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    14 Things Latinos Gave To America

    Hispanic Heritage Month is great and all, but Spanish-American and Latino influence goes much deeper than tacos and salsa music. Note: tacos and salsa music are awesome.

    A fun fact to remember for Hispanic Heritage Month: The Spanish arrived in what is now the U.S. well before the pilgrims, and a huge chunk of the country used to be Mexico. What this means (besides the downer, "Our genocidal conquerors arrived before yours!") is that A LOT of American culture comes directly from Spanish-American culture and from Latinos in America. Here are some examples:

    1. Cowboys!

    You heard that right! We think of cowboys as lonesome, taciturn white men — as American as apple pie. But the original cowboys were vaqueros, Mexican ranch hands, which is where Anglo cowboys pretty much got their whole thing.

    2. Place names! / Via Wikimedia Commons

    You can't throw a rock Out West without it hitting a sign with a Spanish name on it. Some of them are obvious (San Luis Obispo?) while others are less so — Alamo, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Napa, and on and on. Even Utah comes from yuta, the Spanish pronunciation for the Ute native people.

    Los Angeles, though? It may have been El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reyna de los Ángeles, or maybe it was El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Porciúncula. A reference to "the queen" being a difference. Two best friend historians are actually having a fight about it — it's a whole thing — but either way it has Spanish origins.

    3. Omg barbecue!


    Humans have been cooking meat over fire since about 10 minutes after humans learned how to make fire. But that distinctly American brand of Southern Barbecue originated when the Spanish introduced pigs to the New World and encountered the Caribbean natives' method of cooking things slowly, over indirect heat, and with a lot of smoke. In fact, the word barbecue comes from the Spanish barbacoa. Speaking of which...

    4. Words. Lots of words.


    Oh, but you do! "Hey bro, let's go to the bodega before the tornado hits and get some jerky and chocolate and tobacco (you know, those little cigars, which we totally won't use to roll up some marijuana). Also some Macho Man Randy Savage trading cards. But watch out for all the alligators and cannibals."


    "Snap into a Slim Jim! Which is jerky! Which comes from the Spanish word charqui, which in turn comes from the Quechua word ch'arki! Oooh yeeeah!!"

    5. Instagram — but also Facebook?!

    6. Superheroes!

    That's right, America's first Superhero was Zorro. NPR's Latino USA does a good job of explaining it here, and, as they put it, Zorro tells the tale of a wealthy aristocrat who dons a mask to fight against corruption on behalf of the oppressed...

    Which sounds a bit like:

    7. Country Western music?

    View this video on YouTube

    Yes! So, "Latin" music in the U.S. usually means some flavor of Caribbean (salsa, reggaeton, Miami Sound Machine, whatever). Which is cool, but it's still considered "Latin," i.e., foreign.

    But that All-American country music — especially certain strains from the 1950s — probably wouldn't exist without Mexican rancheras.

    8. Color television what.

    The world's first patent for the color TV was given to a Mexican inventor, Guillermo González Camarena, by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

    Full disclosure: His system fell out of favor and was replaced in the U.S., where it was only used by scientists and became standard for NASA spacecraft.

    9. Mars exploration!


    Speaking of NASA: Orlando Figueroa, who is from Puerto Rico, was the head of the Mars exploration program during two of its most successful Rover expeditions, Opportunity and Spirit.

    Opportunity has proven to be quite the resilient little space robot: it's been wandering around the Red Planet for more than 10 years. As one NASA employee put it: "I don't think your car works that good."

    10. Oh nothing, just feeding the home front during WWII.

    Via YouTube

    OK. Let's get somber for a minute. Aside from the fact that hundreds of thousands of American Latinos (mostly Puerto Ricans and Mexican-Americans) served in World War II, there's also the fact that, to make up for lost labor on the home front, the U.S. and Mexico set up the bracero program to bring Mexican farmworkers stateside.

    That program laid the groundwork for the system of migrant agricultural labor that exists to this day.

    Here's a popular meme about it:

    11. Historic school desegregation. Really.

    Via PBS

    Most of the credit for mid-20th Century social progress rightfully goes to the Black Civil Rights Movement, but the Chicano Movement did its part: Before Brown v. Board of Education, there was Mendez v. Westminster, which desegregated California schools and provided a big leg-up in terms of momentum and legal precedent.

    12. The frontier narrative.


    A couple hundred years before Lewis & Clark, a Spanish conquistador by the name of Cabeza de Vaca survived a catastrophic expedition and wound up going on a tripped out journey across the North American continent. He lived amongst the natives for nearly a decade and chronicled the devastation of the conquest (not that anyone cared).

    13. The dollar sign


    The Spanish American peso was the model currency for the American dollar pre-Independence and circulated widely in the colonies. No surprise, then, that the dollar sign grew out of the symbol for the peso.

    14. Ricky Martin.

    You're welcome.