“Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the US.”
This quote is commonly attributed to the nineteenth century Mexican dictator, Porfirio Diaz. At the start of another Hispanic Heritage Month, I feel this quote accurately reflects some of the tension existing between these two neighboring nations.
However, the connection between Mexico and the United States spans nearly to the origins of the European encounter with the Americas. However, these connections are often not understood given the traditional narratives used to teach the history of the United States.
So often the history of the United States begins on the East Coast in the early 17th century with the arrival of the English immigrants to Virginia and New England. From elementary school, if not sooner, we recount the stories of the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth in 1621.
As charming as this narrative of the colonial encounter is, it is not historically accurate. It is not the first “Thanksgiving” between the indigenous people in the Americas and Europeans. On Sept. 8, 1565, the Spanish under the leadership of Spanish admiral Don Pedro Menéndez celebrated a Catholic mass with 800 Spanish settlers and indigenous Timuca people. After the mass, the two groups had a communal meal.
Canyon, Texas, has made a claim for the first Thanksgiving in 1541. Finally, in El Paso, Texas, marks a Thanksgiving event in 1598 under the leadership of the Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate. What these competing celebrations illustrate is the Hispanic origin of one of the most American of holidays.
If we were to view the narrative of American history with a North-South orientation rather than an East-West one, it would more fully illustrate how the Hispanic heritage is in fact the heritage of the United States.
In 1978, NFL Films dubbed the Dallas Cowboys “America’s Team.” What is more American than the cowboy after all? The myth of the Cowboy is one of the pillars of the American belief in individuality and integrity. However, like many myths, it is an example of cultural appropriation.
After the Spanish arrival to Mexico in 1519, they quickly established ranches with cattle and horses. By the 1700s, cattle ranches spread throughout Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. By the end of that century with the establishment of the missions in California, cattle ranching had spread throughout the state and the entire Spanish empire in North America.
The importance of this industry led to the development and growth of the vaquero, who were noted for their riding and roping skills. After the defeat of the young Mexican nation in the Mexican-American War in 1848, Anglo settlers poured into states like California and the rest of the American Southwest.
Not only is the term “cowboy” a literal translation of the Spanish vaquero, but the English term buckaroo is an Anglicized version of the term as well. Common cowboy terms like lariat, dally, chaps, rodeo and remuda all derive from the Spanish.
While President Trump and other politicians worry about immigration and borders, the indisputable fact is that a wall cannot stop culture. The closeness of America with Mexico is more than geographic.
Hispanic culture is American culture, and Hispanic heritage has and will continue to contribute to the greatness of American society.
Nicolas Shump is a longtime educator and writer in northeast Kansas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.