“Invisible Immigrants,” Heading Home

InvisibleImmigrants_COVER(en español abajo)

The books have left the printers. Half of the copies have been trucked to Asturias, where they are being distributed to our kickstarter backers living in Spain and Europe by Luis Argeo. The other half are in the port at Valencia; they were supposed to be embarked today, but a stevedore strike has delayed their loading. (Our ancestors knew a thing or two about strikes and labor disputes!) They are now scheduled to make the crossing aboard the “Fowairet”, which leaves Valencia on February 28. As soon as they arrive, they will be shipped to kickstarter backers living in the Americas and beyond, by Jim Fernández.

As we begin satisfying the orders of our kickstarter backers, we will also start selling the remaining copies via an internet site:www.invisibleimmigrants.com.

If you’ve already seen some reactions to the book on Facebook or elsewhere, it’s because two of our supporters, Laura Goyanes (Cleveland, Ohio) and Anthony Carreño (Tampa, Florida) have been to Spain, and were able to bring back some advance copies in their suitcases. These copies are being used for media, for a couple of book presentations, and some have been distributed to our kickstarter backers in Cleveland and Tampa. The reaction of those who have seen the book has been extremely encouraging.

Please be on the lookout over the next weeks and months for what we hope will be extensive media coverage of the book launch. Vanity Fair (Spain) has published a gorgeous 10-page spread about the book in its March issue, and several other reports are in the works.


Anthony Carreño, Laura Goyanes y Ángel Briongos, en Madrid, con uno de los primeros ejemplares de "Invisible Immigrants".

Anthony Carreño, Laura Goyanes y Ángel Briongos, en Madrid, con uno de los primeros ejemplares de “Invisible Immigrants”.

Los libros ya han dejado atrás la imprenta, a Asturias ha llegado la mitad de la tirada en camión. Desde allí, los libros serán enviados por Luis Argeo hacia los diferentes destinos de España y Europa. La otra mitad se encuentra ahora en el puerto de Valencia. Esos libros tendrían que haber iniciado travesía hoy, pero debido a la huelga de estibadores ocurrida en el puerto, aún no han sido embarcados (¡nuestros inmigrantes conocían de sobra las huelgas y tensiones laborales!). De momento, está previsto su viaje en otro barco, el “Forwairet”, que zarpará de Valencia el 28 de febrero. Serán repartidos por toda América y más allá por Jim Fernández.

Empezaremos el envío a nuestros mecenas de kickstarter en cuanto estén los libros y nuestras manos, y al mismo tiempo iniciaremos la venta a través de la página www.invisibleimmigrants.com.

Si ya habéis visto algunas reacciones al libro en Facebook, es porque dos de nuestros mecenas, Laura Goyanes (Cleveland, Ohio) y Anthony Carreño (Tampa, Florida) han estado en España, y han podido llevar algunos ejemplares a su país, en grandes maletas. Estos ejemplares se están usando para la promoción en medios de comunicación, algunas presentaciones, y unos cuantos también han sido repartidos en Cleveland y Tampa. La reacción de la gente que ha visto ya el libro ha sido extremadamente favorable.

Estad atentos a lo que esperamos sea una extensa cobertura de medios durante la promoción del proyecto. La revista Vanity Fair (España) ha publicado un estupendo reportaje de 10 páginas sobre el libro en su número de marzo (ya en quioscos), y ya esperamos nuevos reportajes en otros medios.


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¡Ya está aquí! Here it is!


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Nueva entrevista con Luis Argeo, La Región Internacional

región internacionalNo deja de resultar un hecho sorprendente, a la vez que preocupante, que algunos pasajes de la historia de España se estén poniendo a salvo, y proyectándose hacia el futuro, gracias a iniciativas particulares, y sin ningún tipo de ayuda o de apoyo institucional.  En este caso, contamos la fantástica historia vital de Luis Argeo, un periodista asturiano que, una vez que empezó, casi por casualidad, a ‘revolver’ entre sus propias raíces familiares, se encontró frente a la majestuosa historia que construyeron los emigrantes españoles en Estados Unidos.  Su ‘opera prima’, el documental ‘AsturianUS’, le ayudó a cruzarse en el camino con otro estudioso de la emigración, con el profesor James Ferández.  Hoy toca conocer la historia de Luis Argeo. ¿La de James…?  En el próximo número.

Se puede leer la entrevista entera con Luis Argeo aquí:  LRI Nº 4 – Luis Argeo

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Invisible Immigrants Hits the Press

10940531_410557145773951_183285019981255733_n[En español más abajo]  Today, at 9:00 am local time, at a state-of-the-art printing press just outside of Madrid (Rivas Vaciamadrid), your book –“Invisible Immigrants:  Spaniards in the United States, 1868-1945″– went into production.  Co-author Luis Argeo was there to witness and supervise the process, as was Paco Gómez, the incredibly talented and dedicated photographer who has coordinated the design and printing of our project. From the 7,000 images you’ve sent us or allowed us to scan, we’ve made a selection that aims to tell the story of this little known episode of Spain-US relations.  Each “pliego” of the edition is carefully scrutinized and before being approved; in the photo you can see Paco preparing to sign off on one of the sheets.


We’re almost there, and we want to thank you again for your support and your patience.  The production will take several more days at least, and then comes the shipping phase.  We can’t give precise dates yet, but we will do so as soon as we can.

You can read more about Paco Gómez and his amazing body of work here.


Hoy, a las 9 de la mañana, hora local, en una modernísima imprenta en las afueras de Madrid (Rivas Vaciamadrid), se ha iniciado la producción de vuestro libro –“Inmigrantes Invisibles:  Españoles en EEUU, 1868-1945.”   Luis Argeo, co-autor del proyecto estuvo allí, para presenciar y supervisar el proceso, y también estuvo Paco Gómez, el genial fotógrafo que ha coordinado el diseño y la impresión de nuestro proyecto.  De las 7,000 imágenes que hemos recibido o escaneado de vuestros archivos, hemos hecho una selección, con el objetivo de narrar la historia de este capítulo poco conocido de la historia compartida entre España y Estados Unidos.  Cada pliego de la edición se inspecciona con mucho cuidado, y Paco necesita aprobar cada uno con una firma. En la foto le vemos dando el visto bueno para uno de pliegos del libro.

¡Ya casi!  Queremos volveros a agradecer el apoyo y la paciencia.  La producción del libro tardará varios días más, y luego entramos en la fase de transporte.  No podemos hablar todavía de fechas concretas, pero os seguiremos informando en cuanto podamos.

Podéis leer más sobre la gran obra de Paco Gómez aquí.


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First Annual Ignacio Haya Address

Centro Español Founder’s Day Banquet

Tampa, Florida, 23 November 2014

IMG_4946Good afternoon. I’d like to thank the Centro Español, its board and members, for the invitation to speak to you today. And I’d like to thank each and every one of you for joining us on this memorable occasion, and for listening to me, as you try to enjoy your meal. I consider it a privilege just to be here. Having the chance to deliver the Centro Español’s First Annual Ignacio Haya Address is an incredible honor, but it is also rather daunting: daunting to be addressing a crowd of tampeños about the history of Tampa, daunting to be introduced by Judge Emiliano J. Salcines, who is, by far, the most knowledgeable and articulate person on the planet when the topic is Spanish Tampa (and a dozen other topics as well!).

As Judge Salcines has already mentioned, my grandfather was born in Asturias, Spain, in 1889. He emigrated as a young man to Havana, Cuba, where he learned the cigar trade. Some time around 1914 –just around 100 years ago– he re-emigrated, this time to Tampa, and he continued working as a cigar maker here until about 1917 or 18, when he packed up and moved once again, to New York. Not long after arriving to New York, at a picnic organized by the local Centro Asturiano, he met my grandmother; she had recently arrived directly from Asturias to the city, to work as a live-in maid for a well-to-do Mexican family in Brooklyn. They fell in love, married and settled permanently in Brooklyn, where they owned a small hand-made cigar shop with a factory in the back; by the 1940s, the Fernández Tobacco Shop had moved and morphed into the Fernández Luncheonette: one luncheonetteof those all-American institutions of chrome, formica and vinyl, featuring a lunch counter, soda fountain, newsstand, etc.

Like most of his peers, my abuelo had very little formal education. But he was a gifted storyteller, and some of my earliest and fondest childhood memories are of the stories he would tell us over and over at family gatherings. His repertoire consisted mostly of autobiographical tales exploring different aspects of the typical trials and tribulations of an immigrant, hilariously embellished and embroidered over the years of telling.

But I also remember that my grandfather’s repertoire included a small group of mysterious non-autobiographical stories, which he would occasionally take out and polish off, usually in response to a particular problem or predicament, not unlike the parables recounted by wise men to make a poignant and exemplary point just when it was most needed.

I can still remember that day in college; I was taking a Spanish literature class, and reading Don Quixote for the first time.  There in the middle of Cervantes’s masterpiece from the early 1600s, I was astonished to find a couple of my abuelo’s signature stories. [It turns out that two of his best non-autobiographical yarns had been lifted straight out of the episode in Book II of the Quixote when Sancho Panza becomes the Governor of his very own Isla Barataria.] Now, I remember wondering at the time how a working man with almost no formal education –and very little leisure time for reading—could have been exposed to –and could have remembered—these minor episodes embedded deep within a XVIIth-century literary masterpiece. I would learn many years later that the answer to that question is almost certainly to be found in the history of cigar factories in Havana and lectorright here in Tampa, and, in particular, in the remarkable figure of “El Lector” about which Judge Salcines has taught us so much. My grandfather, like thousands of other Spanish immigrants who came through Havana and Tampa, earned his BA from the School of Hard Knocks, and completed his MA and PhD at UT: the Universidad del Tabaco.

‘Buelo passed away in 1983 at the age of 94, just as I was about to get my own college diploma. [I know he was both proud of and puzzled by the college degree I was earning in Spanish Literature: “But what are you going to make with that?”] A few days before graduating, I spoke at his funeral, and I retold one of his lesser-known parables, one whose source I have never been able to identify. For some mysterious reason, over the last few weeks and months, as I’ve agonized over what to say today on this very special occasion, this particular tale kept circling back to my mind, for reasons I didn’t fully understand. I kept trying to put it aside, but it kept summoning me.  At one point, I finally gave in, and gave the parable some thought, and realized that, in many ways, my grandfather had already composed the address I was meant to give here today.

There’s more than a good chance my abuelo heard this story for the first time read from the platform of a lector in a cigar factory just a short trolley ride from here. In telling you this tale, I’d like to think that I am bringing back to Tampa something that my grandfather acquired here a century ago. So for a few minutes, let’s imagine that all of you, instead of eating your arroz con pollo, are actually rolling cigars, and that I am speaking to you from the tribuna del lector in, let’s say, the Sánchez y Haya factory over in Ybor.


Once upon a time, back in Spain, there was an old man who began to worry about his legacy. He was finally feeling the advances of old-age, and he began fretting about being unable to take care of his olive grove as he had done for practically his entire life. His three grown sons had become sophisticated and accomplished señoritos and had little interest in the everyday tasks of the farm. They were good boys, but they had grown up and gone off to live in the city, “ya sabes”…

Now that he was beginning to feel frail, the old man would often reminisce about how he got his start; about how he himself had planted the trees of what was now a vast grove of gnarled olive trees. About how, through a mix of hard work and good fortune, those trees had thrived, and eventually began producing enough fruit for him and his family to live comfortably. About how, early on, his boys and wife would work alongside him in the grove; helping him prune the trees, mow and till the earth between the perfectly combed rows of the grove, and, when the time was right, knocking and harvesting those little green orbs, which to the man seemed back then like nuggets of gold that would allow him to provide his family with a kind of life he himself had never known. No more pangs of hunger. A decent education. And hands without callouses. Before long, the boys stopped helping out in the grove, as they had moved on to more important things. Not long after that, the man’s wife passed away. And now, here he was, feeling weaker by the day, alone, and unable to tend properly to his beloved grove.

Over a number of years as his health declined steadily, more and more of the grove went unattended, until finally, one year, the trees didn’t produce a single olive. That year the man passed away.

The three sons were reunited at their childhood home for the first time in a very long time, when they met to “settle matters.” With that pathetic mix of tenderness and selfishness that often characterizes such encounters, the three of them rifled through their childhood home, reminiscing about the good old days and, it has to be said, looking for signs of the inheritance they were sure had been left to them by their hard-working and thrifty old man. Eventually, while looking through an old ledger book that the old man had used to record sales of each year’s olive harvest, the youngest son found a sheet of paper on which the following message was scribbled : “To my dear sons: I have left you a great treasure hidden in the olive grove; the entire inheritance shall go to whomever uncovers it.”

The three men felt like boys again as they raced out to the olive grove! They hadn’t set foot there in so many years.  They were shocked at what they saw; the trees unpruned, their branches all tangled, the rows between the trees overgrown with tall grass and brush. It would be impossible, they soon realized, to look for any buried treasure with the grove in such a sorry state. So the three of them devised a plan. By common agreement, they would first work together to clean up the orchard, so they would then be able to divide up the grove into equal parts, and each of them would dig for the hidden treasure in his assigned parcel.

Over the next several months, the brothers dusted off the old man’s tools and became reacquainted with the tasks they had performed in the orchard with their mother and father when they were younger; their hands developed blisters which turned into callouses, as they pruned the trees and mowed the brush and then plowed the earth between the rows. The months flew by, each of them sustained by the hope that, after the clean-up, he would be the lucky one who would eventually find and inherit the buried treasure.

One day, when they were practically finished with the preliminary clean up, they decided to take a break together, in the middle of the orchard. Exhausted, the three of them passed around the old man’s bota of wine, before laying down for a little rest. For the first time in months, the three of them actually looked upwards. And what they saw was a dense canopy of leafy branches, each bending under the weight of thousands of tiny nuggets of green gold, just about ready to be harvested. A ripe olive fell and hit the oldest brother on the chin, and he started laughing uncontrollably. His brothers looked at him, puzzled. Gesturing upwards with his eyes towards the olives, he said: “Brothers: can’t you see that the old man has taught us his final lesson? All this grove needed was a little care. You want your treasure? There’s no need to dig: there’s a treasure for each of us, just above us.” The three of them understood, and they started laughing as they hadn’t laughed in years. And then they cried as they hadn’t cried in years. And then they laughed again.

That year, and for many years to come, the brothers harvested the sustainable, renewable treasure that their father had bequeathed to them, and that had been hidden from them, in plain view.


Now you’ve invited me here to give the First Annual Ignacio Haya Address, not the First Annual Ignacio Haya Sermon; so, even though it is Sunday, I’m going to try to inhibit my preacherly tendencies. I think –or I hope—that without much exegesis from the pulpit, my grandfather’s story will resonate profoundly with the double occasion that brings us together –the relaunching of Tampa’s Centro Español, and the premiere of “A Legacy of Smoke.”

Because in the end, the Centro Español and our documentary project share a common set of concerns and questions, chief among them: What exactly is the legacy we want to preserve and cherish? And how can we best go about preserving and cherishing that legacy?

These are not at all simple questions. Although Tampa –and this is a unique characteristic of which all tampeños should be very proud—although Tampa can boast abundant visible and tangible signs of what was once a vast and vibrant Spanish community –social clubs, cigar factories, cemeteries, and the like— I would claim that, in the end, the true legacy of Spanish immigrants in Tampa, the true legacy of Spanish immigrants in the US more generally, is largely intangible and invisible. It’s not something you can wrap up and put under the Christmas tree, nor can you bury it like a treasure in the garden. It’s impossible to get your hands around, and yet, for that very reason, it is so much more valuable than any gift or treasure ever could be

It is true that in Tampa –like in no other place in the United States– you can put plaques on buildings and street corners commemorating the contributions of Spanish immigrants to the founding and development of the city. And yet, even though it is altogether fitting and proper to do this, more often than not, those markers will be more like the tombstones of the old cemeteries, signaling not so much a vibrant presence, but rather a gaping and aching absence.

During our fieldwork here in Tampa, Luis Argeo and I quickly became convinced that the true living, renewable and sustainable legacy of Spanish Tampa, is to be found primarily in the attitudes, energies, values and practices of people like the members of the re-launched Centro Español, and like those featured in the documentary that we will screen later today: Elba Ruilova, Cathy Varón, José Oural and Angel Rañón. Folks who don’t so much covet handed-down legacies, but who rather, in their everyday lives, cultivate an inheritance that they understand has been temporarily entrusted to them, so that they might transmit it to others; folks, in short, who embody and put in practice the values that we find at the core of an intangible Spanish legacy here and throughout the US: hard work, loyalty, solidarity, hospitality, a belief in the importance of collective action, and, even though the word didn’t exist when the immigrants were around, sustainability.

Your forebears were the protagonists of a remarkable and little recognized diaspora which brought millions of Spaniards to the Americas, and, among those millions, tens of thousands, to the United States. Of the dozens of enclaves established by these Spanish immigrants throughout the United States, Tampa was, without a doubt, the most vibrant, visible and cohesive of all. In fact, many Spanish immigrants, like my grandfather, entered the US through Tampa, before moving on elsewhere to, say, New York, or Cleveland, or California. So Tampa’s Spanish history is an international and national treasure –it’s not just a local treasure. And nowhere else in the US is there a built environment that illustrates the history of the Spanish diaspora better than what you have here in Tampa; in fact, one would have to travel to Havana or Buenos Aires to find traces of the Spanish diaspora to the Americas on the scale of what still exists today, right here, in Tampa, all around us.

But if you think that the survival of the Spanish legacy of Tampa can be enshrined and ensured IMG_4947forever in plaques, and bricks and mortar; if you think that Tampa’s Spanish legacy is something that can be sustained without collective effort, please think again. History makes one thing is perfectly clear: the most effective way to extinguish a living, collective legacy once and for all is to privatize it, to make it solely a family affair, to imagine that it’s yours, that you can effortlessly inherit it with your surname, or that you can write it into a will and thereby ensure its transmission in perpetuity. No collective legacy can survive for more than two or three generations in privatized isolation; the language will be the first to go; the recipes might last a little longer, but before long, without concerted and coordinated efforts, those too will be gone. And before you know it, that olive grove, planted and tended to with such care by those who came before us, will become overgrown and barren.

Tampeños:  let’s not allow this to happen. Let’s roll up our sleeves, and work together to preserve a living legacy, following the examples of Judge Salcines, of the folks relaunching the Centro Español, and of those women and men in our film.  Let’s join forces to preserve and cherish the precarious but enduring legacy of smoke that has been entrusted to us.


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A Legacy of Smoke: a documentary film by Luis Argeo and James D. Fernández


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Spanish immigrants aboard the SS Aquitania, courtesy of Joe Losada.

Between 1880 and 1930, tens of thousands of Spaniards emigrated to the United States.  Some came directly from Spain, often recruited as semi-skilled labor in specific industries:  cultivating sugarcane on the Hawaiian Islands; mining coal or refining zinc or steel in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and elsewhere; tending sheep in the Pacific mountain states; cutting granite in the quarries and stone sheds of New England, for example.  Many others found their way to the US following less formalized routes, often re-emigrating from points in the Spanish-speaking Americas, to wherever work could be had in the US: as cigar makers or merchants in Key West and Tampa, Florida; as dockworkers and seamen based in New York; as fishermen, farmers, cannery workers or domestic servants in California, for example.


From the 1941 book commemorating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Tampa’s Centro Español.

The Spaniards tended to live in close proximity to one another, and, in many cases, in close proximity to Spanish-speakers from countries other than Spain: eg, Puerto Ricans in New York; Mexicans in California; Cubans in Tampa.  And like most other ethnic/national groups in the pre-New Deal United States, the Spaniards tended to band together in all manner of social groups and mutual aid societies, in an attempt to weave their own social safety net, at a time when there was no social security, no unemployment insurance, no Medicare or Medicaid.

Compared to some of the other national or ethnic groups of immigrants that came to the United States (eg, Italian, Irish, Polish) the Spaniards constituted a drop in the bucket of US immigration.  [We should remember that while hundreds of thousands, or even millions of immigrants of these nationalities were disembarking at Ellis Island, similar numbers of Spaniards were also participating in trans-Atlantic emigration, but most often to countries in the Spanish-speaking Americas.  Roughly 4 million Spaniards emigrated to the Americas between 1880 and 1930; more than had crossed the Atlantic from the time of Columbus (1492) until 1880!]  The restrictive immigration legistlation passed in the early 1920s practically put an end to the arrival of significant numbers of Spanish immigrants to the US.  But those who had arrived in the first two decades were settling down and having children and the numbers, cohesiveness and visibility of the Spanish colonies peaked during the years right before World War II, just when their native country became embroiled in a horrific Civil War (1936-39)


Spanish Civil War rallying song, composed by Tampa resident Leopoldo González in 1937.

By the time the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, there was a veritable archipelago of small but vibrant Spanish enclaves dotting and crisscrossing the entire geography of the US:  from Hallowell, Maine, through Canton, Ohio, and on to Bakersfield, California, from Tampa, Florida through St. Louis, Missouri, and on to Boise, Idaho.  The immigrants were primarily working-class industrial laborers or peasants, and the vast majority of them supported the democratically elected government of the Spanish Republic, which was under siege following a military coup staged by General Francisco Franco.  During the years of the war (1936-39), many of the smaller, scattered Spanish enclaves merged together under the umbrella of an organization known as Sociedades Hispanas Confederadas [SSHHCC], in an attempt to coordinate fundraising efforts on behalf of the Spanish Republic.  Thanks to this wartime mobilization, and thanks to the literature and propaganda produced by the SSHHCC, many of the smaller Spanish enclaves become visible at this time, as the hundreds of fundraising activities –dances, picnics, soccer matches, etc.—are often announced and later reported on with great detail in posters, handbills, bulletins and newspapers that have survived.


Tampa children dressed up as Loyalist milicianas, courtesy of Alicia Menéndez.

If any of these Spanish immigrants in the US harbored dreams of someday returning to Spain, those hopes were probably dashed once and for all by the victory of the fascist forces led by General Francisco Franco.  Politics aside, there really was no going back after 1939:  Spain’s economy and infrastructure had been devastated by the brutal and total war waged throughout the country at the height of the Great Depression.

Adversity, necessity, and perhaps the faint hope of returning to Spain had been the glue that had held together the Spanish immigrant community in the US through the twenties and thirties.  Now, with the possibility of returning to Spain more or less off the table, the opportunities and relative prosperity of post-World War II America would act as solvents.  Ethnic enclaves usually located in urban centers became less desirable when a house in the suburbs beckoned; social clubs were rendered less crucial, once the New Deal reforms kicked in.

So it is that the story of Spanish immigration to the US has been rendered almost invisible, though its traces can still be found –often privatized, domesticated and transformed, in the stories, photo albums and recipes of descendants all over the United States.  Spanish Immigrants in the United States:  Ni frailes ni conquistadores is a project aimed at documenting, archiving and interpreting this precarious history.  We conduct fieldwork in places that were once home to significant Spanish communities; searching out and interviewing descendants; gathering their stories and recipes, scanning and labeling their photographs, with the intention of creating an on-line, multimedia archive, that will put back into public circulation a rich collective history that has become the stuff of private nostalgia or, in some cases, idiosyncratic local history.  We will also produce a brief creative documentary film based on the stories and the archival materials that we are able to compile at each site.

Our first such film, set in Monterey, California, and completed in 2013, is Dan Albert’s Paella / La paella de Daniel Albert. Tampa, Florida is the site of our second film project, “A Legacy of Smoke,” which will have its premiere at the Tampa Theatre on Sunday, November 23 at 4:00 pm.


For the most part, the case of Tampa, Florida follows the general trajectory outlined above. Spanish immigrants begin to arrive steadily in the late nineteenth- and into the early twentieth-century, attracted primarily by the relocation to Tampa of cigar factories from Key West and Havana, Cuba.  Tampa received Spaniards who were re-emigrating from Cuba, and eventually, immigrants who left Spain with Tampa as their destination.  They IMGlowres (1)tended to settle in two main enclaves, Ybor City and West Tampa, where they lived and worked among Cubans, and eventually Sicilians; there were also Germans –many involved in the graphic design end of cigar production (boxes, labels, rings, etc.)—and Jews –who were often small business owners.   Like Spanish immigrants elsewhere, those in Tampa banded together in mutual aid societies, small and large, to provide for themselves the kind of safety net that was not available otherwise.  By the time of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the Spanish colony in Tampa was large and relatively united; the war galvanized the colony even further, and the mobilization efforts on behalf of the Republic were truly extraordinary.

Like everywhere else, however, the height of cohesiveness and vibrancy of the Spanish colony of Tampa in the mid to late 1930s coincides with the beginning of what would be a rapid decline and dissolution of the colonia.  The cigar business was in trouble since the late 20s, as cigar smoking was falling out of favor, and cigar –and more importantly, cigarette—production was being intensely mechanized.  The other dissolving factors did their work as well; the realization that there was no going back to Spain, the relative prosperity and the reduced need to rely on community-generated social services in the post WW II period; these things, joined with the assimilation and mobility of the immigrants’ children and grandchildren contributed to the gradual dissolution of Spanish Tampa as a vibrant, organic community.  The construction, in the 1960s, of an interstate highway right through the heart of what had been Ybor City, is an eloquent emblem of the forces that drove the dissolution of Tampa’s Spanish community.

A Legacy of Smoke:  Spanish Immigrants in Tampa  is a 50-minute no-budget non-fiction film, that offers a “fly-on-the-wall” perspective of a handful of tampeños as they go about their lives during two days in 2013…

On Day 1 of the film:

Still5Angel Rañón and José Oural have spent years compiling a list of over 1,000 nicknames of Spanish tampeños; in the bar of the Centro Asturiano, these two Spanish-born nonagenarians go over the list, while they reminisce about the tight-knit community that is sketched out by the list of nicknames.

Stills A LegacyElba Ruilova, on the day after her 100th birthday celebration, gives Marlene Menéndez her weekly piano lesson, in which they focus on music by Ernesto Lecuona and Tampa’s own Leopoldo González, author of the Spanish Civil War anthem, “¡No pasarán!”

Cathy Varón invites her father over to her house, to eat some Spanish tortilla, and to Still2rehearse a presentation Cathy needs to make for a creative writing class, about her rediscovery of her mother’s family archive.

On Day 2 of the film:

Rañón, Oural and Eduardo Varón head over to the majestic theater of Tampa’s Centro Asturiano, to view home movie footage that was shot in Tampa in 1938, and that has been preserved in the archives of the University of South Florida.

The palatial Centro Asturiano; the hilarious encyclopedia of nicknames; the vast musical repertoire; the sprawling family archive; and the mix of scenes of intimacy and History captured in the old home movie footage; all of these things evoke Tampa’s once vast and vibrant Spanish community, as it is cherished –and, in a certain sense, mourned– by these heirs of Tampa’s “Legacy of Smoke.”


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Invisible Immigrants: Crowdfunding Homestretch

alonso_159_copyOur goal:  To publish a deluxe book of photographs that will document, celebrate and honor the unsung lives of the tens of thousands of Spaniards who settled in the United States in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth- centuries.

Our method:  For several years now, Luis Argeo and James D. Fernández have been traveling all over the U.S. and Spain, conducting research in libraries and archives, visiting cemeteries, interviewing descendants of immigrants, and, whenever possible, scanning their family archives.  In addition, for more than a year-and-a-half, we have curated a Facebook page which will soon have 5,000 followers.  We originally thought of the FB page as a site for us to display our findings, but it quickly became much more than that: social media have helped us grow the archive, build community, and help reconnect the scattered elements of this little known Spanish diaspora.

Outcomes:  So far, we have amassed a vast digital archive of more than 6,000 images.  Since they have been stashed away in private family albums for the last 60 years, most have only been seen by a handful of people.  Wonderful images of Spanish immigrants at rest, work and play, in spontaneous snapshots and composed studio portraits, in diverse places like Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, Connecticut, Vermont, California, Florida, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Vermont, Rhode Island, etc.  We will make a selection of several hundred of these private images in order to create a public album of the Spanish diaspora in the US.

The campaign:  Our immigrant ancestors didn’t use words like “crowdfunding” or “microdonations”, and yet, for almost every one of their initiatives, they practiced those things.  If they wanted to build a social club, organize a show, or buy an ambulance to send to their beleaguered patria, they would do a colecta or suscripción, asking each member of the community to contribute according to their means.  We decided to follow the same method for the production of this project, which we now call “crowdfunding.”  We are using the secure Kickstarter platform –which is owned, operated and guaranteed by Amazon– to accept donations as small as $1.00.  A pledge of $55.00 entitles the donor to a copy of the book.

Campaign results so far:  With 10 days left in the campaign, we are at 80% of our target Cabo 37lowerres($27,996/$35,000).  263 backers have made contributions ranging from $1.00 – $5,000.  About 425 copies of the book have been pre-ordered.  Our goal is within reach, but we need a strong final push.  Kickstarter campaigns are all-or-nothing endeavours:  we establish a target and a deadline; backers pledge their support; if the target is reached by the deadline, the pledges are processed, and the project is realized; the the target is not reached, the pledges are nullified, the campaign fails, and the book does not get published.

Campaign highlights:

*thus far, we have received celebrity endorsements from Plácido Domingo, Guillermo Fesser and Elena Anaya,and, most recently, the great Spanish chef and restaurateur José Andrés.  We are working on several other high-profile endorsements for the homestretch.

*since the campaign began, we have either completed or scheduled interviews with La Nueva España, El Comercio, El Diario-La Prensa (NY), Voices of NY, and Pura Política.  (We’ll include links as they become available).  Many sympathetic blogs and FB pages have helped spread the word:  Lori Needleman, Humans of Spain, Revista Libero, and others.  El Diario-La Prensa invited us to contribute an op-ed, which was published on October 4.

*several Spanish businesses (eg. Despaña of NY and Carmen and Lola of Miami) and organizations (eg. Tampa’s Centro Español) have come on board as sponsors, and we will be working with a number of others in the closing days of the campaign.

*many descendants of Spanish immigrants have become aware of our work thanks to this campaign; their archives will be incorporated into the project as we move forward.

Pitch:  With the cooperation of scores of descendants of Spanish immigrants from all over the United States and Spain, we are compiling what essentially will be the graphic archive of the Spanish diaspora in the U.S.  And if you help us reach our crowdfunding goal, “Invisible Immigrants:  Spaniards in the Unites States 1868 – 1945″ we will produce a gorgeous book and keepsake that will feature many of the highlights of that visual archive, and that will use images to tell the largely unknown story of these invisible immigrants.  Please help us as generously as you can.


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