Stamps Have Celebrated Hispanics Since the 1800s

BY: 
Susanne Ramírez de Arellano
 | July 8, 2022

Credit: Nuestro Stories

Cuban television producer Desi Arnaz, Puerto Rican baseball legend Roberto Clemente, American civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, and Puerto Rican governor Luis Munoz Marin. These are just a few names that adorn stamps issued by the United States Postal Service that commemorate Hispanics who made a difference in U.S. culture and history. 

The stamps are gorgeous and fascinating, and you will not believe the history behind them. 

Hispanics have shaped the U.S. since the first Spanish explorers and settlers landed in the Americas. Postage stamps carry that message in the narrative and visual. It is a message of representation and value, which is why they are essential.  

The U.S. Postal Service began issuing stamps celebrating Hispanics in the U.S. in 1869. Since then, 60 stamps celebrate artists, explorers, pioneers, politicians, athletes, entertainers, and educators. 

The stamps celebrate people, places, and events. For example, there are stamps commemorating the Panama-Pacific Exposition, which honored the Pacific Ocean’s discovery and the Panama Canal’s completion. Others celebrate Cinco de Mayo, marking the victory of the Mexican Army over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. 

The first commemorative stamp, issued in 1893, celebrated the discovery of the New World by a Spanish-sponsored expedition. By the time the Mayflower brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth Rock, Hispanics had already established thriving cities in Florida, the Southwest, and the Caribbean.

There is a gorgeous stamp celebrating Spanish explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, who led the largest expedition at the time through the American Southwest in 1540. Unfortunately, de Coronado didn’t find the great wealth he was looking for, but he discovered the Grand Canyon.

Read more: LULAC Has Had Latinos Backs for Years

John Philip Sousa had a stamp dedicated to him in 1940. The son of a Spaniard, Sousa led the Marine Band and composed “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” the official march of the United States. I bet you didn’t know that it was a Hispanic who wrote the U.S.’s most nationalistic song. 

More recent stamp subjects include Padre Felix Varela, who educated the poor in New York City and founded nurseries and orphanages to help children; Ruben Salazar, the first Mexican-American journalist to have a significant voice in American mainstream news media, and Julia de Burgos, one of Puerto Rico’s most celebrated feminist poets, were honored with a stamp in the Literary Arts series in 2010. 

Watershed events that led to profound social change are commemorated on stamps, such as the Mendez case. In the 1940s, Mexican-American families filed suit against a California school system that placed their children in “separate but equal” schools. The court ruled on their behalf and set a precedent for the desegregation of schools in Brown v. Board of Education.

So when you look at stamps that commemorate Hispanics, look at the history. It will explain a lot. 

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Featured image is from the image Hoja Suelta, by José Guadalupe Posada, 1901.
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