Spaniards in the US, 1919, According to the Literary Digest

EDUCATION IN AMERICANISM:  Lessons in Patriotism prepared for THE LITERARY DIGEST and especially designed for High School use

–The Literary Digest, March 22, 1919

SPANIARDS IN THE UNITED STATES

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Immigrants from Galicia, Spain, on their tenement rooftop in Manhattan, c. 1925.  [Courtesy of the Alonso-Sánchez family]

SPANISH AND THE SPANIARDS –An important fact to be noted about the many persons in the United States who speak Spanish as their original tongue is that only a minority are Spaniards who have immigrated to the United States in latter years.  Spanish, it will be readily recalled, is the native language of Mexico, Central America, and the countries of South America, excepting Brazil.  In Brazil, Portuguese is the national medium of intercourse, altho in this state of South America and others, as well as in Central America, many denizens speak Spanish and Portuguese with equal facility.  Now many thousands of people have come among us from these countries.  But here we are interested solely in the assimilation of Spaniards from Spain, who have immigrated to the United States to settle here for good, or merely to earn a livelihood during a certain fixed period and thereafter to return to their homeland.

EMIGRATION FROM SPAIN TO THE UNITED STATES –The bulk of Spanish natives in the United States have been coming in  a steady flow for many years.  We speak of recent years only, because American history shows so plainly how influential Spanish immigration to the western hemisphere has been since the discovery of Christopher Columbus.  The mere record of certain Spanish names that are written in the annals of American professional and commercial life is proof of their complete assimilation.  But in the marvelous industrial expansion of the United States during the past twenty-five years or more, this country, as is well known, drew on all Europe for skilled and unskilled labor.  Much of this man-power for industries came from south and southeastern Europe.  Spain’s contributions to American requirements is not so generally known.

SPAIN’S POPULATION HERE –The larger percentage of Spanish immigrants in the country are of the unskilled laboring class.  Before the war the tide of immigration was heavily on the increase.  Shipping conditions during the war naturally caused a slackening in the numbers of Spaniards bound to our shores.  Yet during the war, we are told by a reputable authority, from 30 to 40 per cent of the unskilled workers in munition plants, shipyards, mines, and other industries were Spaniards from Spain.

During the war, we are told by a reputable authority, some 30 to 40 per cent of the unskilled workers in munition plants, shipyards, mines and other industries were Spaniards from Spain.

THE RETURN TO SPAIN –Despite the fact that many of the workers in war-industries were gaining from seven to twelve dollars per day, a great return movement to Spain began with the inauguration of the compulsory military service law after the United States had become involved in the world conflict.  The spirit of the law, Spanish authorities admit, was “very magnanimous,” but the interpretation as practiced by some agents of the Government confounded a host of Spanish laborers who did not understand English, either to speak or to read sufficiently to assure them of their rights.  The result was that many of these workers simply ignored the law, basing their decision on the fact that they were not American, but Spanish citizens.  Naturally, many of them were taken into custody by the agents of the Government.  But the United States Government fairly met the problem by appointing a military exemption board at the service of the Unión Benéfica Española, the chief Spanish benevolent association in this country.  The appraisers on this board, lawyers who know Spanish and American law equally, served, as American lawyers all did, without remuneration, and voluntarily.  It is in the records of the Unión Benéfica Española that it retrieved two thousand men who were drafted mistakenly.

PRESENT POPULATION OF THE SPANIARDS –It is stated that at present the population of Spaniards in the United States may be safely numbered at 80.000.  They incline very decidedly to settle in colonies of their own people.  One group is to be found in the coal mining disticts of West Virginia.  There, it is said, a settlement of about two thousand dwell in a village built after a genuine Spanish model.  They are a notable constituent of

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Picnic of Spanish (mostly Asturian) workers in West Virginia, c. 1915. (Photo courtesy of Ron González.)

the population also in large industrial centers such as Philadelphia, Cleveland, New York, Newark, Elizabethport, New Jersey, Bayonne, and Waterbury, Connecticut.  Many Spaniards are to be found in Tampa, Florida, where they work in cigar factories or are engaged in agricultural pursuits.  In the main, we are informed, they are spread all over the country, and, owing to changing labor conditions at present, their movements are in diverse directions.  As laborers they are said to be steady and industrious, and they quickly accommodate themselves to the varieties of climate encountered in the different sections of the United States.

As laborers they are said to be steady and industrious, and they quickly accommodate themselves to the varieties of climate encountered in the different sections of the United States.

ASSIMILATION OF THE SPANIARDS –Of the Spaniards who have come here as laborers in recent years, a great many are married men.  It has been their practice to send to Spain monthly sums for the support of their family.  After a due period, they would be able to bring the family into this country and rear their children under American institutions. The abnormal high cost of living in the war years, of course, discouraged this tendency.  But, we are told, once conditions return to normal the Spaniards will be prompt to settle and

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Spanish immigrants in Mountain View, California, c. 1920.  (Photo courtesy of Frank Campos).

take root in the United States.  Two reasons impel them to this course, of which the first is that the Spanish laborer can earn more money here and enjoy better living conditions than he enjoys at home.  The second is –more generally appreciated among the better-informed workers– the opportunity for the advancement of their offspring.

AMERICAN DUTY TO THE SPANISH IMMIGRANT—  Some Spanish observers here claim that the Spanish workman is held at a distance from American currents of thought and progress as the result of a lack of understanding.  They speak regretfully of the fact that he goes from the mine or the factory to his home and back again as a mere human machine. The consequence is that he drifts into narrow circles of his own class and race and unconsciously ignores the vast opportunities provided by the American government in education and self-advancement.  This statement applies only to the Spanish laborer, who is in the majority of the more lately acquired Spanish population in this country, and who must be differentiated from the Spaniards prominent in commerce and the professions. To meet the sitation, it has been suggested by a well-advised authority that in all industrial centers where Spaniards are to be found in numbers, education organizations should take them in hand to encourage them in the study of our language and nationalism.

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Mass meeting in the auditorium of Tampa’s Centro Asturiano, commemorating the six month of a cigarworkers strike, 1920.

THE SPANISH LABORING CLASS –A chief point claimed in favor of the Spanish workman is that he is law-abiding and thrifty.  Court records, we are told, rarely reveal a Spaniard charged with a major or minor offense.  To be sure, there are exceptions to the rule, but in general, it is held, the Spaniards are people of moderate habits and very regular in their work.  Nor do they figure largely as public charges. Their great benevolent society, La Unión Benéfica Española, looks after the indigent or the sick, or those in need of legal advice, as shown in the draft-law cases.  But the majority do not really require outside aid, and they ask it only because they feel it is forthcoming as they are members of the society in good standing.  This societies has branches wherever Spaniards are settled in this country and also shows consideration to Spaniards who are not of the membership.

THE TWO CLASSES OF SPANIARDS HERE –Among the unskilled Spanish workers, about 50 percent know how to read and write Spanish, and the majority of them do not speak or write English.  Therefore, it is urged by some Spanish authorities that they should be invited and stimulated to learn English, so they may the more speedily qualify for American citizenship.  On the other hand, altho the commercial and professional classes of Spaniards are in the minority, they incline very readily toward American citizenship because they come here to stay.  As exporters and importers, especially on the Atlantic coast, Spaniards are influential in our civic life; and as professional men, tho comparatively small in number, they rank high in distinction.

 

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