Latin American Herald Tribune
October 15, 2010

New Mexico Museum Exhibits Spain’s Legacy in U.S.

MIAMI – Friendship treaties signed with different Indian nations by Spaniards and a portrait of George Washington are two of the valuable items in an exhibition opening this weekend at the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe.

“The Thread of Memory” display is made up of priceless historical documents, illustrations and maps from the General Archive of the Indies in Seville, Spain.

The exhibition brings together a total of more than 140 works, all originals, such as the first drawing of a bison on the Great Plains, the first map of the Gulf of Mexico from the year 1519, another of the Mississippi, and illustrations and commentaries of Juan Ponce de Leon after the 1513 discovery of the “island” of Florida.

The goal of the show is to highlight the impact and the indelible cultural mark that Spain left on American history over 309 years, from 1513 until 1822, in 15 states from Florida and Nebraska to Tennessee, Texas and New Mexico.

This historical and cultural imprint is totally unknown to a large part of the population, which is only familiar with place names in Spanish that survive as testimony to Spain’s presence in this country.

The exhibition, with items on show for the first time outside of Spain, attempts to restore a part of the memory of three centuries of Spanish colonization in what is today the United States, unjustly forgotten, such as Spain’s close relations with the advocates of American independence.

The exhibition is divided into 10 sections that span the period from Spain’s arrival in 1513 on what is now U.S. territory, until the signing of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, which concluded the U.S. military invasion in which Mexico lost half of its territory.

Other relevant documents at the exhibition are the written instructions given by Fray Marcos de Niza to carry out the exploration of the northern part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain (as Mexico was then known), and a 1701 map showing the different missions established in California.

Among the more attention-getting maps in the display is one of New Mexico, drawn in 1602, on which Spanish villages and settlements are registered.

“Before Jamestown was settled and long before Western Expansion defined us, Spanish explorers began documenting and colonizing the nation,” the museum director, Dr. Frances Levine, said. “They gave Europeans some of their first glimpses of a far-away land and planted the seeds of a culture that flourishes today.”

The three-story, 9,000-square-meter (97,000-square-foot) museum is located behind Santa Fe’s historic Palace of the Governors, built by the Spaniards in 1609-1610 and considered the country’s oldest civilian structure in continuous use.

The exhibition, presented in English and Spanish, also offers a series of speeches, musical performances, debating tables and other events that explore Spain’s role in the shaping of what is today the United States.

The event is co-organized with the State Corporation for the Spanish Cultural Action Abroad, or SEACEX, in collaboration with Spain’s Ministries for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and Culture, and sponsored by the Rafael del Pino Foundation.

After its presentation in Santa Fe, a city that this year commemorates the 400th anniversary of its founding by Pedro de Peralta and is the oldest state capital in the United States, the exhibition travels to El Paso, Texas, and New Orleans. EFE