The forgotten vestiges of the Spanish Empire on the US flags and shields.

The forgotten vestiges of the Spanish Empire on the US flags and shields.

30th Jul 2019

The Castilian heritage in North America is more alive than ever. The importance that the Empire had in this territory can be seen in a large number of flags, coat of arms, stamps or slogans of US states and cities

The strong link that Spain has with the United States has deep historical and cultural roots. These date back to the first trips that Hispanic discoverers made to American lands in the 16th century.

Milestones as important as the foundation of the first cities, among which San Agustín de Florida in 1565 or New Mexico in 1598, reflect those common ties. As well as the discovery of the Grand Canyon and the Spanish settlement in Alta California in 1760, which reached the shores of Alaska and Canada. And, of course, the fundamental role of the Castilians in the War of Independence at the hands of Bernardo de Gálvez.

They were more than three centuries of Spanish presence in North American territory, enough so that their culture was clearly and significantly impregnated by the Iberian influence. Some references that survive, today, in some of its symbols. From shields to flags of many states and cities.

Public opinion, in general terms, has little awareness of the close connection between the two countries. Therefore, the Hispanic Council outreach group (with the collaboration of Juan Ignacio Güenechea) has set out to explain in his latest work some of the many examples in which the clear Spanish heritage can be seen in the US symbology.

Arizona state

Arizona State Flag

Bandera del Estado de Arizona

According to official state sources, its flag, approved in 1917, represents "the Arizona copper star rising from a blue field in front of a setting sun." However, when analyzed in detail, the clear Hispanic legacy is appreciated.

The star represents the Arizona copper industry and blue in the lower half, the Colorado River. The thirteen bars symbolize the original colonies of the United States. The colors of them - red and gold - were chosen to remember the presence that Spain had in the region, to honor the conqueror Cabeza de Vaca and, above all, to remember the expedition of Franscisco Vázquez de Coronado in 1540.

De Coronado undertook, between 1540 and 1542, a march that led him to discover new territories still unknown to Europeans, including Arizona. This trip, in fact, started in search of the "seven cities of Cíbola", which supposed to be full of wealth. However, although they did not find them, they found the Grand Canyon of the Colorado.


Arkansas State Flag

Bandera del Estado de Arkansas

The Arkansas flag shows three stars at the bottom of the letters. These represent the countries that had control over the territory. The Iberian Peninsula is one of the lucky ones, on the occasion of the Hispanic presence in the State.

You could say that the history of this State has been linked to Spain since its inception. The first European who toured these lands was Hernando de Soto (lieutenant of Pizarro), in 1539. Years later, and before becoming a state, Arkansas was also part of Hispanic Louisiana after the cession of the territory of France to Carlos III in 1763, on the occasion of the Seven Years' War. A domain that would last almost four decades, until 1803.

Los Angels

Escudo de la ciudad de Los Ángeles

Not only do states have these Hispanic references. The same applies to cities as important as Los Angeles, whose legacy is very striking, both in its symbology and in the name of the city itself.

Coat of arms of the city of Los Angeles

Los Angeles was founded in 1781 by a Spanish soldier, Felipe de Neve, who officially used the name of "The People of the Queen of Angels." It belonged to the Castilian Crown until 1821, when Mexico became independent and California was under its control.

The Los Angeles seal is divided into four distinct shields. Each of them represents a different historical stage of the city. In the upper left is the American flag, next to the brown bear of California. In the lower area, the coat of arms of Mexico and the emblem of the kingdoms of Castile and Leon last.

All these countries have had an important part in their legacy, but none had as much relevance as Spain has, since it has more symbols on the banner of the city. 

The role of the Castilian missions in California territory, of which Los Angeles was also part of in 1842.

San Diego

Flag and coat of arms of the city of San Diego

Bandera y escudo de la ciudad de San Diego

Both the flag and the seal of San Diego have a close relationship with Spain. Although the origin of the current city was in 1769 thanks to the mission of Fray Junípero Serra, the Hispanic presence in the territory goes back beyond its foundation. It was in 1542 when the first European ship arrived on the west coast of the current US, which was commanded by a Spaniard, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo.

The gold and red of the flag were chosen in honor of Spain, the country that had founded the current city. But not only that, it also appears written the year the explorer first entered San Diego Bay and claimed the area for the Crown of Castile in 1542.

Its seal also refers to the Hispanic legacy through different elements: the caravel, which represents the exploration of the region; the bell, in reference to the founding fathers of the mission and, finally, the columns of Hercules, which remind of the former territorial jurisdiction of Spain.

San Agustin

Coat of arms of the city of San Agustín

Escudo de armas de la ciudad de San Agustín

It is possible that no city shows the unmistakable Spanish heritage as well as San Agustín (founded by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in 1565), whose symbols are more than evident.

The most significant is its coat of arms, which features a crown symbolizing the monarchy. In turn, it has a fleur-de-lis that represents the Bourbons, who delivered the shield to the city. And how could it be otherwise, the kingdoms of Castile and Leon are also represented. A reference to the military importance of St. Augustine was also appreciated. This is achieved by an arm that holds a silver sword.

In 2015, three centuries were fulfilled since Felipe V granted the city the coat of arms for his faithful and courageous service to the Spanish Crown. However, there is no record that such donation was actually made; So, in 1991, King Juan Carlos presented the official badge to San Agustín again.

Learn more about Spanish history in Florida take the Miami City and Boat Tour and discover Little Havana, Design District and much more.