A welcome corrective to Anglocentric versions of American history, which continue to dominate the textbook market—thanks, at least in some measure, to diversity-doubting Texas.
Texas, of course, is a key place in a historical geography that predates Jamestown and Plymouth Rock by a century. Spanish missionaries and conquistadors were busily colonizing what are now California and Florida well before the arrival of other European powers, and as historian Herbert Eugene Bolton noted a century ago, their presence left a deep imprint on the places they settled: “[T]he Southwest,” he wrote, “is as Spanish in color and historical background as New England is Puritan, as New York is Dutch, or as New Orleans is French.” In a sense, Fernández-Armesto’s (History/Univ. of Notre Dame; Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration, 2006, etc.) argument is an extension of Bolton’s, though with more political fire behind it and a keen sense of the injustices perpetrated when Hispanic America came under Anglo sway. For that reason, he offers “a history of the United States…slanted toward a Hispanic perspective,” one that extends across the southern tier of the United States—embracing in particular Florida, which, the author is quick to remind us, is fast tracking to a minority-majority population in which 85 percent of people under the age of 5 speak some language other than English at home. Fernández-Armesto makes numerous important observations, noting that Spain’s New World empire grew so large in part due to competition with those other European powers, and he takes in episodes of history that are largely overlooked—e.g., the El Paso “salt war,” in which Anglos and Hispanics fought for control of that critically important resource.
The correctives are useful and necessary, and it is easy to imagine that this book will become required reading in ethnic-studies courses—and, with luck, in American history survey courses as well.