Honorary U.S. citizens: Lafayette, Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa. And soon, perhaps, Bernardo de Galvez.
Legislation to make the Spanish hero of the American Revolution an honorary U.S. citizen cleared the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, even though some of its members said they had never heard of him.
The effort has been pushed by Florida’s congressional delegation, led by Rep. Jeff Miller, a Republican whose district includes Pensacola, where Galvez led an attack on the British.
Galvez was governor of Louisiana during the reign of King Carlos III. He sent arms and supplies to the colonists and, after Spain's entry into the war in 1779, led attacks on British outposts in the Gulf Coast area.
"I would be less than candid if I say this is a familiar name in American history," said Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. "But if all of my friends and colleagues, mostly from Florida, say this gentleman deserves honorary citizenship, who am I to block it?"
The last time Congress awarded honorary citizenship was in 2009 to the Polish-born Casimir Pulaski, another Revolutionary War general.
Galvez’s contributions compare favorably with those of Pulaski and the Marquis de Lafayette, who have been granted honorary citizenship, said committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), adding that "keeping the British occupied on a second front during the war was critical to the success of General Washington’s campaign."
A similar resolution awaits action in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Others conferred the honor include Pennsylvania founder William Penn and his wife, Hannah; and Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who rescued thousands of Jews from Nazi death camps.
The effort comes as a Spanish immigrant has worked to display a donated portrait of Galvez in the U.S. Capitol to fulfill a promise made in 1783.
Teresa Valcarce said Thursday that she is hopeful of presenting the portrait soon, perhaps during Hispanic Heritage Month this fall.
She hopes the portrait will be presented by Spain’s King Felipe VI. King Juan Carlos I presented a statue of Galvez astride a horse during the U.S. 1976 bicentennial celebration.