NOTE: It is impossible to recall in this brief booklet all of the
countless Hispanic-Americans who have made and/
or continue to make contributions to the growth and
progress of the United States of America.
In mid-June of 2003, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that the
country’s Hispanic population is booming; in fact, it has become the
largest minority group in the U.S., numbering 39 million last year.
The word Hispanic has become an umbrella term for an ethnic
group which shares distinctive cultures, religions, language, or the like.
Hispanic is not a race. The term Hispanic includes persons of Spanish
descent or origin with roots and traditions from many different cultures
and continents (see Albuquerque Human Rights Board Resolution No.
R-13-03, page iii). In our state, the Spanish influence stems mostly
from exploration and colonization which began in the 1500s by
pioneers from Spain and from or through Mexico.
As the sun, the desert, the mountains, and the atmosphere display
instant and ever-changing beauty of New Mexico, so, too, do its
peoples. The ambience of New Mexico reflects its equally powerful
multicultural heritage. The Spanish peoples had long been settled in
Mexico when other intrepid explorers first followed the Río Grande
north looking for new lands and resources.
Spain is a mixture of tribes, peoples, and cultures, both indigenous
and immigrant. Anthropologists believe the Basques were possibly the
oldest group, or native people, of Spain. However, those who
principally populated the Spanish peninsula were the Nordic,
Germanic, Celts, and Iberians; their origin was considered to be Africa.
Many invasions over the centuries made Spain a multiracial,
multireligious Western European country. The Muslims, who occupied
the area for 800 years, left behind cities which had baths, parks,
markets, mosques, and a culture that many considered superior to that
of Christian Europe. They had developed an economy which traded
with much of the known world as far away as Sudan, central Europe,
and even China. The Jews gave Spain an active commercial class and
an educated elite who served in many administrative positions. Many
Jews, under the Spanish Inquisition, either left the country or
converted to Christianity, and became known as “conversos.” The
Spanish Jews and the conversos formed a large part of the “Spanish
Settlement by the Spanish
In the late 1500s, King Phillip II of Spain decided that the Spanish
government—after nearly 40 years of exploration and searching for
gold—would undertake the colonization of New Mexico. An expedition
led by Don Juan de Oñate was supported by the government but paid
for mostly from Oñate’s personal funds. The group set forth in January
of 1598, with 129 soldier-colonists, some with their families, and 10
Franciscan friars. Two-fifths of the colonists were Spanish-born and
one-third were born in New Spain (Mexico); the origins of the rest
were not known. They brought 83 carts and 7,000 head of livestock.
On July 11, 1598, Oñate settled his first colony across the Río Grande
from San Juan Pueblo. He called his community San Juan de los
Caballeros. Soon after, he moved across the river and founded the
community of San Gabriel. He became the first governor of New
Mexico beginning 224 years of Spanish rule.
The earlier explorers (there were at least four organized Spanish
expeditions before Oñate’s) were searching for riches they had heard
of in legends of the Seven Cities of Cíbola. Although they did come
upon the Grand Canyon and the adobe homes of the six Zuni pueblos,
they were unsuccessful in their search for gold.
The Spanish Crown considered abandoning the colonization of New
Mexico, but decided instead to make it a royal colony directly under the
control of the crown. In 1608, Oñate was removed as governor and
sent to Mexico City to be tried for the mistreatment of the Indians and
abuse of power. Pedro de Peralta succeeded Oñate as governor. He
located the capital at a site called La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San
Francisco de Asis, now known as Santa Fe during 1609-10.
Construction begins at this time on the Palace of the Governors, and
Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá publishes an epic history on the founding of
New Mexico, the first book printed about any area in what becomes
the United States.
This period was followed by a time of turmoil (including the Pueblo
Revolt in 1680) between the Spanish and the Indians, and the Spanish
left the area for a time. In 1681, Governor Antonio de Otermín took
146 soldiers, accompanied by many of the Indians from the Pueblo of
Isleta, and settled in four communities, one of which was called Isleta
del Sur. In 1691, Don Diego de Vargas led a bloodless reoccupation,
then resettled New Mexico with 70 families, 100 soldiers, and 17
Franciscans. He ruled until 1703, when the Duke of Alburquerque
became the Governor of New Mexico.
The Villa de San Xavier de Alburquerque was founded in 1706 with
30 families and 12 soldiers from the Bernalillo area. When the Duke of
Alburquerque learned of the name, he ordered it changed to San
Felipe de Alburquerque. It was from this area of northern New
Mexico—Santa Fe and Alburquerque—that the Franciscans left for
California to found new missions at Monterey. Their route became the
basis of the Spanish Trail from Santa Fe to Los Angeles. They set off
on their journey in 1776 just as the United States was declaring its
independence from the British.
Relationships with Native Peoples
As Spain was being developed in Europe, the Pueblo peoples, in
what is now called New Mexico, were developing their own culture
based upon agriculture, irrigation, hunting, and some domestication of
game animals. Prior to their contact with the Spanish, each pueblo
was politically autonomous and was governed by a council of leaders of
religious societies which were centered in the kivas, circular ceremonial
rooms of pueblo architecture.
During the middle part of the 18th century, Governor Juan Bautista
de Anza began his campaign to come to some kind of settlement with
the Comanches. The Spanish soldiers and their Indian allies alternately
waged war with the Comanches and traded with them. Much of the
trading was done at the Taos trading fairs. Many of the Spanish
settlers, however, traveled out to the plains to trade with the Indians
and in search of buffalo. These men became know as the
Comancheros. Through a mixture of battles, military actions, and
trading adventures, the Spanish and the Comanches developed an
acceptance of each other. A peace treaty was signed with the
Comanches at Pecos Pueblo in February of 1786. This opened up the
eastern plains for exploration and trade.
Some of the Comancheros, such as Domingo Peña and others from
the villas and mercedes (land grants), would take their carts loaded with
goods to the northern trading centers in Mexico. They took buffalo
hides and pelts, Indian blankets, sheep, piñon nuts, wine, and
agricultural and forest products to places like Chihuahua, Zacatecas,
and Durango, Mexico. In return, they traded for iron tools, clothes,
shoes, chocolate, sugar, tobacco, liquor, and, on occasion, books. Thus
they continued to strengthen the links between Mexico and New
Mexico, Spaniards, Mexicans, and Indians.
Nuevo México was the buffer for defense against the English,
French, and United States incursions. Nuevo Mexicanos were at the
forefront of the Spanish colonization efforts in their battles, trade, and
relations with the Comanches, Apaches, and other Indian tribes, and in
their explorations beyond the reaches of the first colonial settlements.
For example beginning on May 21, 1792, Pedro Vial blazed a trail
from Santa Fe to Saint Louis and returned the following year,
completing the first journey on what became known as the Santa Fe
Trail. In 1794, Lorenzo Márquez petitioned for a land grant for himself
and 51 other residents of San Miguel del Vado, 13 of whom were
genizaro, displaced Indians, from Mexico. This was the first settlement
at the eastern end of the Sangre de Cristo mountains and extended the
Spanish colonial settlement of New Mexico to the eastern plains.
New Mexico and the United States
Following its independence, the United States was seeking new
territories to explore and settle. Captain Zebulon Pike was exploring
illegally in New Mexico and was arrested in 1806. A colonial policy
prohibited foreigners from entering Spanish lands. Pike eventually was
released and returned to the United States. Subsequently, he wrote a
detailed account of what he had seen during his detention, and this
awakened an interest in potential new trade markets in the Provincia
de Nuevo México.
In 1824, following the revolution in Mexico against Spain, New
Mexico became a territory in the Republic of México. At the same
time, the United States government was making overtures to New
Mexico for it to join that union. In preparation for that day, the U.S.
government commissioned surveys from Fort Osage, Missouri, to Taos
and Santa Fe. In 1828, the United States provided the first military
escort to a wagon train of supplies for sale in Santa Fe. As a postscript
to this, New Mexico actually became part of the United States in
August of 1846. It was proclaimed the 47th state by President Howard
Taft on January 6, 1912.
By the time Zebulon Pike undertook his explorations, Nuevo
México’s population had become mostly native born. The 1790 census
listed only 49 people not born in New Mexico. Of these, 22 were
natives of El Paso, which actually was part of the Mexican Territory
that included Nuevo Mexico; five were born in one of Spain’s other
provinces in the New World, and two were born outside the viceroyalty
of New Spain. Remember that Don Diego de Vargas had brought with
him both full blooded Spaniards and Mestizos, as well as Indians from
México, setting the stage for this rapidly growing, mixed blood
population. Many of them intermarried with the Indian women of the
pueblos, the Comanche, Apache, and other tribes that inhabited the
area. The Comancheros who traveled the plains, fighting and trading
with the Indians, also frequently took Comanche women as their wives,
thus contributing further to the racial mix.
In New Mexico, mixed blood men could rise to become officeholders,
landowners, and high-ranking military officers just as easily as
the pure-blood Spaniards. The census of the last 1700s listed only two
categories: Spaniards and Castes (people of mixed bloods) and Indians.
The Indians were the Pueblos, Navajos, Comanches, and Utes, as well
In 1780, New Mexico suffered a smallpox epidemic followed by a
three-year drought that added to the misery of the people. Despite the
hardships, however, the colonist population of New Mexico continued
to grow. By 1790, the original 70 families and 100 soldiers brought by
de Vargas had grown to 30,953 including the native peoples. In 1793,
Villa de Santa Fe at 2,419, was second in population only to El Paso
del Norte. By 1817, New Mexico had more people living in the
province than California, Baja California, and Texas.
Some Europeans already had moved to New Mexico because of
commercial activity. They became Mexican citizens and remained
active in the commerce and the society of the province.
Before 1810, the developing Hispano culture was shaped and
formed in part by the landscape in which it found itself. Nuevo Mexico
experienced a degree of isolation from the rest of the territory because
of distances between settlements and between territories. Also, the
Spanish government exercised great control over the movements of its
people. The government required special travel permits for its citizens
who wished to move from one settlement to another in the new
territory. For a brief period only, the government allowed groups of
settlers to move from Spain to Nuevo Mexico.
The Spanish government wanted to encourage settlement of this
vast land to protect its interests, and so developed various enticements.
The settlers could become landowners under Spanish law by obtaining
land grants from the King, the Viceroy, or the Governor. Often, as an
incentive to move to a new settlement, the government offered aid in
the form of seeds, livestock, and even some financial support. The
settlers were forbidden, however, from grazing livestock or farming on
lands which were recognized as belonging to the Indians.