Celebrating the Quincentennial of the American People – 1513-2013by Bob Quasius, Sr. on Apr. 04, 2013, under Hispanics, Latinos
2013 A.D. marks the quincentennial of the arrival of the Western world to the eastern shores of the United States. For Native Americans, this year marks the 500th anniversary of their first contact with nonnatives. This encounter would not take place in the Outer Banks or New England, but further south in what is today Florida. The event that would spark the momentous shift of civilizations was the 1513 discovery of the Florida peninsula by Juan Ponce de Leon. As far as historical anniversary celebrations go, this year should be filled with nationwide activities to commemorate and examine the discovery of Florida and what is now the United States of America.
From the moment Christopher Columbus first set foot on the Bahamas, it would take twenty years for the flag of Castile and Leon to travel the additional four hundred miles west to reach the shores of Florida. Yet, this historical moment is not given the justice it truly deserves. Unfortunately, most Americans today are woefully unaware of the significance that this anniversary year has on our collective identity, memory and shared history as a people. Especially when one considers the fact that Western civilization first came to our shores from the Iberian Peninsula and not the British Isles.
The historic journey that took place five hundred years ago began in San Juan, Puerto Rico, today the oldest city under the Stars and Stripes. On March 15, 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon set sail north in search of Tierra de Bimini. Like Columbus before him, he took three ships; the Santiago, the San Cristobal and the flagship Santa Maria de la Consolacion. It was on Easter Sunday his expedition sighted land and named it La Pascua Florida. A few days later, the Spaniards would prophetically land their caravels near a cape they would later name Cabo Cañaveral. Ponce de Leon would not return to settle the land he discovered until 1521. On his second and final voyage he brought with him two hundred settlers, as well as the Christian faith, the Spanish language, and nonnative animals including swine that would one day become the preferred meat of choice in the Deep South.
In the decades that followed the Hispanic arrival, other Europeans would scramble to settle all along the Eastern Seaboard. By 1783, New France, New Netherlands, New Sweden and New England ceased to exist. Only the easternmost province of the Vice-royalty of New Spain, Spanish Florida, stood standing. Here the Spanish flag would wave over both the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of Florida for a total of two hundred and eighty-eight years. To date no other national flag has flown longer over U.S. territory. Finally on July 10, 1821, under the Adams-Onis Treaty, Spain transferred all of Spanish Florida to the United States. Americans would later use Cape Canaveral, Florida as the launching pad for a new generation of explorers who would go further beyond into the heavens.
Indeed 2013 presents a unique opportunity to view the history of the American people from a more inclusive perspective. As the nation’s second largest demographic group, Americans of Hispanic/Latino heritage should be at the forefront advocating for a more appropriate level of recognition of its historical role and contributions to the founding of our great nation. As the most important stakeholder on this 500th anniversary year, the Latino community has not collectively shown great interest in embracing and promoting Spain’s rich historical presence and contributions as part of its national agenda. Herein lies a major opportunity for change: To fully embrace and promote our common Spanish heritage as a key asset of our collective identity, formation, and future. Rather then learning and reading about U.S. history exclusively from a traditional “east to west” perspective perhaps we may now consider the possibility of also looking at it from a “south to north” vantage point.
The real significance of Juan Ponce de Leon’s discovery of the Florida peninsula in 1513 is that from that moment on the life and destiny of all American cultures, before and after, would be changed forever. It would mark the conception of the American people who are themselves the direct descendants of all the world’s civilizations past and present. Unlike the 1607 founding of Jamestown, it was the Hispanic arrival upon the shores of the Sunshine State that would serve as the spark that ignited the establishment of the greatest social experiment in human history, the United States of America. Together we celebrate 500 years of shared history. However, with the growing emergence of Americans of Hispanic heritage in all aspects of society perhaps we should take a moment to revisit our role and history from the perspective of “cofounders” instead of as the “newcomers.”
Octavio A. Hinojosa Mier is a Texas leader in Cafe Con Leche Republicans, and Founder and CEO of Plus Ultra Strategies, LLC, a strategi