Hispanic Heritage Month: A Rocky Mountain Legacy

 Mexican Food

National Hispanic Heritage Month began September 15th and runs through October 15th. But what does it all mean to those living in the United States who do not have direct Spanish ancestry? Let’s begin with a little trivia. Did you know…

- The first European language spoken in the New World was Spanish.

- The first successful European settlement was St. Augustine in 1564 (over 40 years before Jamestown).

- The first explorers of the West were conquistadores and Catholic missionaries who came in 1592 in search of gold and converts.

The Spanish Thrive in North America

From the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean, New Spain's subjects were the presiding and dominate society. They introduced European civilization by breaking virgin ground and beginning thriving communities. To protect their territory, Spain sanctioned 21 missions from San Diego to Sonoma, which became the birthplace of the great modern-day cities of California. It was during the 19th century that the new United States turned its imperial eye on the West and promulgated the false idea that the territory was barren and uncivilized. 

Is this history surprising? To the almost two million Spanish descendants living in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, the answer is no. It is simply part of their cultural history. An added testimony of the 350 years of Spanish dominance is evident in the numerous geographical names across the area:  

  • California: From the name of a fictional island country in Las sergas de Esplandián, a popular Spanish chivalric romance by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo
  • Colorado: Meaning red (colored), ruddy or colored
  • Florida: Meaning flowery or florid, which was discovered by Ponce de León on an Easter Sunday
  • Montana: From Latinized Spanish meaning mountainous also in Spanish montaña is the name of mountain.
  • Nevada: Comes from the Spanish Sierra Nevada (which is also a mountain range in Spain), meaning snowy mountain range
  • New Mexico: From Nuevo México
  • Texas: Based on the Caddo Native American Nation word teshas, meaning friends or allies. The Spanish applied this word to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in East Texas.
  • Utah: Spanish word of Nahuatl origin, first used by friar Gerónimo Salmerón as Yuta or Uta in Spanish


Conquistadores: An Ancestor of Ranching

Another legacy attributed to the Spanish conquistadores is the reintroduction of horses to the Americas and many words commonly used in the West and among all ranchers. Along with giving us the words tornado, canyon, and ramada, the Spanish coined the word mustang, a deformation of the word metengo (stray cattle). The words lasso, chaps, and shack are all anglicized Spanish words. They also bequeathed the native population the knowledge of horsemanship.

A Spanish Personality

With over 16 percent (over 35 million) of the nation’s population of Hispanic origin, there is no doubt that the United States has a claim to a Spanish personality. The cultural impact is present in most homes in America. History: Ever heard of the Alamo? Both Spanish and Anglo immigrants to Texas fought for a free and unified Texas from Mexico. Food: Ever eat a taco or enjoy a Margarita drink? Music: Ever dance the tango, salsa, or merengue? Clothing: The cowboy hat beloved by many was majorly influenced by the sombrero. With your new awareness of the Spanish heritage inside you, during this year’s National Hispanic Heritage Month, check out the cultural events in your area and embrace your inner Spaniard!