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Book description

José Montero de Pedro, Marqués de Casa Mena, announces in his introduction that his goal is to write a book geared toward both Spanish citizens (first) and Americans (second) who desire to know more about the unjustly overlooked era of Louisiana history during which Spain ruled between 1766 and 1803. Whereas Louisiana and New Orleans in particular are defined largely by French culture and heritage, the Marqués tries to correct the Franco-centric version of Louisiana history and is very upfront about his bias in favor of Spain, being a former Spanish diplomat himself. The result is, at best, an introduction to the Spanish influence on Louisiana, beginning with brief biographies of the Spanish governors and other illustrious Spaniards, such as the Baroness Pontalba, whose names might be familiar to New Orleanians. These biographical sketches are brief--even breezy--and sometimes gloss over significant events, such as the Rebellion of 1768. In many cases, the Marqués merely provides direct quotations from three or four sources before giving a paragraph of his own commentary. I found myself noting the source material and, in many cases, wishing I were reading those works instead of this one! The rest of the book provides brief descriptions of locales throughout Louisiana that retain their Spanish character, with special emphasis on New Orleans. These sections of the book are more personal in nature, as the Marqués draws on his own experience living in New Orleans for three years as a diplomat. Most of this information was not new to me as a native of the city (e.g., the French Quarter consists almost entirely of Spanish architecture, the French Market was actually built by the Spanish and should be called the Spanish Market, etc.), but would make for interesting reading for those not familiar with these historical tidbits.For me, the most relevant parts of the second half of the book had to do with the founding of the colony of San Bernardo (St. Bernard) by the Isleños, since this is where I was born and raised, with my mothers side of the family being 100% Isleños. I enjoyed the personal narrative of the Marqués as he described visiting St. Bernard for the first time and discovering what is essentially the last remaining Spanish settlement in the US--although now almost entirely wiped out after Katrina, with almost no one still speaking Spanish or singing décimas anymore. Throughout these pages I was able to reminisce about my childhood, as the Marqués provided photographs of Terre-Aux-Boeufs cemetery, where my family is buried, and St. Bernard Catholic Church, where I had my first communion, both of which were founded by Isleños settlers in the 1780s: Despite these brief few pages of interest to me, I think most of this book would be of limited interest even to the targeted audiences mentioned in the introduction. Most of the historical information was gathered from more detailed sources, and the sketches of Spanish traces left in Louisiana would make for a fair travel guide for anyone wanting to visit these sites (or what is left of them), but thats about it.

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