Category: Throwback Thursday

The First Latino

The First US Latino: A mix of African, Spanish, and the epicenter of Latinos in America

On a lazy rainy day, I was scrolling through Amazon Prime looking for some inspiration via a documentary. As I scrolled through a bunch of documentaries, I saw one about the history of New York. I figured since it was my two-month anniversary of moving to the Big Apple; let me learn a bit more about the greatest city on earth.

History of New York

As they introduced all of New York’s greatness they started with the original story of Henry Hudson sailing into this new world and his vision of this land being a sprawling harbor and center of commerce. We all know New York as being a melting pot; home to the financial markets, sprawls of people and where world leaders meet to discuss worldly issues at the United Nations.

After the Dutch landed in New York, at the time known as New Amsterdam, there is one footnote that has been debated and is much overlooked. A man named Juan Rodriguez, translated to Dutch Jon Rodrigues.

Who was Juan Rodriguez?

Juan Rodriguez was born in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic by a Spanish Father and an African Mother. Little is known, other than he was able to learn and speak many languages, which allowed him to be hired as a translator for explorers coming to the “New World”. One was a Dutch merchant ship making a voyage from the DR to Manhattan. He arrived in what is now New York in 1613 and soon after met and learned the Algonquin language of the Native Americans that lived in the New York Region. He eventually married into the community and after the Dutch ship left he established a small trading post.

He is known as being the first Latino to settle in Manhattan. Not only was he the first Latino but he was also the first of African heritage, first of European heritage and the first merchant.

Personal Commentary

This is interesting in these times with major issues in the news about immigration that one of the first settlers in New York was a mixed Latino. Its also ironic that as a nation built on immigration that we still have issues with racism and prejudices. Our European ancestors came to explore and settle here they hired and worked with a man who had a Spanish/Portuguese Father and an African Mother and thru historical documents described as a visibly dark man and had no issue with it. Shows we have lost touch with a lot of our true deep down American Values that made this country what it was and what it could be. A nation for the free to grow, prosper and lay a foundation for their families.

One other thing that comes to mind is the repeated story of people coming to this country from other parts of the world to make a life of their own. His story isn’t too far off from the beginnings of Alexander Hamilton who as a parent-less teenager came to New York to make a name for himself. It just shows that if you have the determination and the drive you can make it and live to your fullest potential. No matter what the situation, your families’ history or your upbringing there is no excuse that you cannot improve your life by staying focused and motivated in achieving your goals.  I wish we knew more about Juan Rodriguez and the personal less publicized stories of the early Latino or Spanish settlers that laid the foundation or should I say platform for Latinos today.