Today, September 15th, is the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. Students all over the country will learn about…Mexico.
Mexico is the point of origin of the largest number of Hispanic Americans in the United States, with an estimated population of more than 37 million people of Mexican heritage in the United States. This is 61.5% of U.S. Latinos.
The second largest group is Puerto Ricans, which the Pew Research Center totals at 5,845,000, or 9.7% of all Hispanic people in the 50 states. There are in addition over three million Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico, for a total of more than nine million U.S. citizens of Puerto Rican heritage.
Clearly, teachers across the nation should include Puerto Rico in Hispanic Heritage Month studies.
This year there is an especially good opportunity, because the capital of Puerto Rico, San Juan, is celebrating 500 years of continuous inhabitation as a city. This makes San Juan the oldest city under the U.S. flag. It is also, of course, the oldest capital city.
San Juan’s settlement
There were people living on the Island we now call Puerto Rio when the first Europeans arrived, but they had not built cities. San Juan was established in 1521. Caparra, founded in 1508 by Juan Ponce de Leon, the first Spanish Governor of Puerto Rico, was the first settlement, but the inhabitants moved to the present site of San Juan in 1521.
Old San Juan contains a lot of firsts and oldests:
- In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon led the first expedition to Florida. In 1521, he was interred in San Juan and now lies in the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista
- Iglesia San José, which was built in 1532, is the oldest church in the United States.
- Palacio de Santa Catalina, or La Fortaleza, was built beginning in 1533 and 1540, making it the oldest executive mansion in continuous use in the Americas.
Old San Juan is recognized by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site, and by the United States National Park Service as the San Juan National Historic Site. This puts San Juan in the same class as attractions like the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty.
San Juan is now a busy port city, one of the top 20 busiest ports in the United States.
Happy 500th Birthday to San Juan!