Mexicanos What were their contributions to the U.S. culture?


The Spanish came to Mexico in search of gold, but the greatest treasures they found were Indian foods unknown in Europe. These foods included corn, tomatoes, chocolate, peanuts, vanilla, beans, squash, avocados, coconuts, sunflower seeds, and chili peppers. Additionally, the Spanish brought the foods of Europe to Mexico. They introduced meats such as pork, beef, lamb, chicken, and goat. They brought nuts and grains such as almonds, walnuts, rice, wheat, and barley. They planted fruits and vegetables such as apples, oranges, grapes, olives, lettuce, carrots, sugarcane, and potatoes (which they discovered in Peru). And they introduced herbs and spices such as cinnamon, parsley, coriander, oregano, and black pepper. Mexican cooks combined these foods of European and Mexican origins to create a rich and flavorful style of cooking that was neither Indian nor Spanish. It was distinctly Mexican. As Americans settled the Southwest, they were introduced to Mexican food. Many of them liked the new tastes, and they borrowed recipes from Mexicano cooks. In Texas, the mingling of Mexican and American dishes resulted in a style of cooking known as Tex-Mex. Across America, a spicy stew of beef and beans known simply as chili became as American as apple pie.


Throughout the Southwest, the Mexicano contribution to architecture is easy to see. Many buildings can be found with the thick walls, red-tile roofs, rounded arches, and courtyards that are typical of Spanish architecture.Since wood was scarce in the Southwest, Mexicanos used adobe bricks as their main building material. Adobe is a mixture of earth, grass, and water that is shaped into bricks and baked in the sun. Mexicanos covered their adobe homes with colorful red clay tiles. Because of their thick walls, adobe structures stayed cooler in summer and warmer in winter than the wood buildings that Americans from the East were used to. Adobe structures could also be easily constructed from locally available materials. Many adobe buildings featured patios and verandas. A patio is a roofless inner courtyard, often located at the center of a home. A veranda is a roofed porch or balcony extending along the outside of a building. Patios and verandas allowed Mexicanos to spend much of their time outdoors while still protected from the hot sun and dry desert winds.

raising sheep

In New Mexico, the most important industry was sheep raising. From the founding of the territory up to the Mexican Cession, sheep fed, clothed, and supported Spanish and Mexican settlers. The Spanish brought a long tradition of sheep raising to the Americas. Two kinds of sheep were raised in Spain: the merinos (meh-REE-nohs) with their fine wool and the churros (CHURrohs) with their coarse wool. The Spanish brought the scrawny churro to New Mexico, and for good reason. This tough little sheep knew how to survive in a dry environment like that of the Southwest. Large-scale sheep raising spread from New Mexico across the Southwest. In California, the churro was crossed with the merino to produce a sheep with far better wool. As a result, between 1862 and 1880, U.S. wool production soared from 5 million to 22 million pounds a year.


In the East, enough rain fell year-round to water a farmer’s crops. Irrigation, a system for bringing water to farmland by artificial means, such as using a dam to trap water and ditches to channel it to fields, was unnecessary and unknown. But in the Southwest, where six months could go by with no rain, irrigation was essential. Mexicano settlers in the Southwest brought with them irrigation techniques that had been developed centuries earlier in Spain and North Africa. They borrowed other techniques from the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico. Bringing water to fields involved an enormous amount of work. First, farmers had to redirect water from local streams to their fields. They began by building a dam of rocks, earth, and brush across the stream. The water that backed up behind the dam was brought to the fields by irrigation ditches. Using crops introduced by Mexicanos and the Mexican system of irrigation, American settlers turned the Southwest into America’s “fruit basket.” Among the many fruits brought by Mexicanos to the Southwest were grapes, dates, olives, apples, walnuts, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, and quinces. Mexicano settlers also brought the first citrus fruits—lemons, limes, and oranges—to the region.


Cattle ranching in the West was built on traditions brought north from Mexico. Spanish cattle were thin, wiry creatures with long, wide-spreading horns. They moved quickly and were dangerous. With cattle so abundant, Californios and Tejanos found ranching to be a good business. So did the Americans who learned the cattle business from Mexican rancheros, or ranchers. Instead of dairy products, the main products of ranchos were meat, hides, and tallow (fat). Rancheros spent most of their day on horseback, overseeing their land and herds. Caring for the cattle was the work of hired vaqueros (vah-KAIR-ohs), or cowboys. From head to toe, cowboys dressed in clothing borrowed from the vaqueros. For example, the cowboys’ “tengallon hats,” which shaded their eyes and sometimes served as a water pail or a pillow, came from the vaqueros’ wide-brimmed sombreros (sohm-BRER-ohs). The leather chaps that protected the cowboys’ legs from cacti and sagebrush were modeled on the vaqueros’ chaparreras (chap-ar-REHR-ahs). The high-heeled, pointed-toe boots that slipped so easily into the cowboys’ stirrups were based on the vaqueros’ botas (BO-tas). Even the poncho that protected cowboys from cold and rain was borrowed from the vaqueros. Mexicanos also invented the western, or cowboy, saddle, with its useful horn.Cowboys borrowed another essential piece of gear from the vaqueros: la riata (la ree-AH-tah), or the lariat. This was a long rope useful for roping calves during a roundup.


Mexicanos came to the Southwest with a rich mining tradition. They knew where to look for precious metals and how to get them out of the ground. Mexicanos introduced them to the batea (bah-TAY-ah), or gold pan. Miners scooped up mud from streambeds with the batea. Then they swished it around to wash away the lightweight sand. The heavier flakes of gold sank to the bottom of the pan. Mexicanos also brought the riffle box to the goldfields. The bottom of this long box was crossed with pieces of wood called riffles. As mud washed through the box, the heavy gold sank and was trapped behind the riffles. A Mexicano miner sparked the West’s first big silver strike. In 1859, a prospector named Henry Comstock was looking for gold in Nevada. Mexicanos also discovered copper in the Southwest in the early 1800s. When Americans began to mine copper in Arizona, they turned to Mexican miners for help. By 1940, Arizona mines had produced $3 billion worth of copper—copper that carried electricity and telephone calls to millions of homes across America.

*Information take from "Ch. 17 Mexicano Contributions to the Southwest" PDF found online.


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