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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Apodos de Tampa: A Unique Portrait of Spanish Tampa Through Nicknames

tampanicknamesWe proudly publish the “Afterword” that James D. Fernández wrote for the pamphlet Apodos de Tampa/Nicknames of Tampa, a publication which will be launched at the January 15, 2017 world premiere of our documentary, “The Weight of Remembering.” (Tampa Theatre, 3:00 pm).  This unique pamphlet, in addition to a preface by the legendary EJ Salcines, features the list of more than 1,000 nicknames from Tampa’s Spanish colony, compiled over many years by José Ramón Oural and Ángel Rañón. The publication also includes annotations, translations, and cultural footnotes; it can be searched alphabetically by nickname or by given name.

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As a young boy, whenever I would get caught doing something mischievous or naughty, my mother would reprimand me simply by pronouncing the three most terrifying words of the English language: “James Daniel Fernández!”

Like most parents, my mom understood that addressing me with my full name was a most effective reprimand; any shred of intimacy or tenderness disappears when mothers or fathers address their offspring in the same stark terms that might be used by a school principal or an emergency room attendant.

Kids know intuitively that “legal” names taste on the tongue like school lunches and hospital food; that they belong in brown folders in green file cabinets in grey government offices; that the people who pronounce them are usually strangers, and that when they do, it’s almost always when we’re “in trouble.” That is why those names, when pronounced by mom with each one of their lashing syllables, can sting much more than any form of corporal punishment.

Deep down, adults know this too. That’s why, no sooner than we’ve filled out a birth certificate, we find ourselves, often against our own will, whispering new names to our newborns. It’s why new lovers will always rechristen each other with secret names, as befits such a rebirth. And it is why communities develop nicknames.

The massive list of nicknames compiled over many years by José Oural and Ángel Rañón, is an extraordinary act of love, and it is also an invaluable portrait and evocation of a community.

The tens of thousands of Spaniards who emigrated to Cuba and Tampa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century most often came from small villages, where “proper” names may have been carefully guarded by the priest, the Civil Registry and the Civil Guard, but were rarely if ever on the lips of the people.

The tens of thousands of Spaniards who emigrated to Cuba and Tampa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century most often came from small villages, where “proper” names may have been carefully guarded by the priest, the Civil Registry and the Civil Guard, but were rarely if ever on the lips of the people. It’s fascinating to realize how so many of our most common surnames today –which may seem like cold, administrative abstractions– actually carry within them traces of that remote time when they too were nicknames: Miller, Baker, Smith, Carpenter, Cooper. For our immigrants, though, that time when small communities named people, and when names actually carried meanings, was not at all remote.

Even the immigrants’ “handle” on their own proper names may have often been tenuous at best. Most had not had much schooling, and the mangling of names we see on immigration or census forms may be a product not only of the incompetence of bureaucrats, but also of uncertainty on the part of the immigrants regarding spelling conventions. It is not at all uncommon to see “errors” even on the tombstones of Spanish immigrants in Tampa and elsewhere.

Ángel Rañón and José Oural have given us an extraordinary portrait of a once vibrant community. Of course it is by no means a complete portrait –women are drastically under-represented on the list, in part because they were assigned nicknames less often than men.   And the community chronicled by the list is in no way perfect or idyllic; the nick-names are often cruel and demeaning, often rooted in generalizations and prejudice.

And yet, more than any kind of list I could think of, Rañón and Oural’s eccentric inventory brings to life a diasporic community. Because as we listen to this encyclopedia of apodos, we can easily visualize a community that shared, in most cases, village life in Spain, followed by a stint in Cuba; a community that in Tampa, would huddle around radios to hear the serials and soap operas, the latest rumba or foxtrot, the fights, ball games and bolita numbers, and eventually, the ever worsening updates on that damn war in Spain. A community that ate and drank together — ¡a lot!–and that together read the funnies and went to the movies, rolled cigars and went on strike. A diasporic community of individuals who in Tampa re-invented themselves, and then, as is only fitting, renamed themselves, not with given, proper names, but rather with the earned and improper nicknames so lovingly and irreverently catalogued here.

New York, December, 2016

apodos

Ángel Rañón and José R. Oural go over their list of nicknames at Tampa’s Centro Asturiano, 2013.  Apodos de Tampa/Nicknames of Tampa is published by the Centro Español de Tampa and White Stone Ridge Productions.

The pamphlet can be ordered on-line here:

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ESTRENO DE “LA PLOMADA” (Spanish press release)

Se estrena en Tampa (Florida) LA PLOMADA, nuevo documental de Argeo y Fernández,

cedt-weight-of-remembering-flyer-54031-3La producción astur-americana The Weight of Remembering (que en español recibirá el título de La Plomada), dirigida por los cineastas Luis Argeo (Piedras Blancas, 1975) y James D. Fernández (Nueva York, 1961) se estrena este domingo 15 de enero en el histórico Tampa Theatre de la ciudad de la bahía de Florida (Estados Unidos). Los directores y productores del documental esperan cosechar similar éxito al logrado dos años antes en el mismo lugar.

La Plomada (de 55 minutos) se empareja al anterior documental de Argeo y Fernández, Un legado de humo (2014), donde ya trazaron el cruce de pasado y presente de la colonia española que hace 100 años trabajó en las fábricas de cigarros tampeñas que dieron a la ciudad el sobrenombre de “capital mundial del tabaco”. Como aquella, esta nueva película fue rodada en las calles y fábricas de West Tampa e Ybor City, y el peso de su trama continúa apoyándose en sus habitantes de origen español (emigrantes asturianos en su mayoría), y en los vestigios de una época y unas gentes que están ya a punto de desaparecer. Para acercar al público a este capítulo histórico semiolvidado, Argeo y Fernández siguen apostando por pequeñas historias cotidianas, convencidos de llegar a lo mayúsculo a través de la suma de hechos minúsculos. Mientras, en lo formal, el marco de su cine documental sigue difuminándose, pues no renuncian al empleo de herramientas del cine de ficción (un guión narrativo y un personaje ficticio que viaja a la ciudad para averiguar el significado de la misteriosa plomada de pescar que su abuelo, emigrante asturiano pasado por Tampa, guardó durante toda su vida con gran celo).

La película ha podido terminarse tras permanecer un año aparcada por falta de medios. El Centro Español de Tampa, una de las sociedades benéficas más antiguas del estado de Florida (fundada en 1891 por emigrantes tabaqueros) acudió al rescate de la producción y, adquiriendo el rol de coproductora del film, ha hecho posible que Argeo y Fernández pudieran terminar el montaje y postproducción de su trabajo. El Centro Español de Tampa se ha encargado también de la recepción y los actos que envuelven el estreno de La Plomada en el legendario Tampa Theatre, que tendrá lugar este domingo a las 3 de la tarde (hora local), y que contará con la presencia de los dos directores.

En el año 2013, Luis Argeo y James D. Fernández ya dirigieron La paella de Daniel Albert, grabada en California con un descendiente de emigrantes alicantinos. Además, Luis Argeo estrenó en 2006 su primera película, AsturianUS, que recupera la presencia de obreros asturianos en las primeras fábricas siderúrgicas de Virginia Occidental y Pensilvania. Juntos lideran el proyecto archivístico documental Ni frailes ni conquistadores: Spanish Immigrants in the US

Para más información o solicitud de entrevistas: Luis Argeo (whitestoneridge@gmail.com y 629 05 18 74)

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2016, Repaso/Review

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Thanks to the generous collaboration of so many friends in the US and Spain, 2016 has been another year full of discoveries for us. Little by little, together we are reconstructing the forgotten history of the thousands and thousands of … Continue reading

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