Happy Mother’s Day

If you’re Panamanian, today’s the day to call the wonderful women in your life and wish them a Happy Mother’s Day.  Mother’s Day is celebrated in Panama on December 8 of each year.  The day commemorates the Catholic feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ; the holy day was inaugurated by the Catholic Pope on December 8, 1854.  Mother’s Day was legislated as officially occurring on December 8 in Panama in 1930, at the initiative of Panama’s then First Lady, Herlinda Arias de Arosemena.

Feliz Año Nuevo / Happy New Year

New Year’s Eve is celebrated throughout the Americas, with parties, fireworks, traditional food and family dinners.  In Spain, Spaniards gather in the central plaza at Puerta del Sol, and eat one grape for each chime of the clock at midnight (this is actually a little more difficult than it sounds, particularly if your grapes are big).  This tradition was carried to the New World, and partiers in countries such as Mexico make a wish with each grape.  In Panama, the town of Las Tablas has an early version of February carnival, with an extravagant competition for Carnival Queen.  The citizens of Puerto Rico spend the day housecleaning, and the evening toasting with friends and family over a dinner of bacalao (cod).  Whichever country you choose to spend New Year, you’ll find a warm Latino welcome in the Americas.   We sincerely hope that you have enjoyed your discovery of the Americas this year, and that our Almanac has given you opportunities to think of and perhaps even to love the peoples of the Americas.   Please join us next year for more digital adventures.   (Image of fireworks on the skyline of la ciudade de Panama, Panama.)

Feast of the Holy Innocents

The Feast of the Holy Innocents is celebrated in Mexico each year on December 28 in Mexico.  The holiday is based on traditions from the Canary Islands, near the coast of Spain.  The day is devoted to fun — children play at being adults, and pranks (as in April Fool’s Day in North America) are part of the revelry.  But beware, if you lend any of your possessions on this day, they may never be returned.  (Image from www.HappySaints.com)


Celebrating Christmas Day with Undocumented Mexicans

After all of the late night celebrations, partying and dancing for Nochebuena (Christmas Eve), Christmas Day in South and Central America is a quieter celebration with family and friends.  In North America, traditions and celebrations intertwine.  In the words of Cuban American author, Gustavo Perez Firmat, “The older Cubans, mostly men like my father and my uncles, celebrated noche buena; their American-born grandchildren did the same for Christmas…. During these balanced years, the prospect of a Christmas morning made noche buena a little more sedate, and noche buena made Christmas a little more lively.”  (Image of undocumented Mexicans that usually cross the US border for the Holiday season.  Please see January 12, 1828 for more information.)

Celebrating Nochebuena

Nochebuena, as Christmas Eve is also known in the Americas, is joyously celebrated with family, a religious service, and a traditional dinner menu.  The traditions are varied among cultures and celebrations are often elaborate.  In Puerto Rico, the Nochebuena meal can include roast pork, pigeon peas, sausages, and a variety of side dishes.  Parrandas, essentially a caroling block party, begin during the season of Advent in Puerto Rico and continue through Nochebuena.  In Mexico, the final Posada of the season is celebrated on Christmas Eve.  The word “Posada” means inn (or hotel) and commemorates the Biblical story of the Holy Family searching for a room on the first Christmas Eve.  The Posadas begin on December 16, and are a series of nightly processions and parties as participants walk from house to house.  The Nochebuena Posada is followed by a late night Christmas mass, and then by a family dinner at midnight, which can include bacalao (cod) and ponche, a spicy fruit drink that is served warm. In whichever country, region, or tradition you are spending your holiday, we wish you a Feliz Navidad and Merry Christmas.  (Image of book cover of the children’s story on the Flower of Christmas Eve by Tomie dePaola)

Havana International Jazz Festival

With the irresistible beat of Latin Jazz, the Havana International Jazz Festival opens in Cuba on December 15, 2013.  Chucho Valdés and the Cuban Institute of Music warmly invite you to visit Havana for the music and fun.  (Please see October 9, 1941 for more on Chucho.) The Festival performs from December 15 through 23, 2013, and features top Latin American and Caribbean artists.  According to the organization’s web site, legal travel for performing musicians of the USA can be arranged – so start practicing your instrument now ;-).  Please visit www.jazzcuba.com for details.

Not the End of the World

Obviously, the world did not end on December 21, 2012.  Instead, another complex mathematical cycle of thousands of years passed in the Mayan Calendar.   The day was celebrated in the Mayan world, and in the night skies over places such as Antigua, Guatemala, glowing kites majestically soared in the dark air.  The rich heritage of the Mayan civilization has only recently been unlocked, as late 20th century scholars began to understand the sophisticated pictograms that the Mayans used for writing.  (Please see August 11, 3117 BCE for more information on the Mayan Calendar.  Image of the flag of the Mayan Nation, Creative Commons)

A Day the Music died

December 9, 2012 was the day the music died for millions of Latino fans of Dolores Janney Rivera, when the young, beloved entertainer was killed in a fiery airplane crash.  Known as Jenni Rivera, the Mexican American singer, songwriter, television producer and entrepreneur was born in Long Beach, California in 1969.  Rivera became pregnant at age 15 with the first of her five children.  In the determination and verve that characterized her life, Rivera earned her GED at a continuation school and graduated as valedictorian. Rivera’s musical style was characterized as banda, a traditional regional Mexican music, to which she brought a deeply personal and contemporary panache.  Rivera sold more than 15 million albums worldwide and was nominated at four of the annual Latin Grammys.

National Minority Enterprise Development (MED) Week

The US Commerce Department’s Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) celebrated the 2012 National Minority Enterprise Development (MED) Week award winners on December 6, 2012.  The annual awards recognize the outstanding contributions of individuals and entities that made a major impact on the growth of minority business enterprises.  Among the recipients was Congressman Silvestre Reyes, a driving force of economic growth in his district of El Paso, Texas.  Two Latino organizations were among the awardees:  Accion, a non-profit organization that assists in providing business credit and training for entrepreneurs, and the Economic Development Bank for Puerto Rico (EDBPR), which offers development and financing opportunities to small and medium sized local enterprises.

El Show con Tony Benitez

To applause and laughter, “El Show con Tony Benitez” premiered on GENTV in Miami on December 3, 2012.   The premier included Tito Puente, Jr., son of the legendary mambo musician, and a special performance by the cast of the Broadway Musical STOMP.  A director and co-creator of the show summarized its comedic mission as, “Our creative inspiration draws from the Golden Age of Comedy, ranging from Syd Caesar all the way to present day late night icons like Conan Obrien, yet immersed in our Hispanic roots and brought to life with the extraordinary talent of Tony Benitez and his cast.”

Brazil, World’s 6th Largest Economy 2011

The Guardian, a well-established newspaper based in the United Kingdom (UK), reported on December 26, 2011 that the nation of Brazil had triumphed over the British and replaced the UK as the world’s sixth largest economy. The CEO of the Centre for Economics and business Research (CEBR) noted, “Brazil has beaten the European countries at soccer for a long time, but beating them at economics is a new phenomenon. Our world economic league table shows how the economic map is changing ….” (Image by Felipe Dana/AP)


The Mobile Giving channel, which enabled viewers to use their mobile phones to make donations, was launched during a telethon in the US for the first time on December 5, 2008.  The telethon was broadcast on Galavision, a leading Spanish language cable network that reached over 8 million Latino households.  Fundacion Teleton MexAmerica initiated the telethon, which raised money for the establishment of rehabilitation centers for children with disabilities.  Viewers of the Telethon were asked to send a text message with the keyword TELETON to 90999 to give $5.  Tony Aiello, one of the organizers, stated that, “We are extremely excited about the results of the Telethon. It provides a blueprint for promoting mobile giving during televised events, furthermore, it clarifies that Mobile Donations drive incremental donations and new donors …”


What could be more democratic and more American than electing and selecting your very own sports reruns on a major network?   To celebrate its fifth anniversary, ESPN Deportes launched ESPN Deportes Replay, a multimedia campaign that gave its fans the opportunity to program the network for three consecutive weeks.  Voters selected candidates from the most memorable sporting events and athlete profiles that were aired on the network over its first five years of broadcasting. Voting began on December 3, 2008, and the successful candidates were aired later that year.

President of Argentina inaugurated

With grace and dignity, the first woman elected as President of Argentina was inaugurated on December 10, 2007.  Prior to her election as President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had earned a law degree and served as National Deputy and National Senator.   Her husband, also a lawyer, served as President in the previous administration, and greatly supported his wife’s candidacy.   In November 2010, Time magazine named Fernández as one of the top ten female leaders in the world.  Fernández commented that, “Women bring a different face to politics. We see the big geopolitical picture but also the smaller, daily details of citizens’ lives. We’re wrapped up as much in what our daughter’s school principal says as we are in what the newspapers are saying.”  Fernández was reelected to a second term in October 2011.

Founding of Latin America in Solidarity Action

Two of South America’s greatest talents, singer Shakira and writer and Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez, launched the foundation for Latin America in Solidarity Action on December 12, 2006.  The foundation’s mission is to nurture at-risk children from pregnancy through age 6.  One of the foundation’s programs provides health and nutritional assistance to pregnant women and children under age 2.  A second program enrolls exploited and homeless children in school. A number of other luminous Latino stars supported the cause; including Ruben Blades, Juanes, Ricky Martin, Mana, and Alejandro Sanz. Please visit http://www.alasthemovement.org.

The Red Sox Latino 1997

Pedro Martinez signed a $75 million, six-year contract with the Red Sox on December 12, 1997, making Martinez the highest paid player in baseball at that time.  Martinez’ life story is woven from the American Dream.  He grew up in a poor rural village in the Dominican Republic, and was a sensitive child who studiously did his homework while sitting in a mango tree.  When he began formal practice, the Dodgers’ pitching coach worried about his 137 pound frame, but felt that Martinez had a big heart.  In 1991 Sporting News named him the Minor League Player of the Year and Martinez made his major league debut in 1992.  After signing the multi-million dollar contract, the big hearted Martinez financed the building of a church, an elementary school, a playground, and three houses for homeless families in his childhood town.

Peace in Guatemala, 1996

After thirty-six long years of brutal and bloody civil war, the nation of Guatemala was finally able to declare peace on December 29, 1996.  The civil war was part of a larger global power struggle for resources and for political influence, and the US-based United Fruit Company and the CIA supported different factions throughout the decades of conflict.  Over 200,000 people in this small nation died during the conflict, and tens of thousands disappeared into the cold anonymity of mass graves.  The peace accord was negotiated with the support of the United Nations and foreign governments such as Spain, Norway, and Costa Rica.  (Image by NBCNews.com)

President Ernesto Zedillo Inaugurated

President Ernesto Zedillo was inaugurated as President of Mexico on December 1, 1994, with an election that was marked by fairness and high voter turnout.  Zedillo was raised in a lower middle class family, and received a scholarship to Yale University in the US.  He studied economics, and returned to Mexico to continue his public service career at the Central Bank of Mexico.  Zedillo achieved a number of political appointments through Mexico’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).  He became the Presidential nominee after the assassination of a fellow candidate.  Once viewed as an unassuming technocrat, Zedillo is credited with steadying his nation through a period of economic and political turbulence.  After his term in office, he became Director of the Center for the Study of Globalization at Yale University.

The “Archives of Terror”

From the dark silence of the dusty pages of hidden archives, the voices of the tortured dead began to speak once more.  While looking for documents on the fate of an individual prisoner, lawyer and human-rights activist Dr. Martín Almada and Judge José Agustín Fernández uncovered the files that became known as the “Archives of Terror” on December 22, 1992.  These archives detailed the campaign by military dictatorships in South America against their perceived enemies, who included labor organizers and critical journalists.  Known as Operation Condor, these right wing governments murdered an estimated 60,000 people and imprisoned and tortured hundreds of thousands more in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil.  The US Government supplied technical support to the program for a number of years during the Cold War.  (Image of Dr. Martín Almada)

US Invasion of Panama condemned by UN 1989

As word of the US invasion of Panama reached international organizations, many people expressed their outrage at what they believed was deplorable US aggression.  On December 29, 1989 the General Assembly of the United Nations voted to condemn the US invasion.  The vote was 75 to 20, with 40 nations abstaining.  Resolution 44/240 stated that the General Assembly, “Strongly deplores the intervention in Panama by the armed forces of the United States of America, which constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of [Panama].”

US Invades Panama, 1989

In the silent hours after midnight in the dark night of the tropics, more than 27,000 undocumented US troops illegally stormed into Panama on December 20, 1989.  Their target was General Manuel Noriega, a former ally of the US.  Noriega was suspected of drug trafficking and had recently overturned the democratic election of the new President of Panama.  The Bush administration also listed defense of the Panama Canal among the reasons for the invasion.  After a few days of intense fighting, Noriega was captured.  Debate still rages over the number of civilian casualties; the Pentagon estimated 516 Panamanian civilian deaths while a report by former Attorney General Ramsey Clark estimated close to 4,000 deaths.  Tens of thousands of people were left homeless by the destruction and fighting.  (Photo by Christopher Morris, 2nd prize, Spot News stories for World Press Photos)

Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez Nobel Prize Lecture

On December 8, 1982, Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez (1927 – 2014) delivered his Nobel lecture, entitled “The Solitude of Latin America”, when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Marquez has written novels, short-stories, screenplays, and articles, woven with magical realism, a style that highlights the worlds beyond those ordinary and seen.  His books include “Love in the Time of Cholera”, “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, and “Autumn of the Patriarch”.  His work as a journalist, with his outspoken criticism of the dictatorship of Chilean Augusto Pinochet and US imperialism, were not well received by the US government.  Márquez was denied a visa until President Bill Clinton lifted the travel ban.  His Nobel acceptance speech concludes with, “A new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.”

Felipe González Elected as President of Spain

In an uneasy transition from decades of dictatorship to democracy, Felipe González was elected as President of Spain on December 1, 1982.  González was the Presidential candidate of the Spanish Socialist Worker Party (PSOE).  The PSOE won 46% of the vote, a parliamentary majority. González’s conservative brand of socialism, sometimes termed Felipismo, has been criticized by the right as too radical and by the left as too centrist.  González defined his core political philosophy in an example to The Financial Times, “…my rejection, my repugnance of the fact that a person’s health can be subject to the rule of the market place. If you can afford the product, buy it. You can’t? Well, you are finished. If someone without money needs a kidney transplant our duty is to give them the opportunity.”

The Last Days of Argentina’s “Dirty War”

On December 22, 1981, the last military dictators took power in Argentina’s Dirty War against its own citizens, as General Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri Castelli assumed the Presidency.  Galtieri attended classes at the infamous US Army School of the Americas in 1949, when the School operated in the Panama Canal Zone, and spent six months studying with the US military at Fort Belvoir, Virginia in 1960. During the Dirty War, one of the death squad battalions reported directly to him.  Galtieri thought that the US would continue to support him, but in 1982 he seriously miscalculated his invasion of the Falkland Islands, as the US sided with the British.  As the domestic war ended, the civilian Argentine government and human rights activists made numerous attempts to prosecute him.  Galtieri was finally indicted in 1999.

El Mozote Massacre

The screams of terror and the flow of tears continued throughout the day and night as the people of El Mozote, El Salvador, were massacred by the battalion known as the “Angels of Hell”.  The villagers were raped, tortured, bayoneted and shot at point blank range.  When the last of their blood had soaked into the earth and the last of the dead stared open eyed at the sky, over 800 civilian men, women, and children had been brutally murdered.  The massacre occurred during the El Salvadoran Civil War, when much Central America was embroiled in conflict, often with US intervention.  The “Angels of Hell” of the Salvadoran Atlacatl Battalion were trained at the US Army School of the Americas, which was then operating in Panama.  In 1992, formal exhumations of the bodies began, and a United Nations-sponsored Truth Commission uncovered the horrifying sequence of events.

Scott Gomez, First Latino in the National Hockey League

Happy Birthday to Scott Gomez, the first Latino player in the National Hockey League.  Gomez’s paternal grandparents were from Mexico; Gomez was born in Anchorage, Alaska, to a hockey loving papi who encouraged his son’s athleticism.  Gomez earned recognition as rookie of the year at age 20, and has since played professionally for the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, the Montreal Canadians, and the San Jose Sharks. Gomez said of his heritage, “I’m Mexican-Colombian, and I take pride in it. I take as much pride being from Alaska. But if an Hispanic kid sees what I’m doing and it makes him feel good, then that’s what it’s all about.”  (Image from www.NHL.com)

Lau v. Nichols

The US Supreme Court heard arguments for the case of Lau v. Nichols on December 10, 1973.  During this landmark case on bilingual education, the Court promulgated one of its first interpretations of the term “appropriate action.”  The ruling held that a school district based in San Francisco violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by denying students of Chinese descent opportunities to participate in classes.  The Justices decided that providing the Chinese American students with the same textbooks, desks, and teachers as the native English speakers was not appropriate under the law.  Appropriate action required further measures, such as instruction in both Chinese and English, to ensure that the non-English speaking students were able to learn English.  Lau v. Nichols is part of the history of bilingual education in US law; the next important decision featured Spanish-speaking students in Castañeda v. Pickard in 1981.  (Please see Meyer v. Nebraska, May 25, 1920, for more information on the history of bilingual education case law.)

Romana Acosta Bañuelos US Treasurer 1971

As she raised her hand to take the oath of office on December 17, 1971, Romana Acosta Bañuelos was sworn in as the US Treasurer.  Bañuelos was the first Latina in this position, and was then the highest-ranking Mexican American in the US government.  She served through 1974, and her signature appeared on each US one dollar bill.  As her daughter stated, “My mother’s legacy is that she ran the place as a business, not just as another wing of the government.” Bañuelos’ life was an American dream; prior to government appointment she founded a multi-million dollar business, Ramona’s Mexican Food Products, and assisted in starting the Pan-American National Bank in East Los Angeles.

Latinas in Opera Madame Butterfly

Her elegant, powerful soprano voice first soared through the distinguished Metropolitan Opera House in New York City on December 18, 1970, as Gilda Cruz-Romo performed the title role in “Madame Butterfly”.  Mexican-born Cruz-Romo sang in the world’s most prestigious opera houses, including La Scala in Milan, the Teatro dell’ Opera in Rome, the Vienna Staatsoper, the London Royal Opera, and Moscow’s Bolshoi Opera. After a lifetime of touring to cheering applause, Cruz-Romo now teaches at the University of Texas at Austin, her alma mater.

National Chicano Moratorium Committee 1969

As protests against the unpopular Vietnam War swept the nation, the National Chicano Moratorium Committee organized a rally of 2,000 peace activists on December 19, 1969.  The demonstrators met in Obregon Park in East Los Angeles.  The Committee continued to organize protests, until a serious riot in which several people were killed, including prominent journalist Ruben Salazar.  (Please see August 19, 1970, for more on Ruben Salazar.  Photo from Los Angeles Times files)

The Cave of Swallows

The Cave of Swallows, one of Mexico’s many beautiful natural tourist attractions, was discovered by humans on December 27, 1966.  The cave is the largest known cave shaft in the world, and could easily accommodate a New York City skyscraper.  It is also home to white-collared swifts and green parakeets that burst into the light of dawn and return at twilight to sleep.  The cave is located in central Mexico, in the state of San Luis Potosí.  Given the steep drop of the cave, more adventurous tourists are BASE jumping into the depths with a parachute – but experts caution to remember to pull the ripcord within all of the distracting beauty.

Happy Birthday to Benjamin Bratt

Happy Birthday to Benjamin Bratt, a Hollywood mega star and producer for film and television.  Bratt’s father was German American and his mother was Quechua-Peruvian. Bratt graduated from the University of California and attended the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.  As a Latino, he struggled with stereotyping; as he said in an interview, “On some level, industry standards of how people of color are perceived and therefore hired reflect a microcosm of what exists in society. Unfortunately, that’s limiting. My early experience in Hollywood was disappointing and sometimes shocking.”  Bratt’s talent and persistence triumphed. He starred in numerous popular films such as “Miss Congeniality” and in classics such “Love in the Time of Cholera”.  He has spent years in North American homes in the popular series “Law & Order” and “Private Practice”.  (Image by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic/Getty Images)

Hector Viveros Lee, Teacher, Artist, and Author

Happy Birthday to teacher, artist, and children’s book author Hector Viveros Lee, born in Calexico, California to Mexican immigrant parents.  Lee earned his BA at St. John’s College and his BFA at the Academy of Art College.  Lee has written and illustrated for children’s books and magazines.  He said of his heritage and his work, “On occasion I draw on my particular Latino experience to create pictures with universal appeal. Imaginary and fantastical elements are part of my work. I believe they are an integral part of living; they provide links to our interior reality. I draw with the conviction that art taps into our paradoxical and wonderful humanity–both in the simple and the complex, ordinary and the magical, the particular and the universal.”  Lee authored the imaginative children’s book, “I Had a Hippopotamus”.

President John F Kennedy and Puerto Rico

December 15, 1961

President John F Kennedy and his entourage landed in Puerto Rico on December 15, 1961, the first stop in his visit to Latin America.   As the first Catholic President and the first US President to visit Puerto Rico, the charismatic Kennedy received a warm welcome.  As he stated in his opening remarks, “Puerto Rico serves as an admirable bridge between Latin America and North America.  You have, I think, served to make it easier for us to understand each other, and therefore it is most important and appropriate that we should start this journey to two great countries, Venezuela and Colombia, that we should come here first.”

Happy Birthday to Irene Lailin Sáez Conde

Happy Birthday to Irene Lailin Sáez Conde, the politician, governor and presidential candidate born on December 13, 1961 in Caracas, Venezuela. Sáez’s first international election victory was at age 19, when the judges of the Miss Universe Pageant voted her as the winner in 1981. After her reign, she studied political science at the Central University of Venezuela, and then served as Venezuela’s cultural representative to the United Nations. Her next electoral victory was as mayor of the Chaco municipality, where she did an outstanding job and was reelected with 96% of the vote. In 1998, Sáez ran for President of Venezuela with a platform to end corruption, reduce the public bureaucracy and refinance the public debt. She was opposed by an up and coming political radical, Hugo Chávez, and suffered a huge loss in the election. Sáez returned to victory in 1999, when she won the governorship of the state of Nueva Esparta, with 70% of the vote.

Happy Birthday to Tish Hinojosa

Happy Birthday to singer, songwriter, and social activist Tish Hinojosa, born in San Antonio, Texas, on December 6, 1955.  Hinojosa began her singing career with a $20 Mexican guitar, a gift from her mother that she still treasures.  Hinojosa’s music reflects her bicultural heritage in the borderlands of Texas and Mexico.  Her music is described as alchemy of American folk music, Nashville’s country-western, traditional Mexican genres, and Mexican-American music from Texas.  Hinojosa writes that, “When you resist pop formulas for your own artistic vision, the twists are sometimes confusing, but now I’m seeing the wonderful results of not straying from a true road.”   Hinojosa is an activist for the National Association for Bilingual Education and the National Latino Children’s Agenda.  (Image from Hinojosa’s official web site, www.MundoTish.com)

Sandra Cisneros, Writer

Happy Birthday to acclaimed writer Sandra Cisneros, born on December 20, 1954 in Chicago, Illinois.  Her mother was Mexican American and her father was an immigrant from Mexico who was often nostalgic for his home country.  As a result, Cisneros and her family moved between Mexico and Chicago on numerous occasions.  The sense of displacement and psychological and spiritual boundaries and crossings between cultures greatly impacted Cisneros’ work.  Cisneros earned her BA at Loyola University and her MFA at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.  Cisneros’ life is immersed in literature; she is a writer, poet, and teacher.  Her novels include, “The House on Mango Street” and “The Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories.”

Happy Birthday to Congressman Luis Gutiérrez

Happy Birthday to Luis Gutiérrez, born in Chicago, Illinois on December 10, 1953, to Puerto Rican parents.  Gutiérrez graduated from Northeastern Illinois University, and worked as a teacher and social worker for 10 years.  He served on the Chicago City Council for a number of years.  In 1992, Gutiérrez won his Congressional race with 78% of the vote, and continues to serve in the US House of Representatives.  Among his many contributions, Gutierrez led efforts on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee to secure research funds for prosthetics programs.

Happy Birthday to Randy Castillo

The beat began in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on December 18, 1950, when rock musician Randy Castillo made his birthday debut.  His father was a mariachi musician who encouraged his talent, and Castillo was selected for Arizona’s All-State symphonic band during his senior year of high school.  After playing in the local Arizona music scene, he moved to Los Angeles to advance his career.  Castillo played with Ozzy Osbourne for most of his rock career, and he drummed on albums such as “The Ultimate Sin”, “No More Tears”, and “No Rest for the Wicked”. He also appeared in the documentary “Don’t Blame Me”.  In 1999, Castillo was selected to play with the band Motley Crue, with whom he toured until his early death from cancer in 2002.

Happy Birthday to Dilma Vana Rousseff

Happy Birthday to Dilma Vana Rousseff, the first woman elected as President of Brazil.  Rouseff was born on December 14, 1947 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  Her road to political success was difficult.  As a young woman, she joined a political activist group and was jailed for three years, and tortured while in prison.  In 2002, Rousseff was appointed as Energy Minister by then President “Lula”, where she promoted research for alternative energy.  (Please see February 10, 1980 for more on Lula.)  Rousseff was next promoted to Chief of Staff, and she and Lula launched a number of reforms for Brazilian society.   Rousseff’s additional life roles are as mother, grandmother, and cancer survivor.  As President, she will host the world in Brazil during the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Miguel Pinero, Playwright

Puerto Rican playwright Miguel Pinero was born in Gurabo, Puerto Rico on December 19, 1946.  As a youngster, he immigrated with his family to the US. He attended school in New York City, and earned his high school equivalency.  After a stint in prison, he published his gritty, realistic work, “Short Eyes”, about the killing of a sex offender.  The head of the New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theater hailed Pinero as “the first Puerto Rican playwright to really break through and be accepted as a major writer for the stage.” Pinero received numerous awards for his work, including New York Drama Critics Circle Award, Antoinette Perry Award Nomination for best play, Obie Award, and Drama Desk Award.  The play was later adapted as a film.

Soccer Competition 1943

While soccer is a relatively recent phenomenon in North America, the sport’s popularity has reigned in Central and South America for decades.  This image is from the US Library of Congress, of a soccer competition in El Salvador.  The image shows a player heading a ball superimposed on a map of Central America and the Caribbean Islands.

Happy Birthday to Julian Olivares

Happy Birthday to Julian Olivares — writer, editor, translator, educator, and US Navy veteran — who was born in San Antonio, Texas on December 6, 1941.  Olivares earned his BA at California State University and his MA at the University of Texas.  Olivares served at several universities, and won grants from institutions such as the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  He edited numerous books and literary magazines that heighten the awareness of Chicano and Hispanic culture.  Olivares’ lifelong commitment is to “… bringing national recognition to the contributions to the national heritage by Hispanic American writers and to assuring their place in the tradition of American letters.” (Image of book jacket)

Mario Kreutzberger Blumenfeld, Don Francisco

Happy Birthday to Mario Kreutzberger Blumenfeld, affectionately known as Don Francisco, the beloved host of the wildly successful television program, “Sabado Gigante” (“Giant Saturday”).  Kreutzberger was born in Santiago, Chile, on December 28, 1940.  Kreutzberger’s parents fled from Germany in the 1930s; with their Jewish heritage, they were threatened by the Nazi regime.  Kreutzberger’s mother was a singer and encouraged the shy young man to become an entertainer.  But it was not until a stay in New York City — when Kreutzberger discovered the phenomena of television — that he found his true calling.  In 1962, “Sabado Gigante” debuted as an eight hour variety show. Univision moved the show to the US, where its viewership grew to a delighted, laughing audience of more than 100 million people in 30 countries.

Happy Birthday to Lee Buck Trevino

Happy Birthday to one of golf’s best loved talents, Lee Buck Trevino, born in Dallas, Texas on December 1, 1939.  His family was poor financially but rich in spirit.  Trevino recalled regularly jumping across a fence from his home into a local golf course to practice at night. He became an internationally renowned player, winning tournaments throughout the world.  His victories include year-to-year wins in the British Open in 1971 and 1972; the 1972 Hartford Open; the Canadian Open in 1971, 1977, and 1979; the Mexican Open in 1973 and 1975; and both the 1969 and 1971 World Cup golf tournaments.  In 1990, Trevino became the first Senior PGA player to earn more prize money than the highest earner of the regular tour.  Known for his great humor and fun pranks, a sports commentator said of Trevino, “You can’t keep a good man down.”  (Please see August 17, 1973 for more on Trevino.  Image of Sports Illustrated Cover, 1969)

Happy Birthday to Leonardo Boff

Happy Birthday to philosopher, priest, writer, professor and social activist Leonardo Boff, born on December 14, 1938 in Concórdia, Brazil.  Boff was educated in Brazil, Germany and the UK, and is a passionate proponent of “liberation theology”.  Liberation theology calls for Christians to empower the poor and oppressed, not only on a spiritual level, but also to advance economic and social justice.  Among the books he authored is “Jesus Christ Liberator”, which portrayed Jesus as a liberal and radical with a social agenda to improve the lives of poor people.  Boff also supported the ordination of women in the Catholic priesthood.  Unsurprisingly, these views conflicted with the Vatican, and Boff was officially summoned to Rome in 1984, and his work was censored by the Church.  He finally left the priesthood, married, and is now a professor, still working for the cause of the poor (99%).  As Boff stated in an interview,  “Today the problem is no longer marginalization of the poor but complete exclusion. The question now is how to survive. That’s why liberation theology deals with fundamental issues like work, health, food, shelter, and how we live.”

Happy Birthday to Rosa Dolores Alverio

Happy Birthday to the fabulous entertainer and humanitarian Rosa Dolores Alverio, born in Humacao, Puerto Rico on December 11, 1931.  Known on stage as Rita Moreno, the multi-talented star is the only woman and the only Hispanic American to win the entertainment industry’s four top awards: Oscar, Grammy, Tony, and Emmy.  Moreno struggled with being typecast as a “Latin Spitfire” and was desolate over her lack of progress during an early point in her career.  Moreno had the last laugh in her role as Googie Gómez in the Broadway play, “The Ritz”.  Moreno is a social activist who supported African American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Moreno said of her heritage and her career, “When I was a young starlet, I wanted to be an all-American girl…. But when I grew up and developed a sense of self-esteem as a Hispanic, I learned how essential it was to cling to one’s own heritage, for only in that way can we truly understand our ancestors, our culture, and ultimately understand ourselves.” (Please see August 9, 1963 for more on Moreno’s civil rights activism.)

Happy Birthday to Lupe Serrano

Happy Birthday to Lupe Serrano, who first danced into the world on December 7, 1930, in Santiago, Chile.  Serrano was the first Hispanic principal ballerina at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre.  Her debut recital was at her third birthday, when she insisted on performing for her guests.  She studied with the Mexico City Ballet and in New York and Santiago.  Her dazzling performances graced stages around the world for half a century.  Serrano danced with the American Ballet Theatre for almost two decades, and her roles included the great classics as well as modern ballets.  After retiring from stage performances, Serrano continued to teach young aspiring dancers, commenting that, “I continue to be in love with this art and still haven’t lost my pleasure for the dance.”

Happy Birthday to Luis Estevez de Galvez

Happy Birthday to Luis Estevez de Galvez, the award-winning fashion designer born in Havana, Cuba on December 5, 1930.  Estevez studied architecture at the University of Havana and fashion design at the Traphagen School in New York.  Estevez worked with a number of leading fashion designers and theater productions.  He dressed many famous women, including two former First Ladies, Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan. In 1990, he won the Hispanic Designers’ lifetime achievement award.  Estevez said of his career, “I’m most grateful to God for the gift of an energetic talent and my parents for exposing me to significant style–living life to the fullest and showing me the living discipline that helped me do all I’ve done

Happy Birthday to Desi Arnaz

December 2, 1917, is the birthday of Desi Arnaz, famed as the Cuban-American bandleader Ricky Ricardo on the popular TV comedy, “I Love Lucy”.  Red-headed Lucille Ball played his wife.  Reportedly, CBS executives were initially reluctant to portray Arnaz as Ball’s husband, saying that a North American audience would not accept the scandalous idea of all-American Lucy being married to a Cuban. (Whoa!  There goes the neighborhood.)  This reluctance was despite the fact that Lucy and Desi were married in real life.  The CBS executives eventually got over it, and the hugely popular show ran from October 1951 to May 1957.  Spin-offs were later launched. For more on Arnaz’s impact on the average American’s perception of Latinos, please visit NPR.

Francisca Flores Birthday

She was born fighting, in San Diego, California, in December 1913.  Francisca Flores was a woman of Mexican American heritage who campaigned for Latino and women’s rights throughout her life.  As a young woman, she was inspired by stories of the Mexican Revolution of the 1920s and by Spanish resistance against the forces of fascism and Adolph Hitler during the 1940s.  Flores was an inspirational and often unremembered leader in many pivotal historical events, including publicizing the banned, pro-union movie, “Salt of the Earth” and commemorations for activist Ruben Salazar. (Please view March 14 and December 19 for more on these topics.)

Alejo Carpentier, Novelist, Journalist and Activist

Novelist, journalist, and political activist Alejo Carpentier was born in Havana, Cuba on December 26, 1904, to a French father and Russian mother.   After spending time in Europe during his childhood, he began writing at age 15 when the family returned to Cuba.  Carpentier became active in political resistance to the Cuban dictatorships of the 1920s and 30s, and was imprisoned.  During his years of exile away from Cuba, he found his literary soul, “I dedicated myself for years to reading everything I could find on America, from the letters of Christopher Columbus to … the Inca Garcilase de la Vega. I did nothing else for years, I believe, but read American texts. America was seen as an enormous nebula that I tried to understand, because I felt vaguely that my work originated there, that it was going to be profoundly American.”  A supporter of Fidel Castro, Carpentier returned to Cuba in 1959 when the Communist regime triumphed.  He then served Cuba as editor and diplomat.

Happy Birthday to Carlos Montoya

The blazing fingers of musician Carlos Montoya were first given to the light of day on December 13, 1903, in Madrid, Spain.  Montoya’s passion was flamenco music, which he attributed to his Gypsy heritage.  He began guitar lessons at age 8, started his professional career in the lively, elegant cafes of Madrid, and launched his solo career in 1945.  Montoya spent most of his life on tour, accompanied by his translator and wife, Sallie.  He dazzled audiences in North and South America, Europe, and Asia.  He enjoyed small venues such as universities and colleges, as well as spacious concert halls.  His listeners were part of his passion, as his wife said, “He has to reach out to people, and that’s when he starts to be creative.  He’s hooked on audiences. To Carlos, his music doesn’t really exist except when he’s playing it for people.”  Carlos continued to play for his beloved audiences through his farewell tour at age 85.

José David Alfaro Siqueiros, Artist

The provocative social realist artist José David Alfaro Siqueiros was born in Camargo, Mexico, on December 29, 1896.  Siqueiros was one of the founders of the mural movement in Mexico, and he was also an active labor organizer and member of Mexico’s Communist party.  Siqueiros didn’t live a ho-hum life.  A global citizen, he taught art in Los Angeles, California, painted murals in New York, Chile, and Mexico, traveled to Russia to participate in global political forums, and joined the Spanish Republican Army to fight against fascism in Spain.  In 1960, he was imprisoned for several years by the Mexican government for the crime of “social dissolution”.  After his release, he continued his artistic dissidence with the groundbreaking work “The March of Humanity” on the Congress Hall of Mexico City.  (Image from WikiPaintings.org)

Diego Rivera’s Murals

On December 8, 1886, one of Mexico’s most famous painters and personalities made his debut in Guanajuato, Mexico.  Diego Rivera and his murals are famous throughout the world.  Rivera was a rebel with a cause, who eschewed traditional painting techniques and developed his own style of politicized, socially conscious art.  He studied in Mexico and Europe, where he was influenced by the cubist and modernist art movements sweeping through Paris.  Rivera worked in the US for several years beginning in 1930, and created murals for the Stock Exchange Luncheon Club and the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco and for the Detroit Institute of Arts in Michigan.  He married Mexican artist Frieda Kahlo; the two loved each other in a stormy, passionate and turbulent relationship.  (Please see March 13, 1936 for more on Rivera.)

Juan Ramón Jiménez, Nobel Prize Winner

The Noble prize winning Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez was born on December 23, 1881, in Moguer, Spain. This city is in Andalusia, the sun-kissed south of Spain on the Mediterranean Sea, and has been influenced by the waves of numerous civilizations and cultures.  Jiménez was well traveled, and spent time in the US, Europe, Puerto Rico, and Cuba.  His life reflected the turbulent times in his home country, as Spain lost its overseas empire in the Spanish American War in 1898 and –temporarily – its soul in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s.  Through the turmoil, Jiménez continued to write, and he enjoyed international respect and admiration for his work.  He earned a Noble Prize in 1956, “for his lyrical poetry, which in Spanish language constitutes an example of high spirit and artistical purity”.

The Death of Adolfo Fernández Cavada

He fought for freedom in two wars — in North America and the Caribbean — and on December 18, 1871, Adolfo Fernández Cavada was killed in battle in Cuba.  Cavada was born in Cienfuegos, Cuba, to his North American mother and Cuban father.  After his father’s death, his mother moved her family back to her native Philadelphia, where Cavada attended Philadelphia’s Central High School.  Cavada enlisted to fight in the Civil War to preserve the Union, and served with distinction in the Battles of Fredericksburg and Gettysburg.   He also served as aide-de-camp to General Andrew A. Humphreys.  After the Civil War was won, Cavada and his brother, Federico, fought in the Cuban revolution against the Spanish colonial rule.  (Please see April 19, 1862, for more on brother Federico.)

George Santayana, Philosopher, Writer and Poet

The philosopher, poet, and writer Jorge Agustin de Santayana, known as George Santayana, was born in Madrid, Spain on December 16, 1863.  Santayana’s early life and childhood were complicated, with his mother’s world travels, his North American half-brothers, and his father’s residence in Spain.  He reflected that he never felt at home anywhere, and was “a stranger at heart”.  He studied at Harvard University, where he earned his doctorate in philosophy.  He taught at Harvard until his early retirement in 1912.  Santayana devoted his life to travel, philosophy, and writing, noting that, “My career was not my life.  Mine has been a life of reflection.” He questioned the Catholic religion and based his philosophy on skepticism, materialism, and humanism. His reputation and influence grew considerably after his death, as thoughtful readers began to appreciate the gracefulness of his prose and the courage of his inquiries.  Among his memorable aphorisms that have become part of the North American philosophical vernacular is: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it;”

Julius Peter Garesché, Union Army Officer

During the heat of the Battle of Stones River in Tennessee, Cuban born officer and Union patriot Julius Peter Garesché was killed by cannon fire on December 31, 1862.  Garesché graduated from West Point Military Academy, and served with distinction during the Mexican American War.  A devout Christian and Catholic, he organized a charitable society in the state of New York to assist the poor and disadvantaged.  For this work, he was awarded the decoration of a Knight of St. Sylvester by the Catholic Pope.  During the American Civil War, Garesché again served his homeland at a lieutenant colonel in the Union Army, until he was killed in action at age 41.

Federico Degetau, First Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico

Federico Degetau, Puerto Rico’s first Resident Commissioner after it became a US territory, was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico on December 5, 1862.  Degetau was a man of many talents, and his career roles included politician, art collector, author, lawyer, coffee grower, and educator.  He studied in Puerto Rico and at the University of Madrid, where he earned a law degree.  After US troops took over Puerto Rico during the Spanish American War, Degetau was appointed Secretary of the Interior of the first governing cabinet formed under American rule.  He was elected as Resident Commission to the US House of Representatives in 1900 and re-elected in 1902.  After politics, he turned to art collecting and academics, working to establish the Pan American University in Puerto Rico.

Happy Birthday to Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazolo

Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazolo, the first Hispanic to serve in the US Senate, was born in Allende, Mexico on December 7, 1859.  At age 11, the Bishop of Arizona brought him to Arizona to study theology, and Larrazolo later completed his studies in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Larrazolo began working as a teacher, and became interested in local politics.  He was appointed as clerk of the US District and Circuit Courts, where he studied law.  He campaigned several times for various offices, and was elected Governor of New Mexico in 1918.  In 1928 Larrazolo was elected to fill the unexpired term of the state’s Democratic Senator.  He served on the Agriculture and Forestry Committee, Public Surveying Committee, and the Territories and Insular Affairs Committees.

Venta de La Mesilla / Gadsden Purchase 1853

The ink dried on the Mexican-American treaty for the Venta de La Mesilla, known as the Gadsden Purchase in the US, on December 30, 1853.  Under this treaty, the US government purchased Mexican territory in Arizona and New Mexico along the international border.  This purchase was made several years after the Mexican American War, during which the US had taken about one-third of the Mexican nation by force.  The purpose of the treaty was to establish an international railroad through the best topography, and to delineate the border after the Mexican-American War.

Callao and Lima 1835

The US Marines landed in the cities of Callao and Lima in the sovereign nation of Peru on December 10, 1835.  The Marines were undocumented illegal aliens, but despite this small matter of paperwork, they stayed until January 24, 1836.  The US government ordered this invasion of Peru to protect American interests during an attempted revolution.  (Map of location of Peru – a bit far from US interests, wouldn’t you think?)

Discovering the Cause of Yellow Fever

He proposed an unprecedented, radical theory, which was greeted with great skepticism by the leading medical and scientific authorities of the time.  But Carlos Juan Finlay, a physician and epidemiologist born in Camaguey, Cuba, in 1833, persisted in his research.  Finlay’s father was Scottish and his mother was French.  He was educated in France, Philadelphia, and Havana, and traveled throughout South America and Europe.  His unprecedented theory that the deadly yellow fever was spread by a specific mosquito type was rejected by the scientific community for over two decades.  US medical pioneer Walter Reed confirmed Finlay’s work in 1901, and the eradication of this mosquito dramatically reduced the death toll in the Caribbean and among the workforce of the Panama Canal.

Republic of Fredonia, Texas

In the first of numerous conflicts and revolutions over the future state of Texas, North American immigrants in the sovereign nation of Mexico declared themselves independent on December 21, 1826.  The leader of the insurgency, Hayden Edwards, had received a land grant from the generous Mexican government near Nacogdoches in eastern Texas.  He then decided to steal the granted land. Unsurprisingly the Mexicans were opposed to this idea, as was future Texas statesman, Stephen Austin.  The local native Americans didn’t like the idea either, and the declared Republic of Fredonia was soon defeated.  (Image of Map of Texas highlighting Fredonia, Creative Commons)

Monroe Doctrine 1823

“We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. …. with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.”  These were the brave words of the Monroe Doctrine, promulgated by the US on December 2, 1823, warning the European powers not to attempt to re-conquer the newly independent Spanish colonies.  Considering that the US did not have a credible navy or army at that time, few European monarchs were worried.  Nonetheless, the 18th century South American revolutionaries who were struggling against European leaders were heartened by the declaration by James Monroe, the fifth President of the US.   Later in history, the doctrine was used to justify invasions and interventions by the US, much to the consternation of South America’s political leaders.  (Image of period political cartoon of Uncle Sam sleeping while European armies run amok in South America.)

Manuela Sáenz, “Libertadora del Libertador”

A bold, courageous woman with a mindset that was centuries before her time, Manuela Sáenz was born on December 27, 1797 in Quito, Ecuador.  She could have had a comfortable life as a socialite married to a wealthy English merchant, but she decided to support the South American revolutionary movement against the colonial Spanish.  Sáenz left her husband in 1822 – a truly scandalous event in the early 19th century – to become the partner and lover of the leader Simon de Bolivar until his death in 1830.  Sáenz joined Bolivar in several military campaigns, and assisted wounded troops and managed supplies.  After Sáenz courageously thwarted an assassination attempt against him, Bolivar began to call her “Libertadora del Libertador” (the “liberator of the liberator”).  Her work and her life were not widely appreciated until later in history, when her unconventional character became acknowledged and admired.

The Aztec Stone of the Sun

The murmurs of awe and astonishment grew louder as the dust and fragments cleared to reveal a wonder hidden for centuries:  the Aztec Stone of the Sun, also known as the Aztec Calendar Stone.  The majestic sculpture is approximately 12 feet (3.7 m) in diameter and weighs 24 tons.  The stone was uncovered in Zócalo, the main square of Mexico City, while repairing Mexico City Cathedral. Spanish conquistadors and clergy often built their churches directly over destroyed native American temples. The content of the stone is still debated by scholars; Aztec mythology and cosmology http://www.thehispanicalmanac.com/wp-admin/edit.phpwere complex, and the 15th century Spanish invaders obliterated knowledge of Aztec religion and culture. The stone is now housed in Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology, a modern wonder in itself.  Please visit www.mna.inah.gob.mx to view more of Mexico’s sophisticated cultural heritage.

The Queen of the Missions

In the midst of the soft rush of wind through palm trees and the ocean breezes of the Pacific, the Spanish mission of Santa Barbara was dedicated on December 4, 1786. Known as the “Queen of the Missions”, Santa Barbara was the 10th of 21 California missions founded by the Spanish.  The original buildings were simple structures of adobe which were rebuilt throughout the centuries.  The Mission is now an active Catholic church parish.  Its botanical garden, museum, and chapel provide glimpses into the long history of the Native American, Spanish, Mexican, and Yankee peoples who have taken rest in the cool shade of its white adobe walls.


Francisco de Miranda and George Washington

A historical link between two revolutionary generations, one from North America and the other from South America, was formed when Francisco de Miranda and George Washington met face to face on a cold, wintry day in Philadelphia.  Miranda, the Venezuelan leader was considered the “George Washington of South America.”  Washington had recently disbanded the Continental Army and was celebrating the victory of the American rebels over the British.  Miranda was traveling through the new nation. Miranda wrote of Washington, “It is certainly remarkable that, considering the many illustrious personages in America who through their vigor and talents have accomplished the great and complicated work of this independence, none have either a general approbation of the popularity of this leader (better said, nobody has it but him).”

Felize Navidade with the Washingtons, 1781

The victorious general, soon to be President, and his gracious wife were the most sought after guests for the December 1781 holidays in Philadelphia.  The smoke of battle had cleared, and General George Washington and his wife, Martha, were settling in for the winter.  Although the power couple received invitations from every leading socialite in the city, they accepted that of the Spanish envoy to the colonies, Francisco Rendon.  Rendon was thrilled by their acceptance, as he wrote in his correspondence to the Minister in Havana.  On the day that the Washingtons arrived at his home, Rendon hosted a large dinner party for them, with many prominent leaders of the Revolution in attendance with their wives.  Rendon wrote that the party started at 4 PM, and lasted until 10 PM, as his guests “dined and amused themselves copiously.”  His house guests stayed through the Christmas holidays and New Year.  (Please visit www.OurAmericanHistory.com for more on the role of the Spanish in the American Revolutionary War.)

Juan de Miralles, Spanish Emissary to the American Revolution

The Spanish empire in Europe and the Americas provided assistance to the North American rebels throughout the American Revolutionary War.  Not wanting to provoke the British into war before they were ready, the Spanish managed covert operation to send aid to the Americans.  They also attempted to send emissaries.  On December 31, 1777, Juan de Miralles sailed from Havana.  His mission had been carefully planned by the Captain General of Havana.  His ship had been strategically sabotaged, so that it would have to make an emergency landing in the South Carolina, instead of crossing the Atlantic to Europe, which was the cover story.  The emissary, Juan de Miralles, soon made his way to Philadelphia, where he was a friend of George Washington and many leaders of the Revolution.  Please visit www.OurAmericanHistory.com for more information.

Revenge of the Mapuche 1598

Although the Native Americans lacked guns, germs, steel and horses, they continued to valiantly defend themselves against the Spanish invaders.  On December 21, 1598, the Mapuche Nation of southern Chile defeated the Spanish in a major battle at Cualaba.  Led by their commanding officer, Pelentaru, the Mapuche launched a surprise night raid against the Spanish, killing the Spanish Governor and troops.  This battle was one of the last major conflicts between the Spanish conquistadors and the Mapuche nation.  (Image of the flag of the Mapuche nation, in public domain.)

Cuauhtlatoatzin 1531

The vision of the young woman appeared on December 9, 1531, as a Native Mexican American named Cuauhtlatoatzin walked in the morning air of the Tepeyac desert near Mexico City.  The dark skinned young woman spoke to him in Nahuatl, the local language, and asked that a Catholic church be built in her honor, on the same hallowed ground that the Aztec mother goddess Tonantzin was once worshipped.  Cuauhtlatoatzin, who later converted to Catholicism and was renamed Juan Diego, believed that the apparition was Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ.  The woman of the vision eventually became known as Our Lady of Guadalupe, and she is central to the spiritual beliefs of the peoples of Mexico.

Laws of Burgos 1512

The relationship between European invaders and indigenous Nations has been bitterly contentious since 1492.  In response to reports of terrible treatment of native Americans, the Spanish government and King Ferdinand II of Aragon issued the Laws of Burgos on December 27, 1512.  The laws formalized the practice of ‘voluntary’ labor at Spanish encomiendas for native Americans, but also stipulated in minute detail requirements for work, pay, provisioning, living quarters, maternity leave, and hygiene. While far from perfect, compared to the treatment of slaves on 19th century US plantations, the 16th century Laws of Burgos were dazzlingly enlightened.   (Image of King Ferdinand II of Aragon)

Isabella I, Queen of Castille

In a rapid series of calculated political moves after the death of her brother, Isabella I declared herself as Queen of Castille.  Together with her husband, King Ferdinand II of Aragon, she began to create the modern nation of Spain.  The power couple ruled with a balance of power:  Isabella had the final powers of decision in Castile while Ferdinand was the primary policy maker in Aragon with Isabella as his advisor.  The couple made the fateful decision to back Christopher Columbus on his voyages of exploration, forever changing the history of the Americas.

Queen Ix Yohl Ik’nal, 583

December 23, 583.  Yes, that’s 583, not a four digit number, since today we’re honoring the Mayan civilization during its Classic period.  On December 23, 583, the Mayan ruler Ix Yohl Ik’nal was inaugurated as Queen of the Mayan state of Palenque in southern Mexico.  While not geographically the largest Mayan city state, Palenque is home to some of the most elegant sculpture and architecture of the rich Mayan Classic period.  As of the 21st century, Yohl Ik’nal is the first woman known to have ruled in the Mayan kingdoms, and is one of the few women who held this office.  Her name translates as “Lady Heart of the Wind Place”.  She ruled for 21 years during a relatively peaceful period. (Image of the Mayan glyph for Yohl Ik’nal’s name, from author Joel Skidmore’s publication on “The Rulers of Palenque”.)