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Carrie Gibson, El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2019), 560pp.Carrie Gibson, El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2019), 560pp.

When America's thirteen colonies liberated themselves from Britain in 1776, roughly half of what we now call the United States was actually part of Spain's global empire that stretched from Florida to New Mexico and California. Juan Ponce de León had landed on the Atlantic coast of La Florida in 1513, nearly a century before before the founding of British Jamestown in 1607. The oldest city in the United States is St. Augustine, founded by Spanish explorers in 1545. The oldest church is likely San Miguel, in Santa Fe, dating to 1610.

Whereas the first American settlements in Virginia and New England were small affairs that struggled to survive, parts of Spain's empire in North America were enormous by comparison. In 1620, for example, Mexico City had a population of 150,000, a university, and a cathedral. Even thirty years later, in 1650, the population of Boston was about 2,000 people. It would be three hundred years later, at the time of the Mexican American War from 1846 to 1848, that the United States finally gained control of the continent from Spain and Mexico.

For many of us, says Carrie Gibson, this is a lost history. It's a curious state of affairs. About 18% of America's population today is Hispanic, but our "long, shared past" — this three-hundred-year Hispanic history of the United States, remains forgotten, unknown, unacknowledged, and sometimes actively marginalized. Why are Hispanics still being treated as strangers in their own land? Gibson's book reminds us that the historical narrative that privileges New England is not just inaccurate, it's not helpful. The claim to be a founding "American" is much more richly complex and diverse than our airbrushed histories suggest.  For more on this topic see the similar book that was published at about the same time: Robert Goodwin, América: The Epic Story of Spanish North America (New York: Bloomsbury, 2019), 519pp.

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