The Blending, and Clashing, of Cultures Hispanic Influences in North America Predate the Anglo Influx and Are Reasserting Themselves through Art

Article excerpt

THE U.S.-Mexico border, some of those who cross it say, is not really a border but a scar. Will it heal? Will it bleed once more? When a Hispanic worker crosses this border, he sometimes asks, "Hasn't this always been our land? Am I not coming back to it? Is it not in some way ours?" He can taste it, hear its language, sing its songs, and pray to its saints. Will this not always be in its bones a Hispanic land?

But first we must remember that ours was once an empty continent. All of us came here from somewhere else, beginning with the nomadic tribes from Asia who became the first Americans. The Spaniards came later, looking for the Seven Cities of Gold, but when they found none in what is today the southwestern United States, they left their language and their religion, and sometimes their blood. The Spanish Empire extended as far north as Oregon and filled the coastal region with the sonorous names of its cities: Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, San Bernardino, Monterey, Santa Cruz. When it achieved independence, the Mexican republic inherited these vast, underpopulated territories, but it lost them in 1848 to the expanding North American republic and its ideology of manifest destiny: the USA, from sea to shining sea.

So the Hispanic world did not come to the United States, the United States came to the Hispanic world. It is perhaps an act of poetic justice that now the Hispanic world should return, both to the United States and to part of its ancestral heritage in the Western Hemisphere. The immigrants keep coming, not only to the Southwest but up the eastern seaboard to New York and Boston and west to Chicago and the Midwest, where they meet the long-established Chicanos, the North Americans of Mexican origin, who have been here even longer than the gringos. They all join to make up the 25 million Hispanics in the United States - the vast majority of Mexican origin, but many from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Central and South America.

It is the fastest-growing minority in the USA. Los Angeles is now the second largest Spanish-speaking city in the world, after Mexico City, before Madrid and Barcelona. You can prosper in southern Florida even if you speak only Spanish, as the population is predominantly Cuban. San Antonio, integrated by Mexicans, has been a bilingual city for 150 years. By the middle of the coming century, almost half the population of the United States will be Spanish-speaking.

The third Hispanic development, that of the United States, is not only an economic and political event: it is above all a cultural event. A whole civilization with a Hispanic pulse has been created in the USA. A literature has been born in this country, one that stresses autobiography - the personal narrative, memories of childhood, the family album - as a way of answering the question, What does it mean to be a Chicano, a Mexican American, a Puerto Rican living in Manhattan, a second-generation Cuban American living in exile in Miami?

For example, consider the varied work of Rudolfo Anaya (Bless Me, Ultima), Ron Arias (The Road to Tamazunchale), Ernesto Galarza (Barrio Boy), Alejandro Morales (The Brick People), Arturo Islas (The Rain God), Tomas Rivera (Y no se lo trago la tierra), and Rolando Hinojosa (The Valley); or of the women writers Sandra Cisneros (Woman Hollering Creek), Dolores Prida (Beautiful Senoritas & Other Plays), and Judith Ortiz Cofer (The Line of the Sun); or of the poets Alurista and Alberto Rios. Or consider the definitive statements of Rosario Ferre or Luis Rafael Sanchez, who simply decided to write in Spanish from the island of Puerto Rico. …