February 16, 2011

Spanish and Hispanic in the U.S.

It is well known that Spain and Latin American countries are very different places, although they do share common cultural roots. I was born and raised in the first, so I always thought I knew what Hispanic culture was. I had also visited a few Latin American countries before moving to the U.S. so I had an initial idea about the Hispanic cultural similarities among those countries. Nevertheless, after spending some time living in the U.S., I can say that I have certainly “rediscovered” what Hispanic culture is.
 It may sound illogical to people from Spain or other Latin countries. You rediscovered Hispanic culture in the United States, really? Well, yes. Perhaps not the most genuine characteristics of each Hispanic identity per se, but the main values or common traits that reflect the essentials of the diverse Hispanic culture. Why exactly? Because working in PR for the Hispanic market made me realize that the U.S. has a strong Hispanic flavor. This is something which might be taken for granted by my fellow U.S. citizens, but the first time I noticed it I was quite amazed. Then I thought: wait a second, how is this remarkable Hispanic existence and heritage so present in America? Instantly, my research hunger led me to a quick search and then I discovered it all. Quoting Wikipedia:
There have been people of Hispanic or Latino heritage in the territory of the present-day United States continuously since the 1565 founding of St. Augustine, Florida by the Spanish, the longest among European American ethnic groups and second-longest of all U.S. ethnic groups, after Native Americans. Hispanics have also lived continuously in the Southwest since near the end of the 16th century, with settlements in New Mexico that began in 1598, and which were transferred to the area of El Paso, Texas in 1680. Spanish settlement of New Mexico resumed in 1692, and new ones were established in Arizona and California in the 18th century.
In addition, if we take into consideration Puerto Rico as part of the U.S. territory, the lineage begins even earlier.
I must say I knew the first settlements in the south of the U. S. were Spanish; basic Spanish history and common sense told me so (San Francisco, Las Vegas, Florida, Los Angeles and San Diego sound pretty Spanish to me!). However digging a little more I found some other information tremendously illuminating: people of Hispanic heritage in the United States have been not just living here since around the 16th century but actively contributing to the history of this country.  There were Hispanics that supported the U.S. revolution and independence (Jorge Farragut, Bernardo de Gálvez), others that commanded troops during the U.S. civil war (David Farragut) and some that were part of the U.S. army during WWI and WWII (Luis R. Esteves,  Pedro del Valle). There have been Hispanics elected as congressmen or other political positions since the 19th century (Juan Bandini, Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazolo ). And, of less historic value but perhaps more meaningful to the masses, there were actors and celebrities that gave (and give) a Latino touch to the Hollywood hall of fame since its beginning (Rita Hayworth, Anthony Quinn, José Ferrer and Martin Sheen, to name some of the pioneers).
Therefore, Hispanics were always a meaningful part of the U. S. society, not just a “trend” in recent years as some would lead you to believe. The emergence of the Hispanic marketplace or the new “Latino boom” is actually based on a community that is not new; Hispanics were always here.
In my personal experience, I felt it since the beginning of my U.S. adventure and it has helped me learn more about this diverse culture, its customs and similarities to Spain. Thanks to the Latinos in the U.S. I have also understood even better the essence of this country. In the U.S. to be of a different culture is to be part of the U.S. culture itself, because this country has been forged through the conjunction of people from everywhere.