Entrada: The Legacy of Spain and Mexico in the United States.
Bernard L. Fontana. Tucson Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, 1994. Maps. Illustrations. Notes. References. Index. 320 pages. Paperback, $19.95.
Reviewed by Daniel Tyler, Professor of Southwestern History, Colorado State University. Author of Sources for New Mexican History, The Mythical Pueblo Rights Doctrine and The Last Water Hole in the West.
It would be incorrect to classify Fontana’s Legacy as a textbook, although its scope, format and chronological coverage are broad enough to qualify. College level students could learn an immense amount about the nation’s Hispanic past and borderlands professors would probably enjoy teaching a book that is so well written, significantly illustrated and filled with a wealth of information. But this book is different than a traditional text. In the first place it was commissioned by the Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, inspired by the quincentennial year of the arrival of Columbus in the Western Hemisphere. Aimed at American citizens and other visitors to our national parks, Fontana’s history presents a cultural view of events, people and traditions representative of Hispanic activities in and about the nation’s parks, monuments and other federally designated areas. Secondly, Fontana is an anthropologist who knows better than most historians that history is not just a debate about the past but “an argument about the present and the future” (xi). His point of view stresses the importance of understanding our cultural diversity; his special focus is on the legacy left by Spaniards and Mexicans. From 1493 to 1849, he details their triumphs and failures, not as an historical aberration but as a significant part of American history.
Understanding the continuity between the colonial past and the present helps explain the unique character of the post-quincentennial United States. “The story of the entrada [entrance or entering] of Spain and Mexico in the United States has no ending,” Fontana concludes. “The earlier presence of these nations and their people have inconspicuously become a part of who we are. Cultural legacies, however shaped and refashioned in the imagination, last for all time” (p. 221).
Certain themes stand out in the author’s treatment of this history. His emphasis on the impact of European disease re-emphasizes much of what Alfred W. Crosby, Jr. argued in his 1972 publication, The Columbian Exchange. Fontana carries the story forward. In every entrada, he notes, and even in the Mexican period, Hispanic settlers carried the potential for viral epidemics into indigenous populations. From Florida to California, Native Americans learned to associate the arrival of Europeans with death. Nevertheless, cultural exchange characterized relations between the two cultures, intermarriage took place, and by the middle of the nineteenth century a mestizo culture dominated most borderlands settlements. Fontana’s story also shows how Native Americans lost their lands and water rights through the secularization of missions. He describes the movement of troops, missionaries and settlers within the context of international struggles for power. And he informs us of the role of Blacks and other ethnic groups as they participated in or experienced the effects of 350 years of conquest.
Californians will find Entrada a good read. They will not encounter a detailed account of mission establishment, the life of Father Junipero Serra, the settlement of San Diego, Los Angeles, Monterey and San Franciso. They will read only brief passages about mission secularization, California’s cattle industry, land grants and the Mexican War. But they will be able to place California’s Hispanic history within the context of a bigger story: the cultural baggage brought to America by Spaniards; the legends they pursued; their reaction to prehistoric American ruins; their deep commitment to Roman Catholicism; the extensive journeys they undertook in the name of the king of Spain; and the gradual acculturation they experienced caused both by the people they met and the arid land they tried to tame. It is perspective and balance which Fontana provides so skillfully. Even though some may carp about the author’s attempt to include all the nationally protected sites in the Southwest and the border with Mexico, the education he provides far outweighs any criticism of his clearly stated modus operandi.
Entrada is a valuable contribution to borderlands scholarship. It can be used as a reference tool, a text, or just a pleasant read. Plenty of anecdotes and superb illustrations enliven the printed page. As Fontana himself notes in a caption for a photograph, Spain and Mexico’s living legacy in the United States “survives amid a sometimes hostile environment, much like this coastal oak that clings to a rocky cliff on Santa Rosa Island” (p. 215). It would be fair to say that Fontana has fertilized this legacy, assuring it long life and future abundance.
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