By Miguel Pérez
April 19, 2011 -- We missed another birthday, and most of us didn't even notice!
Whose birthday, you ask?
On April 2, all Americans should have celebrated the 498th anniversary of the discovery of the land that came to be known as the United States of America.
I know. History books tell us that April 2, 1513, was the day Juan Ponce de León first sighted and named Florida.
But unfortunately, we simply assume that it was only the peninsula we now know as the state of Florida.
In fact, Ponce de León and his Spanish conquistadors discovered our country!
Yet instead of the national celebration this date deserves, instead of a federal holiday, what we get is a birthday that many of us tend to forget and the rest of us don't even recognize.
Sure, there are some good events in Florida. On April 2-3, at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in St. Augustine, the living history group La Compañía de Juan Ponce de León, a group created to portray "The Company of Juan Ponce de León," presented a re-enactment of a 16th-century Spanish encampment, and there were lectures by distinguished scholars and special activities for the children.
Bravo! But unfortunately, these events are so small and so local that the rest of us are not even aware of them.
And two years from now, when we reach our quincentennial in 2013, will we be ready to celebrate our 500th birthday? Shouldn't we be planning a big series of national events to commemorate our own American roots?
Could we be holding back because those roots are Hispanic? Could it be part of that centuries-old campaign to minimize the accomplishments of the Spanish conquistadors and their descendants — known as The Black Legend?
From the moment Ponce de León and his men first sighted the North American mainland on April 2, 1513, and first stepped ashore on April 3, European scholars and mapmakers used the word "Florida" to describe the territory now known as the continental United States. Yet nowadays, we limit their discovery only to the Florida Peninsula.
Why? Could it be that The Black Legend is still alive in the 21st century? Still hiding our Hispanic heritage in this country?
Of course, these are rhetorical questions. Otherwise we would be getting ready for a huge quincentennial celebration, wouldn't we?
Instead, what we see is much more emphasis and preparation for the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine — which doesn't even come until two years later.
Some background: The city of St. Augustine was founded by Spanish conquistadors led by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés 52 years after Ponce de León discovered the mainland. In 2015, St. Augustine celebrates the 450th anniversary of its establishment as the nation's first city. But in 2013, we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Ponce de León's discovery.
Yet there are bigger and better celebrations planned for 2015 than for 2013. How is that possible?
As wonderful as it may be that St. Augustine will be celebrating its 450th birthday and reminding this country that our first city has Spanish roots, how is the birth of our first town more important than the discovery of our nation?
And by the way, more than a celebration of our Spanish heritage, the 2015 events already are planned to focus on the cultural diversity of the city throughout history. You can't blame the city for wanting to recognize its historical diversity and the many ethnic groups that have lived there, but giving more attention to 2015 than 2013 allows The Black Legend to creep back into our lives and continue to minimize the contributions Hispanics have made to this great nation.
Amazingly, when you search online for any kind of reference to a 500th anniversary celebration in 2013, you usually find limited information (perhaps a paragraph) within an article mostly about St. Augustine's great plans for 2015. They tell you the city is planning four years of festivities starting in 2012, including 2013 events in recognition of Ponce de León's great accomplishments, but they make no effort to hide the fact that they are putting the cart before the horse and placing their emphasis on 2015.
This has been mostly the work of the First America Foundation, a nonprofit organization created by the city and geared primarily toward promoting tourism for St. Augustine. But even U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar put the cart before the horse last week, when he named the members of a new federal "St. Augustine 450th Commemoration Commission" to oversee celebrations that, by the way (almost as an afterthought), also include Ponce de León and the discovery of our nation.
They are missing the big picture. This should be a huge national celebration, of which St. Augustine could be the center stage — but in 2013, for crying out loud, when they could ask all Americans to celebrate our Discovery Day. And our Spanish roots.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2011 CREATORS.COM
Published at Creators.com - What a Birthday to Forget! - on April 19, 2011.
1. America’s Cradle
La Cuna de America
2. Our Quincentennial is Coming!
!Nuestro Quinto Centenario Se Avecina!
3. American Discovery Day
Día del Descubrimiento de América
4. What a Birthday to Forget!