- About the Exhibit
- Empires and Revolutions: 1613–1825
- Trade with Spanish America: 1825-1900
- Cultural Encounters: 1825-1900
- Political Encounters: 1850-1930
- An Hispano Landscape: 1900–45
Gallery 1 – Empires and Revolutions: 1620-1800
The exhibition begins in the early 1600s with the story of Jan Rodrigues, a mixed-race Spanish-speaking sailor from Santo Domingo and the first known non-native resident of Manhattan. The story continues into the colonial period, when the European empires battled for supremacy in the New World and elsewhere. During this period, the Protestant Dutch and English developed a deep cultural antipathy toward Catholic Spain, a bias that carried over into their colonies and later became known as the Black Legend. (The Dutch had extra cause to hate the Spanish: the Spanish monarch ruled the Low Countries.) After Spain aided the colonists during the American Revolution, some of the bias toward Spain softened, at least in the United States. But rebellions against the Spanish were widespread and constant in the Western Hemisphere in the years to come, and the rebels often found supporters among local New Yorkers.
Gallery 2 – Trade with Spanish America: 1825-1900
Their respective revolutions allowed the United States and the countries of Spanishspeaking America to trade freely with each other. The United States also traded extensively with Cuba and Puerto Rico, though these islands were still colonies, and therefore the U.S. had to pay duties to Spain. American traders prospered from this commerce, especially those in New York City. The most valuable commodity was sugar. The cane was grown on the Caribbean islands, partially processed on-site to form a syrup called raw sugar, and then shipped north for further refining. This basic pattern began with the opening of New York’s first refinery in the 1720s, and continued into the 20th century. The northward shipment relocated the profit center from the growing fields to the factories in New York. By 1860, Brooklyn was the world’s center of sugar refining, and the term “sugar barons” entered the American lexicon.
Gallery 3 – Cultural Encounters: 1800s
Trade ties brought English and Spanish speakers into close contact, and this contact fostered a vigorous cultural exchange. Washington Irving and William Merritt Chase both made journeys from New York to Spain, and the romantic work they produced there—books and essays by Irving, Velázquez-influenced paintings by Chase—helped to soften long-held negative feelings toward Spain. Frederic Edwin Church traveled to South America to paint the majestic landscapes that captured the imaginations of his audience in the United States. At the same time, people from Spain and their one-time colonies arrived in New York, among them artists, writers, architects, intellectuals, exiles, and a young student who would become the first Cuban to play professional baseball in the United States. These new arrivals contributed to the ongoing cultural interplay between the English- and Spanish-speaking communities. By 1870, New York’s population included 3,600 people who were from Spain or Latin America, and signs announcing “Se habla Español” were starting to appear in store windows.
Gallery 4 – Political Encounters: 1850-1930
By 1825, Spain had lost most of its South American colonies. It held onto its plantation islands in the Caribbean but had to fight rebellious stirrings, and full-fledged revolts, for most of the 19th century. Throughout this period, New York City was the crucible for the long battle against Spanish control of Cuba and Puerto Rico. Here, exiles found refuge, published newspapers, and fomented insurrection. From Félix Varela in the 1820s to the failed Cuban mission of Narciso López in 1850, to the fierce Ten Years’ War (1868-1878), to the ultimately successful rebellion begun by José Martí in 1895, New York provided political activists with a home base from which to organize and raise funds. In 1898, the United States intervened in the Spanish-Cuban War that Martí organized, and brought it to a quick end. With the war settlement, Spain was banished from the last of its Caribbean colonies. The U.S. emerged as a colonial power, having acquired Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, and having legislated its right to intervene in Cuba. Once Puerto Ricans were granted citizenship in 1917, they began migrating to New York in greater numbers. By 1920, there were more than 7,000 Puerto Ricans in New York, a figure that would grow substantially over the next decade.
Gallery 5 – New York’s Hispano Landscape: 1900-45
Between the Spanish-Cuban- American War and World War II, immigration from the Spanish-speaking world increased. The 1940 census showed 165,000 people of Spanish and Latin American descent in New York City, living in clusters in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan, especially in East Harlem’s El Barrio. This growing hispano community had an ever-greater impact on the cultural life of New York. It provided the city with a soundtrack that ran from Machito and Xavier Cougat to Tito Puente and the great Latin drummers. As New York became a world art center, artists flocked to the city’s schools, galleries, and museums. The Museum of Modern Art introduced New Yorkers and the nation to the arts and artists of the Americas, including the great Mexican muralists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. The Hispanic Society of America exhibited the Spanish lusterware produced by Muslim potters from Valencia, and paintings by the Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida. Gallery 5 ends with a short film by Ric Burns that follows the epic immigration to New York after World War II, when hundreds of thousands, then millions arrived from Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador, and other locations around Spanish-speaking America to create the Nueva York we recognize today.