Hispanics & History 101

Article excerpt

The word "Hispanic" has become a pejorative for the politically virulent and those uninstructed in history, particularly when matters of immigration, legal and illegal, are debated. How sad, considering history's long line of important Hispanic contributions.

History shows that the past was prologue. Witness the leadership, perseverance and benevolence displayed by Hispanics in the United States dating to the 1500s (as the website hispaniccontributions.org documents).

But, first, when we say "Hispanics," about whom are we talking?

Certainly, they are not one nationality or one culture. Instead, Hispanics are a diverse people. They are of European, Indian or African descent or any combination thereof. They have cultural ties to Mexico, the Caribbean countries, Central America, South America or Spain itself.

Once considered a regional phenomenon or anomaly in the United States, Hispanics now are living and thriving throughout the United States. For example, there are more Hispanics in the Great Lakes region than in Colorado and Arizona combined.

Quite prophetically, more than 100 years ago the great American poet Walt Whitman said, "I have an idea that there is much of importance about the Latin contributions to American nationality that will never be put with sympathetic understanding and tact on record."

It's an accurate statement indeed.

For example, many of our history texts neglect to tell us that when the Pilgrims were struggling to maintain their tiny colony at Plymouth Rock in 1620, Spanish towns were already flourishing in Florida, the Southwest and Puerto Rico.

Here are a few more interesting facts:

The first European settlement in North America was San Miguel de Gualdape, founded in Georgia in 1526, 81 years before Jamestown, which was settled in 1607. San Miguel de Gualdape survived only about a year because its founder died and its inhabitants were unable to endure some tremendous hardships. And we mustn't forget that St. Augustine was founded in 1565 by Florida Gov. Pedro Menendez de Avila. It's the oldest European city in the United States.

In 1976, we celebrated the bicentennial of our independence. How many of us are aware of the role that Hispanics played in helping us win our independence? First of all, King Carlos of Spain granted a credit of 1 million pounds, quite the large sum of money at the time, to the American colonists. …