El Norte: La Herencia Hispana de los Estados Unidos
I read a good book recently called El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America by Carrie Gibson (2019). The book challenges the usual ways that Anglo-Americans think of the history of our continent. Thanks to Hollywood, it is a familiar story all over the world: westward expansion. From the perspective of us hispanohablantes, however, the story of Norteamérica has always been a bit different. From the days of Cristóbal Colón, westward conquest was always been followed by northward expansion. As a result, the true history of the United States is equal parts Mayflower and La Pinta, La Niña y la Santa María!
This is especially true when one considers the Southwest of the United States. As historian Colin Woodward has noted in American Nations (2011), much of these states retain cultural and family ties to the greater Mexican region of "El Norte", of which they were once a part. Historian Joel Garreau, in his The Nine Nations of North America (1981), referred to this transnational region as "Mexamerica". Indeed, it is easy to overlook, but the geographic transition between Mexican and United States civilizations has always been a very gradual one, despite the unequivocal nature of international borders.
In fact, even today peoples on both sides of la frontera, from Idaho to El Salvador, speak Uto-Aztecan languages. That's the same language family from which came Nahuatl, the language spoken by the Aztecs of Tenochtilan (modern-day Ciudad de México) at the time of European contact. Surely that is even more remarkable than the many people of Spanish or Mexican origins in the US to whom an old adage applies: "no cruzamos la frontera, la frontera nos cruzó"... "we didn't cross the border, the border crossed us!"
We may also consider the extensive Spanish histories of Florida and Louisiana, or the exploration of Hernando de Soto as far north as las montañas Apalaches in modern Carolina del Norte. All of these things have definitely left a profound inheritance, linguistic and otherwise. Do you like your Southern BBQ or your barbacoa mexicana? Well, then, en ambos casos we have Spaniards to thank for spreading this Arawak tradition from el Caribe!
One of the most fascinating aspects of our continente norteamericano which I considered while reading El Norte was how our English and Spanish worlds can often form such complementary opposites. Mexicans strive to conserve traditions, although the reality is often that they are changing quickly with the times. Los estadounidenses are always reaching out to the future, but are often actually firmly rooted in the past. It reminds me of Diego Rivera's Pan American Unity mural.
It is fascinating that even in a "nation of immigrants", with its focal point on la costa atlántica, you will find the same deeply rooted Spanish-indigenous mix that you find in that nation which is forever looking back to its past, out to the serpent and the eagle on the cactus in el Lago de Texcoco. The truth is that we are much closer than we think, and we always have been. Mi casa, su casa!
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