EDITOR’S NOTE: Two years ago, the author wrote an opinion piece for CNN that is still shared and discussed to this day. The following is an update to that 2011 post.
Thanksgiving is a deeply meaningful annual ritual for Americans. It is singled out as the day to recall a gathering nearly 400 years ago when two clashing cultures – the Pilgrims and Native Americans – came together in feast and prayer. That’s the history every American kindergartener making a construction-paper turkey is taught; that’s the history of cultural cooperation, acceptance and gratitude we celebrate each November.
Today, two distinct cultures – Anglo-Protestant and Hispanic – are on the brink of profound and irrevocable change in America with immigration becoming an increasingly thorny political issue.
There is President Obama’s promise of comprehensive immigration reform in the first 100 days of his administration, “a priority I will pursue from my very first day,” which has not come to pass. Instead, “He could go down as the worst president in history toward immigrants,” said Arturo Carmona, executive director of the liberal activist group Presente.org. In fact, he will have deported over 2 million people by 2014, including over 50,000 parents of American citizens.
His draconian actions have left tens of thousands of frightened children, whose moms and dads suddenly vanished, living in foster care or as wards of the state.
What we are witnessing is a clash of cultures in America that is as excessive as it is pointless. The late Samuel Huntington, a renowned Harvard Political scientist, illustrates it in an essay entitled the “The Hispanic Challenge” (Foreign Policy, March-April 2004), where he fans the flames in the first paragraph:
America was created by 17th- and 18th-century settlers who were overwhelmingly white, British, and Protestant. Their values, institutions, and culture provided the foundation for and shaped the development of the United States in the following centuries. The persistent inflow of Hispanic immigrants threatens to divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages. Unlike past immigrant groups, Mexicans and other Latinos have not assimilated into mainstream U.S. culture, forming instead their own political and linguistic enclaves—from Los Angeles to Miami—and rejecting the Anglo-Protestant values that built the American dream. The United States ignores this challenge at its peril.
Huntington concludes his essay by discounting Latino author Lionel Sosa, author of The Americano Dream, who wrote that the Americano dream “exists, it is realistic, and it is there for all of us to share.” Huntington declares, “There is no Americano dream. There is only the American dream created by an Anglo-Protestant society. Mexican Americans will share in that dream and in that society only if they dream in English.”
Who are the Americanos? We are the 54 million American citizens of all skin colors, nationalities and religions who descend from a rich Spanish and indigenous culture – a culture that Anglophile academics like Huntington have erased from our history books.
I observed this firsthand while serving on Florida’s State Board of Education, overseeing the approval of statewide textbooks. American history books ignore the epic northward advance by Spanish pioneers into the southern tier of the United States, and fail to discuss the far-reaching contributions of Latinos from our country’s inception to its present day, as well as the history of indigenous peoples.
- 42 years before the English colony at Jamestown, explorer Pedro Menéndez founded Saint Augustine as our first North American city in 1565, granting Florida the longest recorded history of any state. The Spanish flag flew over Saint Augustine for nearly 250 years.
- When the Continental Army was nearly bankrupt, they sent a representative to seek funds in Cuba, and the money they needed was collected from the public treasury and from private Americano citizens to finance the Battle of Yorktown, the decisive battle of the Revolutionary War.
- The patriotism of Americanos cannot be questioned. Hispanic soldiers have served in the U.S. Armed Forces dating back from the American Revolution to the war in Afghanistan with 44 Medal of Honor recipients. About half a million Americanos fought the Axis powers during World War II. Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez was the first person to die in the Iraq War, and more than 25 percent of the 58,195 names on the Vietnam War Memorial are Hispanics.
- Spanish – not English – was the first European language spoken in North America. There are more than 2,000 U.S. cities with Spanish names, as well as the states of California, Arizona, Texas, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Montana and Florida.
- The U.S. is the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. A large number of Hispanics are bilingual, which is a plus since our exports to Latin America are nearly three times larger than our exports to China. Spanish language skills and cultural affinity give our country a competitive advantage in doing business with a rapidly growing $6.4 trillion market of 579 million people in 21 countries plus Puerto Rico.
Oh, and about that first Thanksgiving? Here are a couple of other things our children’s history books fail to mention:
- In St. Augustine on September 8, 1565 — 56 years before Plymouth, the Spanish and the native Tamaqua celebrated the first feast of Thanksgiving.
- Near El Paso on April 20, 1598 — 23 years before Plymouth, five hundred colonists led by Juan de Oñate celebrated the end of a grueling expedition across Mexico’s Chihuahua Desert. Their Thanksgiving celebration with Native Americans is recognized in resolutions by the Texas legislature.
Perhaps if the four million children in U.S. kindergartens this year – 25 percent of whom are Latinos – were taught the truth, not only about the rich history of Americanos in helping make this country so great, but also about Thanksgiving, this most American of holidays, then maybe we would have a healthier attitude on immigration reform and Americanos in general.
The truth. Surely that’s something for which we can all be thankful.
Charles Garcia, CEO of Garcia Trujillo Holdings, has served in the administration of four presidents. He is the best-selling author of two leadership books and was named in the book “Hispanics in the USA: Making History” as one of 14 Hispanic role models for the nation books. Follow him on Twitter: @charlespgarcia