The Great Hispanic American History Tour
Back in 1776, while 13 British colonies were becoming an independent nation on the eastern side of North America, two Spanish priests were leading an expedition across present-day New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona. They were looking to establish a northern route from Santa Fe to the Spanish settlements in present-day California. But the mighty Colorado River stood in their way. Read more -->
Long before southern Arizona was part of the United States and long before it was part of Mexico, back when it was part of the territory of New Spain, the town of Tucson was born. Its name is a Spanish adaptation of "S-cuk Son," which is what Tohono O'odham Native Americans called their village. But the name Tucson is what stuck, especially after 1775, when the Spanish decided to build a fort to protect the village and called it Presidio de San Agustin del Tucson. Read more -->
The first time I met him, I immediately perceived that he had a unique talent for bringing Hispanic American history into present-day context. And that's all I needed. Because my history columns seek the same objective, I became an instant fan and follower of Dr. Bernard "Bunny" Fontana. It was more than two years ago, and we were in the living room of his Sonoran Desert home, just outside the Tohono O'odham Native American reservation in southern Arizona — the area he has explored, researched and exposed in several books as a noted anthropologist and historian. Read more -->
Right then and there, as I knelt on a pew at the Mission San Xavier del Bac church in southern Arizona two years ago, I made a pledge that I would go back — not just for another Sunday Mass but by way of a cross-country pilgrimage to discover America's hidden Hispanic heritage. This church was so uniquely beautiful, so spiritually fulfilling, so ethnically enriching that it rearranged my professional priorities and took my life in a new direction.
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They were the best that 17th- and 18th-century Europe had to offer. Every one of them was an explorer, a diplomat, a teacher, a cartographer, a farmer, a rancher, a builder, a scribe and a preacher. The men who really settled and first established what now are huge portions of the United States were Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries who worked for the king of Spain.
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As you drive there, you get the feeling you are terribly alone. The area is so remote and desolate that if you are traveling by yourself, it feels a little spooky, like being on a deserted planet. You don't see anyone for miles! You've driven across the country to visit the Coronado National Memorial in southern Arizona, which commemorates the 1540 to 1542 Francisco Vasquez de Coronado expedition through North America and "the cultural influences of Spanish colonial exploration." But you are greeted by signs warning you that if you are traveling alone, you shouldn't be there. Read more ->
Using 16th-century maps but traveling on 21st-century highways — and even some waterways — my cross-country trip has been roughly following the route of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, the Spanish conquistador who spent almost eight years traveling across the North American wilderness from 1528 to 1536 — from Tampa, Florida, to Mexico City. Read more ->
When a huge chunk of Mexico became part of the United States in 1848, many of the Mexicans who lived in the affected territory moved further south, back into Mexico, because they didn't want to live in the country that had invaded them. Back then, the flow of immigration was in reverse! Read more ->
Back in 1995, when I was almost 20 years younger, I was daring enough to hike all the way up to the mountaintop. But much to my relief, there was no need to do it again, because this time, I was there for a different reason. Instead of the view from 4,675 feet above sea level, this time I was there to see that majestic sierra from a distance and to admire the huge crucifix that stands on its summit. This time, I was on the Great Hispanic American History Tour, and Mount Cristo Rey — in Sunland Park, New Mexico, just west of El Paso, Texas — was a mandatory stop. It was conceived by a Hispanic priest, was created by a Spanish sculptor and has guided Latinos along El Paso del Norte (the Pass to the North) for more than seven decades. Read more->
When the United States and Mexico agreed to designate a large portion of the Rio Grande as the international border between the two countries in 1848, no one asked the river whether it wanted to accept such a huge responsibility. And so, because nature is never bound by international treaties, the course of the river kept shifting — making the border inconsistent, inviting unscrupulous land-grabbing and igniting bitter feuds that lasted more than a century. . . Read more->
It is, by all accounts, "the world's biggest equestrian statue" — so big that it's meant to be seen from a distance. Standing next to this rearing Andalusian stallion — mounted by a Spanish conquistador — can be intimidating, not to mention illegal. Read more ->
When you get to San Elizario, Texas, in a part of the country that bears little resemblance to Plymouth, Massachusetts, you learn that you are in "a proud and picturesque community, which is gaining fame as the home of the 'First Thanksgiving.'" At least that's what the welcoming signs tell you: "The expedition of Spanish explorer Don Juan de Oñate held a Thanksgiving feast in 1598 near what is now San Elizario, twenty-three years before the Thanksgiving at Plymouth Colony." Read more ->
As you drive west on I-10 across Texas, you can see Mexico from your left windows. Sometimes the highway gets so close to the Mexican border that you can clearly see the landscape on the other side of the Rio Grande. But if you take an offramp a few miles before you get to El Paso, you not only can get much closer to Mexico but also can travel back in time and relive West Texas' rich Hispanic history. Read more.
Long after "Remember the Alamo" no longer needed to be used as a battle cry against Mexico, it was used once again by a Latina who fought to preserve that former Spanish mission as a shrine to the heroes of the Texas revolution. Her name was Adina De Zavala, born in 1861, the granddaughter of Lorenzo de Zavala (1789-1836), the first vice president of the Republic of Texas. Read more.
When we think of the Spanish conquistadors, most of us see images of the ruthless explorers who committed genocide while seeking gold in Latin America. Those images often are grossly distorted by the anti-Spanish propaganda known as the Black Legend, but they are even more distorted when they are applied to the Spanish missionaries who came to North America. Nowhere is this more evident than on the San Antonio Mission Trail, where you can see marvelous things the Spanish did to improve the lives of Native Americans. Read more.
08/19/14 -- In the early evening, as I walked through Main Plaza in downtown San Antonio, headed by the majestic San Fernando Cathedral and reminiscent of the many Spanish colonial plazas throughout Latin America, I noticed that something had changed.
Just a few hours earlier, I had spent some time taking pictures of the plaza, where beautiful fountains reign, and inside that grand Gothic cathedral, where the Spanish faith of the 1700s still lifts your spirit. But now the daylight was fading, and the fountains had been shut off. A huge crowd was gathering at the plaza. People were bringing their own folding chairs and sitting there, all facing the church.
I was tired, on my way back to my hotel after spending the entire day walking around downtown San Antonio, taking pictures in every direction, marveling at how this city showcases its Hispanic heritage. But I had to ask what the evening gathering was about.
"You have several cameras," a woman told me as she searched for the best position to place her portable chair in front of the church. "You can't leave!" Read more . . .
08/12/2014 -- Its original name was Mision San Antonio de Valero. It was built by Native Americans and Spanish Franciscan priests in 1724. But you probably know it better because of what happened there in 1836, when it was no longer a Spanish mission. You probably . . . Read more . . .
08/05/2014 -- We all make the same mistake. When traveling through history, we tend to shorten time and lose perspective, often turning centuries into decades and decades into years. Perhaps this is the reason why so many Americans still confuse the totally . . . Read more . . .
07/29/2014 -- As if the day had been made to order, just for me to truly appreciate the hardships endured by Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and a few-dozen other shipwrecked Spanish conquistadors almost 500 years ago, there was menacing weather when I arrived on . . . Read more . . .
07/22/2014 -- You feel like you've been there before, and yet you know this is your first time in New Orleans. That's the sensation you get if you are a Latino arriving in the French Quarter. At first you can't quite figure out why everything looks so . . . Read more . . .
07/15/2014 -- From the cannons mounted on the roof of Fort Conde, now surrounded by modern high-rise buildings in downtown Mobile, Alabama, it's hard to envision the time when it was under siege by Spanish and Latin American troops. But it's even harder for many . . . Read more . . .
07/08/2014 -- When you stand next to those huge cannons pointing into Mobile Bay, as I did when I recently visited Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan in Alabama, somehow they don't look as menacing as when you see them from the water, as I did when I took the ferry that . . . Read more . . .
07/01/2014 -- To follow the footsteps of the Spanish conquistadors who came to North America some 500 years ago, sometimes water routes are necessary. And that's how I found myself rowing on the Econfina Creek in northwest Florida. After seeing how the . . . Read more . . .
06/24/2014 -- From the water, you still can see small sections of unspoiled shoreline that allow you to imagine what the conquistadors must have seen when they landed on the west coast of Florida almost 500 years ago. Seeking that vantage point, from the . . . Read more . . .
06/17/2014 -- The time has come for me to take a long drive. My pilgrimage in search for America's hidden Hispanic heritage requires reporting from dozens of historical sites I'm determined to visit this year. To get the most out of my journey, I have been . . . Read more . . .
06/10/2014 -- As you walk in, you feel like you are going through a time warp and landing abruptly in 18th-century Europe. A few minutes earlier you were driving through the Arizona desert, but suddenly you are surrounded by dozens of saints and angels. You feel as . . . Read more . . .
One of the fringe benefits of being a journalist
is that sometimes you rub shoulders with greatness!
To watch videos, click on these photos:
When I co-hosted "Tiempo" with Anna Carbonell on WABC-NYC in 1983, I had the privilege to interview:
(http://www.hiddenhispanicheritage.com/) – where I can put my passion on display.
You may have read some of these columns when they were distributed by the Creators Syndicate and published in web sites and newspapers, but you didn't see them as you will now, alongside the many photographs I've taken during my travels to many historic landmarks.
If you liked the video lecture I posted on FB a few days ago, I’m sure you’ll also like this web site, which includes that video and much more.
My pilgrimage in search for our hidden Hispanic heritage has turned into "a bucket list of places, ideas and historical evidence to help reconnect Americans with their Hispanic roots." I hope you enjoy it and send me some feedback in the site’s blog.
But most importantly, PLEASE, help me disseminate this information by sharing this web site with your friends. I’m willing to share my passion!
Miguel Pérez - HiddenHispanicHeritage.com (http://www.hiddenhispanicheritage.com/)
Cuéntame Miguel on Telemundo 47
To see this entire series of video commetaries, CLICK HERE.