The Hispanic Presence In North America From 1492 To Today, by Carlos M. Fernandez-Shaw
If I am part of an ethnic group that wanted to promote itself, it would be hard to appreciate a book like this more. That is not to say that I think this is a perfect book, nor indeed is it perfect as a history. To give but one example of the book’s historical flaws, but a representative one, is when the author praises someone of part-Hispanic origin for saving the life of George Washington in a battle where he was not even present. Another historical approach of this book that not everyone will appreciate is the way that the author views the Hispanic presence within North America in a very broad sense, including not only what one would expect of Spanairds, but also including Basques and Mallorcans and Canary Islanders, some of whom were and remain hostile to Spain as an imperial entity. The author’s broad-minded view of what it means to be Hispanic, as well as his broad understanding of the Hispanic presence, including some very transient presence in some areas, makes this book both entertaining as a maximal account of the importance of Spain to the United States, as well as an entertaining work in many respects.
This is a book of nearly 400 pages and seven parts that is divided by geographical region to talk about the influence of Spain on the people, culture, and history of what became the United States. The beginning includes two prefaces as well as an introduction. After that the author gives a general history of his subject, starting with discovery and exploration, missionaries, colonization, as well as Hispanic culture and contributions to law and the economy (I). After that comes a look at the Atlantic coast states from New England to new York to the Mid-Atlantic states to Washington DC, the two Virginias, North and South Carolina, and Georgia, as well as a lengthy section on Florida (III). This is followed by a section on the states on the east bank of the Mississippi River, including the Midwest, Kentucky and Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. This is followed by a look at the Hispanic presence on the west bank of the Mississippi River, including Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, as well as the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Iowa (IV). More obvious chapters include the states of the Southwest in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona (V), a small section on the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Nebraska, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho (VI), as well as the Pacific Coast states of California, Oregon, Washington, and the distant states of Alaska and Hawaii (VII). The book then finishes with appendices on Hispanic history, language and culture, media, selected readings, and an index.
As a reader, I was particularly struck by the author’s broad sense of what it meant to be a Hispanist. As someone who speaks and writes occasionally in Spanish, I was struck that by the author’s broad definition of the term that I might easily qualify as such in the eyes of the author, which I think is being a bit too generous. At any rate, this is a very generous book in its discussion of Spanish settlement, missionary work, diplomacy, and colonization in the area that would become the United States. The author’s fondness for legends and his interest not only in Hispanic people themselves but also in those who have an interest and appreciation for Hispanic culture, and even those who are somewhat remotely descended from Spaniards themselves, and even those who were converted into Catholicism by Spanish priests. This expansive conception of what it means to be Hispanic helps us to understand the complexity of Hispanic identity and importance, and makes this a book that serves to greatly promote the feeling of American respect and gratitude for what Spain and what Hispanics have done in the United States for hundreds of years, and that is a remarkable achievement for all of its exaggerations and flaws.