Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo: Cabrillo National Monument in California: Spain and Portugal clash over the origins of the explorer | Culture
The monument was erected at the turn of the last century to honor the first European explorer to set foot in California’s San Diego Bay in 1542 and the ‘temporary’ answer to the riddle was to return the plaque to 2018 indicating that Cabrillo was originally from Palma del Río. in the Spanish city of Córdoba to the Casa de España association. But the two metopes indicating that he was born in Portugal remain, as well as one placed on the site in 2003 referring to his Spanish origins.
The Portuguese insist on the explorer’s Portuguese roots because of a document signed in the 17th century by the royal chronicler Antonio de Herrera, written 60 years after Cabrillo’s death. Meanwhile, the Spanish contingent points out that Rodríguez repeatedly stated under oath that he was from Córdoba, proof of which can be found in literature held in the Archive of the Indies in Seville, New York and Guatemala. The town hall of Palma del Río and the Casa de España are now asking for the intervention of the Spanish government to put an end to this “nonsense generated by the pressure of the large Portuguese community in California. João Rodrigues Cabrilho never existed,” they say. Diplomatic sources indicate that a complaint will be lodged with the Ministry of the Interior so that the plate is replaced and “the truth recognized”.
The monument to Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo was erected in 1949. In 1966, the surrounding park was listed on the US National Register of Historic Places. In fact, his official website states that “the conqueror was born in Spain” and fought against the Aztecs under the orders of the conquistador Hernán Cortés. The site also mentions that after 103 days of travel during which he led an expedition to search for possible settlements on the west coast, he reached Ballast Point in California “where he claimed the land for the Spanish crown, because at that time there was no European presence in the region.
Therefore, Rodríguez founded the city of San Diego, initially known as San Miguel. The expedition then continued north, only for Rodríguez to die of a wound on January 3, 1543. The remaining members of the expedition, however, continued until they reached Rogue River, Oregon, before returning to Mexico.
It is known that Rodríguez Cabrillo was born in Spain because he said so himself when questioned about the disappearance of 1,000 gold pesos stored in the coffers of a galleon. Under oath, he claimed to have been born in Palma de Micer Gilio, now Palma del Río, according to documents found in 2015 by Dr Wendy Kramer, a Canadian researcher at Britain’s University of Warwick, in the Archives of the Indies in Seville. . Kramer also says that this discovery has been corroborated by other documents that she has recently located in the Hispanic Society of New York, in the Provincial Historical Archives of Seville and in the General Archives of Central America, in Guatemala, which “ prove that he was born in Palma del Río. Rodríguez said he was originally from Cordoba in front of Spanish officials in Cuba, the Canary Islands and Seville. Why would he lie, knowing it could mean jail time? And what good would that be, given that it took many years to found San Diego? Kramer said.
Spanish diplomatic sources point out that the controversy has nothing to do with “historical revisionism, but rather a local conflict of interest. It’s a complex question given our friendly relations with Portugal, but he was certainly Spanish. According to these sources, the park authorities tried to please both parties, “by introducing a mention of possible Portuguese origins in its museography, which was completely excluded after Kramer’s discovery. Let’s just say the Portuguese California contingent is the largest in the United States, funding local events and parties in memory of a supposed Portuguese Cabrillo, so the park flipped.
Meanwhile, Palma del Río mayor Esperanza Caro de la Barrera recalls that in 2018, three years after Kramer solved the mystery of Cabrillo’s origins, then-mayor José Antonio Ruiz Almebara attended the plaque unveiling in San Diego. and noted “the immense joy of the Hispanic community, but not so much of the Portuguese, who since the beginning of the 20th century have been creating a version of a João Rodrigues Cabrilho that has nothing to do with the historical figure. We found that there were political difficulties in recognizing a scientific truth from the start,” adds Caro de la Barrera. “We tried to be cordial and were very respectful throughout the process. We are not comfortable with the deletion of the  plate, and sympathy for the men and women of the United States who have always maintained that Cabrillo was Spanish.
Meanwhile, the City Council of Cordoba will ask the ambassador and the government to take a stand “because, although a plaque can be removed, the truth cannot; the truth is unalterable.
However, the Portuguese researcher João Soares Tavares claims that the explorer was born in his country, in a small village, near the border with the Spanish region of Galicia, called Lapela and that his original house is still standing. In an article published in January 2022 in the magazine Ecos of Barroso, Soares explains that he arrived in this village by chance and discovered that Rodríguez had emigrated to Galicia when he was young. “At the time, Lapela was a village of shepherds belonging to the parish of São Lourenço de Cabril,” he says. “The Portuguese and the Galicians grazed their cattle freely in the same mountains. It is possible that a Galician settled in Lapela de Cabril and married a Portuguese woman. In order to identify the house where the couple lived, neighbors called it Casa do Galego. At the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century, João Rodrigues was born.
Soares argues that a letter from Cortes sent to Charles I on October 30, 1520 refers to three soldiers named Juan Rodríguez. In order to distinguish himself from his namesakes, the explorer added the surname Cabrilho or Cabrillo to his name. Where did he get it from? Soares thinks it is clear that it corresponds to the toponym of the parish of Cabril to which the hamlet of Lapela belonged. “He was registered and baptized in the church of Cabril, although we cannot confirm this because the parish books of the 15th and 16th centuries have disappeared”, he admits. However, Soares supports his assertions by pointing out that the chronicler of Castile, Antonio de Herrera (1549-1625), refers in his General history of the deeds of the Castilians in the islands and the continental ocean “to Captain Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, Portuguese and connoisseur of the sea.” This assertion, refuted by Kramer in his book Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, the Spaniard who explored California, was made 60 years after his death. “Clearly Herrera was wrong,” she said. “Rodríguez was of Moorish origin, as indicated by his surname Cabrillo, which is why he sometimes signed his name Rodríguez de Palma.”
University of San Diego historian Iris W. Engstrand said in a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Debb Haaland last May that this controversy originated in 1934 when Colonel John R. White, superintendent of Sequoia National Park, made a “dramatic change” in Cabrillo’s nationality, making him Portuguese, because “he realized that there was virtually no Spanish community in San Diego. From then on, he took advantage of the moment to reinterpret the story, introducing the lie that Juan Rodríguez was Portuguese. Until then he was known as a Spaniard, as the history of San Diego attests.
“Now the National Park Service of the Cabrillo National Monument has updated its museum, which incorrectly explains that a Spaniard named Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, or a Portuguese named João Rodrigues Cabrilho, was the first European to navigate the bay of San Diego on June 27, 1542,” adds Engstran. “But the Portuguese individual known as João Rodrigues Cabrilho is a fictitious name and does not exist.”
Engstrand also calls on the US Congress to “right the wrong” already pointed out by researcher Susan Collins in her An embarrassment of riches. The Administrative History of the Cabrillo National Monument“which shows that the National Park Service has twisted history and heritage just so that the local Portuguese can sponsor a festival” at the Cabrillo monument.
Meanwhile, Andrea Compton, superintendent of the Cabrillo National Monument, describes the removed plaque as a “temporary” measure in a recent letter sent to Casa de España. Compton says the data confirmed by Kramen is already reflected not only on the park’s website, but also in brochures, educational programs and even in a documentary, “but the new signs will also reflect how our knowledge of history is changing. and will better explain the nearby Spanish and Portuguese naval statue and plaques.EL PAÍS was unable to speak to Compton directly.
Jesús Benayas, president of the Casa de España, which enjoys the support of the Hispanic Council – an entity that promotes cultural relations between Spain and the United States – is upset by the saga. “Rodrigues Cabrilho does not exist and has never existed,” he insists. “It’s an invention of the 1930s. Of the four plaques that surrounded the statue, three have been moved, and ours, where his Spanish nationality was mentioned, has been returned to us. They say it was a temporary plate. It is absolutely false. The consulate, the embassy, the Spanish government must intervene and not be walked on. The truth is the truth. This is the story of San Diego, of California, of the United States and also ours.