[On February 22, 1819, the Treaty of Adams-Onís that brought Florida into the United States was initially negotiated; this year marks the 200th anniversary of its 1821 ratification as the Transcontinental Treaty. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy the Treaty and other Florida histories!]
“So these longstanding Mexican American communities were threatened, oppressed, and often dispossessed and displaced in the decades after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. During the same period, and in direct relationship to those unfolding histories, collective memories and national narratives often defined the Hispanic American presence in the United States in overtly exclusionary ways. That presence was a far older one than that of any other European culture or community in America, with a continually occupied city like Florida’s St. Augustine having been settled by Spanish arrivals in 1565, nearly half a century before the English arrived in Jamestown. Yet in the terms of these exclusionary narratives, Hispanic communities constituted part of the prior history of these American territories, thus rendering them fundamentally outside of and foreign to the new and evolving, overtly non-Hispanic “American” communities in these places.
One way to challenge those narratives and argue for an alternative, inclusive vision of these places, and of America through them, is to note that numerous Hispanic and Mexican American communities did not go anywhere, resisting these oppressions and exclusions, remaining part of these changing American spaces, and evolving with them in the decades and now centuries beyond the treaty. That’s true of St. Augustine, to this day the longest continually occupied European American community and one that features sites and monuments which foreground that Hispanic American heritage and presence, including statues to Juan Ponce de Léon (the region’s first Spanish explorer), Pedro Menéndez (the city’s founder), and Father Pedro Camps (the spiritual leader of one of the city’s most significant Hispanic immigrant communities, the Minorcans). But it’s also and even more tellingly true of many spaces within the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo’s purview, including both the Tejano community of South Texas and the Old Town community in San Diego.”
I said much of what I want to highlight here in that excerpt, but here will add one additional and important 21st century effect of better remembering that foundational history and community. To this day, the Spanish language is perceived as a new part of American society, whether in a racist way (such as the whole “Why do I have to press 1 for English?” narrative) or in a supportive way (such as those voices who support including Spanish more in such public and collective spaces). But in truth, the exact opposite is true: Spanish is the oldest European American language, and has been a continual part of places like St. Augustine for nearly 500 years (much longer than English or any other European language has been in the continental US). If we have finally begun to include Spanish more fully in our public and collective conversations in the 21st century, that is both a very overdue change and a reflection of some of our most foundational histories and communities, as exemplified by the Florida story of St. Augustine.
Next Florida history tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other Florida histories or stories you’d highlight?