1513 - 1821

Intangible Heritage

Spanish Legacy in the United States of America

Over fifty million Latinos residing in the United States to a greater or lesser degree carry the historical legacy of Spain in America.

The Spanish Language

Road sign in New Orleans.

Spanish, one of the languages derived from Latin, has become established in America and it has become the second language of the western world after English. In regions such as New Mexico and Colorado words dating from the 16th century have survived, such as “vide”, “trujo”, or “asina”. Similarly, the English spoken in the southwest has incorporated direct terms from the Spanish agricultural references like “acequia”, “ojo de agua”, “zanjero”, “repartimiento”, “mayordomo” and “barbecho”, or those related to livestock: “corral”, “reata”, “remuda”, “lazo”, “rancho”, “rodeo” and so on.

The ongoing arrival in the United States of new citizens of Hispanic ancestry enable them to enrich the language with the particularities specific to the languages spoken in their countries of origin.

Bridge in New Mexico.


Spain and its missionaries introduced the Catholic religion, which predominates in the Hispanic world.

Mission in Texas

The Christianization of the Indians was placed in the hands of religious orders. The missions became the centers that taught the basics of the Catholic religion, in addition to technical knowledge and trades. The establishment of the missions sometimes were wrought with grave problems which on some occasions resulted in human tragedies with numerous victims, both Native Americans, as well as friars, who sacrificed their lives to spread Christianity in an oftentimes hostile land.

Church in New Mexico
Sanctuary of Chimayó, New Mexico.

The missionaries learned native languages in order to make Christian teachings accessible to the indigenous people. They also used song, theatre, and dance to dramatize religious texts, making them easier for the Indians to understand. The mission buildings themselves attempted to make religion visually attractive and appealing to the senses in a process of environmental integration that has remained to this day.

Cross commemorating the Spanish presence in Florida, where Menéndez de Avilés landed.

The missionaries likewise used the religious calendar intensively as a way to attract the Indians. The Native Americans celebrated holidays such as Saint Isidore, Christmas and Easter and even today there are indigenous communities located mainly in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, who celebrate religious festivities such as the Three Kings. In San Antonio on every Good Friday for the past 250 years a Passion Play recreating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ has been represented.

Customs and Philosophy of Life

The way of life of Hispanic peoples presents specific traits that distinguish them from other cultural models.

Santa Fe, New Mexico
Nueva Orleáns. Mujer hispana plácidamente sentada. 
Fiestas de Santa Fe, Nuevo México
Dance of the "Matachines", New Mexico.

Fiestas were the main motivation for social and family gatherings. Fiestas generally coincided with religious celebrations or significant dates in the agricultural and/or herding calendar. It provided a reason to gather for grandparents, parents, and children, and also aunts and uncles, cousins… and close friends. The celebration of popular fiestas represented a unique opportunity to deepen bonds between members of the same community and had both commercial as well as personal repercussions.

Credits: Story

Autor  — Borja Cardelús ©. Para el Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores y de Cooperación del Gobierno de España. www.borjacardelus.com
Créditos de las ilustraciones y de las fotografías © — Borja Cardelús, Eshter Merchán, Bernardo Lara, Juan Carlos Arbex

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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