A long but readable history of the Spanish presence in North America from the time of the first European arrival to our own era.
What does it mean to be Hispanic? Is one Hispanic if one does not speak Spanish or Portuguese, or does ethnicity extend beyond the borders of language? So Gibson (Empire’s Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean from Columbus to the Present Day, 2014) wonders at the opening of her synoptic history of the Spanish in North America. Much of that history has not figured in textbooks until recent times, since, as the author observes, Americanness was largely equated with northwestern European ancestry. Yet that Spanish presence is everywhere. Gibson’s first extended look into that history begins at Parris Island, South Carolina, best known as a Marine Corps training center but also the site where Spain and France contended to establish outposts of empire. The author’s account includes well-known historical figures such as Christopher Columbus and Bartolomé de Las Casas, the latter a cleric who decried violence against the Indigenous people of Mexico and inadvertently helped promote the “Black Legend” of Spanish avarice and tyranny. Refreshingly, however, Gibson also embraces lesser-known figures such as the French cartographer Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, whose engravings introduced European readers to scenes of Native American life, and Po’pay, the organizer of a revolt of Pueblo Indians against the Spanish in New Mexico in 1680. Interestingly, as Gibson notes, Po’pay is now one of the two people from New Mexico’s history depicted in the hall of statues in the U.S. Capitol, while controversy has arisen around one of California’s representatives, the missionary Junipero Serra, who has since been implicated in violence against his native charges. Gibson soundly concludes that the history of the Spanish “is central to how the United States has developed and will continue to develop,” lending further utility to her work.
Though much of this history is well-documented in the scholarly literature, it’s undeniably useful to have it in a single survey volume for general readers.