Dispatches from a Cultural Guerrillera

De músico, poeta y loco todos tenemos un poco.

Deborah Méndez Wilson

Deborah Méndez Wilson
Location
Denver Metro Area, Colorado, USA
Birthday
August 24
Title
Journalist/Periodista
Company
Colorín Colorado Communications
Bio
I'm a fifth-generation Coloradan whose Spanish/Pueblo Indian family roots run hundreds of years deep in the U.S. Southwest. I am a Westerner, through and through, and can't imagine living anywhere else in the United States. The Colorado/New Mexico territory is my ancestral homeland. _______________________________ I am a mother of two and grandmother of one, but don't expect me to conform to anachronistic, enshrined stereotypes of what a woman is supposed to be or do in the autumn of her life. _______________________________ I am a professionally trained journalist who loves to blog, too. I earned my 10,000 hours while working as a daily journalist, and unabashedly worship at the altar of English. _______________________________ Though English is my native language and I adore it, I am fluent in Spanish because I lived in South America for a decade, and revel in the vibrant, haunting beauty of Castilian and Latin American cultures, histories and dialects. ¡Que viva el Español! _______________________________ Follow me on Twitter: @DebMendezWilson

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APRIL 30, 2012 1:22PM

American Me

Rate: 32 Flag

 New Spain in 1819 (Google Images).

Cinco de Mayo rolls around every year, and a bizarre claim crops up in news stories, political speeches, and in schools: Hispanics are “the newest immigrants” to  arrive in the United States of America. ... Really?

Journalists, educators and provocateurs of all persuasions parrot this dubious assumption within the context of the immigration debate, as they pander for votes, or attempt to tap into billions of dollars in targeted marketing.

These would-be pundits tack Hispanics on the end of the U.S. immigration timeline, and regurgitate allegations that these “newcomers” are not learning English or assimilating into mainstream U.S. society. As a bona fide English-speaking Hispanic American whose roots in the United States run centuries deep, I feel compelled to set the record straight.

Before I begin, let me clear the air for any conspiracists who happen to be reading: No. I’m not an illegal immigration apologist or supporter, an “open borders” advocate, a historical revisionist, or a rabid secessionist who wants the U.S. to return the Southwest to Mexico. Please.

When I hear the claim that Hispanics are “new immigrants” to the United States, here’s what happens in my mind: With a Harry Potter-like incantation, the pages of an enchanted history book flip backward at warp speed, erasing generations of my family. Just like that—Poof!—they are gone. Obliviate historicus!

Gone are the seven generations of my Spanish-surnamed family that have lived in Colorado; gone are the generations of my family dating back to the 1700s in Spanish colonial New Mexico; and gone are my indigenous ancestors who lived in North America for millennia before everyone else arrived.

Gone, too, are the generations of pioneering Hispanic American women in the Southwest who farmed, ranched, birthed babies in adobe houses, and knew their way around rosaries, deer carcasses, horses and guns.

Our nation’s collective amnesia about U.S. history and the history of the Americas in general—from Greenland to the tip of Cape Horn—is staggering it its scope. We may live in the digital age, but many of us still buy into a compartmentalized, anachronistic pop lore that goes something like this:

Columbus “discovered America” in 1492; the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620; English colonists defeated the British and established a new republic; cowboys and Indians fought through Manifest Destiny; Texans fought Mexicans; the North fought the South; everyone else passed through Ellis Island; and now Hispanics are arriving late—and not so fashionably—to the party.

The conquerors may write official history, but this fabula is too much, even for us. No doubt William “Bill the Butcher” Poole, his gang of Bowery Boys, and their Know Nothing cohorts would support this narrow national narrative, but I prefer to look at things a bit more holistically.

For starters, didn’t a lot of people already live in the Americas for millennia before  everyone else arrived? You know, the Carib, Arawak, Maya, Aztec, Inca, Anasazi, Pueblo, Apache, Cherokee, Lakota, Ute, Arapaho, Osage, Wichita, Walla Walla, Wampanoag and hundreds, if not thousands, of other American Indian tribes? (The Vikings colonized Greenland for an impressive 500 years, but apparently left no permanent settlements).

Secondly, didn’t a lot happen over the 128-year span between the arrivals of Columbus and the Mayflower?

I believe the Spanish, Portuguese, British and French explored, colonized and “conquered” their way across the Americas long before the first Pilgrim landed in New England. With them, those early European explorers brought enslaved Africans, Sephardic Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition, and sailors, soldiers and laborers from across Europe, China, India and the Middle East.

Waves of immigrants have been arriving ever since. One thing is for certain,  though, early Hispanic colonists did not pass through Ellis Island because there was no Ellis Island when they arrived. Ellis Island opened in 1892, and by then Hispanics had been living in the Southwest for almost 300 years.

Hispanics have been part of the American story all along.

The Battle of Xochipilla during the Miztón War in 1541 in what is present-day Mexico. In this painting, Spanish colonizers and an opposing tribe wage war on the Aztecs. (Google Images). 

Truth is, Hispanics—the Spanish-surnamed, multiracial progeny of conquering Spaniards, vanquished American Indians and enslaved Africans—have been part of the mix from day one, and we’ve been justifying our existence ever since.

What with our conflicting, complex, cultural legacies of conquest, Catholicism, and casta, Protestant America just hasn’t known what to do with us. It’s easier to pretend we just arrived from modern-day Mexico than to admit we’ve been here all along. That would disrupt the cozy fabula most Americans teach their children.

Call it a “black legend,” but our Spanish ancestors, who arrived with Columbus and after him, began enslaving, converting and torturing our American Indian ancestors as they expanded and charted northward into “New Spain” in a bloody, brutal and short-sighted quest for gold and new territories.

Ask indigenous people across the Americas and they will tell you that what Spanish conquistadores and viceroys did to their tribes, cities and sacred sites between 1492 and 1810 makes other human atrocities look minor by comparison.

Sí. We’ve struggled with our conflicting legacies, but Hispanics have been in the Americas, including the United States, all along.

In fact, the oldest, permanent European settlements in the U.S. were founded by Spaniards on the ruins of the American Indian villages they destroyed: St. Augustine, Fla., in 1565, and Santa Fe, N.M., in 1598.

Generations before Santa Fe became an artsy enclave for the rich, the Spanish in 1610 built San Miguel Mission, the oldest Christian church in the United States.

A few centuries before Hollywood and the Silicon and Napa valleys became trendy, Spain’s King Charles III established California’s 21 Catholic missions in the 1700s to thwart Russian settlement.

In 1851, long before Colorado saw its first ski resort, Spanish-speaking colonists from New Mexico founded San Luís, the state’s oldest non-indigenous town.

Here are a few more Spanish names: California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Nuevo Mexico, Florida, Montaña, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Antonio, Amarillo, Los Alamos, Las Vegas, Sierra Nevada and Río Grande.   

 One of the "casta" paintings by renowned Zapotec painter Miguel Cabrera, c. 1763. Painting portrays a Spanish male and his "mulata" (Spanish and African) wife and children.

One of the "casta" paintings by renowned Zapotec painter Miguel Cabrera, c. 1763. Painting portrays a mestizo (Spanish/Indian) male with his Indian wife. 

There’s so much evidence of our diversity. Yet millions of Americans claim ignorance about the Spanish colonization of a huge chunk of North America, and the people who arose from that chapter of history: the Mexican Americans, Hispanos, Sephardic Jews and Basques who have lived in the United States for generations.

I’ve never been to Louisiana, but I know about Cajuns. I know about the Italians and Jewish in New York, the Polish in Chicago, the Irish in Boston, the issei and nisei in San Francisco, the Scandinavians in Minnesota, the Germans, Dutch and Amish in Pennsylvania, the people of Appalachia, the Slovenians in southern Colorado, and the African diaspora across the Americas.

I also know about the Puerto Ricans in New York, the Cubans in Florida, and about recent Latin American immigrants who have fled poverty, drug violence and dictatorships to stake their claims in the United States after crossing international borders legally and, yes, illegally in often harrowing circumstances. 

‘Dude, Where Did All These Mexicans Come From?’

 

One reason for widespread ignorance about the long presence of Hispanics in the United States may stem from the fact that generations of Hispanic families have been classified as “white” or “caucasian” in census after census.

Before the 1960s, if you had a Spanish surname, and didn’t live on a reservation, you were “white,” though that government-sponsored designation earned you none of its built-in privileges and upward mobility.

Recently, the federal government released the 1940 census, and all I heard from news organizations was “how white we used to be.” Not one mainstream journalist challenged the data, or reported the diversity of stories behind the story:

1940s: My great-uncle and stepfather served with “white” troops during World War II because the government didn’t know how to classify Hispanics. Yes. We were fighting the Nazis and the Axis alliance, and our own troops were segregated.

1950s: While serving in the military in the South, my fair-skinned uncle and his brown wife threw the segregated South for a loop when they entered a cafeteria—and Southerners didn’t know where to seat them.

1960s: New Englanders repeatedly asked another uncle in uniform where he had learned to speak English “like a native.”

My uncles, father and stepfather weren’t alone in serving the U.S. Some 170,000 Hispanics served in Vietnam; 140,000 volunteered for Korea; and as many as a half-million served in World War II. Hispanics served in World War I, the Civil War, and were even present during the American Revolutionary War.

More recently, my brother served in the Gulf War, and nephews and cousins have served or are stationed at points across the globe.

My great-uncle, Frank, in his World War II uniform.

 My father, John, in his Army uniform in 1953.

My nephew, Alex, a U.S. Marine deployed in Afghanistan in 2011.  

 

That the growing presence of Hispanics surprises so many Americans does not detract from this simple fact: the United States and Latin America have been neighbors for centuries and share a common history.

Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1810, and later lost a third of its land to the United States during the Mexican-American War.

After the dust settled, a lot of Spanish-surnamed families remained on the U.S.  side of the border in a hybrid subculture that was neither Spanish, Mexican, American Indian, nor completely Yankeefied (Believe me. It’s not for lack of trying).

This photo was shot by American photojournalist Russell Lee in 1949 in San Antonio, Texas. Lee documented the ethnography of various American socioeconomic classes and cultures. (Courtesy of the Center for American History, University of Texas). 

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, part of the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan “fact tank” in Washington, D.C., the Hispanic presence will continue to grow. Hispanics/Latinos are expected to make up 29 percent of the U.S. population by 2050, more than double the figure reported in 2005.

As a mestiza, a hybrid, someone who carries both the blood of the conquerors and the conquered, all I can do is teach my multiracial, multinational, bilingual children to honor the dead, and to remember their multifaceted history, which is, essentially, the history of the Americas.

My children know that being “American” has nothing to do with race, ethnicity,  religion or skin color, no matter what anyone tells them, and, if longevity is a measure of how American we are, then we are among the most American of all.

My half Irish-American son already knows he has something in common with baseball great Ted Williams, actors Rita Hayworth, Martin Sheen and Anthony Quinn, and folk singer Joan Baez: Like him, all had a Hispanic parent.

My half-Venezuelan daughter bridges the worlds of U.S.-born Latinos and Latin Americans with ease and in two languages. Her son is half Hispanic and half Anglo, and will be proud of all sides of his family history.

Colonialism through brute force, be it Spanish, English, Portuguese or French, isn’t anything to be proud of, but it’s an immutable part of the history of the Americas, Africa, Australia and other parts of the globe, and no amount of regret, guilt, self-hatred, wishful thinking, historical whitewashing, government apologies, monetary settlements or retrofitted museum exhibits will ever change that fact. All we can do is admit it, learn from it, and build a better world on its ashes.

We may be the end result of European colonization and conquest, but our hearts and minds don’t have to be conquered, mutilated, vanquished and diminished. Our history doesn’t have to be erased, denied, forgotten or downplayed. We can be U.S. citizens and proud of our ancestral heritage, too. As Americans, we know the two are not mutually exclusive.

Hispanics are still here, and we are not all recent immigrants.

Carajo pana (quasi equivalent of “crikey mate”), why that surprises so many in this day and age is just baffling.

-30-

Terminology

America - A land mass that encompasses North, Central, South America and nearby islands. Often used in the U.S. to describe the United States of America.

American - Any person born or naturalized legally in the Americas. Traditionally used by U.S. citizens to describe themselves (see above).

Cinco de Mayo - The anniversary of an 1862 battle in Puebla, Mexico, where Mexican forces defeated invading French troops. A holiday in parts of Mexico, and in the U.S. as a generic way to market to Hispanic Americans.

Hispanic - A generic, umbrella, cultural term for people in the United States who claim some measure of Spanish heritage through language, surname, history,  blood or geography. Hispanic Americans can be of any “race” or mixture thereof (and usually are), and may or may not have ties to modern Spain and/or Latin America. Often used interchangeably with Latino.

Latino/Latina - A catch-all term for anyone of Hispanic origin. Takes the emphasis off the Spanish, and puts it on Latin America, which implies an homage to mestizo (racially mixed) heritage and roots. Preferred by new Latin American immigrants as a general classification, when they are not describing themselves by their non-U.S. nationality (i.e. Venezuelan, Cuban, Argentine, Colombian, etc.)

Spanish - The language spoken by an estimated 400 million people across Latin America, in Spain, and in the U.S. Once used in the United States as a “polite” term for Hispanics, or by Hispanics who denied or downplayed their American Indian heritage, buckling under the pressure of rampant anti-Indian racism.

United States of America - A large, multicultural, multiracial nation of 300 million people whose official government was founded by British colonists and revolutionaries, but whose diverse human history dates back millennia and encompasses innumerable, untold stories of many peoples in many regions—from the hemisphere’s original American Indian inhabitants to all the rest.

List of English Words Borrowed from Spanish

Suggested reading:

  • 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann
  • 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, by Charles C. Mann
  • Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America, by Juan González
  • Brown: The Last Discovery of America, by Richard Rodríguez
  • On the Edge of Purgatory: An Archaeology of Place in Hispanic Colorado, Bonnie J. Clark

For your viewing and listening enjoyment:

The first video is one of my favorite Mexican love songs of all time, Malagueña Salerosa, performed by Chingón, a rock band led by Mexican-American film director, Robert Rodríguez. The song is about a poor Mexican man who is nursing a bad case of unrequited love for a beautiful woman from Málaga, Spain, who won’t give him the time of day. Yet, he offers her his heart “instead of riches.”

The second video is “Hanuman” by the dynamic Mexican-born duo of Rodrigo y Gabriela, who embody the melding of Spanish and Latin American cultures to form a uniquely mestizo brand of modern music. Former heavy metal performers, they are amazing in concert.

If you are still here, take a look at the “natives versus foreign hoards” scene from Martin Scorsese’s brilliant “Gangs of New York.”

Story and photos by Deborah Méndez Wilson, unless specified otherwise. All rights reserved.

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Happy Cinco de Mayo! This is long, but it's an old story.
Correct me if I'm wrong but I believe that the oldest European municipality in the Western Hemisphere is Havana, Cuba founded in 1515 and granted the the title of City in 1592 by King Phillip II. I have to laugh when I hear redneck pols in California, Arizona and Texas blow hard about shipping all the Mexicans back to Mexico!
I thought it was Cumaná in Venezuela in 1501?
This is perfect. Thank you. R.
@Jon: Thanks for supporting my efforts here. We can't stop telling the truth.
Muy bueno, gracias.
Great piece. I'll read this for the rest of the night. Happy Cinco de Mayo!
I wish I could have rated this three times.
A.K.A. - Thank you! ¡De nada!

D White - LOL! Don't say I didn't warn you. :)

Old New Lefty - Can you believe I've never been past the border towns? I know more about the United States and South America than I do about Mexico. You and Steve probably know more about Mexico and Mexicans than I do. ... Thanks for stopping by.
Heya mz south of the border (now THAT means something between me and my vile vulgar brother Paul,erg)

United States of America - A large, multicultural, multiracial nation
of 300 million people

whose official government was founded by British colonists and revolutionaries,
(HA THEY WERE SMART ELITIST DEIST GUYS IS WHAT THEY WUZ)



but whose diverse human history dates back millennia



and encompasses innumerable,
untold stories of many peoples in many regions—

from the hemisphere’s original American Indian inhabitants to all the rest.


YES INDEED.

………………………………..
Don’t be angry. The sins of the fathers are not visited upon the sons.
America is insane freedom to the max.


like my conversation with my friend, recently:

"so..you like latinas, hm?"
"oh yes. they are kind and wanna cook. and they are great lovers!"
"generous, these, uh..latin gals"
"yes, better than the white ones."
"hey now. dont go there....what do you mean, "latin" "
"that was the language these southern girls spoke, right? YOU are the history guy.."
"Latin is a way dead language. but it spawned those so called romance languages...also, alot of latin in our germanic/frenchy tongue.."

"what? our english, my english, is what, german? latin?"

me getting weary..."yup. you are lucretius and ovid in one swoop. you are eye talian, baby...."

"i thought i was an english speaker guy..."

"yah, well, sort of ..."

"what were we talking about?"

"hispanics."

"from hispainia!"
"shut yer dumb stupid italian mouth up and read this post."

"k. sorry."
What!? I thought the Pilgrims were the first (important) folks to inhabit the US. They weren't? Get outta here!

Seriously, I appreciate your insight and entertaining dose of history. It's sorely lacking in today's political conversation.
Thank you for this education, Deborah. It was eye-opening, although it shouldn't have been.
Everything about this post was first rate from the research to the music. Like you, my family has been here for centuries. We had a huge land grant from King Phillip of Spain before the notorious Santa Fe Ring led by the evil Thomas Catron stole it. Before that my Pueblo ancestors were inhabitants. We are not the most recent immigrants but longtime established residents. Thank you for clearing this up for people who do not know.
This reminds me of the first conversation I had with a Mexican exchange student in my high school. Like an idiot, I asked her if this was her first visit to America and I still remember the look I got. "I've lived in America all my life," she said. "North America, just like you."

Live long and prosper - there's so much more to celebrate than just Cinco de Mayo!
Well done, Deborah. Based upon my own little survey, I venture to say that one of the eras of their own history of which American's are most ignorant is the so-called intervention in Mexico of 1847. It came complete with its own Gulf of Tonkin Incident, the “Thornton Affair.” Young Abraham Lincoln protested that war in Congress as bitterly as anyone ever protested the Vietnam War, and he was certainly not alone.

The company grade officers who fought in that war later became the general officers on both sides of the Civil War. Ulysses Grant, who fought in the intervention in Mexico as a young lieutenant, said this in his memoirs:

Generally, the officers of the army were indifferent whether the annexation was consummated or not; but not so all of them. For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory.

He later also wrote this:

The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.
So much of our shared history is omitted or minimized in the Anglo-centric history so many of us were taught in school. For a long time, I've believed that all cultures should be represented in the history we learn, because all have played important roles in shaping our country. The Hispanic contribution to that shared history is one of the largest. It seems there are a lot of yahoos in California, Arizona and Texas who need a refresher course to put things into more accurate perspective.
I think it was Carlos Fuentes who said, of the current USA/Mexico border, "this isn't a border, it's a scar." You really make the personal political, and vice-versa. I would rate this several times if I could and I know I will be back to re-read it.
P.S. : extra credit for knowing Ted Williams' mother was Mexican while his father was 'anglo'. Born in 1918, Ted himself said he knew his experience of growing up in San Diego between the wars would've been very, very different if he'd had an 'anglo' mother and a Mexican father's surname.
Thanks for this much needed history lesson combined with family story. Terrific illustrations as well.
To everyone who has commented: I'm overwhelmed with gratitude, and I feel so humbled by your supportive, wonderful reactions to this long, involved post. I just had to "get it out." And I'm so grateful you knew exactly where I was coming from with this. Like all of you, I hate the way our society tends to oversimplify issues. I can't tell you how many times someone has asked me, "What part of Mexico is your family from," and I have to tell them, "A couple hours south of Denver." For me, history is not dead. It's very much alive. I don't live my life in the moment. I carry my ancestors and our history in my bones, and I see everything through that lens. I simply can't see myself or my place in the world any other way.

James: Hee. Cute. Why do you think my Irish American sweetie married me? :) ... Just kidding. Eroticism, passion, and good lovemaking have nothing to do with ethnicity or "race." They are very much individual traits, and vary from person to person. IMHO.

Bellwether: :)

JL: It's the rare teacher who teaches outside the lines of traditional American history books.

Miguela: My mother's family, the Vigils, were a land grant family, too, and I have some Pueblo Indian in me as well. I just had to write about the complexities of our backgrounds. It's not as cut and dry as many would believe.

Nile: I agree! I celebrate the Fourth of July, too!! ... In South America they look at you like you're crazy if you say you are from "America" and mean "the United States." They are Americans, too!! It would be like the English calling their country Europe or themselves Europeans.

Estéban: Thanks for including those snippets from Grant's memoirs. It's important to understand our past, and where we came from, but it's also important to keep things in perspective. ... It's taken me years to understand that the dynamics between the United States and Mexico are similar to the dynamics on other other international borders, i.e. India/Pakistan, and cultural borders, i.e. Northern Ireland/Southern Ireland. In the U.S.-Mexico case, though, you have the world's richest, most powerful nation literally abutting a still-developing nation. And there are centuries of baggage and bad blood. As the saying goes, "Poor Mexico. So far from God, so close to the United States." Any country next to the U.S. would be hated, demonized and rejected. Any country.

Bike: And it's not about being "PC." It's about being historically correct.

Donegal: I love Carlos Fuentes. I heard him speak at CU-Boulder several years ago and he blew me away. He has such a deep, rich understanding of the gaping wound between the U.S. and Mexico that has never healed. Will it ever? ... Yes. I was so honored and proud of Ted Williams when he recognized how different his life would have been with his mother's Spanish last name.

Mary: As always, thank you for following my posts and for being so supportive. I'm honored.
“My children know that being “American” has nothing to do with race, ethnicity, religion or skin color, no matter what anyone tells them.”

This is something all children should know.

Thank you for the history lesson, so rich and deep. You are lucky to carry your ancestors and your history in your bones.

I come from Danish, Irish, Scottish and German stock. My great-grandfather from Denmark came through Ellis Island. For him, to become an “American” meant to give up everything Danish. He never spoke another word of Danish and forbid his family to speak anything but English. Much of my history on all sides has been lost to time.

I can say with certainty that my people have not been here as long as your people, but I do believe we are all Americans.
Deborah~ BAM!! You did it, girl!! I am so proud of you!! First reason I love this post?? Well, I'm a Latina and I relate, verdad? Secondly, after reading this with "teacher's eyes" (all of this information was taught in our school at a fourth grade level) your facts are SPOT ON!! I have never seen such an accurate representation of truth, and this should be history text. Being from California (where the Hispanic population is greater than any other group) we take these facts for granted.
Still traveling 'home' so this will be short.

EXCELLENT...informative..
and necessary. I too, am sick of those who think that "Americans are Them...." and all others are immigrants. With much respect. r
Rennis: Yes, we are all Americans. By the way, my husband has some Swedish and German stock on his father's side, but is all Irish on his mother's. We feel we are creating a better world through our son, and I know that many interracial couples feel the same way. Thanks for reading my post!

Brazen: Thanks! I lived in Los Angeles for two years when I was younger, and I just hated the climate there for Latinos. It was in the late '70s, and everyone, and I mean everyone, just assumed that all Hispanics/Latinos were recent immigrants from Mexico. You have people like Mel Gibson ranting about immigrants, when some of us come from families that have been in the Southwest for generations. The only time I experienced overt racism was in San Diego - a few miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.

Ande: Thank you. I wanted to write about history and cultural legacy without sounding too political or preachy. I know both you and I are tired of that. I don't see myself as a victim at all. I just get tired of people not understanding our history at its fullest and richest. Thanks for taking the time to read my post! :)
Wonderful! I love how you wove your family's story into the history. Happy Cinco d Mayo to you and yours!
Sounds like you're done some extensive genealogy. Mitochondrial Eve is proud! ;)
Jennifer: Thanks, amiga!

Belinda: I have done some genealogy through Ancestry.com, and my uncle has done some, too, but, frankly, the Colorado portion of our family history has been easy because we've lived here for several generations, and our stories have been passed on from generation to generation. I'm trying to delve farther back on both sides of my family now, and I'm finding out some interesting stuff. Like, my father's grandmother was a member of the Pueblo tribe in New Mexico. No one had ever told me that, and I actually found her classification at Ancestry.com.
Very cool personal journey as well as inspirational to others searching for answers to their questions re their family trees. My mom did most of the digging through archived records dating back to 1700. Some are available online, thank goodness.
This is an incredibly interesting and informative piece. ~r
I am continually surprised by how little people in our country know...
I love history too! Thanks for sharing all this with us, I too like how you wove your personal history in.
Excellent history Deborah. I'm sure you're right too, alas, about the official received version. This needs to be much more widely taught.
Belinda: My mother had to do some of our genealogy when we applied for Colorado "pioneer" license plates, which used to prove that your family has been in the state since before statehood. However, someone challenged the procedures to get the plates, and now anyone can get them for $50. They've lost some of their luster. ... But, someday soon, I'd love to go the old-school route your mother took and delve into church records, etc. One thing is absolutely certain in my case: No one, and I mean no one, on either side of my family came through Ellis Island, unless, of course, there's an Anglo grandfather I don't know about. Come to think of it, some of my family members look pretty "white."

Joan: Thank you for taking the time to read this long post. Some topics just lend themselves more to length. But then, you can speak volumes in a few sentences, and that's a true gift.

Just Thinking: And I think it's getting worse every year. Younger generations just don't care about the past. I was that way, too, when I was younger, though. I remember thinking in the '70s that WWII was ancient history. It really wasn't!

Abra: Here's what worries me. Most K-12 social studies teach U.S. history through that narrow prism of Columbus/Pilgrims/All the Rest. They need to start with the history of American Indians and show how the entire hemisphere evolved through colonialism by Spain, Portugal, the French, and the English. Our national narrative is way too focused on the British and the American Revolution. They just aren't telling the whole story, which leads to people thinking that all Hispanics are recent immigrants and/or "foreigners." And that's where all the hatred and misunderstanding begins.
Bien hecho.

The question you skirted briefly, about the conflict many share who are the children of both victors and vanquished, is topic for a long conversation; and I would venture even further, that precious few in the world today, of all races, and with a glance far enough back into history, are just so, a little of both, to some extent or another. Cause for some humility no?

As far as first "european colonial" settlement attempts go... stemming from the Columbus voyage, one might start with La Isabela, Hispañola 1493, Santo Domingo, Hispañola 1496 or 7, then from explorations to the mainland of South America by various and sundry espadachíns the likes of Rodrigo de Bastidas, Alonso de Ojeda, Don Pedro de Heredia, founding from between 1500 through 1533, Santa Cruz, Venezuela (La Guajira), Nueva Cadíz, Venezuela (Isla de Cubagua), Cumaná, Venezuela, Santa Marta, Colombia, Cartegena de las Indias, Colombia etc. etc. etc...

Santa Cruz, founded about 1502 by Alonso de Ojeda was abandoned after it could not be secured from attack, and the villa/city, Nueva Cadíz that finally replaced the encampment on Cubagua around 1510-15, which was being exploited for its pearl fishery, was washed away by a tsunami in 1541. I've been fortunate to have sailed many times passing/visiting both Cumaná and Cubagua... fascinating area. The great venezuelan poet Andrés Eloy Blanco was born in Cumaná.

But... but! Oldest cities/cultures in the "Americas"(?)... in the before the Amerigo Vespucci pre Cristoforo Colombo days, I ought to say? From that perspective, of course, we immediately see how crude the first european settlements were, when we consider the achievements just of the Aztec, Olmec, and Maya.

Saludos del Oriente de Venezuela! ~ (where we have begun el velorio de Cruz de Mayo 1st-5th which, sadly, also marks the end of lobster season...)
So well put! I have nothing to add to this, except that, in addition to the wisdom of what you wrote, I really enjoyed the pictures of the different generations of your family.I could feel the love and pride with which they were posted.
Also, on a lighter note, I LOVE your homage to Frida Kahlo avatar picture!
Cinco de Mayo Deborah! And E Pluribus Unum! Great piece and an important lesson. One of the advantages of coming from a military family that is several generations old is that everyone kind of gets around. People who are rooted to time and place is alien to my experience. And so our family reunions resemble the UN with cousins who come from Mexico together with those who are Connecticut Yankees. And isn't that the way it's supposed to be?
Wow, thanks for sharing this excellent post, Deborah! I love your definition of United States of America...we are a large, multiracial, multicultural nation encompassing inumerable, untold stories of many, many peoples...so glad to read some of your own family's stories here.
Cinco de Mayo lives through this post. Have a great one too!
Inverted: I loved going to Arapito Beach to eat cachapas, grilled pork and queso de mano. How lucky you are to live there and partake of all of the splendor of that part of the world. Have you been to the Paría Península, the only place where Columbus set foot on mainland America. I never made it there, and always regretted it.

Alysa: There are stories behind those photos. Maybe I'll tell them one day. I'd need a lot of courage to write more about my father. ... You noticed the Kahlo detail! My son and I were joking around a few Halloweens ago when he shot this photo. I grabbed his stuffed monkey and put it on my shoulder. We're so goofy.

Ted: So cool about your U.N. family! I have a friend just like you. She is a blue-eyed, blond woman with Irish/Hispanic roots in New York, and with relatives in Spain and all across Latin America. Her children grew up and married Cubans, Chinese, Jewish people, and other Latinos. When they get together, it is one big beautiful family. And, yes!, that is the way it should be.

Clay: That's the way I see the United States of America. I've never accepted the narrower point of view. We're way more interesting than people give us credit for. I had an English friend a long time ago who once commented: "Aren't you Americans all the same? You all come off an assembly line and your country is uniform from coast to coast." ... Hell no!

Algis: What? No flamenco dancers and mariachis typed out of keyboard characters?! Just kidding. Thank you for stopping by. :)
Dear Deborah, thank you for the history lesson, and or sharing the photos of your family who have served in the armed forces. Coming to Texas I found so many things about it weird - the way Spanish words are mispronounced, people characterizing he selves as "Anglo" for race, etc. I read Michener's "Texas" just to try and get a leg up on the culture shock. "Lone Star" by John Sayles is an excellent movie that sort of gets it. And now I have a song to ask the mariachis to play in the Mercado in San Antonio "Malagueña Salerosa". (Ooh, and "Frida" the movie by Salma Hayek is a work of art I've seen many, many times - great music in that one too.)
CD: LOL! I just loved your note about adapting to life in Texas. I spent the summer of my 13th birthday in Dallas with an uncle and aunt who were serving in the military at the time. Oh my gosh. Was it a big culture shock for me, too. First, it was so hot! I'm a Colorado flower, and just wilted in that heat. Second, I couldn't understand anyone! I was so embarrassed to ask everyone to repeat everything over and over. ... Yes, please, ask the mariachis to play MS for you. I'm sure they would be pleased to receive the request.
ccdarling: Oops. Sorry. Just noticed my typo in your name. :)
I believe that Hispanic means Spanish speaking, while Latino has to do with Romance languages. The term Hispanic doesn't include Brazilians or people from the Guianas.
Truly an outstanding post. What I appreciate most is that it gives me a gentler argument when I run into people that think we're suddenly being flooded with Hispanic people.

I haven't been around much lately but have noticed your well phrased comments. I'm glad I finally made it to your blog to find this special post. Thank you.
RRBill: In the United States, "Hispanic" has been used for decades to classify people whose heritage includes some connection to Spain, be it through language, surname, blood or family connections. Not all Hispanics are Spanish speaking. In fact, millions of Hispanics are native English speakers who have lived in the United States for generations. Also, Spanish IS a romance language. For decades, "Latino" has been used as shorthand across Latin America for someone who was born in Latin America, or lives in the United States and can trace their ancestry back to Latin America. In recent years, it has been used interchangeably with "Hispanic." ... You're right about Brazilians and Guyanese. They are not Hispanic. I would classify Brazilians as Latinos because they are from Latin America. Guyana is a special little island all its own in the middle of Latin America. ... I lived in South America for 10 years (in Venezuela) and met a lot of Brazilians and Guyanese people.

L'Heure: Pleased to meet you! And thank you for taking the time to read my post. Your friends' reactions are precisely why I felt compelled to write this post. I can't get over how many Americans actually believe that Hispanics/Latinos are latecomers. I think what is happening is that more Latin Americans have immigrated to the U.S. in recent years, and have reached a critical mass of people, which has drawn increased interest from traditionally insular Americans. With the advent of communication technology such as the Internet and mobile computing, people are privy to more information these days, which is making it harder for people to live in bubbles. Even here in Colorado, I'm amazed by how many new immigrants from Russia, India, England and elsewhere are coming to our formerly quiet corner of the planet. When Colorado starts feeling international, you know the planet is getting crowded, and that people from all parts of the world are moving everywhere.
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