- Our America: A Hispanic History of the United States by Felipe Fernández-Armesto
For Felipe Fernández-Armesto, Spain and its colonization and settlement of the U.S. borderlands constitute as much a history of North America as does England’s colonization of the eastern U.S. and its subsequent occupation of lands to the Pacific Ocean. A Hispanic history, which for Fernández-Armesto begins in 1505 when Spaniards set foot in modern-day Puerto Rico, encompasses many countries and diverse sets of people from Latin America migrating continuously into what is now the United States.
Fernández-Armesto’s purpose is to advance a version of events that counters the dominant narrative of United States history moving east to west. In nine chapters, he traces Hispanic movements north from various areas of Latin America. Spaniards initially encountered English colonists during the 1720s as Spain thrust into Florida. Contact continued in the southeastern borderlands between the two nations as Florida became a pawn between empires (the British acquired it from Spain following the Seven Years War but subsequently lost it to the same power—along with Louisiana—following the American Revolution). As the eighteenth century ended, Spain’s attempts at peopling the borderlands had produced uncontested claim to the region from Florida to California. Mexico, after achieving independence in 1821, initiated its own efforts to populate the Far North. (Around this time, Florida was transferred from Spanish control to American.)
The author then devotes two-thirds of the book to chronicling the movement of Mexicans (and other Hispanics) into the United States and discussing their history as citizens and immigrants. The push from Mexico in the nineteenth century ignited confrontations with settlers trekking westward from the United States. Mexican grantees fought to defend lands they had received from Spain and Mexico. Miners from Mexico, Peru, and Chile clashed with Anglo forty-niners. Hispanic “rebels” like Joaquín Murrieta and Juan Cortina, who resisted white control through hit-and-run warfare, rose to folk hero status fighting for the oppressed. Latin Americans arriving in the post-1848 era faced lynching, racism, religious prejudice, and “culturecide” from Anglo Americans. Despite such strife, the journey north from Mexico persisted as “Mexicans were undertaking their own return to Aztlán” (241). Counter-colonization, as Fernández-Armesto calls the return of people to the lands of their former colonizers, increased steadily despite nativism, segregation, and even violence in the twentieth century. Migration south to north also included Puerto Ricans, Central Americans, and Cubans, among others Latin American nationalities.
Fernández-Armesto has proposed a stimulating thesis in his effort to explain [End Page 317] the history of Hispanics in the United States, particularly that of Mexican Americans. Certainly, Our America stands as a masterful synthesizes of recent secondary literature demonstrating that Hispanics have been salient agents in the making of America’s history. Americans should accept this viewpoint, Fernández-Armesto maintains, for the Hispanic role in U.S. history will only expand as the nation marches on. No reason exists for the majority white population to be alarmed if people from Latin America continue reinforcing Hispanic communities, Fernández-Armesto writes reassuringly, for as documented, the history of the United States already owes much to its Hispanic past. A pluralistic future does not necessarily threaten the country.