Dia de la Raza

October 12.

On this day in 1492 two worlds collided.

Mexican philosopher Jose Vasconcelos coined the term La Raza Cósmica, the Cosmic Race (for lack of a better word), to describe the people of Latin America, and what he considered the future of the human race. Vasconcelos theorized that:

“the different races of the world tend to mix ever more, until forming a new human type, composed of the selection of each of the existent peoples…”

…and that the Americans were a mixture of all races: the Asiatic tribes who crossed over the Bering Strait, and the Iberian colonizers and African slaves who crossed via the Atlantic. Vasconcelos’s theories were not without bias: “A religion like Christianity advanced the American indians, in a few centuries, from cannibalism to a relative civilization.” But you will hear echoes of Vasconcelos’s optimism on Dia de la Raza.

Raza means “race”, but not entirely in the English sense of the word. In the context of the holiday, raza refers to the birth of a new breed of humanity, the synthesis of cultures, races, religions, and ideologies that make up Hispanic America today.

Thus, Dia de la Raza, takes this day of tragedy and turns it into a celebration of life across Latin America.

Dia de la Raza & Columbus Day – Contradicting Cultures

Foundation of Lima: City of Kings

January 18


Today is the Foundation Day of Peru’s capital city. Francisco Pizarro founded Lima on January 18, 1535 as La Ciudad de los Reyes (City of Kings). Pizarro has been at various times the most reviled, revered, and again reviled figure in South American history.

Pizarro was a Spanish soldier in Panama who earned his stripes by bringing his former commander, pig-farmer-turned-Conquistador Vasco Nunez de Balboa, to Balboa’s rival, Governor Dávila. Dávila tried Balboa and his associates for allegedly betraying the Spanish crown and had them immediately decapitated. Dávila rewarded Pizarro by making him mayor of Panama City.

In the 1520’s, stories of gold and riches filtered north from the land that would be Peru. Pizarro joined forces with a priest (Luque) and a soldier (Almagro) to lead an expedition south in search of these treasures.

Their first expedition was a dismal failure. And while the second expedition succeeded in bringing back some treasure, it wasn’t enough to entice Panama’s new governor to approve a third. Not one to take ‘no’ for an answer, Pizarro sailed to Spain, and attained funding directly from King Charles and Queen Isabella.

Pizarro returned to Peru with less than 200 men. The Battle of Cajamarco in 1532, between those soldiers and, according to Spanish accounts, 80,000 Incas, is perhaps the most staggering military upset in recorded history.

Pizarro occupies Cuzco
Pizarro occupies Cuzco

The small pox virus, brought by Europeans, helped. Not only had small pox devastated the Incan population, it killed the previous ruler, leading to a civil war between the king’s sons.

Atahuallpa, the apparent victor of the fraternal struggle, commanded an army of tens of thousands. When he was invited to meet Pizarro at Cajamarca, he didn’t consider a force of 200 men any threat.

Historian Jared Diamond combines the testimony of 6 Spanish eyewitnesses into a full description of the battle in the chapter “Collision at Cajamarco” from Guns, Germs, and Steel, the text of which can be found here. Go there. Read it. Now.


On reaching the entrance to Cajamarca, we saw the camp of Atahuallpa… We were so few in number and we had penetrated so far into a land where we could not hope to receive reinforcements. The Governor’s brother Hernando Pizarro estimated the number of Indian soldiers there at 40,000, but he was telling a lie just to encourage us, for there were actually more than 80,000 Indians.

Through a messenger, Francisco Pizarro invited Atahuallpa to meet with him at Cajamarco, promising, ‘I will receive him as a friend and brother… No harm or insult will befall him.’

“At noon Atahuallpa began to draw up his men and to approach…In front of Atahuallpa went 2,000 Indians who swept the road ahead of him… Many of us urinated without noticing it, out of sheer terror…”

“Governor Pizarro now sent Friar Vicente de Valverde to go speak to Atahuallpa… the Friar thus addressed him: ‘I am a Priest of God, and I teach Christians the things of God… What I teach is that which God says to using this Book…’

Atahuallpa opened the Bible, and showing no expression, tossed it on the ground.

“The Friar returned to Pizarro, shouting, ‘Come out! Come out, Christians! Come at these enemy dogs who reject the things of God. That tyrant has thrown my book of holy law to the ground!…’

“…The booming of the guns, the blowing of the trumpets, and the rattles on the horses threw the Indians into panicked confusion. The Spaniards fell upon them and began to cut them to pieces…

Pizarro reaches for Atahualpa
Pizarro reaches for Atahualpa

“Although we killed the Indians who held the litter, others at once took their places and held it aloft…Atahuallpa was captured, and the Governor took Atahuallpa to his lodging. The Indians carrying the litter, and those escorting Atahuallpa, never abandoned him: all died around him…

“When the squadrons of Indians who had remained in the plain outside the town saw the other Indians fleeing and shouting, most of them too panicked and fled. It was an astonishing sight, for the whole valley for 15 or 20 miles was completely filled with Indians…

“Six or even thousand Indians lay dead, and many more had their arms cut off and other wounds… It was extraordinary to see so powerful a ruler captured in so short a time, when he had come with such a mighty army. Truly, it was not accomplished by our own forces, for there were so few of us. It was by the grace of God…

Pizarro explained to Atahuallpa that God permitted his defeat so that “you may know Him and come out from the bestial and diabolical life that you lead… When you have seen the errors in which you live, you will understand the good that we have done you…

Atahuallpa offered to fill a large room with gold and treasure for his release. After Atahuallpa made good on his promise, Pizarro executed him anyway. But not before baptizing him.

Pizarro paved the way for three centuries of Spanish colonization in Peru. He crushed Cuzco and set up the city of Jauja as his capital in 1534, but it was too remote. The following year he established Lima; he later claimed that the creation of Lima was the greatest thing he ever did.

Today Lima’s 7.8 million residents celebrate the 475th anniversary of Pizarro’s founding, though its founder has grown less and less popular in Peru in recent decades. (I can’t imagine why.)

Here upon the plains
The Great Calichuchima
Was burnt at the stake by the conquistadores;
From the flames he called upon the sun for justice.
Now with its golden figure the same sun
Points to you, Pizarro,
The greatest criminal of the New World.

— Jorge Carrera Andrade, “El Pacificador” (about Pizarro’s brother Gonzalo)

Capture of an Inca King: Francisco Pizarro

Lima Commemorates 474th Anniversary

Nativity of the Virgin Mary

September 8

Happy Birthday Madonna!

No, not that one.

On September 8, the Catholic world celebrates the birth of the Virgin Mary.

Nativity of Mary

Little is know of Mary’s birth from the Bible. The Gospel of James (which didn’t make the final cut) list her folks as Joachim and Anne (Hannah). The couple was childless until they were visited by an angel who informed them a child was forthcoming. Anne promised the child would be brought up to serve the Lord.

Mary would have been born “Mariam” or מרים

For two-thousand years, the Virgin Mary has been the symbol of feminine spirituality in Christian culture. While Eve was unfairly vilified as the bringer of original sin throughout the Middle Ages, Mary represented the opposite, the ultimate purity and the the bringer of God.

Pope John Paul ll in his 2000 millennium message elevates the status of both Eve and Mary. He describes Eve as the original symbol of Humanity, the mother who gave birth to Cain and Abel, and Mary, who gave birth to Jesus, as a symbol of the New Humanity; one in which All Humanity is One in Spirit with God. This statement changes the context which the Christian doctrine has relegated to women; that the Spirit of God resides equally in male and female.

Contemplation of Mary – St. Mary’s at Penn

Visions of the Virgin Mary have been spotted by worshippers throughout the Christian world. One of the most famous of these was witnessed initially by three children in Fatima, Portugal in 1917.

On the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, many Mediterranean and Latin-American villages carry her statue from local churches through the streets. Local Spanish processions are known as Virgin de la Pena, Virgin de la Fuesanta, and Virgin de la Cinta. Peru has the Virgin of Cocharcas, and in Bolivia it’s the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Virgin of Guadalupe procession in Bolivia (c) Reuters
Virgin of Guadalupe procession in Bolivia © Reuters

And it may not be Madonna (Madonna Louise “Like A Virgin” Ciccone)’s birthday, but singer-songwriter Aimee Mann turns 51 today…and rumor has it she’s still a Virginian.

Easter comes and goes
Maybe Jesus knows…

Aimee Mann, “Thirty One Today”

Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Independence Day – Peru

July 28

Jose de San Martín had liberated the Rio de la Plata (Argentina), marched his army across the Andes, and defeated the Spanish in Chile before turning his attention to the north, to Peru—Spain’s most tenacious stronghold on the continent. In Chile he created a navy from scratch in order to attack Peru by sea.

At that moment, San Martín’s newly independent homeland of Argentina was emerged in civil war; yet he felt if he used his army to intervene in Argentina it would only lead to more destruction. Before debarking from Valpasairo, Chile, he issued his proclamation to his countrymen in Argentina on his reasons for continuing to Peru, rather than returning to his homeland to support one warring faction over another:

Provinces of the Rio de la Plata: This proclamation will be my last response to my calumniators: I can do no more than to risk my life and my honor for the sake of my native land. Whatever may be my lot in the campaign of Peru, I shall demonstrate that ever since I returned to my native land, her independence has been my constant thought, and that never had I entertained any ambition other than to merit the hatred of the ungrateful and the esteem of the virtuous.

Upon reaching Peru, he was interviewed by an Englishman, Captain Basil Hall, who paraphrased the General as saying that the war in Peru was “not a war of conquest or glory, but entirely of opinion; it was a war of new and liberal principles against prejudice, bigotry, and tyranny.

San Martin crosses the Andes
San Martin Crosses the Andes

San Martín said he had no territorial ambitions in Peru, or even to wish them independence if the people were not for it.

All that I wish is, that this country should be managed by itself, and by itself alone. As to the manner in which it is to be governed, that belongs not at all to me. I propose simply to give the people the means of declaring themselves independent, and of establishing a suitable form of government; after which I shall consider that I have done enough, and leave them.

A year later, on this day in 1821, the General stood in the great square in Lima, unfurled the new flag of independent Peru, and announced:

From this moment, Peru is free and independent, by the general wish of the people, and by the justice of her cause, which may God defend. Viva la patria! Viva la libertad! Viva la independencia!

The General was made Protector of Peru, but Spanish forces continued to battle San Martín’s troops, and Peruvian independence was far from assured. General Simón Bolívar, who had defeated the Spanish in Gran Colombia (today’s Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador), entered Peru from the north. The two great Liberators of South America met in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on July 26, 1822, to discuss the fate of the continent.

Much has been written about, and hardly anything is known about, what happened between Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín at their only meeting. There were no witnesses other than the two men themselves. But after the interview, San Martín–true to his word–resigned his position as Protector and returned to Argentina, leaving Bolívar to defeat the Spanish in Peru.

San Martin and Simon Bolivar

San Martín’s wife died the following year. Distraught by her death and the civil wars wreaking havoc in Argentina, José de San Martín took his daughter Mercedes and moved to France, where he lived until his death in 1850.

Jose de San Martin
Jose de San Martin

Bolívar was deigned Dictator of Peru in 1824, the same year he drove out the Spanish for good. The southern part of Peru became Bolivia in his honor.

Spain officially recognized Peru’s independence in 1879.

Emancipation of South America – William Pilling

Rise of the Spanish-American Republics as told in the Lives of their Liberators – William Spence Robertson

Birthday of Simón Bolivar

July 24

Today citizens of Venezuela, Colombia and Bolivia celebrate the birth of the Libertador of northern South America: Simón Bolivar. He was born on this day in 1783 in Caracas, Venezuela.

Simón Bolivar

Bolivar is one of the few people to have a country permanently named after him, and is the only person born in the New World to have been so honored.

Countries named directly after individuals

Belize – possibly from the Spanish pronunciation of “Wallace”. Captain Peter Wallace was a pirate commissioned by King James I to pillage Spanish ships in the region. He built his base at the mouth of what is now the Belize River. May also be from the Mayan “belix” meaning “muddy water”.

Bermuda – after explorer Juan de Bermudez, who arrived there in 1503.

Colombia – Christopher Columbus

Dominican Republic – after St. Domingo de Guzman, founder of the Dominican Order.

El Salvador – literally, “the Savior”, after Jesus of Nazareth.

Kiribati – from the Gilbert Islands, for Captain Thomas Gilbert.

Mozambique – possibly from sheik Mussa Ben Mbiki.

Philippines – King Philip II of Spain

San Marino – from St Marinus, an ancient stonemason who fled to the area to escape Roman persecution

Sao Tome and Principe – from St. Thomas. Portuguese explorers encountered the land on St. Thomas’s Day. (December 21)

Seychelles – for Jean Moreau de Sechelles, King Louis XV’s Finance Minister.

Amerigo Vespucci is the only person to have a continent named after him, and he got two! The explorer helped prove that the lands Christopher Columbus encountered were not in Asia, but were entirely new continents. In 1507 cartographer Martin Waldseemuller labeled the new continents after the Italian explorer when he printed 1000 copies of his famous globe of the world.

Waldseemuller's Wall Map of the World

Waldseemuller’s 1507 Globe Map

Waldseemuller’s 1507 Wall Map