“Spanish Conquistadors Plus Indians Made Me”


My recent criticism of the 200,000+ person city of Chula Vista, California, that banned a statue of Christopher Columbus drew differing opinions and were usually along the lines of how could I — with 48% Amerindian DNA — turn on my people.
Was I, in fact, a coconut – brown on the outside, white on the inside?
How can I praise white men so much when they decimated and mistreated Native Americans?
My DNA tested almost 50-50 Amerindian (Mexican and Peruvian) and European (British Isles, France, Germany, Italy, Greece and Spanish). Racist whites used to call me a “half breed.” The Spanish called it a “mestizo.”
The Spanish conquered almost the entire Western Hemisphere, starting, of course, with Columbus’ initial landing on the island of San Salvador in 1492. From the island of Hispaniola (Haiti/Domincan Republic) Spanish sailors sailed to discover Cuba and other real estate north, west and south.
The New World was
a Spanish World.
What they found was an Indian World. They found great cities. They found riches beyond description. They found foods to eat they had never seen, liquor to drink never experienced. They found men of science and astronomy that were more advanced than those of their Europe.
They found empires with huge armies, huge cities, huge buildings, huge everything without having been built or constructed like buildings in Europe. The natives had no beasts of burden or even the wheel. What they had were brilliant engineers.
I know these things because I educated myself as to who I am and where I came from.
The white side of me was easy; I grew up in white U.S.A. speaking English, reading American newspapers and books, taught by 100% white teachers and protected by almost all-white police officers.
The links I had to my native Mexico and its people were through my mother, great-grandmother and the Spanish-speaking community I lived in. I spoke Spanish-only until Spanish nuns taught me to speak English in grades one and two. When we moved to a white neighborhood I transferred to an all white school. The September day I transferred I was in the third grade, a week later I was in the fourth grade.
My lifelong quest for knowledge continues, not about numbers or calculus, the periodic table or stars and planets, no; about people, cultures and the lands they live in.
For example, in 1968 I went to Mexico City. I rented a car and drove to San Juan Teotihuacan, home to the pyramids of the Sun and Moon. I climbed the pyramid of the Sun marveling at how tiny Indians managed when I was having trouble climbing steps over two feet high. It was nine in the morning. When I reached the top I faced due east directly into the sun. I turned and was struck by an imaginary “bolt of lightning.” Facing west, ruins of what the Spanish found in 1519 was Tenotchtilan (now Mexico City) that in 1519 may have been the largest city in the world. The half of me that was Indian burst with pride. The half European of me wondered what the first white man that saw Tenotchititlan thought about the empire he was looking at.
Did he know that the “maize” the Indians shared with the Spanish would be named “corn” and feed the world, as would the potatoes he had never seen, or tomatoes, vanilla, avocados or turkeys? I wondered what his reaction to the Aztec Calendar was when he found out it was more accurate than the calendar used in Europe at the time. Or that Maya mathematicians had discovered the “zero” before Arab mathematicians did.
Probably not. But I know. Despite great Indian achievements, the Spaniard had better technology and that is why Spaniards prevailed and we are what we are.
I honor those ancestors of mine, both the white who saw a huge city and discovered riches and a future beyond imagination in the Americas and the native Indian like the one Mel Gibson portrayed in his “Apocalypto” movie.
Running from two pursuers intent on killing him, the young man ran until he burst out of the jungle onto a beach. He froze. The two pursuers caught up to him, froze and stared at what these Indians saw was a whole new world with Spanish conquistadors in small boats with flags of Spain.
They claimed the new world; they changed the history of the world by changing its future.
I honor both worlds. I do so not by cheap white guilt or any sense of inferiority but from the history of the world that changed that day in what we call Mexico, my Mexico and produced me.