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National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept 15-Oct 15)

Updated: May 11, 2023

10 facts about early Latin-American history

Hispanic history in the United States has often been largely passed over. But Latin Americans played an integral part in U.S. history and even earlier than English colonization. Here are ten fast facts about Latin American influence in U.S. history most Americans don’t know.

1. Spanish explorers came to the North American continent and started New World settlements long before English colonists were here. Columbus in 1492, Ponce de Leon in 1508, Balboa in 1513, Pineda in 1519, Gordillo in 1521, and Coronado in 1540, who ventured up as far as modern-day Kansas in the north American interior, were just some of the earliest Spanish explorers who predated the English.

2. St. Augustine and Santa Fe are two of the oldest cities in the U.S., both settled first by Spanish settlers.Seven of America’s ten largest cities (by population) were settled by the Spanish. They are Los Angeles (2nd), Houston (4th), Phoenix (5th), San Antonio (7th), San Diego (8th), Dallas (9th), and San Jose (10th).

3. Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821 and took over control of Spain’s new world territories in the early 1820s. The new government ignored the "norteños" (inhabitants of Mexico's northern provinces north of the Rio Grande in what is today the U.S. ), except to break up the mission system in California.

4. Navajo and Apache tribes also systematically raided settlements and ranches in the New Mexico territory, but the Mexican government failed to provide protections for the settlers because it was using all its armed forced to put down civil wars and factional attacks in Mexican territory south of the Rio Grande.

5. Beginning in the 1820s, immigrants from Spain first settled in Texas (Tejas), then part of Mexico, but we’re soon joined by other European immigrants and Americans from the east. Anglo and Hispanic Texas joined to fight Mexico in 1836, defeating an invading army and declaring the independence of Texas. The Texas Republic included Tejanos as leading citizens, but Mexico refused to recognize its legal existence. The US annexed Texas in 1845, leading to the Mexican–American War of 1846–48. While there were some Americans who considered the war with Mexico illegal and immoral, others considered it part of Manifest Destiny. This policy claimed that it was the United States' right to expand westward across North America and settle the land.

6. After armed uprisings in Texas, Mexico's President Santa Anna led an army to put down the rebellion. After initial victories at The Alamo and Goliad, Santa Anna was decisively defeated by the Texans, who declared independence. The Tejanos in Texas joined the revolution and supported the new Republic of Texas. Hispanics in New Mexico and California as well were localistic and did not identify with the regime in Mexico City. The "norteños" played a role in the Mexican–American War of 1846–48, and when offered the choice of repatriating to Mexico or remaining and becoming citizens of the United States, the great majority remained.

7. The Americans won and the war ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In the Treaty Mexico gave up more than 500,000 square miles of territory, which today comprises Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming. The United States in 1853 purchased the Gadsden Purchase, a strip of land in southern New Mexico and Arizona that provided a route for a railroad. The result was unchallenged American control over a wide range of territory once held by Mexico, including the present -ay states of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and California. The vast majority of Hispanic populations chose to stay and become full US citizens.

8. In the territories of Texas, California, New Mexico, and Arizona, Mexican landowners cultivated strong alliances with American entrepreneurs and immigrant settlers. In 1848, these Mexican landowners numbered about 10,000. When California became overwhelmed with immigrants and Americans from the east, they became a minority.

9. In the mid-1800s, as Mexican settlers began to integrate with the influx of immigrants, the Latino culture of the Southwest, especially in New Mexico and Texas territories, called itself “Spanish” rather than “Mexican” to maintain their ethnic identity from both Mexico and “los norte americanos.” Latinos emphasized their own religion, customs and culture and settled into enclaves, rural colonies and urban barrios, mostly apart from norte americanos. Intermarriage rates were also low.

10. History repeats itself. What started as a minority group in the early United States has become a modern-day juggernaut. Today, Hispanics and Latinos comprise about 18% of the U.S. population. By 2045, the U.S. Census projects, Hispanic Americans will comprise 25% of the population and the majority of the American populations will then be people of color. White Americans will comprise less than 50% of the population and will become a minority.


Originally posted September 14, 2019 in Facebook &

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Deborah Hufford

Author, Notes from the Frontier

Deborah Hufford is an award-winning author and magazine editor with a passion for history. Her popular blog with 100,000+ readers has led to an upcoming novel! Growing up as an Iowa farmgirl, rodeo queen and voracious reader, her love of land, lore and literature fired her writing muse. With a Bachelor's in English and Master's in Journalism from the University of Iowa, she taught students of Iowa's Writer's Workshop, then at Northwestern University, Marquette and Mount Mary. Her extensive publishing career began at Better Homes & Gardens, includes credits in New York Times Magazine, New York Times, Connoisseur, many other titles, and serving as publisher of The Writer's Handbook


Deeply devoted to social justice, especially for veterans, women, and Native Americans, she has served on boards and donated her fundraising skills to Chief Joseph Foundation, Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), Homeless Veterans Initiative, Humane Society, and other nonprofits.  


Deborah's soon-to-be released historical novel, BLOOD TO RUBIES weaves indigenous and pioneer history, strong women and clashing worlds into a sweeping saga praised by NYT bestselling authors as "crushing," "rhapsodic," "gritty," and "sensuous." Purchase BLOOD TO RUBIES online beginning June 9. Connect with Deborah on, Facebook, and Instagram.

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