A Forgotten Diaspora: Spaniards in the US



Photo courtesy of Joe Losada.

December, 1920. House of Representatives, Washington D.C. Amidst a heated debate regarding immigration, Minnesota congressman Harold Knutson asks for the floor. Once recognized, he stands up, tugs on his shirt cuffs and clears his throat, ready to launch into a tirade.

Knutson, who was born in Norway, starts by attacking certain groups of foreigners who, according to him, come to the US only to take jobs from the natives and to contaminate them with foreign ideologies and radicalisms. He claims to have been to Ellis Island several days before and to have witnessed there the arrival of more than 2,000 men from what he considers to be a particularly dangerous country. In a crescendo of hatred, he wraps up his indictment of this contemptible nation: “Spain is a seething mass of anarchy and the [Spanish] Government is gathering these anarchists up and dumping them on us.”

Spain? Really?  Was there ever a sizable emigration of Spaniards to the United States?

Yes. It turns out that at the end of the 19th– and the beginning of the 20th-century, tens of thousands of Spanish workers and peasants settled in compact enclaves scattered all over the United States. Just like the much larger communities of Spanish emigrants that emerged in, say, Cuba or Argentina, these colonies of the “North” were also woven together by informal and local networks in Spain, and were structured around specific job opportunities


Spanish and Spanish-American women and girls at a picnic in Canton, Ohio, c. 1925.  Courtesy of Bob Vega.

in the host country. That is why, in the early decades of the 20th-century, we would find Galicians, Asturians and Cantabrians in the cigar factories in Key West and Tampa, Florida; Basques, Aragonese and Castilians in the herding, ranching and hospitality industries of the Southwest and in the mountain states of the West; Andalusians, Valencians, Extremadurans and Castilians on the sugar plantations of Hawaii; more natives of these regions, plus Galicians, in the fruit and fish canneries of northern California; more Cantabrians in the granite quarries of New England; and Asturians, Castilians, Galicians, Valencians, and Andalusians in the mines and mills of the industrial belts of both the Northeast and the Midwest. And in New York, the entry point of so many of these immigrants, we would encounter folks from all of the Iberian peninsula; not only on the docks and on the ships, where numerically the Spaniards stood out, but also in many different niches of the vast urban economy; from the cigar business to domestic work, for example.


Consider, for instance, José and Carmen, both Asturians. They met in the same year that Knutson delivered his diatribe, at a picnic organized by the Centro Asturiano of New York. That day, in a park on Staten Island, with views of both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Carmen and José had to just about yell to hear themselves over the clamor of their paisanos and the jaunty melodies of the gaita that was never absent on occasions like this one. She, 18 years of age, tells her compatriot that she has just arrived from Sardéu, Ribadesella, invited by her sister, Joaquina, who had already been in the city for some years, and who had found her a job as a nanny in Brooklyn. He, 31 years of age, with a light-colored linen suit and a coyly tilted Panama hat, responds that he was born near Avilés, and that he too is a newcomer to NY, though he had already done stints working in Havana, Cuba and Tampa, Florida. The man looks in his wallet for a recently printed business card, and he hands it to her: José Fernández Álvarez, Tabaquero. “So I’m going to try my luck here. But what a mess with this English. In Tampa, we got along fine with just Spanish. How are you managing?” She laughs. “Well, not so good. I only know one sentence that they taught me where I’m staying, and I can barely say it.” “Let’s see, let’s see…” insists the tabaquero. The nanny blushes as she clears her throat, and, without looking up from the card, says, haltingly and with a thick accent: “My room is number seven.”


Carmen Alonso Mier and José Fernández Álvarez, paternal grandparents of the author.

José Fernández Álvarez and Carmen Alonso Mier are my grandparents. The story of how they met was told to me only once by Carmen—laughing as she acted out the dialogue— a little before she passed away in 1984. José had died some months before; I can put a precise date to the testimony because the few autobiographical anecdotes that I managed to hear from my grandmother’s mouth all came in that brief period between his death and hers. “Welo” was a charismatic raconteur; when he was around, he was the one who did the storytelling. I remembered this anecdote several months later, on the day we buried Carmen next to José in a Long Island cemetery, and thought: “How would those two young asturianos have reacted had someone told them, as they chatted each other up at that picnic, that they were going to spend the rest of their days together in Brooklyn, end up buried together on this side of the pond, surrounded by five “Spanish-American” children and more than twenty unhyphenated “American” grandchildren.

Fifty years after the picnic and Knutson’s speech, I would have to go to school to learn how to pronounce the words “mi habitación es la número siete” in Spanish. My mother was of Irish descent, and at home we spoke English. I always sensed that my grandparents observed my growing interest in a country that they had left behind forever with a mix of pride and puzzlement. I remember, in particular, the stark response of my grandfather when I told him that I was thinking of pursuing a doctorate in Spanish Literature: “Ok, but what can you make with that?

Well, with that I made a career: twenty years of articles and classes, books and conferences. But during my first two decades as a college professor, I pretty much kept my family history hermetically isolated from the hispanism and humanism I practiced as a researcher and teacher. I frequently read and taught García Lorca’s Poeta en Nueva York, for example, but in all those years it never occurred to me that the poet Federico, the cigarmaker José, and the nanny Carmen had all breathed the same polluted air during the months that García Lorca spent in the city (1929-30). In my personal imaginary, these figures inhabited separate and parallel planes that never intersected: the plane of Culture and History, in the case of the universal poet from Granada; and the plane of intimate and historically insignificant particularities, in the case of my abuelos.

A project I collaborated on in 2006 led to the first cracks in the wall that I hadfacing fascism. constructed between the familial and the professional. For an exhibit titled “Facing Fascism: New York and the Spanish Civil War,” the Museum of the City of New York commissioned me to carry out a study on how the colony of Spanish emigrants in the city of New York had responded to the conflict in Spain. I began to study the local Spanish-language press of the time, and in those publications I kept coming across long lists of associations of Spanish emigrants which, in an attempt to coordinate their efforts to support the Republic, had united under an umbrella organization called the “Sociedades Hispanas Confederadas” (“The Confederation of Spanish Societies”). These lists revealed to me the existence of an veritable archipelago of Spanish enclaves that dotted the entire country, each one with their own picnics; each one, perhaps, with their own grandparents to-be…

I also carried out interviews with elderly folks—my father, amongst them—who might región internacionalhave had first-hand memories of those years of discord and solidarity. I soon discovered that the materials necessary for the reconstruction of this forgotten diaspora were in a highly precarious state, on the verge of the being “lost” forever, in the private homes – and heads— of the descendants of the diaspora. Around that same time, I met the writer and filmmaker Luis Argeo, who had recently premiered his documentary “AsturianUS”, which deals with Asturian immigrants in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Argeo had reached on his own the same conclusion as I had regarding the value and precariousness of this largely unknown history. We immediately decided to collaborate. We programmed into a GPS the locations that we had compiled from those lists of the Sociedades Hispanas Confederadas, and, with portable scanners, cameras, and microphones packed in our duffel bags, we hit the road and for the last six years, together we have been knocking on the doors of descendants of Spaniards all over the United States.

The materials necessary for the reconstruction of this forgotten diaspora were in a highly precarious state, on the verge of being lost forever, in the private homes –and heads– of the descendants of the diaspora.



The daughters of Asturian immigrants, Severino and Amor García, photographed in a New York Studio, c. 1935.

The protagonists of this story from more than a century ago are no longer with us. Their children, if they are alive, are in their 80s or 90s. More often than not, they speak Spanish more as a vestige of their childhood than as a living language. They frequently receive us in the modest homes that their parents had acquired in their day, still full of objects, photos, and even smells that evoke that first generation of emigrants. If it is their grandkids or their great-grandkids who receive us, the houses are almost always  larger and better ventilated: more light, more air, and, almost as a consequence, less history. The grandkids rarely speak Spanish, and, for this reason, a good part of their own family’s archives have become illegible to them.

A visit of ours takes a full day or more; in addition to filming multiple interviews, we digitize the family archives. And, in almost all the houses— hospitality seems to be hereditary—they share food with us based on recipes handed down from their immigrant ancestors. Over the course of ten years of conducting this fieldwork, we have enjoyed: the paella of a son of alicantinos in Monterey, California, the filloas of a daughter of coruñeses in Astoria, New York; homemade chorizos prepared by grandchildren of Andalusians in California, Asturians in Missouri and Galicians in New York; the gazpacho of the granddaughter of almerienses and malagueños in California; hojuelas fried by the grand-daughter of an immigrant from Ávila in Hawaii;  and dozens of versions of the ubiquitous tortilla de patata or arroz con pollo, prepared in places like West Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. On occasion, we manage to have our trips coincide with collective activities organized by the descendants, like that unforgettable picnic held in a public park on the outskirts of Canton, Ohio.

Cabo 37lowerresKathy Meers, née Pujazón in 1952, brings to Canton’s summer picnic a huge pot of arroz con pollo, an enormous tupperware full of pestiños, and two plastic bags containing photographs and documents. As we help her unload her car, she tells us in English: “they have told me that Spanish was my first language, because until I was three years old I lived in the same house as my grandparents. Later on, in school, I would lose more and more of it each year.” Those grandparents—Juan Pujazón Valencia and Adelaida Justo Blázquez— were born in Nerva, in the province of Huelva. They passed through Ellis Island in November of 1920, more or less when Knutson had his horrifying visit to the immigration center. A strike in the Rio Tinto mines in 1920 led several hundreds of folks from Huelva to make the trip to Canton in search of work in the large steel mills. Amongst them, Juan and Adelaida. These miners for the most part blended in to the local Asturian community that had been established a few years prior in the area. Canton was already a major industrial center, its factories manned by immigrant workers from all over the world; in that same year –1920– the National Football League (NFL) would be born in the city.

Now in the picnic area, Kathy bustles about non-stop. She greets the other families that


Kathy Meers, née Pujazón, of Canton, Ohio.

arrive, and she sets up her family’s feast on two large picnic tables. She promises to show us the contents of the plastic bags after the meal is over: “I don’t want the programs to get dirty.”

This diaspora came into being just as the Spanish empire was breathing its last gasps in the American hemisphere and the United States was emerging as an industrial power with imperial ambitions.   The influx of Spaniards into the US would reach its highest point during the First World War. The neutrality of Spain during the war, combined with the job openings that resulted from Americans being drafted into military service, generated the historical peak of Spanish emigration to the United States. But this would be an ephemeral surge that would plummet soon after Knutson’s statement, thanks, in large part, to the lies and fears spread by him and others who thought like him.

Because the Spanish government never did organize the exportation of its “worst citizens”; nor were the majority of emigrants anarchists; nor was there ever a single day in which 2,000 Spanish emigrants— or anywhere near that number—entered the United States.  Fake news and fear mongering are not new.

But the seeds of discord that Knutson was sowing fell on fertile ground. An economic recession after the end of the war, combined with the notorious Red Scare—a renewed wave of fear towards leftist ideologies driven by the specters of the Russian Revolution were enough to make the alarmist images and anti-immigrant arguments of people like Knutson carry the day.


Spaniards in Canton, Ohio, c. 1945. Courtesy of Kathy Pujazón Meers.

And so it was that in the early 1920s, shortly after the arrival of Kathy’s grandparents and that of my own, a series of migration laws were passed with the goal of restricting entrance to the country for peoples from the south and east of Europe, the “bad hombres” of that moment. This xenophobia would reach its peak with the Quota Law promulgated in 1924, according to which only 131 Spaniards could  legally emigrate to the United States in that entire calendar year; not even enough to organize a decent picnic! With these quotas, Knutson & Co. —using prejudices and statistics instead of brick and mortar— managed to build a large wall between Spain and the United States.

The Quota Laws almost entirely stopped the legal immigration of Spaniards to the U.S., but in part, because of that, the 1920s would be a decade of consolidation for the colonies that were already established here. 1925, for example, was the founding year of the Centro Hispano Americano de Canton, the club one that organized this picnic. As we go from table to table trying different dishes— tuna empanadas with the Guerra family, bacalao with the Prendes, flan with the Condes, arroz con leche with the Cabo clan— we reflect on how these dishes have evolved and been transformed over the last one-hundred years. We also chat with the descendants, and with some we film formal interviews, all with the goal of documenting how they perceive and narrate the stories of their forebears.

Amongst the descendants that have gathered today for this picnic, we notice a tendency that we have seen in all the sites where we have worked: if recipes get transformed and assimilated after a couple of generations, so too do family stories. And, for the most part, they do so in a predictable, not random, way. Many times, in spite of the material evidence that their own family archives offer, many of their stories, over the generations, seem to get squeezed more and more into the mold of the great American Dream, according to which all of the immigrant ancestors were solitary heroes, cut from the cloth of the archetypical American “self-made man.” The archives often show unequivocally how the immigrants arrived in informally organized waves; how they helped each other through a dense network of support groups; how many times they had to cut legal corners or even sneak across borders to get and stay here; how, during Prohibition, for example, they found ways of scoffing certain unpalatable or unjust laws; how they were often intensely political and almost always dreamt of someday returning to Spain; how, once they realized that they would be staying, they eventually learned first to like, and perhaps eventually, to love, the US. But by the time this story gets told by third or fourth generation descendants, it usually begins to sound more like this: “My grandparents came alone; they didn’t know anyone, and no one helped them; they came legally, and they always respected the laws of this country. They were never interested in politics, and they dedicated themselves exclusively to hard work. They left Spain with the intention of staying in the United States and becoming citizens; they loved this country even before arriving here.”

The sun is starting to set when we finally get back to the Pujazón clan. We find Kathy taking photos out of the plastic bags and organizing them on the cleared table: a color image of her grandfather dressed as a bullfighter, group portraits of the picnics from yesteryear. But what most grabs our attention are two tall stacks of colorful pamphlets on the far end of the table. Kathy points to them and says: “My grandfather collected all the printed programs of this annual picnic from the year 1936 until 1973, and now I have inherited them.” The two most visible cover pages, which belong to the programs that sit atop each of the piles, are those of 1937 and 1946. They form, by pure chance, a powerful diptych that offers a key to understanding the history of this diaspora. The first one, written in Spanish, clearly emerges from of a community that lives between the two countries, and that still has its eyes trained on Spain; the second one, in English, features a story-book family, dog included, taking confident strides –no looking back here– towards the redemption of assimilation.


The diptych confirms something that the archives of the descendants point to over and over again: the bloody conflict that has come to be known as the Spanish Civil War marked a turning point in the lives of the individuals and communities of this diaspora. The monolingual and assimilated descendants might spin epic tales of solitary and intrepid individuals who left their homes in 1910 or 1920 supposedly knowing beforehand that their destinies and those of their children was to become Americans. But those same descendants are often at a loss to explain why their grandparents often waited  for twenty or thirty years, until, say, 1939 or 1940, to apply for US citizenship. In the end, there seems to be something, a blindspot, that the descendants often cannot perceive or articulate, even though, just like the juxtaposition of these two pamphlets, the photos, letters and newspaper clippings of their family archives often say it for them loud and clear: it was the war and its outcome that marked the end of their ancestors’ dreams of returning to Spain, started the race toward assimilation, and unleashed a process of rewriting, of forgetting.

Because once a return is no longer possible, everything changes in the life on an emigrant: the relationship with both the homeland and the adopted country, with the English and Spanish languages; with the need to associate almost exclusively with fellow countrymen; with the priorities in the upbringing of their children, who now, irremediably, will be Americans; with the photos that are saved or discarded; and, above all, with the stories that the descendants construe with those photos.  After assimilation, the past can never be the same.

If in that other picnic, the one in Staten Island in 1920, someone had told José and Carmen the future that lay before them, they wouldn’t have believed it. Foreseeing the future can be difficult; but so too is comprehending the past without myths and distortions. Would those two youngsters— or any of the thousands of Spaniards who immigrated to the United States in these years— recognize themselves in the almost providentialist stories that we, as their descendants, from the comfortable vantage point of assimilation, have been attributing to them for all these years?

In the last presidential elections, Donald Trump won handily in Stark County, Ohio,InvisibleImmigrants_COVER where Canton is located, leading many people to ask: How is it possible that in a country that was built by immigrants there can be anti-immigration currents as virulent as the one that swept Trump into the White House? There might be some clues in the case of these Spanish emigrants from 100 years ago, and in the ways that descendants of immigrants more broadly re-structure and re-tell their family’s immigrant pasts: leaving out certain aspects and recasting many others. We tend to suppose that there should exist a natural empathy or solidarity between those who descend from immigrants and those who immigrate today. But this empathy presupposes accepting that the two experiences were, if not the same, then at the very least, comparable. And many descendants reject these comparisons; they resist identifying in any way with those who today knock on their doors. I wonder if they might be doing so based, in part, at least, on distorted stories and memories, on narratives that allow them to erect walls that are perhaps even more insurmountable than those built by Knutson or Trump: walls that in effect immure us from the anguish and aspirations of our fellow human beings, who are surely much more like our grandparents than many of us care to imagine or admit.

[Translated by Andrés D. Fernández]


 A slightly shorter Spanish-language version of this essay (with different illustrations) appeared in El País Semanal on Sunday, June 17, 2018.  The author, James D. Fernández is a grandson of Spanish immigrants and Professor of Spanish Literature and Culture at New York University.  Co-author, with Luis Argeo of Invisible Immigrants:  Spaniards in the US (1868-1945), Fernández was an informal historical adviser to María Dueñas, as she conducted research for her latest novel, Las hijas del capitán. Photo courtesy of María Dueñas. 

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Turmoil in Cherryvale, Kansas, 1915


From Mindi Gonzales Duncan: 
“Angel Fernandez Gonzalez was born in Aviles in 1882. Son of Gabrial Gonzalez and Manuela Fernandez. He came to the US aboard the Carpathia in August of 1904 and was followed by his wife, Ramona Muniz Gonzalez, in 1906. He worked at the Zinc Smeltering Co in Cherryvale, KS like many other Asturians at that time. They later moved to Donora, PA. This picture was taken around 1920 in Cherryvale. It is said that his wife hated the motorcycle so much that it was later left in a ditch. Can you imagine?!

On March 25 1915, Alejandro Barea, the Spanish Consul in New Orleans wires his Ambassador in Washington with typical staccato diction of telegraphs:

200 Spaniards Cherryvale Kansas complain  treatment received in that town without concrete facts. Result: strained relations; an American hit a Spaniard and the Spaniard wounded the American, hospitalized. Both Spaniards jailed. Our colony tried  unsuccessfully to free them on bail; sent Commissioner Recio New Orleans who asked me to go with him to Cherryvale. I declined because I am alone here and I thought that a three-day trip by train would be useless.  Today write Mayor prevent abuses; deliver letter to Mr. Strong repectable lawyer Blue Rapids recommending the case. Father Superior Lorente of Dominican Priests offered to write to the bishop to ask they he call on the priest of Cherryvale to urge parishioners to treat Spaniards well.

The text of the telegraph is included in a fascinating report that the Consul of New Orleans sent to Washington, and that is another gem of a document hidden in the folders, legajos and boxes of the Archivo General de la Administración in Alcalá de Henares, Spain:

 Ladislao Recio, who came to New Orleans in representation of the Spaniards of Cherryvale, Kansas, tells me that in that town there is a zinc foundry belonging to the “Egan Zinc Company” which employs 400 workers; 200 of them are Spaniards.  Their average wage per 6-hour day is $1.75, and our Spanish compatriots are greatly appreciated by the owners of the company because they never agreed to make common cause with the Americans when they tried on occasion to go out on strike.  So much so that last year, because of the high-cost of living, the Spanish workers humbly requested a raise, and it was granted immediately, increasing their salary by 25 cents per day.   But the foreman of the plant does not hold the same esteem for the Spaniards, and he does everything in his power to bother them, offend them, and mistreat them.  A few days ago, a relative of the foreman hit a Spaniard for no reason, and the Spaniard’s brother came to his defense, injuring the American, who is now in the hospital.  The Spaniards were sent to prison, where they still are, because the efforts of the rest of the Spaniards to have them released on bail were futile.

This hostility towards our compatriots prevails throughout the town, and they are afraid that they will be further victimized, because even the parish priest there, an Irishman, has ill will towards them, and they say that he doesn’t look kingly on our compatriots.  The Spaniards live on the outskirts of town and they are constantly insulted and threatened; they live in constant distress and they are armed to resist any attack; but since there are fewer of them, they are likely to come out on the losing side if a conflict were to break out.

To avoid this, which would have deplorable consequences, I wrote to the Mayor of Cherryvale, asking him to protect our citizens; and the lawyer of this consulate, Mr. Puig wrote to the Sheriff of Independence and to the Egan Zinc Company so that each, in their own sphere, contribute to help de-escalate the conflict.  The Father Superior of the Dominicans in New Orleans, furthermore, has written to the bishop of the Diocesis that Cherryvale belongs to,  asking him to exert his authority over the parish priest so that he urges his parishioners to put aside their ill feelings.  As for me, I gave Ladislao Recio a letter of introduction to Mr. James D. Strong, a lawyer from Blue Rapids, Kansas (who a year and a half ago was recommended to me by the Consul General of NY), to see if he would like to intercede on behalf of the Spanish prisoners.  The Spanish colony of Cherryvale is willing to pay the costs of the lawyer; they are mostly Asturians, with experience in zinc smelting because they were formerly employed at the Real Compañía Asturiana [in Arnao, Castrillón]. 

I was sure to urge Recio to convey to our compatriots that we recommend prudence and moderation, especially because they are living in a foreign country.  We hope that with the measures that we have already taken, and if Your Excellency were to write to the Governor of the State of Kansas, we might be able to re-establish the peace, and help dispel the mutual prejudices that exist today.

We can also rely on the valuable support that the Egan Zinc Company will certainly offer us.  It is an important business concern with a capital of more than a million dollars, and enjoying great credit in the market.  The company greatly appreciates the work done by the Spaniards, who are competent, assiduous, and well mannered.

The folder in the AGA also includes a letter addressed to the Governor of Kansas by the President of the Edgar Zinc Company, which we transcribe here:


St. Louis, April 13th, 1915

Hon Arthur Capper

Governor of Kansas, Topeka

Dear Sir:

Your letter of the 10th, addressed to our Cherryvale, Kansas Works, together with enclosures from the Ambassador of Spain to the State Department at Washington and the Department’s communication to you, with reference to certain difficulties in which Spanish subjects working for our Company have been involved has been referred to me.

I wish to inform you that the difficulty arose over a fight that took lace on one of our furnaces on or about the 19th of March, in which one American and four Spaniards were involved. As I understand it, the American was punished very badly with furnace tools. The parties involved in this fight were arrested and their responsibilities in the matter will be determined by the County authorities at the trial which I believe takes places on Friday, the 16th.

I believe that the impression the Spanish Ambassador has gained –from reading hs letter of the 29th to the State Department—is not algotether warranted by the facts in the case. We have employed Spanish furnace men at our Cherryvale, Kansas Works for the past seven or eight years, and I believe they have been accorded better treatment by our company and their fellow American workmen than they have been accorded elsewhere in the same line of work.

I have had a talk with the men in person since this trouble came up and Have assured each of them, Americans and Spaniards alike, that the Company knew no classes or races of workmen: we look upon our employees as individuals and hold each one responsible as an individual for his particular conduct, and all of our men, regardless of race or nationality, can be assured of the Company supporting them in any difficulty whatever provided their conduct as workmen and citizens of the community warrants this protections, an so far as I am aware the trouble occasioned by this clase has subsided and will not be renewed.

Trusting that this will give the Spanish Ambassador the information he requires, I am

Yours very truly

S.C. Edgar, Jr.


And then, apparently, there is a happy ending, reflected in this communiqué from the Spanish Consul in New Orleans addressed to the Spanish Ambassador in Washington, DC:

1 April

It is my honor to inform your excellency to I have received a letter from Ladislao Recio who, after thanking us for our efforts on on behalf of the Spanish colony of Cherryvale, Kansas,  tells me that the residents of that town have abandoned their negative attitude toward our compatriots and that the two Spaniards who were in jail have been released on $500 bond each.  The trial which was scheduled for March 26 has been suspended.

Signed: Alejandro Barea


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Lecture tour in Spain, March 12-16, 2018

26173996_897875727042088_7378569267382492605_oFrom March 12 – March 15, 2018, James D. Fernández, Professor at NYU’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literatures, will be conducting a lecture tour sponsored by the US Embassy in Spain.  The main program title is “Una diáspora olvidada: Españoles en Estados Unidos”; Fernández will present, in four Spanish cities, the results and future directions of the research that he and co-director Luis Argeo have been conducting for over ten years now, in an attempt to reconstruct the little known history of Spanish emigration to the United States.  Fernández will be accompanied in three of the cities by the best-selling author María Dueñas (El tiempo entre costuras), whose novel “Las hijas del capitán,” about to appear (Planeta, 12 April 2018) is set among NY’s Spanish immigrant community in the 1930s.

Fernández will also be joined on the tour by a group of descendants of Spaniards who emigrated to the United States, including Ángel Briongos (of Madrid), Tony Carreño (of Tampa, Fla), Laura Goyanes (of Cleveland, OH), and Mike Muñoz (San Leandro, CA)

The almost finalized schedule of events is as follows –updates will be made to this

IMG_6020 (1)

María Dueñas, on the steps of La Nacional, 239 West 14th Street, in the heart of New York’s “Little Spain.”

schedule as necessary:


Monday, 12 March

11:00 am

Lecture: “Una diáspora olvidada”

Salón de Grados, School of Geography and History, Universidad Complutense


7:00 pm

Colloquium:  James D. Fernández with María Dueñas

“El tiempo entre legajos:  reconstruyendo las vidas de españoles en EEUU”

Casa de América, Madrid


Tuesday, March 13

12:00 noon

Lecture:  “Una diáspora olvidada”

Universidad de Alicante, Salón de Actos


7:00 pm

Colloquium:  James D. Fernández with María Dueñas

“El tiempo entre legajos:  reconstruyendo las vidas de españoles en EEUU”

Sede de la Universidad en la Ciudad de Alicante.


Wednesday, March 14.

7 p.m.   

Colloquium: James D. Fernández with María Dueñas

“El tiempo entre legajos:  reconstruyendo las vidas de españoles en EEUU”

Salón Noble de la Delegación del Gobierno de la Junta de Andalucía en Almería.  


Thursday, March 15


Lecture:  “Una diáspora olvidada: Españoles en USA (1868-1945)”

School of Economics, University of Almería.  



Lecture “Una diáspora olvidada: Españoles en USA (1868-1945)”

Salón de Actos, CAC de Málaga.


Friday, March 16

10:00 a.m.

Lecture:  “Una diáspora olvidada: Españoles en USA (1868-1945)”

University of Málaga, Department of History, School of Philosophy and Letters.


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2017: The Year in Review/Repaso del año

pantallasdvd_03-1(en español en letra azul)

Thanks to the generous collaboration of so many friends in the US, Spain and all over the world, 2017 has been another year full of discoveries and milestones for us.

Little by little, and all together, we are reconstructing the forgotten history of the thousands and thousands of Spaniards who settled in the US in the late XIXth and early XXth centuries.

With this review of the year’s activities, we would like to express our gratitude to all of you for your support throughout the year.

Gracias a la generosa colaboración de tantos amigos en España, EEUU y de todo el mundo, 2017 ha sido para nosotros otro año lleno de descubrimientos y logros.

Poco a poco, entre todos, vamos reconstruyendo la olvidada historia de los miles y miles de españoles que se establecieron en EEUU a finales del siglo XIX y principios del siglo XX.

Con este resumen de las actividades de 2017, quisiéramos agradeceros el apoyo que nos habéis brindado a lo largo del año.


23331132_874401639389497_2796008640193175569_oWe started the year with a bang. We premiered in the majestic Tampa Theatre “The Weight of Remembering/ La plomada”, our second documentary incursion into the world of Spanish emigration to Tampa, Florida. We also published the double DVD that contains that documentary as well as our earlier film, “A Legacy of Smoke/Un legado de humo.” And we co-produced the pamphlet by Ángel Rañón and José Ramón Oural, “Tampa Nicknames/Apodos de Tampa. All of this in collaboration with our great friends at the Centro Español de Tampa.

Empezamos el año en grande. Estrenamos en el


Left to right/izq a der: Luis Argeo, Laura Goyanes, Neil Driscoll, Cathy Varón, José Fernández, Bill Wear, Michael Muñoz, Elizabeth Fernández, James Fernández, Marisa Carrasco at the Tampa Theatre.

majestuoso Tampa Theatre “The Weight of Remembering/ La plomada”, nuestra segunda incursión documental al mundo de la emigración española a Tampa, Florida. Publicamos también el DVD doble que contiene ese documental, y el anterior “A Legacy of Smoke/ Un legado de humo”. Y produjimos el librito de Ángel Rañón y José Ramón Oural, “Tampa Nicknames/ Apodos de Tampa.” Todo en colaboración con nuestros grandes amigos del Centro Español de Tampa.



In February, James D. Fernández inaugurated the Álvarez Seminar Trinity University, El Paso, Texas) with a lecture on our invisible immigrants

26173270_897876110375383_5147462611820708578_oAnd in that same month, Fernández, Argeo and their wonderful A-Team conducted a memorable and productive research trip to the Valle del Tiétar, Ávila, Spain. Hundreds of peasants from this area emigrated to Hawaii a century ago, and we gathered stories and images from the descendants of those who stayed behind.  The mayor and the townspeople of La Adrada were incredibly generous and helpful.

The trip generated great media interest, and we were able to help the descendants of


Left, Indalecio Caamaño, the only sibling who stayed in La Adrada, Ávila.  Right:  Indalecio’s sister, Bernarda Caamaño (with baby in arms), with her Korean husband and family in Oahu, Hawaii.  Izquierda:  Indalecio Caamaño, el único de los hermanos que se quedó en La Adrada.  Derecha: Bernarda (bebé en brazos), hermana de Indalecio, con su marido coreano y familia en Oahu, Hawái.

those who emigrated reconnect with the descendants of those who stayed in Ávila. For example, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Indalecio Caamaño, who had stayed in La Adrada, were reconnected with the descendants of his siblings, who live in Hawaii and California.


En febrero, James D. Fernández inauguró el Seminario Álvarez (Trinity University, San Antonio, Tejas) con una conferencia sobre nuestros inmigrantes invisibles.

Y en el mismo mes, Fernández, Luis Argeo y su maravilloso Equipo A realizaron un memorable viaje de investigación al Valle del Tiétar, Ávila, de donde, hace un siglo, partieron centenares de campesinos rumbo a Hawái.  Pudimos recoger historias e imágenes de los descendientes de los que se quedaron en la zona.  El alcalde y los habitantes de La Adrada nos acogieron con gran generosidad y cordialidad.

El viaje suscitó gran interés en los medios de comunicación y nos permitió ayudar a los descendientes de los que se fueron reanudar el contacto con los descendientes de los que se quedaron.  Los nietos y bisnietos de Indalecio Caamaño, por ejemplo, el único de los hermanos que no emigró, con los nietos y bisnietos de sus hermanos, que hoy viven en Hawái y California.

Muestras de la cobertura mediática/Sample media coverage

Trabajo de campo en el Valle del Tiétar, Ávila

26173996_897875727042088_7378569267382492605_oBuscan a las familias de abulenses que emigraron a Hawai a principios del Siglo XX. Tribuna de Ávila  09.02.2017

Buscan a las familias de los que emigraron a Hawai a comienzos del siglo XXJueves, 9 de febrero de 2017 AvilaRed


Buscan a familias de 250 abulenses que emigraron a Hawai entre 1911 y 1913
09/02/2017 (19:07)

Se buscan abulenses con familia en Hawai (aunque ellos no lo sepan).
Ávila 10/02/2017 – 11:37 h. CET


Buscan a familias de 250 abulenses que emigraron a Hawái entre 1911 y 1913 20minutos  10.02.2017


Buscan en Ávila a los familiares de los 250 abulenses que emigraron a Hawai entre 1911 y 1913
10 Febrero 2017 – 15:09 h.

Un profesor americano busca en Ávila a descendientes de emigrantes a Hawai Actualizado 11/02/2017 19:46:08

Familiares de los emigrados abulenses a Hawai testimonian sus vivencias
12/02/2017 14:37

Reunión de familiares de emigrantes a Hawai P.R. – domingo, 12 de febrero de 2017 Diario de Ávila

Reunión en La Adrada para conocer la historia de los emigrados del municipio a Hawai 12.02.2017 · LA ADRADA TRIBUNA DE ÁVILA


26198634_898574826972178_5261146049728143154_oSpain Premiere of “La Plomada” (The Weight of Remembering) at the Teatro Filarmónica (Oviedo) as part of the Semana del Audiovisual Contemporáneo de Oviedo.  Post-screening discussion with director Luis Argeo and protagonist/co-producer Anthony Carreño.

Estreno en España de “La plomada”, Teatro Filarmónica, Oviedo, Spain, coloquio posterior con el director Luis Argeo y el protagonista y co-productor, Anthony Carreño, en el marco de la “Semana del Audiovisual Contemporáneo de Oviedo.”


April was the month of lectures.  James D. Fernández told different versions of the story 2017-12-25-PHOTO-00005037of Spain’s invisible immigrants at Bryn Mawr College (Pennsylvania); University of Kansas; Universidad de Huelva; and the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela.

Also in April, Fernández and Argeo formed part of a panel with the A-team core, Isabel Cadenas Cañón, Laura Repullo Chacón, and Ángel Briongos Herrera, at a conference on Spain-North American relations held at the University of Alcalá de Henares.

Abril, charlas mil.  James D. Fernández llevó distintas facetas de la historia de nuestros inmigrantes invisibles a Bryn Mawr College (Pennsylvania); University of Kansas; Universidad de Huelva y la Universidad de Santiago de Compostela.17634870_769774243185571_3536008304208289358_n

En el mismo mes, Fernández y Argeo se reunieron con los principales del Equipo A (Laura Repullo, Ángel Briongos e Isabel Cadenas Cañón) para participar en un panel sobre los inmigrantes invisibles, en el marco de una conferencia sobre relaciones entre España y Norteamérica celebrada en la Universidad de Alcalá de Henares.


At the Centro Leonés del Arte, Luis Argeo led a screening and discussion of A Legacy of Smoke/ Un legado de humo and, at the Feria del Libro de León  he gave a talk on the process of creating the book Invisible Immigrants:  Spaniards in the US, 1868-1945.

Argeo also presented “A Legacy of Smoke” at the Laboral Cinemateca in Gijón.

En el Centro Leonés del Arte, Luis Argeo participó en la proyección/discusión de Un legado de humo/A Legacy of Smoke y en la Feria del Libro de León, presentó una charla sobre el proceso de creación del libro Inmigrantes Invisibles:  Españoles en EEUU, 1868-1945.

Argeo también presentó “Un legado de humo” en la Cinemateca Laboral de Xixón.



IMG_6020In June we played the hosts.  We had the privilege of accompanying acclaimed novelist María Dueñas, as she conducted research in New York and Tampa, Florida, for her forthcoming novel set among Spanish immigrants in New York in the 1930s.

We also welcomed the Briongos/Repullo family, the core of our A-team, who came to New York for some team-building exercises.  And with Celia Novis we did a tour of New York cemeteries, as she finalizes preparations for the post-production of her film “Sole Survivor”, about La Nacional, New York’s oldest Spanish social club.

En el mes de junio hicimos de anfitriones. IMG_6155 (1) Tuvimos el privilegio de acompañar a la gran novelista María Dueñas durante su viaje de investigación a Nueva York y Tampa, Florida; su nueva novela se va a ambientar entre inmigrantes españoles en Nueva York, años 1930.

Le dimos también la bienvenida a la familiar Briongos/Repullo, núcleo del Equipo A, que acudieron a Nueva York para realizar unos ejercicios de team-building.  Y con Celia Novis, hemos recorrido los cementerios de Nueva York, mientras finalizaba las preparaciones para la post-producción de su película “Única Superviviente”, sobre La Nacional, el club español más antiguo de Nueva York.



For the second time, we had the good fortune of taking part in Ribadeo Indiano, a wonderful celebrations of this beautiful Galician city’s ties to the Americas. James D. Fernández, Pilar Cagiao, Mario Eiras and Xosé Barreira took part in the panel discussion titled “Voces e imaxes da Mariña na emigración.”


Por segunda vez, tuvimos la dicha de participar en Ribadeo Indiano, una gran celebración de los vínculos americanos de esta hermosa ciudad gallega. James D. Fernández, Pilar Cagiao, Mario Eiras y Xosé Barreira participaron en el coloquio titulado “Voces e imaxes da Mariña na emigración.”


Screening and discussion of The Weight of Remembering/La plomada at the Palacio Valdés Bazan, San Román de Tirso, Candamo, Asturias, with Luis Argeo, Tony Carreño and a delegation of tampeños of Asturian heritage.

5 screenings of La paella de Daniel Albert/Dan Albert’s paella at the Feria de Muestras de San Martín del Rey Aurelio (Asturias)

Proyección y discusión de La Plomada en el Palacio Valdés Bazán, San Román de Tirso, Candamo, Asturias, con Luis Argeo, Tony Carreño y una delegación de tampeños de ascendencia asturiana.

Cinco pases de La paella de Daniel Albert/Dan Albert’s Paella en la Feria de Muestras de San Martín del Rey Aurelio (Asturias)


IMG_6644In a fun initiative, commissioned by the advertising agency of Bustelo Coffee, we designed and led a walking tour of the part of East Harlem where Gregorio Bustelo (born in Luarca, Asturias) got his start as a coffeeman.

James D. Fernández delivered a lecture on Spanish immigrants at Case Western University (Cleveland), as part of their Hispanic Heritage Month Activities.

En una divertida iniciativa, encargada por la agencia publicitaria de Bustelo Coffee, 21414861_845851358911192_1479531665853206637_odiseñamos y dirigimos una visita guiada a la parte de East Harlem donde Gregorio Bustelo (nacido en Luarca, Asturias) tuvo su primera tienda de café.

James D. Fernández dio una conferencia sobre los inmigrantes españoles en Case Western University (Cleveland, Ohio), como parte de las conmemoraciones del Mes de la Herencia Hispana en es campus universitario.



(Left to right; izq a der): Luis Argeo, Elisa Cepedal, Ramón Louis Banda, Alejandro Díaz Castaño, Martín Cuesta.

The highlight of November was, without a doubt, the selection of The Weight of Remembering/La Plomada, for  the FICX (Festival Internacional de Cine de Xixón). Our doc was screened at the Centro Niemeyer (Avilés) and  Cines Yelmo (Gijón).  Luis Argeo was present for post-screening Q+A at the second show.

Our second doc about the Spanish immigrant presence in Tampa Florida was also one of only thirteen films selected from over 300 entries for the CEMEDOC film festival, and had four screenings at different venues in Mexico City.  The last screening, at the Ateneo Español de México, featured a post-screening discussion with James D. Fernández, Jorge de Hoyos Puente, and Jorge Moreno Andrés.

James D. Fernández also took part in the presentation of The Vineyard/La templanza, María Dueñas’s third novel, at the Instituto Cervantes in New York, and at the Centro asturiano in Tampa, Florida.

Sin duda la noticia más importante del mes de noviembre ha sido la selección de La plomada/The Weight of Remembering por el FICX (Festival Internacional de Cine de Xixón) y tuvo dos pases en el marco de ese prestigioso certamen:  en el Centro Niemeyer de Avilés, y en los Cines Yelmo, en Gijón, este último con coloquio con Luis Argeo.

Nuestro segundo documental sobre la presencia de la emigración española a Tampa, Florida también fue una de solo trece películas seleccionadas de más de 300 por el Festival de documentales CEMEDOC.  Tuvo cuatro pases en distintos sitios de la Ciudad de México, el último tuvo lugar en un sitio muy especial:  la sede del Ateneo Español de México, y después de la proyección J.D. Fernández participó en un coloquio con Jorge Moreno Andrés y Jorge de Hoyos Puente.

Fernández participó con la autora en la presentación de La Templanza/The Vineyard, la tercera novela de María Dueñas, en el Instituto Cervantes de Nueva York, y en el Centro Asturiano de Tampa, Florida.



The end of year party with our A-Team and friends in Madrid coincided with a series of meetings of Argeo and Fernández, aimed at firming up support for what promises to be our most ambitious initiative yet:  a multi-media exhibition that will tell the story of our invisible immigrants!  We hope to soon make an important announcement about this exciting possibility.


La fiesta de fin de año con el Equipo A y amigos en Madrid coincidió con una serie de reuniones convocadas por Fernández y Argeo para intentar cerrar lo que promete ser nuestra iniciativa más ambiciosa hasta la fecha:  una exposición multi-media que narre la historia de nuestros inmigrantes invisibles.  Esperamos poder hacer un anuncio muy pronto sobre esta prometedora iniciativa.  

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Newly Discovered Documents Shed Light on the Saga of Spaniards in Hawaii

We are pleased to translate these two documents we discovered and transcribed today (19 December 2017) at the Archivo General de la Administración in Alcalá de Henares, Spain. [Transcripción del original al final]

Mr. Plenipotentiary Minister [Spain’s “ambassador” in Washington, DC]


Original of the poster used to recruit Spanish immigrants to Hawaii.  Courtesy of Fraser Ottanelli and White Stone Ridge Productions.

We the undersigned are Juan Rodriguez, Manuel Puertas, Enrique García, Antonio Muñoz, Silvestre Rando, Antonio Guerrero, Francisco Campos, Francisco Sánchez. We live and work at the Papaikou Plantation on the Island of Hawaii, where we were assigned after arriving to Honolulu aboard the steamship Eliopolis [sic]. We accepted the concessions and benefits that were guaranteed to us by the United States government, and we continue working and following whatever orders they give us, so that after three years they would transfer to us as absolute property and without any kind of lien, the house we had been living in, valued at 500 gold pesos, as well as an acre of land. Now that the contract is ending, the boss wants to force us to move our homes to these deserted and isolated fields, that have impractical roads, and our kids are obliged to go to school. It is a shame that even though we followed all of their rules, they now want to take away our house and home which we have earned by working in torrential rains for entire months.

We bring this to your attention so that, as a representative of Spain, you can give us some advice about what to do should they commit such abuses against eight heads of families at the Papaikou Plantation on the Island of Hawaii.

May God keep you for many years for the sake of your fellow citizens.

Papaikou, 13 November 1909

Signed by

Juan Rodriguez, Manuel Puertas, Enrique García, Antonio Muñoz, Silvestre Rando, Antonio Guerrero, Francisco Campos, Francisco Sánchez.


The Hawaiian Plantation Museum is located on the site of the former Paipakou Plantation referenced in these documents from 1909.

The rather devastating response from the Spanish authorities arrived just a little over a month later:

Papaikou Plantation. Hawaii

17 December 1909

My Dear Sir: I have received your letter dated 13 November, that is signed by seven other Spanish subjects living at this plantation, in which you tell me that after having gone to this island with the promise that, after a fixed amount of work in certain circumstances and territories, you would be given certain plots of land, free of all liens, and that now that you have fulfilled the stipulated conditions, they are refusing to live up to what they had offered. His Majesty’s government has repeatedly tried to make it clear that certain Emigration Agents use evil techniques in Spain, to lure entire families out of their homes, with false promises of land grants and benefits that are rarely honored. Our fellow countrymen, however, pay no attention to the advice and warnings of our national authorities, and they put more trust in the perfidy of those who only deal with shipping companies, and are only concerned about the percent that will get payed for each passenger they secure. And it is only when they are in a case like the one you are in, that they even remember that they are Spaniards, and then they expect impossible wrongs to be righted. Because in the present case, for you to obtain those lands in Hawaii, you would first have to renounce your Spanish citizenship; and that would entail no longer being subjects of His Majesty. The representative of Spain can in no way help you sever yourselves from the country you should have never left in the first place.

I am your loyal servant, and I kiss you hands,

The Minister of Spain

Transcripción de los documentos

Sr. Ministro Plenipotenciario de España

Los que suscriben son Juan Rodríguez, Manuel Puertas, Enrique García, Antonio Muñoz, Silvestre Rando, Antonio Guerrero, Francisco Campos, Francisco Sánchez con residencia en la Isla de Haway y domiciliado y trabajador en la plantación Papaikou donde nos destinaron a la llegada a Honolulu en la emigración del vapor Eliopolis [sic] donde nos acogimos a las concesiones y beneficios que nos garantizaba el gobierno norteamericano donde continuamos trabajando y cumpliendo las ordenanzas según nos impusieron para que a los tres años de trabajo se nos dieran en propiedad absoluta y sin gravamen la casa donde vinieramos abitando [sic] valuada en 500 pesos oro y además una fanega de tierra. Bencida [sic] que va la contrata el patrón de la plantación quiere forzosamente que mudemos de domicilio a campos desiertos donde no hay comunicación con nadie y caminos intransitables, teniendo los niños que ir forzosamente a la Escuela y habiendo cumplido nosotros con sus ordenanzas es lastima que nos despojen de la vivienda y hogar que hemos ganado trabajando debajo una lluvia torrencial meses enteros.

Ponemos esto en conocimiento de VS que que VS como representante de España nos dé algunos detalles que hacer si cometen semejantes abusos a ocho padres de familia en la plantación de Papaikou, Isla de Haway.

Dios guarde a VS muchos años para vien [sic] de sus conciudadanos

Papaikou y Noviembre 13 de 1909

Firman los interesados



Papaikou Plantation. Hawaii

17 de diciembre 1909

Muy Señor Mío: He recibido la comunicación que con fecha de 13 de noviembre próximo pasado me dirije, suscrita por otros siete súbditos españoles residentes en ese plantío, manifestándome que después de haber ido a esa Isla bajo promesas de que cumplido un plazo prefijado de trabajo en determinadas circunstancias y territorios, les serían otorgadas ciertas parcelas de tierra, libres de todo gravamen, y que después de haber cumplido por su parte lo estipulado, se niegan ahí a cumplir lo ofrecido. El Gobierno de SM ha, repetidamente, tratado de poner de manifiesto las malas artes de que ciertos Agentes de Emigración se valen en España para sacar de sus hogares a familias enteras con decantadas promesas de cesiones de tierra y beneficios, que raramente se realizan. Nuestros nacionales, sin embargo, desoyen los consejos y las amonestaciones de las Autoridades nacionales y se fían más de la perfidia de los que no tratan otra cosa que cobrar el tanto por ciento que las empresas navieras extrangeras les pagan por cada pasaje; y cuando llega el caso en que se encuentra Uds, es cuando se acuerdan de que son españoles y desean que se deshagan entuertos imposibles; porque en el caso presente ustedes tienen que renunciar primero a la nacionalidad de españoles para obtener esas tierras de ahí, y esto implicaría el dejar de ser súbditos de Su Majestad, y no puede ser el Representante de España quien ayude a ustedes para separarse de su Patria que nunca debieron abandonar.

Queda de ustedes en S.S., q. b. s. m.

El Ministro de España


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La Plomada, Set to Plumb Mexico

23331132_874401639389497_2796008640193175569_oLA PLOMADA (English title:  “The Weight of Remembering”) will be featured at the fourth edition of the CEMEDOC Film Festival in Mexico City, November 14-21.

The documentary is one of only 14 films, selected from the 740 entries that were submitted to the festival from more than 100 countries.  It is a co-production of White Stone Ridge Productions and the Centro Español de Tampa.

La plomada/The Weight of Remembering is our second documentary feature that explores the traces of Spanish immigration to Tampa, Florida; the first, titled Un legado de humo/A Legacy of Smoke was also featured at CEMEDOC in 2015.

The film is structured by a narrator’s search to understand the meaning of a mysterious heirloom he has inherited from his Spanish immigrant grandfather.  With that goal in mind, he travels from his New York home to Tampa, Florida. And before long, thanks to the amazing cast of tampeños the narrator encounters there, he finds himself immersed in the sights, sounds, textures tastes and smells of a world on the verge of disappearing.  The trailer can be viewed here.

The film will be screened at three different venues in Mexico City during the festival run: James D. Fernández will present and discuss the film at a special fourth screening, followed by a closing reception, on Sunday, November 19, at 12:00 noon.  All festival activities are free and open to the public.

Saturday, 18 November 13:00

Filmoteca UNAM, Circuito Maestro Mario de la Cueva S/N, Coyoacán, Cd. Universitaria

Sunday, 19 November

12:00  Ateneo de España en México, Calle Hamburgo 6, Delegación Cuauhtémoc (followed by a closing cocktail reception.)

16:00: Casa de Cultura Tepito, Rivero #12, Colonia Morelos

18:00: Cine Lido, Av. Tamaulipas 202, Hipódromo Condesa


About the filmmakers

*Luis Argeo Fernández Álava (Asturias, 1975) received his Licentiate in Journalism (1988) from the Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca. A filmmaker and journalist, he has written over 15 guides and travel books for Anaya Touring, Spain’s leading publisher in that genre.  Among numerous film credits, he has written and directed two documentary films about Spaniards in the United States:  AsturianUS, a portrait of Asturian immigrants in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, and Corsino, by Cole Kivlin, the story of a Spanish Civil War orphan who was raised in Texas.

*James D. Fernández (Brooklyn, NY, 1961) received his BA from Dartmouth College, and his MA and PhD in Romance Languages and Literatures from Princeton University. A Professor at New York University since 1995, Fernández’s published books and articles have focused primarily on Spanish literature, culture and history in the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries, with a particular emphasis on the links between Spain and the Americas.

About the collaboration

*For the last ten years, Argeo and Fernández have been crisscrossing the US and Spain, in an effort to reconstruct the history of Spanish immigration to the US in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. They have interviewed scores of descendants of Spanish immigrants in both countries, and have digitized dozens of family archives.  The products of this research, thus far, have been the book Invisible Immigrants:  Spaniards in the US (1868-1945), and three documentary films that they have written, shot and edited together:  one set in Monterey, California (La paella de Daniel Albert/Dan Albert’s Paella, 2012), and two set in Tampa (Un legado de humo/A Legacy of Smoke, 2014 and La plomada/The Weight of Remembering, 2017.) The two Tampa films are the product of material gathered by Fernández and Argeo during six trips made to Tampa between 2013 and 2016. Their Facebook page (Spanish Immigrant in the United States) has almost 15,000 followers, and has become an important point of reference for descendants of Spanish immigrants.

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Valentín Aguirre: Una diáspora en casa


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


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.


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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