SPANISH ROOTS OF AMERICA
Bishop David Arias
(Loreto Publications, 2007, 391pp, softcover, $39.90.
Available from Freedom Publishing)
Spanish Roots of America, by Bishop David Arias, was originally published in 1992 to coincide with the quincentenary of Christopher Columbus' first encounter with the 'New World'. The anniversary was marked, in the United States, by a flurry of literature and commentary on the Spanish presence in North America, and the influence of Hispanic culture from the late 15th century through to the present day.
A review of this literature confirms a great divide among historians regarding the merits of the Spanish conquest of the Americas. A large school of historians, comprising chiefly of those who subscribe to the socialist ideal which persists in South America even today, are highly critical of the Spanish incursion.
It was in response to such critical excesses that writers such as Bishop David Arias have composed histories of an altogether different nature. Spanish Roots of America seeks to highlight the great and valuable contribution of Spain and Spanish culture to the establishment of civilisation in America, a contribution which the author insists is often maligned, and too-often overlooked.
Bishop Arias has divided his book into two parts. The first of these (and by far the shorter) offers in some 81 pages a brief summary of the Spanish and Hispanic presence and influence in North America from the 15th century to the present day, broadly divided into six stages, each being the focus of a separate chapter.
We begin with an overview of Spain's general policy of exploration and colonisation, whereby she sought to improve her prospects for global trade, as well as her dominion, all the while spreading the Catholic faith at the behest of the Church. This is followed by a summary of the initial process of the exploration of the New World, a dangerous and painstaking endeavour in an often hostile environment. The methods, successes and setbacks faced by the Conquistadors in the colonisation and civilisation of the land and its native inhabitants are then examined, before the author proceeds with a similar analysis of the process of evangelisation, highlighting the contribution and heroism of Catholic missionaries.
The narrative then moves rapidly forward, with a review of Spain's contribution to the eventual declaration by the North American colonies of their independence from Great Britain. The final two chapters of Part One trace the dynamic presence of the Hispanic people and their culture in North America in the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as identifying some of the more influential Spanish and Hispanic figures in North American history.
Whereas the first part of Spanish Roots of America delivers a cohesive narrative summary of America's Spanish heritage, part two offers, in contrast, a disparate, year-by-year chronology of the events, people, and issues which define the Spanish presence in North America, beginning with Columbus' arrival in 1492. At almost 250 pages, this chronology is dense, being filled with fascinating data from a vast array of historical sources.
Still, although rich and informative, the chronology documents only those events which support a view of Spain and the Conquistadors as faultless colonists, revealing an idealistic bias which pervades the entire volume. As mentioned earlier, this bias seeks to restore the balance of historical analysis in an area of historical inquiry which has been seriously perverted by anti-Spanish and anti-Catholic ideologues.
On the other hand, the author's desire to reacquaint Americans with their Hispanic heritage serves another, deeper purpose: to demonstrate that the United States of America was born of Catholic lineage. Clearly, Bishop Arias perceives that strengthening the Hispanic identity and culture in the United States promises to provide a solid and vibrant platform from which the Catholic Church can undertake the monumental task of evangelising an increasingly materialist culture.
Overall, this is an entertaining book, and the writing is imbued with the personality of an author who is clearly passionate about his subject. Several useful and interesting appendices are included, containing catalogues of American Governors, forts, and missions of Spanish heritage, as well as a number of pertinent historical documents, such as Queen Isabella's Proclamation on the Treatment of Indians.
Easy to read, accompanied by a small selection of relevant pictures, and with an attractive cover, Spanish Roots of America is perhaps best described as a selective summary of the historical influence of Spain on North America. It is also a testament to the burning desire of its author to reignite the dwindling flame of Catholicism in a civilisation whose historical roots rest in the fertile Catholic ground of mediaeval Spain.
Tim Cannon is a research officer with the Thomas More Centre.