The area known generally as the Southwest is one of the most widely recognized yet one of the most transitionary regions of America. It has an apparent physical uniformity that can be attributed primarily to its clear, dry climate, but, in fact, the region includes the broad flatlands of the lower Rio Grande Valley; the plateaus of New Mexico; the dramatic mesas, buttes, and deserts of Arizona; and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico.
The Southwest is made distinctive by the coexistence of Spanish-American, American Indian, and Anglo cultures, and the physical environment is almost like a stage that serves to emphasize aspects of each. The American Indian and Spanish populations coexisted in much of the region for 250 years after Spanish arrival at the end of the 16th century before Anglos began immigrating in the middle of the 19th century.
However, the tricultural border region is now preponderantly non-Spanish and non-Indian. Perhaps one person in four has a Spanish surname, and little more than 1 in 100 is an American Indian. The expectation might be that these minority populations would be engulfed by the larger and relatively homogeneous Anglo population. But both minority groups have had a major sustained impact on the region. Spanish place-names abound, especially along the Rio Grande River and in coastal California. American Indian place-names are locally important, especially on the Navajo, Hopi, and Papago reservations in Arizona.
Hispanic neighborhoods are sometimes identified by the use of adobe, but more often by the use of bright colors in house painting and outside ornamentation and by yards encircled with bold fences. The distinctive hogan (a building made of logs and mud with near-vertical sides and a rounded top) can still be found on the Navajo reservation, and the pueblos of New Mexico are a striking element of that state's architecture.
The canyonlands of northern Arizona and southern Utah provided an effective barrier to Spanish expansion northward from Mexico. The Spanish moved up the Rio Grande to the broad expanse of the Rocky Mountains, north of which little Hispanic settlement developed. In Texas, most settlement remained concentrated along the Rio Grande and Nueces Rivers. The extensive cattle-grazing industry that the Spanish introduced into south Texas was ill-suited to the moist, forested lands of the eastern portion of the state. That area, left as a frontier, was largely unsettled by the Spaniards. Most migration by Spanish-Americans beyond this original settlement area has been to urban places.
The aridity of Arizona, New Mexico, and bordering areas in Utah and Colorado discouraged large-scale Anglo agricultural settlement into the 19th century, ensuring that substantial numbers of American Indians remained in the four states. The Pueblo of the upper Rio Grande Valley had developed the technologically most advanced pre-European Indian civilization in what was to become the United States, and they remain important in New Mexico. The Navajo, Hopi, and Apache, all primarily in Arizona, also survived the European wave better than most eastern tribes.
The Winter Garden area of the lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas, overwhelmingly Hispanic, is a major area of irrigated agriculture. The average growing season is longer than 280 days and supports such crops as oranges, grapefruit, and winter lettuce and tomatoes. The Hispanic population has long provided labor for this agriculture.
In Los Angeles, Hispanic enclaves may contain hundreds of thousands of inhabitants. Despite far more acculturation into Anglo society than has occurred in the upper or lower Rio Grande Valley, Hispanic traditions remain important. Spanish-language radio stations and newspapers abound, and major Mexican-American festive occasions attract huge throngs.
In the Southwest border area, then, the impact of the Hispanic and the American Indian cultures remains strong.
The term Tejas often used to describe the American Indian nation(s) for which the Spanish sought to establish a mission is a bit of misnomer. The term is based on the Caddo word Teija or Teysa meaning friend or ally, rather than referring to an actual tribe or band. The Spanish spelling and pluralization gives us the word Tejas or Texas.
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