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 will soon 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 “Once Upon a Place” –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


J M de Satrustegui


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