From El Paso to Plymouth

Hispanic Contributions to American Culture

Last November, a delegation of citizens from the far West Texas border city of El Paso made the long journey to Plymouth, Massachusetts. The purpose of the El Pasoans' visit was to challenge Plymouth's long-held—and nearly universally accepted—claim that it was the site of the first Thanksgiving to be held on what is now United States soil.

"Al contrario," said the residents of El Paso. Instead of having taken place in Plymouth in 1620, the first Thanksgiving was held near El Paso 22 years previously, in 1598. Moreover, asserted the revisionists, the United States should honor a long-forgotten hero, Juan de Onate, the leader of the caravan of brave Spanish settlers and conquistadores who not only celebrated the first American Thanksgiving but staged the first play ever performed on what is today American soil.

The historical mini-controversy soon fizzled out. But the story of Juan de Onate and his expedition symbolizes an aspect of America's cultural identity that is destined to grow. As the contributions of Hispanics to North American history are brought into sharper focus, the United States has no choice but to ascertain who the Hispanics are. How did they get here, and how do they fit into the nation's consciousness? Inevitably, this leads to the question not only of assimilation, but of the real meaning of assimilation as the world moves in the direction of greater global...

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