The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America: Two New Books

Carrie Gibson, a US-born, Dalton-Ga bred, UK-based historian and journalist, in 2019 produced the well-reviewed El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America.

It “is the book that Americans, Anglo and Hispanic, should read as an education on their own American place or role,” wrote Julia Ortega, a professor at Brown, in the NYT.

“Carrie Gibson has written an exhaustive corrective to historians who seek to whitewash a story of settlement and conflict,” wrote Charles Kaiser in the UK Guardian. “These 437 pages are an important correction to centuries of American history which have mostly neglected the vital role of Spanish pioneers (and Native Americans) in favor of settlers from England, Ireland and Scotland…(Her) rich account leaves no doubt that America is a vastly more interesting place because of the millions of Hispanic immigrants who have been arriving on our shores for more than 600 years. ”

The Spanish were critical, for example, in aiding the colonists against the British in the American revolution.

Interview with Gibson on Jezebel.com.

J.H. Elliott, in “Spain’s America,” an article in The New York Review of Books, tackled Gibson’s book along with América: The Epic Story of Spanish North America, 1493–1898by Robert Goodwin. Elliott’s lead is “In the grand epic of American history, the English were latecomers.” The English lost its first colony in 1587, almost lost Jamestown to starvation in the early 1600s, and by 1620, when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, more than 400,000 Spanish were settled in North America.

The summary of Goodwin’s book on Amazon.com begins: “At the conclusion of the American Revolution, half the modern United States was part of the vast Spanish Empire. The year after Columbus’s great voyage of discovery, in 1492, he claimed Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands for Spain. For the next three hundred years, thousands of proud Spanish conquistadors and their largely forgotten Mexican allies went in search of glory and riches from Florida to California. Many died, few triumphed. Some were cruel, some were curious, some were kind. Missionaries and priests yearned to harvest Indian souls for God through baptism and Christian teaching.

“Theirs was a frontier world which Spain struggled to control in the face of Indian resistance and competition from France, Britain, and finally the United States. In the 1800s, Spain lost it all.

“Goodwin tells this history through the lives of the people who made it happen and the literature and art with which they celebrated their successes and mourned their failures. He weaves an epic tapestry from these intimate biographies of explorers and conquerors, like Columbus and Coronado, but also lesser known characters, like the powerful Gálvez family who gave invaluable and largely forgotten support to the American Patriots during the Revolutionary War; the great Pueblo leader Popay; and Esteban, the first documented African American. Like characters in a great play or a novel, Goodwin’s protagonists walk the stage of history with heroism and brio and much tragedy.”

David Steinberg, in the Albuquerque Journal, briefly reviewed both books: “Two new histories on a subject important to New Mexicans – indeed, to all Americans – are monumental in their scope, accessible and enlightening in their narratives, yet dramatically different in their approach.”

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