The Spanish language is becoming increasingly important in the United States every year, with more Spanish speakers coming into the country both as tourists and as new residents. Since 1990 the number of native Spanish language speakers in the United States has increased from 11 million to 41 million. This demographic is more important than ever both culturally and economically, and cannot be ignored by businesses. But did you know that even though the English language is the official language in the United States, that the Spanish language actually predates English? This article will discuss the history of the Spanish language in the United States from the first European explorers through the official creation of the United States.
Colonial Use of the Spanish Language
After Christopher Columbus’ expedition under the purview of the Spanish Throne, Spain continued to expand their territories in the so-called “New World”. Spain saw the great potential that existed in the Americas and set out to exploit it as best they could. They sent their ships throughout the area and made sure to explore and conquer as much of the land as they could.
The first European explorer to touch ground on the continental United States was the Spaniard Juan Ponce de León in 1513. He landed on the southern part of the United States and named it La Florida, meaning “the land of flowers”, the name that the state still retains today. He continued to explore the southern Floridian coast as well as the Florida Keys. Ponce de León was the first in a long line of Spanish explorers on the continent. Over the next few decades, Spanish explorers would travel throughout the continental United States including to the Grand Canyon, Mississippi River, and the Gulf of California.
Two other important early explorers from Spain were Hernando de Soto and Francisco Vásquez de Coronado. In 1540 they both began exploring different regions in the continental United States. Hernando de Soto explored the southeastern United States from Tampa Bay to to South Carolina crossing the Mississippi River. He explored modern day Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana. At the same time, Vásquez de Coronado traveled across the Mexican-Arizona border and all the way to Kansas. About 50 years later, in 1592, Juan de Fuca explored the western coast of the United States. He sailed up the west coast of Mexico to Vancouver Island looking for a passage from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.
Spanish Language Settlements
Spanish explorers founded some of the first settlements and colonies in the United States. As early as 1527 the Spanish had already created the first settlement in the United States, San Miguel de Guadalupe in Georgia. That settlement only lasted 3 months, but within 40 years the explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés had also founded St. Augustine, Florida. This settlement is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States and even predates even the Plymouth Colony at Plymouth Rock by more than 50 years (settled in 1620). The Spanish even held a Thanksgiving feast in St Augustine, 56 years before the English speaking pilgrims.
More settlements were created in the years that followed as farmers and craftsmen journeyed across the ocean, and explorers brought their families over. They established a settlement at modern day Parris Island, South Carolina called Santa Elena to protect the treasure they were taking from their newly explored landed and sending back to Europe. Spanish settlers also landed in the town of Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is now the oldest state capital in the United States. At the time, in 1610, Santa Fe was inhabited by indigenous peoples who had been living in the area for about 500 years. Santa Fe was under continuous Spanish control except from 1680 – 1692 when it was conquered by the indigenous Pueblo people. After the Spanish regained control, it remained so until the Mexican War of Independence.
Colonization of the Western United States by the Spanish was slower. The first settlements were missions established in California after 1697, first in Baja California then expanding throughout the region. By the 1800s there were many Spanish missions in California, predominantly along El Camino Real, “The Royal Road”, that allowed easy passage between each mission and still exists today. The purpose of these missions was to spread Christianity to indigenous peoples, and with that they also spread Spanish language and culture. Many indigenous people in California also learned to speak Spanish while working on Spanish ranches.
Territories Change Hands and Gain Independence
Many territories passed hands between Spain and Great Britain because of wars or trading of land. Spain traded control of Florida to Great Britain in exchange for Havana, Cuba, in 1763. But Florida only remained under Great Britain’s command until 1783 when the American Revolutionary War ended. The American Revolutionary War was fought by mostly English speaking settlers in the British owned colonies, but they had foreign support from Spain, who provided them with weapons and other supplies. After the war ended Florida was returned to Spain. It was only in 1821 that Florida became an American state through the Adams-Onis Treaty.
Throughout the time of colonization, Spain had a large influence on much of the Americas. The Spanish conquered much of the Caribbean and West Indies, including what is now Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica, along with parts of Central and South America. The most significant area of conquer for the Spanish was arguably Mexico, where they conquered the powerful Aztec Empire. After the conquest the Spanish took control over the area and made many settlements.
Through these settlements the Spanish language became pervasive in the region.
Mexico eventually gained independence from Spain in 1821, but at this time Mexican territory expanded across many areas that are now part of the United States. Texas, was one of the states originally a part of Mexico and was full of native Spanish language speakers.
After the Mexican War of Independence, many American English language speakers immigrated to Texas. By 1836 so many Americans were living in Texas that they demanded independence from Mexico and fought their own war of independence. Texas remained an independent state from 1836 until it was finally integrated into the United States in 1846.
Territories in California, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and Utah were also a part of Mexico after the Mexican War of Independence until the Mexican – American War in 1846. America won much of the Northern part of Mexico’s territory in the war, and in doing so incorporated many Spanish language speakers into the United States. These Spanish language speakers were now Americans and continued to speak their native language despite their country’s border changing.
Spanish Language in America Today
The United States is uniquely situated in the world with such a rich cultural history of both Spanish language speakers and English language speakers. However, the influence of the Spanish language on American culture is not only historical, it is also the future of the nation as more Spanish language speakers immigrate every year.
This is why it is increasingly important for businesses in the United States and businesses with customers in the United States, to provide accurate materials in both English and Spanish to remain relevant and communicate effectively with all potential customers. This is why it is so important that companies use Spanish language translation and copy-editing services such as Spanish with Style to guarantee they have the highest quality translated text.