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

josefrancisco_navarro

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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