Dr. Lino García, Jr.
Rio Grande Guardian
EDINBURG, TX - 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, also known then 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, emerge 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” to new areas, and in so doing converting huge civilizations to Christianity.
These news soon spread throughout Spain, and new expeditions, almost all of them self-financed, 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
This 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: Tenochtitlán. 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 Indian interpreter Doña Malinche, the other was the belief among the Aztecs that a Fair God would one day come from afar to conquer them, and the third element was that the Aztecs, so isolated within themselves for centuries, were petrified to see men on horseback, carrying rifles. They were simply overwhelmed by the new intruders into their land.
Hernán Cortés 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 letters 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, and Arab genetic melting pot all made its way to the Americas and 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, and 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. He traveled along the coast of Texas, but never landed.
The distinction of being the first Hispanics to land on Texas soil belongs to Pánfillo de Narváez, and Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who along with Spanish soldiers were the first Hispanics to land on Texas soil on November 6, 1528; thus starting the systematic colonization of Texas by Hispanics.
Beginning in the early 17th century, civilized life, with all of its amenities, cattle drives, farming, hospital, 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, Flores, and other prominent Tejano ranchers herded their cattle to the shores, helping feed the hungry soldiers fighting the British Army, and in essence distinguishing themselves as true patriots in the fight against England. General Bernardo de Galvez made his famous “Marcha de Galvez” in the south helping defeat the British, thus helping assured 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: the “de las Casas Rebellion” of 1811; and the “Battle of Medina of 1813.
These two revolts led in sentiment and framework to the Battle of the Alamo of 1836, thus helping 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 these now Mexican controlled lands.
The few years after spelled a decisive and somehow perplexed history for Hispanics, given that the USA/Mexican War proclaimed much of the territory now part of the Union, and Hispanics were then answering to a different government.
For many Hispanics enjoying a long heritage in the Southwest, the Río Grande merely crossed their lives, as they and their ancestors did not cross this geopolitical boundary; the river crossed them. In many cases, their ancestors received Spanish land grants from the King of Spain in the 1700s, thus these individuals were coming into these lands that were already part of the Spanish Empire, 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 one has brought them much 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 Medal of Honor, becoming the first three of 44 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, WWW II, Korea, Vietnam, and the latest conflicts.
Some of the things first brought into Texas by Hispanics…
Finish reading García: Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month