Our Spanish ancestors played a role in the attempt to erase indigenous peoples.
America is emerging from the first Hispanic Heritage Month, in which a US president celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day rather than recognizing Columbus Day. Let it flow.
Christopher Columbus sailed and plundered in the 1490s at the behest of the Spanish crown, funded by Spanish investors, through the work of Spanish crews. It was their journey that led to the desecration of the so-called “New World,” which was inhabited, managed and cultivated by hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people.
The history of Utah parallels this point in time. The Spaniards were the first Europeans to meet some of Utah’s native residents during the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition of 1776 and the Rivera Expedition of 1765. Just as Columbus and other companies in the tropics did. place for the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica, Domínguez and Silvestre The de Escalante expedition paved the way for expansion to the west. The Spanish have often broken the trail, and the evidence is all over the map. The Sierra de Sal, known as the La Sal Mountains in Moab, San Juan River, Virgin River, San Rafael Swell, and Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monuments are just a few of the many iconic places in Utah named by or in honor of Hispanics. .
But, surely, all of these places have names in the indigenous languages of the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau. This recognition, and many more, can make Hispanic Heritage Month more serious and valuable to all Americans.
Hispanic Heritage Month is full of clichés about celebrating the diversity of Latin American food, culture, music and traditions, and their integral place in the United States as Hispanic Heritage Month draws ends today, let’s remember that this is also the time to understand what kinds of relationships our Spanish ancestors had with Native Americans.
We must recognize the role of our ancestors in the oppression and attempt to erase Native Americans – in Utah, in particular, Puebloans and Diné. Without this recognition, we will never have the grace of reconciling and healing our relationship with Indigenous peoples today. We must also remember that Utah’s early Hispanic ancestors endured their travels thanks to the food, supplies, and guidance given by members of the Ute and Paiute communities in 1776. Utah’s Hispanic heritage has survived thanks to some of the original inhabitants of the region.
After celebrating an official Indigenous Peoples Day for the first time this week, we also resort to examining our own Indigenous roots in Utah as Hispanics and Latinos. A study of scarlet macaw feathers found near Canyonlands National Park and in Bears Ears National Monument revealed that ancestral Puebloans consistently acquired living macaws from Mesoamerica between AD 900 and AD 1150. Two hypotheses explain how the macaws got to the land of the canyons. They were raised somewhere like Paquimé in the Chihuahuan Desert in Mexico and then transported to the Colorado Plateau. Or the macaws were transported directly to the Colorado Plateau from the Gulf Coast and rainforests. Either way, this archaeological treasure is a testament to the long history of Latino ancestors connecting and relating to the land we today call the Four Corners region and its original inhabitants.
Hispanics and Latinos in the Southwest carry a long and complex heritage started by some of our Indigenous and European ancestors. They shaped Utah to where we know it today. Now is a great time to take a look at them, especially so Utah can celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in a more authentic and meaningful way than ever.
Olivia juarez is a Utahn, activist and organizer committed to nurturing Latinx leadership and joy in wilderness conservation.