Spanish speakers have been present and writing in what is today the United States since the late sixteenth century, when Spanish explorers and colonizers described their experiences in chronicles, prose, poems, and epistolary exchanges. But it was not until the nineteenth century that Spanish speakers from various Latin American countries and Spain began to develop a cultural identity within the United States that was linguistically, racially, and culturally distinct from the Anglo-American majority culture. In the nineteenth century Spanish speakers comprised three principal groups: American citizens of Spanish ancestry, Spanish-speaking immigrants from the Americans, and exiled political figures in the United States who fought for Latin American independence from Spain. The presence of these Spanish speakers transformed the American cultural landscape at a times when the United States was defining its own cultural and national identity in response to its rapid continental and hemispheric expansion. The most significant polemic of and about Spanish speakers in the United States came as a result of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). After the war Mexico lost almost half of its territories to the United States, including modern-day California, Utah, and Nevada and parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming as well as Mexico’s claim to Texas, which had been under U.S. occupations since 1836. The massive acquisition of territory meant that the country’s cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and religious makeup would undergo considerable transformation. Yet how is that American literary history has not been able to register this important incorporation of a people, their cultural history, and the literature that charts this transformation? This essay seeks to provide the basis from which to understand what has been conceived as a “recent” cultural and literary phenomenon borne out the 1960s civil rights movements.

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From . American History through Literature, 1E. Copyright 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning, Inc. Reproduced by permission. www.cengage.com/permissions.

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