When one examines the culture of modern Latin America, there is one unmistakable influence. Spain. It was almost a half-century ago that DeGama discovered the "Pacified" Ocean, and Hernan Cortes set foot on the soil of Mexico to begin his famous conquest of killing, yet, even today, in parts of the U.S., the Spanish culture remains eminent, thanks to the voyages of such explorers as Cabrillo, Coronado, and many others. Junipero Serra, the father of the California Missions, also had a lasting impact on the American Southwest.
In 1518, Hernan Cortes, a Spanish "Conquistador" set foot on Mexican soil. Cortes was a classic example of the Spanish Explorer. Born in Medellin, Extremadura, in Castille, to a family of "lesser nobility", as a young man, Cortes determined that his future lie in the New World, so he set out to make it happen. He traveled to Cuba, and became the mayor of a small town, and shortly after, was elected Captain of the Third Expedition to Mexico. Governor Diego Velazquez de Cuellar, however, had personal issues with Cortes, and ordered the mission to be canceled. Cortes sailed to Mexico anyway, exemplifying the Conquistadorial spirit of defiance. Cortes, however, did not have nearly the impact that Cabrillo, and Coronado did on what is now the U.S., and so these two explorers shall be the focus of this work.
Francisco Vazquez de Coronado set out in search of the one thing that all Spaniards longed for, and believed existed in endless supply in the New World, gold. Coronado's northward expedition began in Nueva Galicia, the area of which he was Governor. The friar Marcos de Niza was sent, essentially as a scout, into the great unknown north. He returned with fantastic tales of cities fabricated entirely out of Gold, and spectacular vistas of the glimmering Pacific Ocean. Coronado was stunned, and he immediately organized a two-part expedition. One group would travel by ship, and hold the majority of the party's supplies, while his party would travel on land, and reach the amazing Golden Cities. After passing through the farthest northward Spanish settlement, Coronado's party crossed the Gila river, and traveled for days until they were finally in view of the supposedly spectacular city of Cibola. As they drew nearer, however, it became apparent that Cibola was a small Zuni village, and there was nothing "golden" about it, at leat not in the Spanish definition. The party contemplated executing de Niza, but sent him back to Mexico in shame instead. The group continued northwards, across the Mogollon Rim of Arizona, and traveled up the Zuni River until they reached the region of the Zuni Nation. The town of Hawikah was the first they came upon, and the starving explorers demanded entry. The Hawikahns refused, and denied the party food or water. This enraged Coronado, and he ordered that the town be sacked. His soldiers obeyed, and Coronado was rewarded for his efforts with all of the food that the town had within it's walls. Coronado continued his blind quest for the typically coveted items; gold, the fountain of youth, an extremely fertile land, among others, but, like all the other conquistadors, never found the latter two.
About a decade later, in 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo set out from Navidad on his northward quest. This expedition was one that still has many evident impacts all along the California coast. On September 28, 1542, Cabrillo landed in the present San Diego Bay, and named it "San Miguel". He continued traveling north, even as far as the Russian River, but his fleet was pounded by the pre-winter storms. When they retreated to present Santa Catalina Island to make repairs, Cabrillo was killed in what was certainly a humiliating way to die. While debarking one of his ships, he tripped on a jagged rock, and splintered his shin. The wound became infected, and Cabrillo died. Little is known of his expedition, because the primary records of the voyage were lost. For an expedition which so little is known about, however, it had an immense impact on present day California. Cabrillo paved the way for the missionaries, such as the famous Father Junipero Serra, who would forever change the native's way of life. One cannot travel through cities such as San Diego, and miss the names such as the "Cabrillo National Monument", or the Cabrillo Highway. Even the State government of California declared September 28 "Cabrillo Day".
In more recent history, there have been Spanish conquests to the north, one of which, led by Juan Bautista deAnza, sighted San Francisco. The famous Presidio of San Francisco was built in 1776, just after deAnza had first seen the location, by Jose Joaquin Moraga's group of explorers. The Presidio was seized by American forces in 1846, and was used heavily militaristically during World War II.
In all, the Conquistadors of Spain were ravenous, bloodthirsty animals, who massacred at will, at least according to one perspective that the viewer of history can take. Some commonly unknown facts include the fact that many missionaries would force people to convert to their religion of Christianity, and would threaten the locals with death or punishment by God. Balboa himself personally bound and set wild dogs loose on people who were found to be homosexual. While these horrible things happened with disturbing frequency, it cannot be denied that the explorers of the North helped pull the Americas towards what they are today. Even just a glance at a map of the Southwestern United States reveals many cities named by the Spanish, or on part of them. Los Angeles, for example, "The Angels", and San Diego, "Saint Diego". Walking over the Cabrillo bridge in Balboa park, it is impossible to miss the influence that these explorers had, even on North America.