September 21, 2001

HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH

Month-Long Recognition of Hispanic Contributions To The Americas Begins

By: Daniel L. Muñoz

From September 15 through October 12 of each year, the nation pauses to reflect upon the history of and the contributions made by the Hispanic-indigenous peoples in the conquest, development, and settlement of the Americas. The contributions by our indigenous forefathers, the original inhabitants of what would be named "The American Continent," are recalled with pride, as are the changes that were brought about by our forefathers, the Españoles of the Iberian Peninsula.



The Aztec Empire before the conquest.

The `encuentro' between the conquerors and the ancient civilizations would result in massive changes that to this day we still struggle to understand. No historical writings of the Americas would be complete without the inclusion of the Mestizos, which were the result of the interbreeding of the Spaniards and the local Indigenous people who originally inhabited the American continents. The result of this `encuentro' laid the foundation for the creation of what is now the largest Mestizo race of today's American continents.

Who are we?

We are the offspring that resulted from the conjoining of the conquistadors from the Iberian Peninsula with the indigenous women of the Huichol, Yaqui, Huasteca, Maya, Tara-humara, Zapotecan, Azteca, Tolteca, Taino and Inca tribes, just to name a few of the vast number of indigenous tribes that were part of the "en-cuentro".

Our indigenous forefathers created vast pyramids, cities and centers of civilization that spanned North America and the Southernmost reaches of the continent. They discovered the ancient roots and seeds that yielded vast fields of corn with which they fed hundreds of thousands of their peoples. Our indigenous forefathers were astronomers, mathematicians, warriors, priests, and sculptures of stone. They cured their people of illness, war wounds, set fractures and performed surgeries. Our indigenous forefathers had government and ruled by their established laws and religious beliefs.

The Conquest

At the time of the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, the population of the indigenous peoples numbered in the millions. Of course, in those days there were no census takers, but records indicate that major population centers held upwards of 50-100,000 residents. Each complex, such as Teoti-huacan, had the capability to put large armies into the field of battle.

One must wonder why the Aztecs (the Mexicas) lost the most important battle of Otumba in the war for conquest. The Mexica warriors, after their uprising in the capitol, fielded overwhelming superior forces against the Spaniards and their allies, the Tlaxclan. With his Imperial banner flying, the Mexica Lord charged into battle fully believing that their Gods were with them against Hernando Cortez, a brave and brilliant seasoned warrior in the service of his King and Queen. He too, charged into battle with his heraldic banners. Cortez also believed that his God was on his side, as well as Saint Peter, his Patron. His men also charged into battle believing that Saint James (Santiago, Patron Saint of Spain) rode with them as he had in other dangerous battles in the Americas.

The Mexica defeat began when Hernando Cortez charged on horseback through the encirclement of Mexicas and killed the Mexica Commanding Officer! He then triumphantly raised the captured Imperial Battle standard. The Mexica believed that the battle standard housed their God. The loss of the Standard signaled to them that the battle standard flown by Cortez housed a stronger God. For the Mexica it was their firm belief that in battle, the supernatural played a key role. For them, the battle standard was an embodiment of a potent spiritual being whose presence and performance was critical to their success.

With this loss, the Spaniards were henceforth able to conquer the entire continent. Eventually, the Indigenous people merged their Gods with Catholic belifs and, perhaps in their minds, they now felt that they had the best of the two supernatural worlds. The foundations for "La Gente de Bronz" were laid down. Our Hispanic forefathers brought to the mixture the basis for our modern day society. They formed the common thread that encompasses and unites the various subgroups, nationalities and ethnic categories throughout the continent.

Hispanic: What does it Mean?

The term Hispanic comes from the noun Spania, the name which was given by the ancient Carthaginians who colonized the southern part of the Iberian peninsula (Spain) around 500 years B.C.

The Roman Empire occupied the peninsula in the first century A.D. They brought state authority, law, education, and commerce. They also brought architecture, roads, livestock and Roman Catholicism. The language of Roman Spania became Latin and the peninsula was known as Hispania. The Roman Latin formed the basis for the `Romance Languages: "Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian. LATINO is Spanish for Latin, which is often used to describe us in contemporary U.S.A. It is only partially correct.

It is irrational to deny 2,000 years of Spanish history and culture. We are not only the children of the Spanish Conquistadors, but we are the result of the commingling of the Indigenous people and those of Spanish blood. From this, a new dominant racial group was created: the MESTIZO. We became the people who assimilated the Hispanic ancestry, culture, and language. We commingled it with the history, language and culture of our indigenous forefathers. Our country of origin identifies us; thus, a MEXICAN AMERICAN is a person whose origins are from the country called MEXICO. Someone from Columbia is a Columbiano... But we all share our common Spanish ancestry.

Today as we celebrate our Hispanic Heritage, let us not forget that Latinos, Hispanos, Mexicanos, Chilianos, all of us whose origins are based in Latin America (geographical areas of the Caribbean, Northern, Meso, and South America), are joined together in the greatest "mestisaje" since the Spanish conquest. The results of this new race that is being created, will define the United States of America as well as all the continent of the Americas for centuries to come.

(We are indebted to David Freidel, Linda Schele, & Joy Parker for the concepts on the battle of Otumba in their book MAYA COSMOS: Three Thousands Years on the Shaman's Path)

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