A Hero for the Americas
The Legend of Gonzalo Guerrero
A group of shipwrecked Spaniards washed onto the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in 1512, leading to first contact between the Spanish and the Maya. Two men survived the ordeal: Jerónimo de Aguilar, who became a translator for Hernán Cortés in his conquest of the Aztecs, and Gonzalo Guerrero, who, as legend has it, embraced the Mayan way of life and skillfully led the opposition to the Spanish take-over of the Yucatán.
Reviled in 16th-century Spain as an apostate and a traitor, Guerrero is today remembered all over the Yucatán with statues and images, and as the symbolic father of millions of Mexican mestizos. But like Robin Hood and King Arthur, Guerrero's story has become embellished by legend and myth. The product of fifteen years of research by a Governor General's Award winner, A Hero for the Americas is the first comprehensive investigation of this controversial figure.
"With good research and skillful storytelling, Calder (Willie: The Life of W. Somerset Maugham) delves into a fascinating, little-known piece of the history of Spanish colonization in Central America. He happened upon the story of Gonzalo Guerrero while vacationing in Mexico and set out to write a biography for English-speaking readers, most of whom have never heard of the 16th-century Castilian adventurer or his transformation to become a Mayan tribesman. Guerrero sailed to the New World in the era of Spanish conquest but was shipwrecked, and the local Mayans enslaved him. He eventually adopted their indigenous culture and became a warrior and military leader. He married a Mayan woman and fathered what may have been the first mixed-race children in Mexican history. Calder reconstructs everyday life in the Spanish city of Palos, where Guerrero was raised, and recounts the history of early Spanish voyages. He describes Darién, the first Spanish settlement on mainland America, as well as the atrocities of the conquistadors, the conquest of Aztec empire, and the battle for Yucatán, and he does it all in a concise, entertaining writing style that will appeal to any inquisitive reader interested in history and tales of adventure." Publishers Weekly
"Using primary sources from the time and the analysis of later writers, Calder offers several reasonable explanations for Guerrero’s choices, avoiding the easy hero/villain narrative. He also does an excellent job describing the era of Spanish exploration of the new world, both the excitement that would have enticed Guerrero to sail to Mexico and the harsh consequences of that exploration for the Mayans and others. A Hero for the Americas is a strong portrait of both the man and his era, and a worthy biography." Foreword Reviews