September 11, 1998

Hispanic Heritage Month

"History that is most meaningful is history that imbeds itself deeply, beyond the mind and into the heart—history that is more nearly absorbed than learned. This deeper consciousness motivates many people to purse the professional study of history. … Yet others never work in the field at all, but their sense of heritage makes them better citizens of their communities and of the nation. One needs only look at communities, families, or individuals that have lost their self-definition to understand the degree to which heritage is bedrock beneath human feet. …

Today, at last America takes a more comprehensive view of herself and her history. Not only is Hispanic history the most ancient part of European-derived American history, it is among the most currently applicable: the background of the fastest-growing component of the American population. In the deepest and most personal sense this group of Americans needs the bedrock of that heritage. In a broader sense we all need the enrichment it offers."

Jerry L. Rogers
National Park Service, Southwest


Traditionally "El Grito de Padre Hidalgo" sets forth a month long observance of Hispanic heritage and contributions to the United States. During this month long observation, at La Prensa, we will be discuss the significance of the "16th of September", the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Guadelupe-Hidalgo, and the centennial of the Spanish-American War. We will observe Columbus Day and its significance. And we will highlight some of the historic adventures that helped shape this country.

One of the great adventures of California and Arizona of the time was the colonization effort led by Juan Bautista de Anza, for Spain. There are two significant aspects to this colonization effort: The first would be establishment of a Presidio in San Francisco; and more importantly the seeds of these colonist populated what was to become California.

With special thanks to the National Park Service we are reprinting an article by Meredith Kaplan that describes this great adventure

New World Hispanic Heritage Along the Anza Trail

By Meredith Kaplan

By linking together significant sites along a historic route, long distance trails off the opportunity to tell more complete stories than a single site can. Along the 1,200-mile Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail from Nogales, Arizona, to San Francisco, California can tell the story of Spanish colonization and the imprint that its quest for empire left on Arizona and California.

History of the Anza Route

The national trail commemorates the route followed by Anza in 1775-76 when he led a contingent of 38 soldiers and their families to found a presidio and mission at the port of San Francisco in order to occupy and hold the area against foreign incursions. Now officially recognized only in the United States, the route began as far south as Culiacán, Mexico, where Anza began his recruitment.

The story and the route are well documented in the journals of both Anza and Father Pedro Font, the chaplain of expedition.

Juan Bautista de Anza, a second generation frontier soldier, gained permission from the viceroy of new Spain to lead settlers to California after proving the overland route was feasible by financing his own exploratory expedition in 1774.

In October 1775, Anza left from his presidio at Tubac, the final staging area, with a group of over 240 people and 1,000 head of livestock, most intended to start the mission herds in California.

The group suffered on death due to complications after childbirth and added three new babies during its nearly five-month journey from Tubac to Monterey, then the northernmost outpost of Spain.

The most daunting part of the journey was crossing the Colorado Desert in California, which took nearly the entire month of December. There they encountered snow and lost many of the livestock to cold, starvation, exhaustion, and lack of water. They were rewarded at the Santa Ana River in Riverside County by finding an area "entirely distinct from the rest of America which I have seen; and in the grasses and the flowers of the fields, and also in the fact that the rainy season is in winter, it is very similar to Spain.""(Font, January 1, 1776)

Of the travelers, 198 stayed as settlers, over half of those were children under 12. Nearly all the settlers were born in the New World, which Spain already had occupied for over 200 years, and were of mixed European, Africa, and Indian parentage.

These settlers and their offspring, along with others, who traveled the Anza route until 1781, when the Yuma Indians effectively closed the route, formed the majority of inhabitants of European or mixed race population in California.

Elements of Spanish Colonial Empire

Anza's identification of an overland route to Alta California and use of it to carry settlers and livestock to populate the area was an integral part of Spanish foreign and colonial policy in the New World, whose goal was to contain England and Russia and extend Spain's hold upon her territories.

Along the route today can be found vestiges of the three elements of Spanish colonial conquest and occupation: the military, the religious, and the civilian. The military, although small in numbers, provided exploration and conquest. Once a region was occupied, a presidial force of 40 to 50 men (even smaller in California) provided a sufficient garrison for a wide area. Because soldiers' families were present, presidial towns sprang up, and the presidios became the social and political centers of Alta California.

Along the Anza Trail, the military is exemplified in Anza's Tubac Presidio, an Arizona State Historic Park today; the Presidio of San Francisco, a national park; and the presidios of Santa Barbara and Monterey, California, state historic parks.

The religious, in the form of missionaries, either preceded or were escorted by the military into new territory. Like the military, the church in the Americas was subordinate to the king of Spain. The missionary was a direct royal agent.

The institution of the Spanish mission was intended to convert the Indians of a region to Christianity and to keep them in subjection to secure and protect the royal domain from other Indians or foreigners. No Spaniards other than the missionaries, the mission guard of four or five, and an occasional civilian official could stop at the mission or reside there. The missions had the best lands, and with Indian labor, cultivated crops, raised large herds of cattle, and carried on various economic enterprises. Mission land was coveted by the military and civilians.

Along the Anza Trail, one can experience the extent of the Spanish mission plan. In Arizona re the missions of Tumacácori and San Xavier del Bac, now an active parish. Originally built by Jesuits, the passed to Franciscan hands in 1767 when the Jesuit order was expelled from Spain.

In California, the expedition stopped at the missions of the Franciscan chain built at the time: San Gabriel, San Luis Obispo, San Antonio, and San Carlos de Borromeo de Carmelo (Carmel). Others were later built along the route: San Buenaventura, Santa Barbara, Soledad, San Juan Bautista, San Francisco de Asis (Mission Dolores) located by Anza, Santa Clara de Asis, and San José. All are active parish churches today.

The third element of Spanish conquest, the civilian, is represented along the train by the pueblos of San José (1777) and Los Angeles (1781). The comisionados, governor's military representative and the chief authority, of these two civil settlements were Anza expedition members, as were nearly the entire group to first settle San José. The pueblo plazas of these two large cities are still vital centers, and the cities take increasing pride in their Hispanic heritage.

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