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Political correctness vs accuracy
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Down at the old English colony of Jamestown in Virginia, they are spending the summer celebrating what organizers call “America’s 400th anniversary.”
The queen of England visited, and President Bush showed up to give a speech on the actual day of the anniversary.
It was May 14, 1607, that a small band of English settlers landed in Jamestown to try to establish a colony. There had been failed attempts before; people who attended elementary school in the United States and paid attention in class might remember the lost colony of Roanoke.
But Jamestown succeeded. It was the first permanent English colony in North America, predating by 13 years the more celebrated one in Plymouth, Mass. You heard of the Pilgrims even if you paid no attention in class.
What a lot of people do not know — even if they paid attention throughout grammar school, high school and college — is the first permanent European settlement in what is now the United States was not English, but Spanish.
St. Augustine, Fla., is the nation’s oldest town, founded Sept. 8, 1565, by Pedro Menendez de Aviles. Spaniards in the decades that followed founded a string of Atlantic Coast settlements into the Carolinas. South Carolina’s Parris Island — home of the Marine Corps’ boot camp — was once the Spanish town of Santa Elena. Florida remained a Spanish colony, except for a period of English rule between 1763 and 1783, until the young United States bought the territory in 1821.
The second-oldest city in the United States is Santa Fe, N.M., which Spaniards began to settle in 1607.
Does it matter? Is Jamestown right to mark “America’s 400th anniversary”? What about the 442nd, coming up in St. Augustine?
The dominant “Anglo” society of the United States, multicultural vogues notwithstanding, has tended to celebrate English accomplishments over Spanish. So in the national imagination, Jamestown and Plymouth take precedence over St. Augustine and Santa Fe.
Which is a perfectly accurate view of history. The United States is an English-speaking country with legal customs and political traditions inherited from England.
That legacy incongruously combines a deep respect for liberty with slavery and land-grabs from Indians. But the good and the bad came from the people who founded Jamestown. Spain may be la Madre Patria of Spanish-speaking Latin America, but in the United States it is Mother England.
Which is not to say the Spanish past counts for nothing in American history. All Americans can celebrate that it was the Spanish who first brought Western civilization here. And Americans of Hispanic heritage can take pride knowing that our presence in the U.S. began almost four and a half centuries ago. That’s not just politically correct — it is historically accurate.
As is the idea that those settlers of long ago, whether English or Spanish, were the first of tens of millions of immigrants who came and continue to come seeking better lives, and who give the American nation its soul.

Hernandez is a syndicated columnist and writer-in-residence at New Jersey Institute of Technology.
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