. Cristóbal Colón’s “Diario de Abordo”, a narrative that detailed his encounters in America, its people, its wonders to behold, and sent to King Fernando, alerted the Spanish Crown of the huge possibilities for new treasures, as well for an opportunity to spread “La Santa Fe” into new areas. New expeditions, almost all of them selffinanced, soon made their way to “La Nueva España”, thus in essence giving start to the first phase of this huge enterprise. • THE SPANISH EXPLORATION AND CONQUEST OF THE AMERICAS

The first phase entailed the bringing of the Hispanic people to these lands. Thus, any individual in the Americas presently enjoying a Spanish surname, or partaking of the Hispanic culture can proudly identify with this glorious adventure ,with its undertakings, and with its huge contributions throughout the centuries. Captain Hernán Cortés and his crew of Spanish soldiers landed in present day Veracruz, México in 1519, and having made friends with the Tlaxcaltecan Indians, and hearing of the vast richness of the Aztec Empire, ventured through and made their way to its capital: Tenochtitlan. After having met Muctezuma, the Emperor of the Aztecs, Hernán Cortés had a few elements on his side that gave him the

advantage over such a huge empire. One was his mistress and Indian interpreter Doña Malinche, the other was the belief among Aztec that a Fair God would one day come from afar to conquer them, and the third element was the Aztecs, so isolated within themselves for centuries, that they were petrified to see men on horseback and carrying rifles. They were simply overwhelmed by the new intruders into their land. Hernán Cortes took advantage of all of these elements that destiny has bestowed on so few men in history to conquer a nation. He later wrote his “Cartas de Relación”, a series of five letter to King Carlos I in which he detailed his encounter with Muctezuma, describing the new land, and its people, and when the conquest was finally accomplished in 1521, the second phase of this huge enterprise began. • THE SPANISH COLONIZATION OF THE AMERICAS

Efforts were started immediately by the Spanish Crown to send huge expeditions into “La Nueva España”, to explore and colonize in the name of the King of Spain all lands encountered by its Spanish soldiers. A “Casa de Contratación” was initiated in Sevilla, Spain to handle all activities dealing with this new phase of Spanish expansion, so huge an undertaking never seen before in the annals of history. A new social, cultural order soon replaced the Indian empire, and representatives of the King of Spain, known as Viceroys, were sent over to look over and administered so huge an empire. An “Encomienda System” was established to oversee the work done by Indians, and headed by an “adelantado” or “mayordomo”, who took charge of working the many mines of silver and gold. Following each ship load of Spanish individuals heading to “hacer las Américas” came young clergymen fresh from the best universities in Europe to dedicate their entire lives to the Christianization of the Indian population now subjects of the King of Spain, and as decreed by the Spanish Crown. This vast colonization during which time the Spanish Culture, with all of its wonders, that included religion, the Spanish language, the Hispanic traditions, and the genetic makeup of the Spanish people that included different ethnic groups that made the Spain of that time: Celtic, Visigoths, Romans, Greek, Iberian, Jewish, Basque and Arab genetic melting pot all made their way to the Americas and that is what the present day Hispanic carry proudly in their veins,

their looks, culture, and traditions, along with the later on acquired Indian heritage. The colonization effort lasted until 1821, when Mexico and the lands comprising almost two thirds of present day USA, to include Texas, New Mexico, California, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, and certain areas north, obtained their Independence from Spain. Before that date, the present state of Texas had been mapped by Captain Alonso de Pineda in 1519 who traveled along the coast of Texas, but never landed. The distinction of being the first Hispanics to land on Texas soil belongs to Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who along with Spanish soldiers were the first to land on Texas soil on November 6, 1528; thus starting the systematic colonization of Texas by Hispanics. Beginning in the early 18th century, civilized life, with all of its amenities, cattle drives, farming, hospitals, schools, ranching, banking, and all other activities were part of Texas Hispanic life, now known as Tejanos. One important issue to note is the effective Hispanic participation in the American Revolution of 1776, given that many Hispanics served, helped out with finances, and Tejano cattle barons such as the Seguín, the Flores, and other prominent Tejano ranchers herded their cattle to the shores to help feed the hungry soldiers fighting the British Army, and in essence distinguishing themselves as true patriots in the fight against England. General Bernardo de Gálvez made his famous “Marcha de Gálvez” in the south that helped defeat the British, and assuring the victory of Americans against a common enemy. Since the start of the Republic, whenever there has been a struggle involving the USA, one can be sure, the Hispanic individual has been there or will be there defending this country. • THE STRUGGLE FOR INDEPENDENCE FROM SPAIN

Indeed, when Padre Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla proclaimed his “ El Grito” for Independence on September 16,1810, this also resonated and liberated Hispanics everywhere in the Southwestern part of present day USA. Two skirmishes in support of Hidalgo’s cry for freedom occurred on Texas soil , led by Hispanics: a) the “de las Casas Rebellion” of 1811; and the “Battle of Medina of 1813”; these two revolts lead in sentiment and framework toward the Battle of the Alamo of 1836 helping to liberate Texans of all persuasions. The Independence Movement also arrived in Texas and other states in 1821 and soon after Northerners were permitted to enter

the then Mexican controlled lands. The few years after spelled a decisive and somehow perplexed history for Hispanics, given that the USA/ Mexican War of 1848 proclaimed much of the territory now part of the Union, and Hispanics enjoying a long heritage in the Southwest since the early 1500’s found that the Rio Grande River, the Río de las Palmas, or the Río Bravo del Norte merely crossed their lives, as they and their ancestors did not cross this geopolitical boundary; it was, indeed, this Rio Grande that crossed them . In many cases, their ancestors received Spanish land grants from the King of Spain in the 1700’s, thus these individuals were coming into these lands that were already part of “ La Nueva España” and thus did not meet the standards of a true immigrant, since they were simply coming into another part of the mother country: Spain • SOME CONTRIBUTIONS OF HISPANICS

Throughout the next decades, Hispanics have distinguished themselves in all areas of human activities, but no other activity has brought them such distinction as the huge number of Hispanics receiving the Medal of Honor for heroism in the face of the enemy of the United States of America. This group of true Americans have been active in military affairs since the American Revolution of 1776, and during the Civil War (no war is civil) three Hispanics received the Medal of Honor, becoming the first three of forty-four since then to receive this prestigious award given to individuals who exercised true patriotism in the face of huge dangers. Hispanics have served in the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Boxer Rebellion, WW I, WW II, Korea, Vietnam, and the latest conflicts. In all wars/conflicts involving the USA, one can be sure the Hispanic individual has been or will be there defending this country ! • SOME FIRSTS BROUGHT INTO TEXAS BY HISPANICS

**First public schools in 1690 at Christians missions, and then in San Antonio in 1746 that were tuition free and compulsory. Hispanics enjoy a long tradition in prompting education for its citizens, as the first university in Mexico was established in 1556 staffed with eminent professors.

**First ranching/ cattle drives in San Antonio (never mind John Wayne and Hollywood) **First hospital in San Antonio **Firs municipality in San Antonio de Béjar- 1718 **First farming **Fist narrative of Texas “Los Naufragios” by Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca **First cathedral - San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio **Spanish names of main rivers **The bringing of cattle and horses to Texas, and the vaquero culture, thus making Texas unique from any other state in the Union **First Christian missions **First banking: Brownsville, Texas had prominent Hispanics as the first bankers in South Texas, such illustrious individuals who established banks in that city were: Don Francisco Yturria, the Celaya family, and Juan N. Fernández. **First jurisprudence/ land and water laws; and others governing almost everything in Texas. Thus, almost everything Texas brags about is TEJANO. Hispanic Heritage Week was first introduced by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 to cover one week only beginning September 15, the day of the Independence of many Latin-American countries; and was then extended for one month from September 15 to October 15, by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. One can readily see the huge contributions, and eminent heritage bestowed on all of us by the participation of Hispanics in the American life. This essay, hopefully, will help to erase any doubts about the patriotism, the lack of willingness of Hispanics to contribute and it should also dispel some erroneous beliefs about them, given that during most of the 20th century emphasis was placed on the

undocumented, and mainstream history texts have been negligent in properly depicting the immense role Hispanics have played in the formation of America, about the heavy lifting done by their ancestors, and thus obscuring for many of us the Hispanic Heritage so much now part of the USA. NO LONGER! CONGRATULATIONS HISPANICS, YOU HAVE EARNED YOUR PLACE IN AMERICA!

Dr. Lino García, Jr. is an 8th generation Tejano with ancestral Spanish Land Grants on Texas soil since 1767, nine years before the American Revolution. He holds the chair of Professor Emeritus of Spanish Literature at UTPA, and can be reached at: LGarcia@UTPA.Edu

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