El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America

by Carrie Gibson

Hardcover, 2019



Call number



Grove Press UK (2019), Edition: Main, 576 pages


"Because of our shared English language, as well as the celebrated origin tales of the Mayflower and the rebellion of the British colonies, the United States has prized its Anglo heritage above all others. However, as Carrie Gibson explains with great depth and clarity in El Norte, the nation has much older Spanish roots--ones that have long been unacknowledged or marginalized. The Hispanic past of the United States predates the arrival of the Pilgrims by a century, and has been every bit as important in shaping the nation as it exists today. El Norte chronicles the sweeping and dramatic history of Hispanic North America from the arrival of the Spanish in the early 16th century to the present--from Ponce de Leon's initial landing in Florida in 1513 to Spanish control of the vast Louisiana territory in 1762 to the Mexican-American War in 1846 and up to the more recent tragedy of post-hurricane Puerto Rico and the ongoing border acrimony with Mexico. Interwoven in this stirring narrative of events and people are cultural issues that have been there from the start but which are unresolved to this day: language, belonging, community, race, and nationality. Seeing them play out over centuries provides vital perspective at a time when it is urgently needed. In 1883, Walt Whitman meditated on his country's Spanish past: 'We Americans have yet to really learn our own antecedents, and sort them, to unify them,' predicting that 'to that composite American identity of the future, Spanish character will supply some of the most needed parts.' That future is here, and El Norte, a stirring and eventful history in its own right, will make a powerful impact on our national understanding"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member deusvitae
A comprehensive exploration of the "Spanish" experience in North America, from the days of Columbus to Trump and his wall.

The author begins with Columbus' expedition and the conquistadores, pointing out the major themes of the story as they relate to Central and South America but focusing on the
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attempt to establish "Florida": not just the present peninsula, but as much of North America as could possibly be obtained. The author chronicles the difficulties the Spaniards faced in establishing colonies in North America, but ultimately how they were able to establish St. Augustine in Florida and New Mexico. Interactions with other nations building colonies are described; I, personally, had not been aware of Spanish settlements established in the South Carolina area that would eventually be abandoned.

The discussion of the 18th and 19th centuries described the missions in California, how Spain obtained and lost territory in eastern North America (including their establishment of New Madrid, MO), ceding West and East Florida to the British and getting it back again, giving up all of "Missouri" to Napoleon, who sold it to America, and ultimately the selling of Florida to the United States and the loss of all territory in eastern North America. The story then shifts to the independence of Mexico, the settling of Texas and the war for Texas, the Mexican War, the Gadsden purchase, and all of it in terms of how it looked to the Spanish speaking population. The late 19th and 20th century discussions, having discussed Cuba, the Spanish-American War, and the elimination of Spanish dominion in the New World, do speak some to the relations between Mexico and the United States but focuses primarily on the experience of Spanish speaking Americans, especially of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage.

The author does well at providing the American reader with a very different perspective on American history, and that is very useful for Americans attempting to grapple with our nation's current situation.

The only critique I would offer would involve the book's perspective. The story seems to be about the experience of those who spoke Spanish - mostly Spaniard at the beginning - and only later the Latino population as we would understand it now. It features an odd shift, for the Spaniards were ruthless conquerors and oppressors of natives, and one can reasonably see what ends up happening to Spanish control as the oppressor getting his just deserts and getting oppressed and defeated by a stronger power. Some commentary is made regarding the tiered cultural system of New Spain based on "whiteness", but not much. Starting in the middle of the 19th century the subject seems to shift to being the Latino population as currently constructed, the mixed populace of Spaniard and indigenous. It seemed a bit fuzzy.

Otherwise, though, a different way of seeing North American history.

**-galley received as part of early review program
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LibraryThing member jonerthon
If you need a sweeping history of how the Spanish influence and conquest of this continent went down, whether for yourself or for students, this would be it. Like many history textbooks, there is so much that the ability to hone in on details is limited, despite the chapter titles referencing
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specific places. That's the early part of this book. After the 19th century, though, the author picked and chose places and events that would be representative Hispano communities, and that's probably the most realistic way to write a history like this. But by this point there is so much to cover that she couldn't possibly get it all, and I thought the inability to revisit some of the places (Santa Fe, St. Augustine, the early Texas missions) that appeared earlier in the book left it incomplete.
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Physical description

576 p.; 6.5 inches


1611856337 / 9781611856330
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