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Salvador Gabaldón: Mexico's role in US independence

Salvador Gabaldón: Mexico's role in US independence

Given our president’s attitude toward Mexico as a nation that has “taken advantage of us for too long,” perhaps this Fourth of July would be a good time to consider the surprising role Mexico played in the U.S. War of Independence.

In 1776 Mexico, officially known as New Spain, was an enormous realm that included Cuba, Florida, Guatemala and the Louisiana territory, as well as the land that became the independent nation of Mexico. As early as 1767, Benjamin Franklin cast envious eyes on the neighboring land, writing to his son William about the possibility of invading it. Thomas Paine also predicted a takeover of Mexico, stating in his famous pamphlet Common Sense that the American Revolution was “not the affair of a City, a County, a Province, or a Kingdom; but of a Continent — of at least one-eighth part of the habitable Globe.” Today the U.S. controls 70 percent of what had been New Spain.

Yet in many ways, Mexicans under Spanish rule were deeply involved in the war on behalf of the U.S.

Spanish silver, mined by indigenous Mexican workers in Zacatecas, Chihuahua and Durango, provided the wealth that largely funded the war. Millions of Spanish pesos backed the weak American currency — the Continental — and launched a massive Spanish supply effort that aided the American rebels. As early as 1776, Gen. Bernardo de Gálvez delivered the first 9,000 pounds of gunpowder to American smugglers in the Spanish city of New Orleans — gunpowder that Mexicans had produced in the factories of Chapultepec. Gunpowder was crucial to the war effort, but it was only the first of many tons of war materiel that the Americans received. Later shipments from Mexico included boots, uniforms, ammunition, food, dry goods and medicine.

By 1779 Spain had openly declared war on Britain, and King Carlos III ordered his subjects in Mexico to contribute donations in support of the war. Each Indian or mestizo owed a week’s wages; Spaniards and criollos, two weeks. Money poured in from as far away as California, where Fray Junípero Serra collected an amount equivalent to about $130,000 in today’s money. Pimería Alta (Arizona and Sonora) contributed an astounding $675,000, with the tiny Presidio of San Agustin de Tucsón delivering nearly $13,000. The poorest province, New Mexico, still managed an amount roughly equivalent to $115,000.

There was more: Mexican vaqueros from the province of Texas drove longhorn cattle from the area near today’s San Antonio to New Orleans to help feed Spanish troops battling the British. Under royal orders, Gen. Gálvez organized an army, initially composed mostly of Mexican soldiers, to attack the British along the Gulf coast, deny them use of the Mississippi River, and take control of the formidable British fort at Saratoga, Florida. Gen. Gálvez and his men, reinforced with thousands of additional troops, including Native Americans from Louisiana and Afro Cuban soldiers from Havana, achieved every objective, ultimately forcing British Gen. John Campbell and more than 1,100 Redcoats to surrender.

Traditional U.S. history textbooks say little about the vital help Americans received from France and virtually nothing about the equally crucial participation of Spain and colonial Mexico. That may not matter much to someone as ignorant of history as our president, but for Americans who wish to have a better understanding of the inextricable link between the two nations, a long overdue acknowledgment of Mexico’s contribution to our independence would seem an appropriate addition to our holiday celebrations.

Salvador Gabaldón teaches with the Culturally Relevant Department of TUSD. Contact Salvador at gabaldons@comcast.net


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