October 13, 2000

Christopher Columbus "Discovers" Española, The Beginning of Hispanic Heritage in the Americas

By Daniel Muñoz, Jr.

October 15 marks the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, (September 15 - October 15), a month set aside each year to celebrate the contributions and impact on today's society by Hispanics to the United States.

Hispanic Heritage Month ends and begins with the landing of Christopher Columbus on a small Caribbean island. For European Americans this discovery is celebrated with much fanfare and bravado. For the indigenous Indians of the Americas the discovery of the Americas marks the beginning of the end.

In the 1490s Christopher Columbus approached the King and Queen of Spain, petitioning for a charter to explore the outer reaches of mid and South Atlantic, "to sail until landfall was made." With all lands to be claimed in the name of his Sovereigns the King and Queen of Spain.

Columbus set sail with the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. Aboard the ship were members of the King's court, Spanish knights honed by the battles to oust the Moors and of course its crew of sailors. The hardened Hidalgos set sail with visions of finding gold, land and slaves, bent on conquest and of enriching themselves and their families in Spain.

After a long and arduous journey the crew of the Pinta, which was the swiftest, on October 11 thought they had sighted land. The Admiral, at ten o'clock that evening standing on the quarterdeck, saw a light but so small a body that he could not affirm it to be land.

The Admiral gave orders to keep a strict watch, certain that land was near.

On Friday, October 12 at two o'clock in the morning land was discovered. Sailing through the night the expidition found themselves near a small island, one of the Lucayos, called in the Indian language Guanahani.

Christopher Columbus in a small boat landed on the island, which was armed, along with Martin Alonzo Pinzon, and Vicent Yañez, his brother, captain of the Niña. Columbus bore the royal standard, and the two captains carried the banner of the Green Cross, which all the ships carried. This contained the initials of the names of the King and Queen on each side of the cross and crown over each letter.

The Admiral called upon the two Captains, and rest of the crew who had landed, to bear witness that he before all others took possession of that island for the King and Queen.

Christopher Columbus is honored as the discoverer of the Americas, though in fact what he had discovered was one of the small outward islands of the Caribbean.

From 1492 to 1504 Columbus made four voyages to the New World. He explored as far south as the coast of Venezuela.

A legacy of the European exploration was that whole groups of Indians died either as war casualties, from disease, or from slavery in the mines. Six million or more indigenous Indians died before the Spanish conquest was completed. The Arawaks, Caribs, and Ciboneya were completely eradicated.

In 1493 the first Catholic priests arrived in the New World. By the Papal Line of Demarcation, Pope Alexander VI divided the New World between Spain and Portugal. The New World was divided by the Treaty of Tordesillas. The Spanish established the first European colony at Santo Domingo (Hispanola) in 1499 and by 1501, with much of the Indian population decimated, introduced slavery by bringing in Blacks from Africa.

In 1519, Hernán Cortez landed in Mexico and with an army of six hundred men managed to conquer the Aztecs and Moctezuma. The three hundred year reign of Mexico by Spain had begun and La Raza was born.


La Raza: Product of Two Conquests

By Andres G. Guerrero

(The following outlines the effect of the Spanish and U.S. conquest of what is now the southwestern United Sates, and the unique historical events that led to the development of the Chicano people. Guerrero, a Chicano whose great-grandfather was a Cherokee. Guerrero adapted this selection from his book, A Chicano Theology, published by Orbis Books.)

Conquest is at the ground of Chicano history. Two major conquests stand out. The first conquest was by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century; the second by the gringos in the nineteenth century. The history and personal identity of the Chicanos is shaped by these two conquests. Both conquests were so brutal that they left unforgettable memories upon the conquered. In a sense Chicanos are a by-product of these two historical conflicts.

The roots of Chicano history are in the sixteenth century conquest, when two cultures, two world views, and two world powers - the indigenous and the Spanish - merged violently. The Spanish conquistador married or raped the conquered Indian woman. The children born of this union were neither indigenous nor Spanish. Thus began a new race (La Raza), which had characteristics of both groups. At first these children had a difficult time; both groups rejected them. Neither the Spanish nor the indigenous wanted them. The Spaniards labeled these children mestizos - a mixture of Spanish and indigenous. This phenomenon of the New World was called mestizaje. This was not the first time mestizaje had occurred however.

From the beginning, these people had two names. The Spaniards called them mestizos; they called themselves La Raza. Both names mean the same thing. Today, Chicanos are mestizos and the call themselves La Raza. Chicanos is the name we gave ourselves after the second conquest in the nineteenth century by the gringos. After this second conquest the gringo called us Mexican-American - a hyphenated name.

During the first conquest, the institution that was instrumental in bringing to reality the mestizo phenomenon was the Catholic Church. Once Native Americans were baptized, they were Christians and fell under the jurisdiction and protection of the church's laws. Under the church's sacraments, Spaniards and Native Americans, more positively this time, intermarried. In principle (thanks to the church), there was equality, but not in practice.

After the second conquest what had been almost half of Mexico's territory became the American Southwest. For a second time, we were a people conquered by outsiders. Once more a church with an alien clergy (the Native clergy was ousted or repressed) continued its sacramental tradition among the mestizos. Mestizos had resided in the Southwest since the Spanish conquest. They had built churches and sophisticated mission systems throughout the Southwest. In California, Texas, and New Mexico the church was strong and powerful. The Native Americans and the mestizos were oppressed but they managed to survive and sometimes to thrive...

In Chicano history, the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo marks the transition between the first and second conquests.

The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, signed by the United States and Mexico, ended the Mexican-American war in 1848. The United States was given half of all the territory of Mexico, today's American Southwest. Within the territory handed over to the United States live several thousand Mexican citizens. After one year, according to this treaty, these Mexican citizens could either remain in the occupied territory and become United States citizens or they could leave the conquered territory and remain Mexican citizens. According to Articles VII, IX and X (a Protocol was substituted for Article X), Mexicans would receive the protection of the United States government in the exercise of their civil and political rights. Land grants and property rights were to be honored by the new government. After the treaty was signed, the gringo political and military forces who occupied the Southwest reinforced the psychological, social, economic captivity of the Chicanos.

The United States did not keep its treaty with Mexico. Many Chicanos suffered brutally under the gringo yoke after 1848. None of the demands for the protection of the chicanos who stayed on their land was honored.

Our mestizo ancestry is both Spanish and Native American. Historically, then, we are both oppressor (Spanish) and oppressed (Native American). Racially, we are both white (Spanish) and bronze (Native American). Economically, the Spanish gained power as they acquired the land; Native Americans lost power and became landless. We live in a gringo society, but our culture is Mexican. We have a gringo impulse (learned from the gringo), but our corazón is Latino. We relate to the impoverished world because of our oppression, but we live in a technological, industrial, affluent world. We embrace two world views in our reality, the European and the indigenous. As mestizos in the U.S. we are a synthesis of two great cultures: the Latin American and the Native North American. This synthesis is an emerging new way of life.

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