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Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo To Be Officially Recognized As Spanish

A sign for Cabrillo National Monument sits at the entrance of the park in Point Loma, Aug. 10, 2017.
Susan Murphy
A sign for Cabrillo National Monument sits at the entrance of the park in Point Loma, Aug. 10, 2017.
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo To Be Officially Recognized As Spanish
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo To Be Officially Recognized As Spanish GUEST: Iris Engstrand, San Diego historian

This is a big weekend for the legacy of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo this Friday. Four hundred seventy six years after he sailed into San Diego Bay Gabriel officially becomes Spanish. Again it seems a mistake on a 17th century document set off a chain reaction that changed Gaboriau from a Spanish into a Portuguese explorer. The controversy has been going on for years even affecting the spelling and pronunciation of his name. On Friday the National Park Service makes could Oreo's Spanish heritage official and Iris ING's strand is here to tell us how the confusion was solved. Iris is a San Diego historian and professor of history emeritus at the University of San Diego. Iris welcome to the program. Thank you very much for having me. And it's going to be an interesting weekend. Where does the confusion over Cabrol birthplace actually come from. Well what happened is when the Gabriel monument was founded it was founded as a Spanish explorer and he was honored as Spanish in the 1915 fare that we had here and was generally known as Spanish. But along the way in the 1930s a member of the Portuguese community found a book written by Antonio errata that had his name listed as one read read because Gabriele Gase like four names or a fourth last name and the Portuguese commander of the other ship Antonio Correa was not mentioned as being Portuguese. So we feel that it just was a mistake and the Portuguese community realized that this is really important. This is the first European to land in San Diego and they have a very strong Portuguese community on Point Loma and we're familiar with the monuments so to them it was perfect and they went ahead and had a monument made which is in the plaques or in Portuguese with his name spelled the Portuguese way. Well for a for several decades it wasn't really clear because there wasn't really any proof of where Chhabria was born until recently. Tell us about the document that was discovered a couple of years ago. Well no we did not have any contrary information that he was Spanish until a few years ago when a researcher Wendy Kramer from Toronto Canada was researching a man by the name of Gabriele Cabrera. And in the documents she founded deposition by one ricas could Breo saying that he was on a boat with Cabret or with several other people and Gold. Gold was stolen and so they took everybody off the boat. It was quite a bit of gold going to the king of Spain and they took them to court and they had depositions. So the proof was for people who gave a deposition one says My name is Juan Rodriguez. Gabriel I am a native of the villa Palma me Mr. Helio which was its older name now Palma Del Rio and I am a witness and you know I don't know where the gold went but the gold story is very interesting in itself. But Wendy who knew of Gabriel but was not really researching was completely taken by surprise and knew that he she thought it was Portuguese and then found since that time five more documents that showed that he was from Palma Del Rio and sometimes he was just called Juan Rodriguez de Palma but not any document that referred to him ever as Portuguese. What's been the reaction of the local Portuguese community that community has been as you say in the forefront of honoring Caprio and and in the forefront of the annual Cabrillo Festival in Point Loma. Well they're obviously unhappy about it but it's it's just one of those things of history and they're not really to blame as much as the National Park Service because the National Park Service didn't ask for any more proof just this one sentence in one book. And usually you have to go through the documents and read the author never cited anything. And so when he went down to the actual documentation and the Portuguese I then said you good job with the Caribbean Festival they have Niska BREO and Spain has participated it's not that they're left out but it's been totally portuguese and I feel really sorry for them. I don't know how I would react if I were Portuguese but we're still doing a joint celebration and we're having a Portuguese wreath laid as well as a Spanish wreath and then one of them one wreath that represents Mexico as well the Native Americans and Portugal and Spain. So we're trying to make it more international now as a festival has the Portuguese government officially recognized Cabrillo is not Portuguese. No. No. And they kind of refuse to believe it. And they very the Portuguese government has been very supportive of the Caribbean monument and the president of Portugal has come over several representatives of the community have gone to Lisbon. So it's been you know it's been since 1935 that he's Portuguese and now he's back to being Spanish. It's going to take a while we're trying to correct Wikipedia. We finally got the main entry changed to the fact that he's Spanish. Why. Why do you think it's important to get Cabrera's birthplace right. Well I think it's all of us historians want to find out where people are actually from and if they change their name or if their name is spelled wrong. And that's our goal is always to find the original document that he was born in Palma in 14 97 and we know that from a couple of times he has to state his age. But they didn't have birth certificates in those days. There's no birth certificate in Portugal either. And you know you're talking quite a few years ago and there are several theories that maybe he was a conversa which meant that he was from a Jewish family and didn't want to lose his birthplace when he was in Guatemala. And they had for most people was called Olympias had a son. That the Spaniards in the New World wrote out who their parents were. But we have nothing like that for a BREO and that's another reason the mystery went on and on and but we always like to get the truth. It makes a lot of difference. And since then with Wendy Kramer has found 25 documents that he took the San Salvador ship that we just rebuilt as a replica to Peru and had relations he got married in Seville. So we have those documents we have his children one grand son saying yes my father my grandfather came from Spain. It's there in the archives in Guatemala. So we've you know just we really identify and don't have a position ourselves. Now there's another mystery to out although there are theories. Nobody really knows how or where he died. Do you think we'll ever get answers about his death. That's another mystery. When he died January 3rd 15 43 from an injury either falling on the rocks either breaking his arm breaking his leg. Breaking news soldier scraping his shoe. We have different accounts of what happened in then because it was January. We feel that he was probably buried on Catalina rather than San Miguel Island because Sam young gets very rough in the winter and they had been recently in Santa Catalina at were two harbors is and we now have a person who thinks he found a marker grave marker near the harbors with the stone with a cross on it. And so we're looking into that. We want to organize an expedition to Catalina to see if we can find it there. Well in any case this joint celebration of Juan Rodriguez could burial will take place. There's the fifty fifth annual Cabrillo Festival this Friday and Saturday. On Point Loma. And I've been speaking with Iris inkstand. She is a San Diego historian and professor of History Emeritus at the University of San Diego. Iris thank you so much. Thank you so much for having me.

This is a big weekend for the legacy of Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo.

This Friday, 476 years after he sailed into San Diego Bay, Cabrillo officially becomes Spanish again.

As San Diego historian Iris Engstrand explains a mistake in a 17th-century history book set off a chain reaction that led some to believe Cabrillo was of Portuguese descent. The controversy has been going on for years, even affecting the spelling and pronunciation of his name.


But more recently a Canadian researcher uncovered a document that shows Cabrillo identified as a native of Spain.

Ahead of this weekend’s annual Cabrillo Festival, the Cabrillo National Monument will install plaques that recognize Spain, not Portugal, as the country where Cabrillo was born.

Engstrand discusses the mystery over Cabrillo's heritage Wednesday on Midday Edition.