San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Salvadorans Helped in Discovery of California

LOS ANGELES – El Salvador’s indigenous population played an important role in the discovery of California, according to a study by scholars from Barcelona, whose findings have been greeted enthusiastically by the large Salvadoran community in Los Angeles.

The Nueva San Salvador was one of three ships that set sail on Nov. 18, 1539, from the port of Acajutla, in the territory named El Salvador by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado.

Their initial destination, with Alvarado in command, was Puerto Navidad, now known as Acapulco, Mexico, and from there the Nueva San Salvador headed north on July 27, 1542, eventually reaching the bay where San Diego now stands.

Miguel Rivero, an adviser to the education department at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, said that the ships used in the expedition were built by Salvadoran Indians.

Rivero and historian Sigifredo Cabrera Rajo came to Los Angeles to outline the findings at the annual meetings of the association of Salvadorans in the United States.

“The Salvadoran Indians played a protagonist role in the discovery of California because they maintained the logistics and the provisioning of the ships,” said Cabrera Rajo, a native of El Salvador.

“They were the ones who kept the ship moving and they were the ones who cared for the offspring of the Spanish adventurers who came with the expansion,” he said.

The Nueva San Salvador continued its course of exploration along the California coast until it arrived at the Rogue River in what is now the state of Oregon.

The explorers returned on Nov. 23, 1542, to spend the winter and make repairs on the island called San Salvador, which today is known as Santa Catalina, where on Jan. 3, 1543, the ship’s captain, Juan Cabrillo, died.

“We have the navigation log of Juan Paez, one of Cabrillo’s sailors,” said Cabrera Rajo. “And it’s a fact that in 1542 there were Salvadorans here, because they arrived in Santa Monica on Oct. 9, 1542.”

Cabrera Rajo, who has lived in Spain for 30 years, said that he heard the first elements of the story in 2000 when he was invited to a meeting of Salvadorans in Los Angeles. With the financing of the FranciscoGavidiaUniversity in El Salvador, he began to carry out an investigation in Spain and the result of the research will be published in book form within six months.

Meanwhile, Rivero said that his task was to research the Indian laws of the first half of the 16th century “to put into context, from the legal point of view, the discovery of California.”

“We have done research in the library of the Naval Institute in Madrid and in the registry of the Archives of the Indies,” he said.

It is estimated that about 1.5 million Salvadorans, most of them refugees from their country’s 1980-1992 civil war, currently live in California.

The story uncovered by the team from Barcelona “gives Salvadorans the right to be in the United States,” said Dagoberto Reyes, the director of the House of Culture of El Salvador in Los Angeles. “And it makes us feel proud and no longer persecuted and mistreated because we’re a part of the history of California.”


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