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Hispanic Heritage and St. Augustine

By Angela Padrón

Not only are Hispanics increasingly influencing the current culture in the United States, their mark on U.S. History goes back 500 years. For decades, the idea has been presented that Christopher Columbus discovered America. However, technically he landed in the Caribbean and never set foot on what is today known as the United States.

A Spanish explorer named Juan Ponce de Leon traveled with Columbus on his second voyage to the New World. After spending time in what is today Puerto Rico, Ponce de Leon set on a quest to find the legendary Fountain of Youth. In 1513 he landed on a lavish, flowery terrain, which he later named Florida.

In 1565, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded the oldest settlement in the United States – St. Augustine. The Spanish Empire used the city to defend the primary trade route to Europe. In 1672, the Queen of Spain ordered a Castillo, or fort, with shell stone walls that were 12 inches thick and 30 ft high to be built to protect the city. El Castillo de San Marcos, now known as Fort Marion, still stands today and is a source of great tourist interest in St Augustine today.

Understanding the history of St. Augustine helps to explain the many places in states like Florida that have been named after Hispanic people or Spanish words. Today St. Augustine, also known as the “Old City,” is a popular tourist destination where people from all over the United States, and the world, can learn about the country’s history and Spanish influence on its founding. Its rich history can be taught through several activities, such as a Jeopardy game made with questions about fun facts, creating a timeline of the settlement and major events, drawing a diagram of the old fort, or creating dioramas showing the Fountain of Youth or other historical landmark.

Whether or not you reside in Florida, teaching students about the history of St. Augustine and the impact Hispanics have made on that history is an important addition to any school curriculum.

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