European colonization of what is now the United States starts with the English landing in Virginia and Massachusetts.
Well, not so fast, says Felipe Fernández-Armesto. In his book, Our America: A Hispanic History of the United States, Fernández-Armesto points out that in 1508 Puerto Rico became the first permanent European settlement in what is now US territory. St. Augustine, Florida and Santa Fe, New Mexico are also Spanish settlements predating the English.
Fernández-Armesto challenges us to read American history, not east to west, but north to south: as Mexico expanded into Tejas, California, Colorado and points between, it ran up against US manifest destiny.
The Mexican territory of Tejas, for example, had an illegal immigration problem: white Anglos were moving into the land they mispronounced as Texas, and they brought black slaves with them despite slavery being illegal in Mexico. There were wars (remember the Alamo?) culminating in the Mexican-American War, which Anglo-Americans have mostly forgotten, but which Mexicans and Mexican-Americans remember as well as Southerners remember the Civil War.
Following US acquisition of what is now the Southwest, property owned by Mexicans was confiscated, programs of forced Anglicization were imposed, and racial discrimination (including lynchings) began.
Yet, today we hear people asking, where did all these Hispanics come from?
Fernández-Armesto closes his book by explaining “Why the United States Is – and Has to Be – a Latin American Country” :
…the perspective advocated in this book [is] the United States as a country with a Hispanic past as well as a Hispanic future. Migrants from Hispanic America need not be feared as intruders: they can be welcomed as homecomers. Their language need not be treated as a threat, but relished as an enhancement and embraced as an opportunity. …In the United States we must make pluralism work because, paradoxically perhaps, it is the one creed that can unite us.