Throughout his professional life Miguel Pérez has had a singular passion: to inform Americans about this nation’s hidden Hispanic heritage. Recently, Pérez, the Chair of Lehman College’s Journalism, Communications, and Theatre Department and an award-winning journalist, columnist, and TV analyst, has launched a new bilingual website devoted to rediscovering and uncovering the Hispanic roots of the United States.
“Many Americans simply don’t know that Latinos have a very long history of planting language and cultural roots in what is now U.S. territory,” he writes on the website (www.hiddenhispanicheritage.com/index.html).
“Latinos also have a huge record of very positive and unappreciated contributions to American society.” By using maps, videos, photographs of his own travels, journal entries, and collecting the dozens of syndicated columns that Perez has written on the topic since 2007, his website seeks to change all that.
While Pérez’s interest is, of course, partly personal—he emigrated to the U.S. with his family at age 11 from his native Cuba—he says, it is really about setting the historical record straight. “In this country there are many historians and teachers who have decided to teach history starting with the arrival of the British, ignoring everything that happened before, since April of 1513 when Juan Ponce de León arrived,” in modern day Florida searching for the Fountain of Youth, Pérez told the Agenica EFE, the international Spanish language newswire Agency, during a recent interview.
Pérez argues that while Christopher Columbus is given credit for discovering America, in fact, he discovered the islands that are now modern-day Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic; while it was Juan Ponce de León, the Spanish conquistador who discovered what is now mainland America when he discovered the peninsula that comprises the state of Florida. According to this logic, in April 2013—just four months from now—America should be celebrating its quincentennial.
“I find it amazing that we’re just a few months away from a big birthday in our nation’s history and nothing is being planned,” says Pérez. “Juan Ponce de León is credited with discovering the state of Florida but what was Florida at that time? It wasn’t a state; it was North America—our nation. That is, perhaps, the best example of our nation’s hidden Hispanic heritage.”
Pérez has been covering the issues and concerns of America’s burgeoning Latino population for over 35 years. He is a syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate and a political analyst for Telemundo 47. He has been a reporter for The Tampa Times, The Miami Herald, the New York Daily news, and The Record of Hackensack, N.J.