79. Searching for Not-So-Hidden Hispanic Heritage in Washington DC
April 21, 2015 - When we go to our nation's capital, mostly as tourists trying to make time to cover all the major attractions, we seldom find enough time to visit some smaller sites that would be monumental if they were elsewhere.
Washington has so many statues, sculptured buildings, busts, monuments and other outdoor attractions that it's easy to overlook many of them — even when some could have special significance to you.
This is especially true for U.S. Latinos, who often fail to see how much Hispanic heritage is on display in Washington.
When we take a tour of the Capitol — as we did in my most recent column — we often are surprised to find that there is enough Hispanic heritage art there to fill a small museum. But when you go out on the streets of the city and you search for Hispanic heritage, you find that it was hidden right before your eyes.
In fact, there are so many "Hispanic Heroes in Our Nation's Capital" that the National Park Service has created the "Statues of the Liberators, Hispanic Heroes Walking Tour" along Virginia Avenue, stretching from Constitution Avenue to New Hampshire Avenue.
Just by calling a number from your cellphone, you can even take a guided tour of the 10-block stretch, which features a series of impressive statues "commemorating the roles of Simon Bolivar, Jose de San Martin, Benito Juarez, Jose Gervasio Artigas, and Bernardo de Galvez in the establishment of the independent nations of the Americas," according to a National Park Service pamphlet promoting the tour. It notes that the statues were gifts from Argentina, Mexico, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela, highlighting "the bond between the United States and the nations of Latin America."
The tour also makes a stop at the neoclassical building that serves as the headquarters of the Organization of American States, on 17th Street and Constitution Avenue, where "more memorials that celebrate Latin America's indigenous, artistic, literary, and political achievements are located throughout its grounds."
Greeting you at the main entrance of the OAS building is an impressing statue of Isabella I, "the Catholic Queen of Castile, Aragon and islands and mainland of the Ocean Sea," who sent Hispanic heritage to the New World.
But as you walk along the OAS grounds, your Hispanic batteries keep getting recharged by the sight of numerous busts honoring Latin American patriots, including Cuba's Jose Marti, the Dominican Republic's Juan Pablo Duarte, and writers, including Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Chilean poets Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral, Mexican poet Juana Ines de la Cruz, and Venezuelan novelists Teresa de la Parra and Romulo Gallegos.
You see other busts honoring political figures, from Bolivar to former Ecuadorean President Jose Eloy Alfaro Delgado to former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to Peruvian indigenous leader Tupac Amaru II.
As you walk the streets of Washington, if you are not looking for them, you will probably miss its many tributes to Hispanic heritage. But I was on my Great Hispanic American History Tour, and I was finding them everywhere.
Even some of Washington's war memorials have special significance to Latinos, many of whom have known someone who fought or died for this country. But at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where all our dead heroes are listed by name and where Hispanic surnames are abundant, you don't even have to have known anyone to recognize the magnitude of Hispanic sacrifice for this nation.
Although not included in the "Statues of the Liberators" walking tour, just a few blocks northeast of Virginia Avenue, you'll find the Farragut West and Farragut North Metro stations, both near Farragut Square — all named after Adm. David G. Farragut, the Hispanic Civil War hero who led and won major battles for the Union Navy. Just two blocks from the White House, a towering statue of Farragut centers the plaza. But unless you read the marker near the monument, you probably don't know that he was "the son of Jorge Farragut, a Spanish-born mariner and hero of the American Revolution."
If you are a Latino reading that marker for the first time, surely you gain a better understanding of how deeply your ancestral roots are planted here, and you may also feel proud of how far in history your ancestors have been sacrificing to build this great nation.
Although Farragut was left out of the Hispanic heroes tour, the National Park Service deserves kudos for not only creating the guided walking tour of the "Statues of the Liberators" and the OAS grounds but also recognizing that most Latin American nations have strong connections to the American fight for freedom and liberty.
"The American Revolutionary War and the resulting establishment of the United States of America triggered a series of events in the Americas, where colonies of the European powers saw another model and chose to govern themselves," notes the tour pamphlet.
Most people don't know that even before Latinos fought for their own homelands' independence from Spain, many Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans, Mexicans and other Hispanics fought with Spain against Great Britain during the American Revolution or that it was U.S. independence that inspired and ignited freedom movements throughout the Americas.
"Between 1808 and 1826, all of the Spanish holdings in the Americas, except for Cuba and Puerto Rico, would gain their independence in a series of military engagements known as the Wars of Independence," the tour pamphlet explains. "The liberators Artigas, Bolivar, Juarez, and San Martin were strongly influenced by the republican ideals in the U.S. and Galvez was directly involved with the success of the American Revolution as the Spanish Governor of Louisiana during the conflict."
To follow the "Statues of the Liberators, Hispanic Heroes Walking Tour" with an audio narrative, call 202-595-1730 and follow the instructions. You'll be greeted by a recorded narrator, who calls Virginia Avenue "the Avenue of the Americas" and explains that this row of Hispanic heroes "evolved over many years" as various countries donated the statues to the United States. Once you get to each statue, you press a keypad number and listen to the biography of each liberator.
"The monuments to these heroes link our countries through a sense of independence and camaraderie," the tour pamphlet declares. "These statues tell a story of freedom movements in the Americas and their connection to the United States."
The Great Hispanic American History Tour found Hispanic heritage all over our nation's capital, some of it hidden right before our eyes, teaching us to be more conscious of our ancestral roots. But we also found Hispanic heritage that has been purposely hidden, omitted history that will be exposed when our tour makes another stop in Washington. Stay tuned.
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