Valentín Aguirre: Una diáspora en casa

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Nos complace mucho compartir este breve texto nuestro que figura (en castellano, inglés y euskera) en el hermoso catálogo de la exposición titulada “La memoria recobrada: huellas en la historia de los Estados Unidos”, comisariada por José Manuel Guerrero Acosta, y patrocinada por Iberdrola. J.M. Guerrero Acosta editó el catálogo. 

 

Aguirre, una diáspora en casa

En vez de ir a casa de Valentín Aguirre, como hacía la gran mayoría de los que llegaban de España, Juan llevó a su familia a un hotel cerca de la calle 42 y de Broadway…” Así comienza la descripción de la aventura estadounidense de una familia de asturianos que, como miles de sus paisanos y compatriotas, llegaron a EEUU a principios del siglo XX en busca de mejor fortuna. Resulta muy llamativo ver cómo, en esta crónica de una llegada de asturianos a Nueva York, el no quedarse en casa de Valentín Aguirre funciona como nota distintiva; se trata de una excepción que confirma la regla. Pero ¿quiénes eran “los que llegaban de España”? ¿Y quién era ese Valentín Aguirre que solía recibir a tantos de ellos?

Por suerte, la diáspora vasca a Estados Unidos está relativamente bien estudiada. Y

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Valentín Aguirre (a la derecha) con su gran amigo el boxeador Paulino Uzcudun.

gracias a la nutrida bibliografía que ha surgido en torno a ese fenómeno histórico, sabemos bastante sobre la figura de Aguirre, y sobre el papel que desempeñó en la historia de los Amerikanuak. Sabemos que Aguirre nació en Busturia, Vizcaya en 1871; que ya para 1895, tras haber trabajado varios años en el transporte marítimo entre España, Hispanoamérica y Estados Unidos, se había establecido en Nueva York. Sabemos asimismo que en las primeras décadas del siglo XX, regentaba, con su esposa, Benita Orbe, una pensión en la barriada española más antigua de Nueva York, en la zona portuaria del East River, entre los puentes Brooklyn y Manhattan. Nos consta, además, que en 1913 Aguirre, junto a otros doce vascos residentes en Nueva York, fundó el Centro Vasco Americano en Cherry Street, la misma calle donde tenía la pensión. Se conoce que después, Aguirre y Orbe trasladaron su negocio a la zona portuaria del otro lado de Manhattan, junto al Río Hudson, donde nacía otro enclave de inmigrantes españoles. Existe todavía el gran edificio de ladrillo ubicado en 82 Bank Street que durante décadas fue la sede de su Hotel Santa Lucía, su restaurante Jai Alai, y su agencia de viajes y de empleos. Sabemos, en fin, que en este “Todo-en-uno” de Aguirre, los vascos recién llegados a NY podían hospedarse cómodamente, disfrutar de los afamados guisos de Benita, enterarse del trabajo disponible en NY o en otras partes de EEUU, e incluso sacar su pasaje hacia el destino donde hubiere empleo. Entre las anécdotas que los descendientes de vascos en EEUU todavía cuentan, se recoge la de los hijos de Aguirre y Orbe, que, a lo que se dice, solían acudir a los muelles cuando llegaba algún barco español para reclutar a la clientela al grito de “¿euskalduna zara?”

Esta viñeta, sin duda entrañable, probablemente pertenece al mundo del folklore inmigrante. Lo cierto es que quienes llegaban a Nueva York, ya en los trámites de Ellis Island tenían que dejar constancia de dónde pensaban alojarse, antes de desembarcar en los muelles del Hudson. Ahora que es fácil recorrer on-line los manifiestos de los transatlánticos, podemos apreciar la ingente cantidad de españoles que respondían a la pregunta “¿Residencia en NY?” con las palabras “Casa Aguirre.” Y resulta que muchísimos de los clientes de Aguirre –acaso la vasta mayoría—no habrían entendido la interpelación en euskera de los hijos del hotelero, ya que provenían de otras partes de la península.  

Valentín Aguirre, Explorador” es el título de un artículo publicado en La Prensa (NY) en agosto de 1928. El texto narra el viaje a más de 30 ciudades de EEUU que hizo “el héroe vasco de nuestra colonia” acompañando a un tal Mr. Henderson, de la Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, con el objetivo de visitar “todos los agentes de [la naviera] y todas las colonias hispanas en esos lugares.” El texto recoge las impresiones entusiastas de Aguirre ante la hospitalidad y la prosperidad de sus compatriotas españoles. Los nombres de algunos de los lugares que visitó Aguirre en este viaje de siete semanas serán familiares a los conocedores de la diáspora vasca, como Reno (Nevada), Boise (Idaho) y otros. Pero el itinerario  de Aguirre también nos permite reconstruir parte del menos conocido archipiélago de enclaves de inmigrantes españoles que ya para 1928 salpicaba la geografía entera del país. Poca gente sabe que en las últimas décadas del siglo XIX y las primeras del XX emigraron a EEUU decenas de miles de españoles de casi todos los rincones de la península. En las escalas que hizo Aguirre en el cinturón industrial del “Midwest”, por ejemplo, sin duda conocería a los asturianos, gallegos, castellanos y andaluces que trabajaban en las acerías, en la fundiciones de zinc, en las fábricas de coches, u otras industrias pesadas en lugares como Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania), Detroit (Michigan), Minneapolis (Minnesota), Canton (Ohio), y Gary (Indiana). En su paso por Nuevo Méjico y Arizona, probablemente conoció a muchos de los cántabros y castellanos que trabajaban en la ganadería y minería de aquella parte del país. Y en California, tendría oportunidad de conocer a los andaluces, valencianos, extremeños y castellanos que habían emigrado a Hawái, antes de dar un segundo salto al “Estado Dorado.” Nos consta que algunos de estos emigrantes, al querer reclamar a sus parientes españoles, contaron con los servicios de Aguirre.

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82 Bank Street, Greenwich Village, New York, donde Valentín Aguirre y Benita Orbe regentaban el Hotel Santa Lucía, el restaurante Jai Alai, además de una agencia de viajes. [Foto cedida por Frances Aguirre]

Al volver de este viaje a su casa en Nueva York, Aguirre se encontraría de nuevo con una colonia española que parecía un microcosmos de la diversidad tanto de la península como de la diáspora española en EEUU. La pensión que había tenido en la Calle Cherry se encontraba a pocas puertas de La Valenciana, el hotel y restaurante donde se reunía el Círculo Valenciano; no muy lejos de la Carnicería La Ideal, regentada por gallegos; y a pocos metros del restaurante El Chorrito, propiedad del catalán Sebastián Estrada. Cuando se mudó al otro lado de la isla, se instaló en una barriada principalmente gallega; su vecino y rival principal como restaurador era el asturiano Benito Collada, dueño de El Chico; tenía a pocas manzanas la sede de la Unión Benéfica Española, dirigida por el catalán José Camprubí y que para 1920 contaba con más de 4,000 socios procedentes de toda la geografía española.  La historia de la diáspora española a EEUU está todavía por reconstruir, y la gran figura de Valentín Aguirre promete ser una pieza clave de esa reconstrucción.

–James D. Fernández

New York University

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On the Origins of New York’s “La Nacional” (Part 2)

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José Francisco Navarro was one of the wealthy Spanish businessmen who in 1868 helped establish New York’s Spanish Benevolent Society, an organization which is poised to celebrate its 150th anniversary.

It was in the Spring of 1867, almost exactly 150 years ago, that Spain’s Consul in New York, Joaquín Marcos de Satrústegui, noticed an alarming trend:  increasing numbers of destitute Spaniards were showing up at the doors of his Consulate pleading for assistance.  Satrústegui’s ability to aid his needy compatriots was limited because, as he reports, most of them were undocumented or otherwise “beyond the limits of the law.”  And so, as we revealed in Part 1 of this chronicle, Satrústegui appealed to the handful of wealthy Spanish business leaders who at the time were living in New York, asking them to organize a charitable organization, and to contribute a monthly quota, to be used to aid their unfortunate countrymen.

Now:  it is important to point out that a similar initiative had already been undertaken some thirty years earlier, under the patronage of the great Cuban-born priest, Father Félix Varela, and with the involvement of Spanish and Spanish American ex-pats in the city, like Andrés Patrullo, Manuel de Puga, Francisco del Hoyo, Antonio Aicinena y Mariano Velázquez de la Cadena. But that “Sociedad Española de Beneficencia,” founded in 1837-38,  didn’t seem to prosper, or at least it has not left many historical traces.  So much so, that just thirty years later, when Satrústegui addressed the Spanish ex-pat community in New York in 1867, he seemed to have no awareness of this previous attempt to organize a similar intiative.  So it is that the club that still exists today, with headquarters at 239 West 14th Street, can point to an uninterrupted chain of evidence proving that the origin of their organization —which would later merge with several other important Spanish clubs in the city— can be traced as far back as 1868.

What became of Satrústegui’s appeal to the Spanish élites living in New York in 1867-68?  Thanks to the wonders of archives —once again, Spain’s Archivo Histórico Nacional, in Madrid, Spain— we can answer that question with the words of Satrústegui himself, who on February 14, 1868, addressed this letter to his boss, the Ministro de Estado in Madrid:

It gives me great satisfaction to have the honor of notifying Your Excellence that after patient efforts, I have achieved the establishment in this city of a Spanish Society of Benevolence.  This measure was urgently needed because of the considerable number of unfortunate Spaniards who come to our Consulate asking for aid, even though the Consul is unable to officially help them with funds from the government of His Majesty.

The nascent Society already has, I understand, 29 subscribers, each of who contribute $5.00 per month since the first of January of this year:  that is to say, $145 monthly dollars that will wipe away a few tears.  I hope that soon the subscription will exceed $200 per month.

I attach the copy of the appeal that I made to wealthy Spaniards living in New York, and of the names of the first 26 subscribers.

For the execution of this idea, I have been helped primarily —with a zeal that deserves my most heartfelt gratitude— by Don Carlos Martí and Don José Francisco Navarro.  They personally have collected the contributions from their numerous friends, a very difficult job in such a large city, when paying a visit sometimes involves traveling more than two leagues in each direction.

Don Carlos Martí left for Havana yesterday, and he took copies of the documents I have mentioned.  He intends to take advantage of this trip to collect contributions from his rich friends in Cuba, given that the greater part of the needy Spaniards we must help arrive here from our Antilles.

I will take care of the statutes and consolidation of the Society, which I consider capable of, and destined for, a great and most useful evolution.  Together with the fundraising by subscription for aid, I think that we can create a Spanish Club, that would be a center of periodical meetings of our nationals who now live in isolation from each other.  This would stir up their patriotic feelings.  And one day, when Spain is at peace with Peru and Chile, the club could form part of the core of a great Spanish-American Society, that would strengthen the bonds of friendship, affection and common interests among the mother and her daughters, because the wealthy would find in the club a place of enjoyment, and the poor would find shelter and protection.

May God keep Your Excellency for many years,

J.M de Satrústegui

*****

Exmo Señor, Mui Señor mío,

Es mucha mi satisfacción en poder tener el honor de participar a V>E. que, después de pacientes esfuerzos, he logrado el establecimiento en esta Ciudad de una Sociedad Española de Beneficencia cuya necesidad era apremiante por el considerable numero de desgraciados que se presentan suplicando socorros que el Consul no puede prestar oficialmente con cargo al gobierno de SM.

La Sociedad naciente cuenta ya, según tengo entendido, con veinte y nueve suscriptores a cinco pesos mensuales del el 10 de enero del presente año; es decir con $145 pesos mensuales que enjugarán algunas lágrimas; y espero que pronto pasará la suscripcion de a $200 mensuales.

Adjuntas elevo a VE copias de mi llamamiento a los españoles pudientes domiciliados en esta residencia y de los nombres de los 26 primeros suscritores

Me han ayudado principalmente para la realización de esta idea, con un celo que merece mi mas viva gratitud, los Señores Don Carlos Martí, y Don José Francisco Navarro; recabando personalmente la co-operación de sus numerosos amigos, –lo que es mui molesto en una ciudad tan extensa y en la que una visita representa a veces un viaje de más de dos leguas de ida y otro tanto de vuelta.

Don Carlos Martí salío ayer para La Habana, llevando copia de los documentos a que he aludido; y se propone aprovechar la ocasión para reunir contribuciones entre sus amigos ricos en Cuba, en atención a que la mayor parte de los desvalidos que tenemos que socorrer proceden de nuestras Antillas.

Me ocuparé de los Estatutos y la consolidación de la Soeicdad, la que juzgo capaz de, y llamada a un grande y utilísimo desarrollo.  Unida a la suscrición para Beneficencia, pero independiente de ella, creo que se puede agregarle un Club Español, Centro de reunion periodica para nuestros Nacionales que ahora viven aislados; Eso avivaría sus sentimientos patrióticos; y el Club podría forma, en el día venturoso en que se encuentre España en paz con Perú y Chile, el núcleo de una gran Sociedad Hispano-Americana, que estrecharía los lazos de amistad, afecto e intereses comunes entre la Madre y sus hijas, puesto que los ricos encontraráian en ella su solaz, y los pobres amparo y protección a su sombra.

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On the Origins of New York’s “La Nacional” (Part 1)

10835408_390338844462448_5258140069072473692_oSome detective work at the Archivo Histórico Nacional in Madrid has allowed us to shed some light on the process whereby New York’s Spanish Benevolent Society/La Nacional, was founded in 1868.  The club is still in existence, and next year will be celebrating its 150th birthday!  Among the highlights of the planned celebration will be the re-opening of the club’s restaurant at 239 West 14th Street, and the premier of “Sole Survivor” –Celia Novis’s film (Somiant Productions) that explores the history of La Nacional.

Over the last century and a half, there have been a dizzying number of mergers and splits of New York’s multiple Spanish immigrant organizations.  In the process, many records have been lost or misplaced, and multiple layers of legends and rumors have accumulated –like the countless coats of paint on the walls of an old building– regarding the origins and the evolution of La Nacional. For this reason, it is particularly gratifying to find in the archive some unequivocal evidence of the organization’s origins.  It is also of particular interest –in these dark times– to see how undocumented Spaniards play a crucial role in this seminal moment in the history of New York’s “invisible immigrants.”

On April 24, 1867, Spain’s Consul General in New York, Joaquín Marcos de Satrústegui, wrote a letter to a group of Spanish business leaders who were living in the city.

My Dear Sirs,

With alarming frequency, sick or destitute Spanish citizens have been coming to this Consulate.  Because of a broken bone, loss of eyesight or some other misfortune, they solicit help from the Consul, even though I am unable to officially aid them with funds from the government of His Majesty, because these folks are undocumented, often having jumped ship from the merchant marine, or for some other reason finding themselves outside the limits of the law.

And yet, since the voice of humanity in pain is so strong, it can not always be ignored; and so it is that the burden, though excessive if it weighs solely on the consulate, can be manageable and even pleasant if shared with others.

I enclose copies of the Articles 61, 62 and 63 of the Royal Order from 19 July 1856, and I take the liberty of appealing to your humanitarian and patriotic sentiments, asking you to consider becoming contributors, each according to your means and will, of a reasonable monthly sum to that end.  I also ask that from among your ranks you appoint an accountant/ treasurer who, together with me, can manage the investment of this charitable fund.

Your most affectionate, attentive and loyal servant,

JM de Satrústegui

(to be continued)

***

A los señores comerciantes españoles domiciliados en Nueva York

Nueva York, 24 de abril de 1867

Mui Señores míos;

Frecuentemente se presentan en este consulado españoles enfermos y desamparados, o Screen-Shot-2014-07-29-at-18.32.29.pngque de resultas de alguna fractura, pérdida de su vista, u otra desgracia, solicitan auxilios del Cónsul, sin que este se los pueda conceder oficialmente y con cargo al Gobierno de S.M., por hallarse indocumentados, haber desertado de buques mercantes, o encontrarse por otros conceptos fuera de las prescripciones de la ley.

Y sin embargo, como es tan poderosa la voz de la humanidad doliente, no siempre puede desatenderse; resultando de ello una carga que, grata y llevadera compartida con otros, pesa demasiado si gravita únicamente sobre el Cónsul.

Acompañando copia de los Art 61, 62 y 63 de la Instrucción de Real Orden del 19 julio 1856, me tomo por tanto la libertad de apelar a los sentimientos humanitarios y patrióticos de Vds suplicándoles que tengan la bondad de suscribirse, cada uno según sus medios o voluntad, por una módica suma mensual, con el indicado objeto, y den nombre de entre Vds un interventor tesorero para la inversión de este fondo caritativo en unión con

Su mui aftmo y atento seguro servido

(firmado)

J M de Satrustegui

 

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Un baño en la historia: el Archivo General de la Administración

 

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Juan Riaño y Gayangos,Enviado Extraordinario y Ministro Plenipotenciario de España en Washington (1910-1914) y Embajador de España en Washington entre 1914 y 1926.  [Bain News Service, publisher – Esta imagen está disponible en la División de Impresiones y Fotografías de la Biblioteca del Congreso de los Estados Unidos bajo el código digital ggbain.04788. Esta etiqueta no indica el estado de copyright del trabajo adjunto. ]

Zambullirse en las profundidades de un archivo histórico rara vez produce resultados inmediatos y deslumbrantes.  Es cierto que, de vez en cuando, cuando la fortuna le sonríe, la investigadora o el investigador puede dar con un documento clave; una pieza del puzzle cuyo descubrimiento permite que se vayan encajando otras muchas piezas que hasta entonces andaban sueltas, inconexas, huérfanas de sentido.

Si bien la mayoría de las visitas a un archivo histórico no resultan en ninguna gran epifanía, estos baños periódicos en el pasado no dejan de ser esenciales, si queremos realmente comprender cualquier fenómeno histórico –sus matices y texturas–  como, por ejemplo, el de la emigración de españoles a EEUU.  En realidad, son estos días normales, sin grandes hallazgos, los que nos van preparando para aquellos días excepcionales, extraordinarios.

Acabo de pasar dos días intensos en el Archivo General de la Administración [AGA] en la encantadora ciudad de Alcalá de Henares, revisando la correspondencia que pasaba por la Embajada Española en Washington, hace casi cien años.  Esta vez no llevaba ninguna pregunta candente; tenía dos días libres en España, y quería simplemente zambullirme de nuevo en el mundo de nuestros inmigrantes invisibles, tal y como ese mundo se deja entrever entre los precarios papeles de una embajada.  Y aunque de estos días no me llevo ningún trofeo, ninguna perla ostentosa, siento que me voy de Alcalá con la sensibilidad renovada y refinada, con las antenas más dispuestas a captar las tenues señales que sigue emitiendo un pasado latente en los archivos y en la memoria.

Comparto un pequeño ejemplo de los tipos de documentos “menores” que he podido consultar estos días en el AGA.  Llama la atención sobre todo la complejidad de la historia de la colonia española; las suspicacias, la multiplicidad de intereses, proyectos y personalidades casi siempre en pugna, tanto entonces como ahora…

El 1 de abril de 1919, el empresario y banquero privado, Jaime V. Lago, con sede en 156 West 14th Street, escribe a Delfín González, que llevaba ya varios años en el puesto de Secretario de la Unión Benéfica Española.  Delfín era hombre de confianza de José Camprubí, quien dirigía a la sazón tanto la Unión Benéfica Española como el diario La Prensa.

Muy Señor mío:-

He fundado el periódico “LA TRIBUNA” con el fin de estrechar los lazos de unión entre

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Editor, librero, hotelero, consignatario, banquero,  y otras muchas cosas, Jaime V. Lago es una figura clave en la historia de los españoles en Nueva York.  La quiebra en 1928 de su banco privado –con sede en la Calle 14– fue, para la colonia española de la ciudad, una verdadera catástrofe.  A raíz de los tejemanejes detrás de esa quiebra, Lago ingresaría en la cárcel.

nuestra raza y este país. Es periódico de genuina orientación española entendiendo por esto no el españolismo que abarca una limitada esfera de acción, sino el que radica en todos los países de lengua castellana, hecha inmortal por el insigne manco de Lepanto en las páginas de las Novelas Ejemplares y en el imperecedero libro “Don Quijote”.

El Embajador de España, en carta dirigida a “LA TRIBUNA”, y publicada en el número 30, bendice esta obra con fervor patriótico. Es pues, un deber de todo español –incluimos también a los hispano-americanos—ayudar a la labor que vamos a realizar desde las columnas del periódico, puestas nuestras miras en altos ideales, libres de prejuicios, exentos de toda claudicación. La raza necesita un órgano que apoya sus aspiraciones. Y las aspiraciones de la raza están en que haya alguien que deshaga las leyendas tenebrosas, urdidas a espaldas de la justicia y el derecho.

Espero confiadamente en que desde este momento será Usted suscriptor de “LA TRIBUNA”, el periódico que viene a velar por los prestigios de la raza, que son los prestigios de usted.

Debe al mismo tiempo propagar “LA TRIBUNA” entre sus amigos para que llegue a ser un órgano formidable e importante. Todo evoluciona en la vida, y “LA TRIBUNA” se amoldará a las exigencias de los tiempos.

Sea usted suscriptor de “LA TRIBUNA”.

Suscripción annual: -$5.00.

Firmado: Jaime V. Lago

Pocos días después, Delfín González, secretario de la Unión Benéfica Española, y hombre de confianza de José Camprubí, se dirige confidencialmente al embajador español en Washington, Juan Riaño y Gayangos, adjuntando la carta que acababa de recibir de Jaime V. Lago.

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“Será siempre considerado en los anales de las sociedades hispanas de Nueva York como uno de los tenaces, activos y eficientes promotores de su organización.  Procedente de Santa María de Figueras, Asturias, el señor González trasladóse a Cuba en 1905 viniendo a los Estados Unidos cinco meses después.  En Tampa, Florida, ingresó en la industria tabaquera, y en 1911 vino a Nueva York como representante de una casa tampeña.

Acabo de recibir una circular del señor Jaime V. Lago, la que tengo el gusto de incluir con la presente, y en la que se anuncia que V.E. “bendice” esta obra con fervor patriótico.

Es necesario que ponga en el conocimiento de VE los antecedentes que se relacionan con la obra de este buen señor para que debido al apoyo moral que VE le preste no continue por más tiempo y con mas seguridad practicando los hechos poco propios de un Banquero, como él se llama, y menos de un español.

Cuando los españoles en este país necesitaban toda la ayuda posible, y cuando esta Sociedad estaba gastando su reducido capital y sus energías, ha llegado a nuestro conocimiento ciertos abusos que con los pobres trabajadores cometían ciertos españoles. Incluyo con la presente un informe que nos proporcionó uno de ellos (de los explotados) y por el verá VE la manera de proceder del señor Lago. El informante nos manifiesta que son muchos los que les ocurrió con el mismo señor Lago cosas idénticas. En resumen que ellos pagaban al Señor Lago por los servicios que otorgaba la sociedad.

Hace algunos meses supe también que el señor Lago se anunciaba por medio de sus corredores que él estaba autorizado por VE para expedir cédulas. Investigado el asunto supe que los que recurrían a él les cobraba $2.00 por cada cédula, pagando después al Consulado General de España en esta la cantidad de $0.45 por cada una. Cuando llamé la atención al señor Consul en esta, me pidió que le entregara una manifestación por escrito y debidamente legalizada por un Notario Público exponiendo lo que antecede. Dicho documento fue hecho por uno de las víctimas y entregado personalmente por mí al señor Consul.

Deseo también manifestar a V.E. que el periódico “La Tribuna” piensa hacer una campaña en favor de una Sociedad en esta, el “Centro Hispano Americano”, y con lo que indudablemente tratan de perjudicar la Unión Benéfica Española.

Este informe que le proporciono a VE lo hago primeramente para que conozca la personalidad del Señor Lago, contra quien no tengo ningún sentimiento personal, y para evitar en lo posible que bajo ningún concepto y en ninguna forma nuestros connacionales sean explotados. Además, creo justísimo el evitar que injustamente mermen fuerzas a la Unión Benéfica Española, la cual como VE sabe siempre esta dispuesta a trabajar en beneficio del bienestar de nuestra Colonia y la cual necesita la cooperación de todos para realizar los proyectos que tiene, proyectos que como VE conocerá, han de servir para ponerla, sino mejor, al nivel de las otras colonias.

En beneficio de esta Sociedad ruego a VE que acepte este informe de la manera más reservada posible.

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A Priceless Snapshot of Spaniards in Brooklyn, 1892

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 4 December 1892

SPANIARDS IN THIS CITY

Brooklyn Has Quite a Large Colony of them

They Learn Very Little of the English Language and are Exceedingly Clannish— Comparatively Few of them Become Citizens, but a Majority of Those Who Do Vote the Democratic Ticket

Some interesting particulars respecting the Spaniards and Cubans living in Brooklyn were recently learned from a well-known citizen, whose office is in the Franklin building, on Remsen Street.  For very nearly twenty years, Mr. Bailey has been the legal adviser of what may be called the Spanish colony in this city and is personally

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Serafín Sánchez, Villaviciosa, Asturias, 1839 – Brooklyn, New York, 1894.  Sánchez is buried in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery.  Sánchez was partners with Ignacio Haya; their cigars carried the “Sánchez y Haya” label.  Since tobacco and cigars were at the heart of New York’s Spanish colony in the late nineteenth century, the connections between Gotham and Tampa, Florida were numerous and tight. [photo credit: http://cigarsoftampa.com/serafin-sanchez.html]

acquainted with a large majority of its members.  He has also made so many trips to Cuba that he is now almost as much at home in Havana as he is in the first ward, and has, of course, acquired a very intimate knowledge of the habits and modes of life of the men with whose business interests he has had so much to do.

“The exact number of Spaniards and Cubans in Brooklyn,” said Mr. Bailey, “is uncertain, but approximately I think there are about six hundred.  I base that estimate on a list I have here of the members of a society tow which many of them belong.  Although they are a very clannish people, they do not herd together in any one or more localities, but are to be found scattered all over the city.  The majority of the Spaniards in Brooklyn have come from Asturias, one of the northern provinces of Spain, on the Bay of Biscay, and Cubans have come from Havana.  i ought to qualify my statement about the Spaniards and explain that very few, if any, ever come direct tot eh United States from their native country.  They almost invariably come here by way of Cuba.

“As a general thing have they any knowledge of the English language?”

“No; when they arrive here they are unable to speak English.  They have no knowledge at all of the English language.”

“How do they work to acquire it?”

“They very seldom do acquire it.  The majority of them cannot speak the language.  Not more than one Spaniard in every one hundred of those who come to Brooklyn ever learns more of the English language than just enough to make himself understood in the simplest and most necessary affairs of daily life.  They are, as I have already told you, very clannish, and here in Brooklyn they work together in tobacco and cigar factories where Spanish is the only language spoken and the men do not feel that they are at a disadvantage in consequence of not being able to express themselves in English.”

“What habits do they bring to this country as regards industry, economy, sobriety, honesty and morality?”

“They compare with the majority of foreigners who come here most favorably.  I invariably find them hardworking, economical and sober, and I say, from my long experience with them, they are strictly honest and, as a class, their morals will stand comparison with this of emigrants from any other country.”

“Have they any means on their arrival in the United States?”

“I never knew one yet to arrive in this country in a destitute condition.  They all bring some money with them, and they all know a trade —that is, they all know how to make or pack cigars.  The Spaniards who come here from Cuba never desire to return there —at least I never knew one who did.”

“To what religious denomination do they belong?”

“If they belong to any at all it is the Catholic.  They have no church of their own in Brooklyn —that is, there is no church that is distinctively Spanish —and so I suppose if any of them attend church they go to the one nearest there homes.

“Do many women come here from Spain or Cuba?”

“No, very few, and almost all the men who come are bachelors.  After being here a few years a good many of them marry American women and a few marry women of their own race.”

“Do the Spaniards and Cubans become citizens of the United States as soon as possible after their arrival in this country?”

“No:  comparatively few of them become citizens of the United States.”

“How do you account for that?”

I believe it results from two causes.  The intense love they have for their native country is one and the other is what I cannot better explain than by saying it appears to me to be a remnant of the ancient Hidalgo pride that keeps them from swearing allegiance to any other country.  Those who do take out naturalization papers are generally men who have accumulated property and desire to revisit their native country, where the military law is as strict as it is in Germany and they wish to be protected from the draft.  The native born Cubans are more likely to become citizens of the United States than are the Asturias, because a Cuban per se does not like to be called a Spaniard.  This who do become naturalized take a great interesting the politics of this country.

“With which of the two great parties do they affiliate?”

“The great majority of them in Brooklyn vote the Democratic ticket, which may to some extent be owing to my missionary work, because having been so intimately associated with them for the last fifteen or twenty years in business and social life, they have not hesitated to follow my advice in political affairs and consequently have joined the Democratic party, with which I have always been connected.”

“What opinions do they hold on the question of the annexation of Cuba tot he United States?

“The Cubans are somewhat divided on that question.  Some of them are in favor of annexation to the United States and others prefer independence and a republic.  Some of the more liberal of the independents go so far as to advocate annexation in fat future, but independence first.  The Spaniards as a rule are conservative.  Occasionally you will find one who is so imbued with the democratic and liberal ideas of this country that he is in favor not only of the freedom of Cuba, but also of a republic in Spain.”

“What Spanish and Cuban societies are there in Brooklyn?”

“They have three mutual benefit associations and one masonic lodge.  The benefit associations or societies are La Nacional, La America, and La Beneficencia, and the masonic lodge is La Universal.”

“Are there many naturalized Spaniards or Cubans living in Brooklyn who from small beginnings have worked their way up and become influential and wealthy men?”

“There are many men of that description, all of whom are well known in Brooklyn.  I can mention Joseph A. Vega, Antonio González, Serafín Sánchez, Vicente Guerra, Salvador Rodríguez, Francisco García, Silverio Pérez, Celestino and Joaquin Rodriguez, Jesus Mendez, Celestino Diaz, Marcelino Lopez and the Balbín brothers.”

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Breaking News: A New Exhibition Project

Dear friends,

We are in the preliminary stages of discussions with sponsors and venues about an idea whose time has come: a major museum exhibition that will use your photographs, documents, objects and moving images, to tell the unknown story of our beloved Spanish Immigrants in the US (1868-1945). If everything lines up just right, the show will open about a year from now (Spring, 2018) in Madrid, and then travel all around Spain. We hope to produce an English-language version of the show as well, which could tour the United States.

As always, we need your support to bring this idea to fruition.

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Photo courtesy of Gloria López, of Winters, California.  Gloria preserves treasures like the metal tube in which her ancestors stored their travel documents, and a Spanish mortar and pestle than has been handed down from generation to generation.

For the next several months, we will be intensifying our field work all over the country (and in Spain), hoping to digitize even more family archives, and trying to identify objects that might be featured in the exhibition.

Do you have old photos and documents of your Spanish immigrant ancestors? (We’re primarily interested in the period 1868-1945).

Do you have objects (eg trunks, suitcases, document holders, photos, kitchen utensils, furniture, musical instruments, garments, keepsakes) that your ancestors may have brought with them from Spain when they came over? Or that they may have acquired in the US and that speak to the experience of Spanish immigrants in the US?

If the answer is “yes” to either or both of these questions, and if you’d be willing to consider sharing your treasures –digitally or on loan—please reach out to us at whitestoneridge@gmail.com.

Now that our book “Invisible Immigrants” is just about sold out, let’s work together to realize this next dream, to make known the neglected story of our unsung immigrant ancestors.

¡Salud!

Luis Argeo and James D. Fernández

 

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Un entierro digno

Among the many amazing informants we met during our recent trip to the province of Ávila was Benito Montero Caamaño, grandson of Indalecio Caamaño Ruda. Indalecio was the oldest of 5 siblings, and the only one of the five to stay in the village when the rest emigrated to Hawaii (and later, California) in 1913.

Here Benito reminisces about Grandpa Indalecio, about the packages his family would receive in La Adrada from their cousins in California, about the visit from California of Aunt Elisa and her son Luis, around 1960, and about the execution of Indalecio’s youngest son, Mariano, during the Spanish Civil War.  Mariano still lies in an unmarked mass grave at the entry to the town. But most of all, Benito talks about dignity.

A very rough translation:

I am Benito, grandson of Indalecio Caamaño. These people have come here to make some kind of report, and I would like to know something about my relatives in the States, because even though I was in contact with two of them a long time ago, but I never heard from them again, and we practically don’t have any memories of them, so we’d like to get back in touch and learn a little about them.

Explain to us who Indalecio was…

Indalecio Caamaño was my grandfather. He raised me, because my father died when I was a young boy. So my grandfather took me in —with my sister and brother— and we lived our whole lives with him and our grandmother, until they died. When my grandmother died, they only had that one house, and there were four or five heirs, so they sold it. And my mother came to live with me, because I have two apartments where I live, and my mother lived the rest of her life in the downstairs apartment

What was your grandmother’s name?

My grandmother’s name was Petra. I have a photo of her if you’d like to see it. In this picture, you’ll see Petra and my mother.

This is the photo. Here is grandma Petra, Indalecio’s wife, and my mother, who was a widow. This was a small photo, but my son enlarged it on his computer…

What do you know about Indalecio’s father and siblings? [In 1913, the father Mariano, a widow, emigrated to Hawaii with his four other children –Elisa, Félix, Joaquín and Bernarda. Indalecio was the only one to stay behind.

I only know about Elisa. When they left for America, she had a piece of land here. It was called Cabildo. When they left for America, my grandfather farmed that piece of land; he farmed it every year until his death. I would go with him, with a mule that we had, to work on the farm: there were grapes, chestnuts, cherries, everything. A couple of months after my grandfather died, his sister Elisa came to La Adrada from California, with her son Luis. And they sold that piece of land to a guy who had much more land than us —four or five times more land— they sold it to him. I still remember the price. 35,000 pesetas. I was there at the farm with an uncle —my mother’s younger brother, Teodoro—when they made the deal and sold the farm.

And what did she do with the money?

She took it with her! She got the money, and took it with her. She had been sleeping and eating in my house for a couple of months, but she didn’t give us a thing. Of course I didn’t ask her for anything either.

Tell us: what do you have inside here?

Inside I have all kinds of junk. A sister-in-law redid her apartment, and all the furniture she replaced? Here it is. An nephew need to store some stuff? Sure. Just take it to Benito’s storage space! Benito will have room for it!

I have a couch in there,and some times I come here just to sit on the sofa. And it’s never cold. On a chilly day like today, you can be there in your shirtsleeves. And on hot days, you might need a sweater, because it gets cool. So lots of times, I just sit there and fall asleep. I have a lot of stuff if you want to come inside to see…

[Inside the storage space]
They would send, I don’t know, maybe once a year, some sacks about yay big, like those mail sacks you’ve probably seen, and they would send it [from California] full of clothes. And my grandfather would dump everything into a big pile in the big kitchen. And he’d choose a couple of things from himself, maybe a shirt —there didn’t used to be shirts like this one around here— two or three things. And the rest, for his four or five children. He would make piles and number them. And he would take his cap —he always wore the same clothes, black corduroy pants, vest, jacket and cap— and he’d put pieces of paper with the five numbers in his cap. And he’d say to one of the grandchildren, one of the smallest: “Take a number out of the cap.” “Let’s see: Number 4?” You get pile #4. Next!” Then maybe one of my siblings, my sister, who was the youngest: “Take a number? Number 2. Elvira [that was my mother]: you’ve got pile #2. And that’s how it went. Equally divided among the children. And what they sent to my mom, with the letters that they would send —I probably still have some, I’ll have to ask my wife, she knows better— they would sometimes enclose a dollar bill.

They told me that during the Spanish Civil War, we were on the Left, we practically still are. I don’t know if my uncle Mariano did something or said something —he was only 16 years old— he was the youngest of the brothers. And they said they were looking for him to kill him, so my grandfather hid him. So some time went by, and they tricked my grandfather. Some priests intervened, and they promised my grandfather that they were going to harm Mariano, that they just wanted to speak with him, and my grandfather told them where he was hiding. And they went after him.

And right there at the entrance to the town coming from Madrid, they shot him and two or three others, and left him there. Right after they picked them up. And they didn’t tell the families or anything so they could bury them. He disappeared. That’s how they killed here.

Of course, my uncles and aunts and my grandparents felt great resentment. And my grandmother said that for as long as she lived, she would never ever step foot again in church. Some time past, and since I, since I was a young man, had become the head of the household —my grandfather died, my father was gone, and I was the oldest of the boys— I played the role of the father. And my grandmother always used to say to me, even when she was old and pretty sick, sometimes the priest would sometimes go to visit her to my house. And he would say: “Petra, one has to forgive and forget those things.” And she would say: “I won’t neither forget nor forgive. I never did anything, but what you all did to me, I will never forgive. I’ve never stolen or killed; but you all have stolen and killed” —she would say that to the priest. “So when you come to talk with me”, she would say, “you’re just wasting your time. Because I’m not going to listen to you or pay any attention to you. And I’ve already made it clear to my family: the day that I die, don’t even think about taking me to church.” And then, one day, my grandmother dies. In my home.

And the priest comes over and says: “Well, mass will be at 4:00.” That was the custom. They’d take the deceased person to mass in church, and from there to the cemetery. And I said: “No, from my house, my cousins and I will put the coffin on our shoulders and take her directly to the cemetery. Under no circumstances will she go to church. You know this very well, because I’ve heard her tell you forty times what had happened, and how she would not go to church even after dying. And I’m going to respect that.”

“Well,” the priest said, “if she doesn’t go, I won’t say mass for her, and I won’t give the response or anything.” And I said: “For all I care, you can stay at home or in church doing whatever; my grandmother will not go to the church.”

“Well, then do whatever you want with her.”

“That’s exactly what we’ll do.”

The next day, the day of the burial, at 3:00 or 3:30, he was already in the house. We had grandmother’s casket in the entrance, and the neighbors were there, some praying, some crying. He came, murmured some prayers, and took off. “Goodbye.” “Goodbye.” And my cousins and I took her to the cemetery. She’s in the grave where my father is; he was buried first. My mother bought that grave, in perpetuity. Then my grandfather died, we buried him there. My grandmother too. Then my mother. All four are buried in that same grave.

I made the grave myself. I did the whole thing. I used stone, and at the head I made a cross out of ivy. With strings, I’m tying and shaping the ivy so it takes the shape of the cross. But my grandmother did not go to mass or church or anything..

Can the tomb be visited?

Whenever you like. You’ll see the tomb, made out of small stones, moss…

[in the cemetery]
Well, as you can see, we are in the cemetery where Indalecio Caamaño, Petra, his wife, my father, Alejandro Montero and my mother, Elvira Caamaño are buried.
[he describes the cemetery]
I built this tomb myself. The whole thing. Digging down approximately two and half of three meters. With a cousin, and some relatives. I made this grave and many others.

I don’t want it to be marble or anything like that. And my brother said: “When you’re going to do it, let me know and I’ll help.” And he came one Saturday, and we did it. I had the stones all ready; I found them in the fields and brought them here in my car. And I had a pile of stones here. My brother would hand me it. First we lay the bricks, then we seal it with cement, and in the middle I left this square to put the initials of the four people buried here. First we buried my father, Alejandro Montero; Indalecio Caamaño; Petra González, y Elvira Caamaño. These stones I went looking for them at a place we call “La Garganta” where there are a lot of nice small stones. I was careful to choose stones that were more or less similar in size. I poured cement, and then set the stones right in the cement.

Please explain the letters to me again:
Here is my father, Alejandro Montero. Then, Indalecio Caamaño. I was 9 when my dad died; 17 when my grandfather died. And I became the head of the house. […] This is Petra González, the wife of Indalecio. And the last one to die was my mother, Elvira Caamaño. She was never sick; died at the age of 94…

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