For reasons of language and history, the United States has prized its Anglo heritage above all others. However, as Carrie Gibson explains with great depth and clarity in El Norte, America has much older Spanish roots - ones that have long been unacknowledged or marginalized. The Hispanic past of the United States predates the arrival of the Pilgrims by a century and has been every bit as important in shaping the nation.
El Norte chronicles the sweeping and dramatic history of Hispanic North America from the arrival of the Spanish to the present - from Ponce de Leon's initial landing in Florida in 1513 to Spanish control of the vast Louisiana territory in 1762 to the Mexican-American War in 1846 and up to the more recent tragedy of post-hurricane Puerto Rico and the ongoing border acrimony with Mexico. Interwoven in this stirring narrative of events and people are cultural issues that have been there from the start and remain unresolved: language, belonging, community, race and nationality. Seeing them play out over centuries provides vital perspective at a time when it is urgently needed.
In 1883, Walt Whitman wrote 'to that composite American identity of the future, Spanish character will supply some of the most needed parts.' That future is here, and El Norte, an emotive and eventful history in its own right, will have a powerful impact on our perception of the United States.
Historian Gibson (Empire's Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean from Columbus to the Present Day) provides a sweeping and accessible survey of the Hispanic history of the U.S. that illuminates the integral impact of the Spanish and their descendants on the U.S.'s social and cultural development. In contrast to the widespread downplaying of this history in favor of Anglo-American perspectives, Gibson recognizes the country as "part of a larger Latin American community." Gibson uses this inventive and appealing lens to guide readers chronologically from the initial European incursions into the Western hemisphere to the present day. Focusing primarily on Mexico, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, the main topics covered are Spanish colonization (often violent) and evangelizing (which was "bound up with the colonization project for Spain and Portugal from the beginning"), the creation of Latin American republics, U.S. territorial expansion, immigration, challenges faced by Latin Americans in the U.S. (including housing discrimination, immigration raids, and prejudiced treatment in the military), and how Hispanic racial, ethnic, and cultural identities are interpreted in the Americas). Though it doesn't present new research, this unusual and insightful work provides a welcome and thought-provoking angle on the country's history, and should be widely appreciated.