Spain’s Civil War and the Americans who fought in it: a convoluted legacy

James D. Fernandez, New York University

Eighty years ago this week, in the Spanish North African enclave of Melilla, a group of right-wing generals staged a military coup, aimed at overthrowing Spain’s democratically elected government.

The July 1936 uprising unleashed what would come to be known – somewhat inaccurately – as the Spanish Civil War, a horrific conflagration that lasted almost three years.

The general consensus is that the war sent about a half-million Spaniards into exile, and another 500,000 to their deaths. Still today, more than 100,000 Spaniards lie in hundreds of unmarked mass graves strewn all over the Iberian peninsula.

Those mass graves still haunt contemporary Spain, and the question of how the Spanish Civil War ought to be commemorated is still far from buried, not only in Spain, but also in the U.S.

Just two weeks ago, when President Obama visited Spain, the gift he received from Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the upstart left-wing political party Podemos, generated controversy.pabloiglesias.jpeg

The present was a copy of the book “The Abraham Lincoln Brigade: A Picture History,” and in it, Iglesias penned a dedication to President Obama:

“The first Americans who came to Europe to fight against fascism were the men and women of the Lincoln Brigade. Please convey to the American people the gratitude felt by Spanish democrats for the antifascist example provided by these heroes.”

To understand the symbolism and the controversial nature of this gift, we must examine the convoluted legacy of that war whose 80th anniversary is commemorated this week.

International war

Pablo Iglesias’ inscription points to why the term “Civil War” is a misnomer when applied to Spain, 1936.

Though the Spanish war did pit Spaniard against Spaniard, the conflict quickly became international. Within days of the onset of the coup, Hitler and Mussolini intervened on the side of the insurgent generals. Before long, the Soviet Union would come to the aid of the Loyalists, also known as the Republican forces, who supported the government.

To the chagrin of Spain’s elected government, the U.K., France and the U.S., in full appeasement mode, decided to remain neutral. They even imposed – and enforced – an embargo on the sale of arms to the Republic.

Despite – or perhaps because of – that embargo, for the duration of the war, Spain would be on almost everybody’s mind in the U.S., whether they liked it or not.

Moviegoers, for example, eager to see newly released movies such as Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” or Walt Disney’s “Snow White,” had to sit through newsreels depicting the new form of modern warfare being premiered in Spain. With melodramatic music swirling and swelling in the background, audiences would hear foreboding newsreel narrators exclaiming:

“hundreds of thousands of noncombatants suffer the indescribable horrors of a continuous nightmare of fear and destruction.”

‘Second Year of Spain’s Civil War’ at 1’30”

The new medium of photojournalism – Life Magazine began circulation in 1936 – would bring fresh and horrifying images of the faraway conflict into the living rooms of average Americans.

Indeed, the war in Spain was felt with such immediacy in the U.S. that in an unprecedented display of international solidarity, some 2,800 American men and women risked life and limb to travel to Spain and join the International Brigades: the 35,000 volunteers from 50 nations who were recruited and organized by the Communist International to defend Spain’s Republic.

The first contingent of Americans arrived to Spain in January of 1937, and they called themselves the “Abraham Lincoln Battalion,” invoking the leader who had successfully presided over a Civil War in their own country.

U.S. volunteers in Spain, spring 1938.
New York University’s Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, Author provided

Ernest Hemingway’s portrait of Robert Jordan in “For Whom The Bell Tolls” would become the iconic image of an American volunteer in the Spanish Civil War. But if Hemingway’s protagonist was a solitary and rugged WASP from Montana, most of the nonfiction volunteers emerged from vast, politically active communities, which were decidedly urban, working-class and ethnic.

The closest thing to a rifle that most of the volunteers had ever handled before Spain was probably a picket sign. Unlike Hemingway’s outdoorsman, real-life volunteers were likely to have had more experience sleeping on tenement fire escapes than in field tents.

And for each individual who made the ultimate sacrifice of taking up arms in Spain, there were thousands of Loyalist sympathizers who stayed behind. They raised funds to send medical supplies to the besieged government. They urged the FDR government to “Lift the embargo Against Loyalist Spain.” They did their bit, as the popular slogan went, “to make Madrid the tomb of fascism.”

Anti-fascist war

The Republic, hamstrung by the embargo, and splintered by internal differences, eventually fell. Franco’s troops marched into Madrid in April of 1939. Exactly six months later, Hitler invaded Poland and, according to most standard accounts, World War II was officially underway.

The horrors of that war help explain why the memory of Spain was subsequently eclipsed and almost forgotten. But there were other forces at work that would contribute to the transformation of how Spain would be remembered.

The fact is that, at the time, for many contemporary observers, the war in Spain was of a piece with the war against Hitler.

For starters, the Lincoln volunteers frequently depicted themselves as soldiers attempting to stave off another world war. In November, 1937, for example, volunteer Hy Katz would write home to his mom:

“If we sit by and let them grow stronger by taking Spain, they will move on to France and will not stop there; and it won’t be long before they get to America. Realizing this, can I sit by and wait until the beasts get to my very door – until it is too late, and there is no one I can call on for help? And would I even deserve help from others when the trouble comes upon me, if I were to refuse help to those who need it today? If I permitted such a time to come – as a Jew and a progressive, I would be among the first to fall under the axe of the fascists; – all I could do then would be to curse myself and say, ‘Why didn’t I wake up when the alarm-clock rang?’”

First National Conference of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade n 1938. Robert Raven, in the middle, lost his eyesight while fighting.
Harris&Ewing, Library of Congress

In March of 1945, President Roosevelt himself, in a missive to a diplomat, would characterize the continuity he perceived between the Spanish war and WWII, between the Axis and Franco’s regime:

“Having been helped to power by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, and having patterned itself along totalitarian lines, the present regime in Spain is naturally the subject of distrust by a great many American citizens […] Most certainly we do not forget Spain’s official position with and assistance to our Axis enemies at a time when the fortunes of war were less favorable to us, nor can we disregard the activities, aims, organizations, and public utterances of the Falange [Spain’s Fascist party], both past and present.”

Even a publication like “Stars and Stripes,” a semi-official organ of the U.S. Armed Forces, would, in its European edition of July 1945, unhesitatingly affirm:

“Nine years ago last week, the first blow was struck in World War II. On July 17, 1936, in the picturesque garrison town of Melilla, in Spanish Morocco, a Spanish general and his Moroccan regiments proclaimed civil war against the infant, five-year-old Republic and its government…”

In 1945, the general contours of how the Spanish Civil War was likely to be remembered into the future were quite clear: as part and parcel of the long struggle against international fascism, perhaps even as the opening salvo of World War II.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the fifties…

Cold War

Between 1945 and 1955, Francisco Franco managed to refashion himself completely. No longer an ally of the Axis – in fact, he claimed that he had never been such a thing. Franco repackaged himself as a stalwart anti-communist, ruling over a strategic land mass at the corner of Africa and Europe. And it worked.

If, for FDR, Franco had been an illegitimate ruler, for Truman and Eisenhower, the generalissimo would become a crucial partner in the war between “freedom” and “communism.” Truman and Eisenhower helped end the Franco regime’s post-war diplomatic ostracism. In exchange, the U.S. got to build an archipelago of Cold War military bases on Spanish soil.

General Franco and President Eisenhower in Madrid in 1959
US National Archives

As Franco morphed from “Adolph’s Man in Madrid” to “Ike’s Man in Madrid,” and as the Spanish Civil War came to be viewed more and more through the retrospective lens of the Cold War, much history would get rewritten, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Franco actively destroyed or altered evidence of his dalliance with the Axis. And in the U.S., as historian Peter Carroll reminds us, it was precisely in anti-communist crusader Joseph McCarthy’s 1950s that George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” became a fixture of the Cold War canon. Orwell’s book was a powerful indictment of the Communist Party’s ruthless behavior in the war, and it was used to cast a shadow over the experiences and motivations of the Lincoln Brigade.

Before long, in both Spain and the U.S., the Spanish Civil War would be talked about not so much as an early battle of the anti-fascist World War II, but rather as a chapter in the annals of communist mischief and perfidy.

The actions of American volunteers, rather than being seen as heroic and prescient, would become suspect. And that is why, even 80 years on, Iglesias’s gift to Obama could still seem laden with symbolism and wrapped in controversy.The Conversation

James D. Fernandez, Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, Vice-President, Board of Governors, Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, New York University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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“Un legado de humo” en España

Nuestro documental, “Un legado de humo/ A Legacy of Smoke”  –una melancólica evocación de la presencia de inmigrantes españoles en Tampa, Florida– tendrá cuatro proyecciones con coloquio este mes de julio en España.Slide1.jpg

En el gran teatro del Centro Asturiano de Tampa (Florida) se proyecta una película casera de 1937 rodada en la ciudad.  Los escasos asistentes intentan identificar los rostros que aparecen en la pantalla.  Un día antes, una profesora de piano centenaria imparte su clase semanal con una partitura muy especial.  Dos ancianos repasan el largo listado de motes tampeños que han recopilado durante años.  Y una mujer invita a su padre a almorzar y recordar con él la vida de sus antepasados.   Cuatro mini-relatos, como cuatro volutas de humo…

8 de julio, 19hh  Teatro de Ribadeo, Galicia. En el marco de “Ribadeo Indiano” una exploración y celebración de los vínculos transatlánticos de esta hermosa ciudad gallega. Coloquio posterior con los directores y con descendientes estadounidenses de emigrantes españoles:  Anthony Carreño, Laura Goyanes y John Rañón.

10 de julio, 20.30 h,  Círculo Habanero de A Devesa, Galicia.  Para esta proyección y coloquio, nos acoge el Círculo Habanero de la parroquia gallega del que salió uno de los protagonistas de la película: Ángel Rañón.  Nos acompañará en la proyección y coloquio el hijo de Don Ángel, John Rañón, de Tampa, Florida.

 12 de julio, 19.30h, Palacio de Valdés-Bazán,  Candamo, Asturias.  ¡Fueron tantos los tampeños que tenían raíces en este concejo de Asturias que había toda una zona de Ybor City conocida como el “Barrio Candamo”!  El nieto de uno de ellos, Anthony Carreño, nos acompañará en la proyección y coloquio posterior.  Nos acoge el ayuntamiento de Candamo.

14 de julio, 20 h. Sala Borau, Cineteca del Matadero, Madrid.  Coloquio posterior con los directores, y con Jacobo Rivera (periodista y escritor) y Emilio Silva (Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica).

Dirección: Luis Argeo y James D. Fernández
Duración: 50′
Idioma: Inglés y español con subtítulos en español
Año: 2015
País: EEUU/España

Trailer de “Un legado de humo/A Legacy of Smoke”

Página web del documental:

Para comprar el libro “Inmigrantes invisibles”






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Eye-Witness Account of the Heliopolis Journey

My Family’s Immigration from Spain to Hawaii and Life in the Sugar Plantation

[The following memoir was written by Ángela L. Plumbo (née Puerta León), in about 1979, at the age of 76. Because it was written from memories more than 70 years old, some of the details are likely to be inaccurate. Be that as it may, this is an extraordinary and rare first-person account of the Heliopolis crossing and of plantation life.  Document and photograph courtesy of Clifford Ramos, via our friends at the Hawaiian Spaniards Facebook Page.]

The Puerta family originated in Jaén, province of Andalucía, Spain.

My father, Manuel Puerta Calero was the youngest of three sons born to Alfonso Puerta and Teresa Calero.  Their forefathers had been wealthy land owners in Jaén but the family fortune had gradually diminished.

My mother, Dulce León Padilla, was the second daughter of the 7 children born to Clemente León and Manuela Padilla, wealthy and socially prominent in Jaen.

In 1886, Manuel and Dulce met and married in Jaén, shortly after his military discharge for a 4-year term of service.  They settled in Jaén and for a number of years he managed some of the León enterprises –olive groves and olive oil mill.  Eventually he became independent and established a soap factory in Jaén that prospered well for a number of years.


The photo was taken in the rear of the plantation home by the pineapple patch.  Ages: Teresa, 18; Frank, 21; Manuel, 14; father, 50; John, 12; Louie Cunha, 22; Josefa Puerta Cunha, 20; Ángela, 6.5; Emilia, 8; mother, 42; Baby Matilda, 6 months; Remedios, 3.5; Carmen, 17; Carmelita, 5.5.  Note:  Clemente, last of the children, was yet to be born.

By 1906 we were a family of 12 –10 children, father and mother– and business had dropped considerably.  In the latter part of that year an announcement appeared in the local papers soliciting family immigration to “Beautiful Hawaii” land of promise and opportunity.  To my father this must have seemed the ideal opportunity for change and adventure, because he lost no time in disposing of the factory and registering for immigrations, much to the amazement and dismay of relatives and friends.

Thus it was that on March 6, 1907 the Puerta family of 12 departed from the port of Málaga, Spain, on the SS Heliopolis for the long voyage around the Horn to a Hawaii with a stop for supplies in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

My recollection of the voyage is vague due to my age at the time –4 yrs, 9 mos.  But I know this segment of our history well from repeated telling in family conversations through the years.  Furthermore, for confirmation of dates, accuracy of data and fill-in of missing links, I recently consulted with two of my oldest sisters, then teenagers and now in their mid-eighties, which proved rewarding.


Spaniards preparing to board the SS Heliopolis, in Málaga, March of 1907. [Nuevo Mundo, Thursday, March 14, 1907, Año XIV, Num 688.]

The crossing was not altogether unpleasant in spite of cramped quarters, dull monotonous meals and stormy seas, though this cannot be said in my father’s case, who sept almost the entire voyage in his bunk deathly ill with sea sickness.  But the young folk had gay times in the evenings playing games and dancing in the recreation rooms.  There was a large hall for dancing where the band played nightly and additional entertainment was provided by some of the passengers gifted vocalists or instrumentalists, my father among them.  He played the guitar exceptionally well but was unable to perform except on the very rare occasions when the sea was extremely calm.

Apropos of my father’s unfortunate sea-sickness:  Canned milk provided for the babies was rationed but extra could be purchased in the ship’s store.  With a baby in our family this privilege was available to us, fortunately for my father who survived the voyage solely on a milk diet, the only nourishment his stomach could tolerate.

After 52 days at sea, broken by a 24-hour stop for supplies in Buenos Aires, Argentina, we arrived in Honolulu late in the afternoon, April 26, 1907, where an enormous crowd of natives, waving joyfully, greeted us with shouts of welcome and shower of flowers, while the Band played “Aloha.”  The surprise of such a warm welcome and relief of safe arrival moved us was another delightful surprise:  rows of endless tables piled high with tropical dishes and fruits.  We were lodged in tents equipped with comfortable sleeping accommodations.  Breakfast equalled the dinner in service, quantity and variety, as were al the meals that followed during our 5-day stay in Honolulu, location of the Company’s headquarters.

Routinely, after breakfast, the heads of families would report to Headquarters for assignment of destination.  They system of distribution was 10 families to each plantation, where furnished homes awaited them, including meal upon arrival with several days’ supply of staples; such as coffee, sugar, rice, salt, etc.  The Company Store provided credit and all accounts deducted from monthly wages which the families patronized until they had saved enough money to buy in town where the same merchandise sold for less.

Our family was assigned to Papaiko on the Island of Hawaii not far from Hilo.  In early morning on the 5th day we boarded a Company boat and arrived in Hilo late that afternoon, where a group of Puerto Ricans waited to escort us to the plantation.  Incidently [sic], while disembarking my oldest sister, Josefa, fell in the water and was rescued by a native Portuguese youth, son of a prominent family in Papaiko at that time, by name of Cunha.  Courtship followed and marriage a year later.

The house assigned to us in Papaiko was the largest in the village, since we were the largest family, not only there, but in the entire ship’s list of 220.  To our great surprise and relief, after the long weary walk from Hilo to the plantation, we found the banquet-size table laden with platters of codfish rice and tropical fruits prepared by a Puerto Rican woman.  Ironically, our farewell dinner in Spain had been Codfish Rice!

To our great surprise and relief, after the long weary walk from Hilo to the plantation, we found the banquet-size table laden with platters of codfish rice and tropical fruits prepared by a Puerto Rican woman.  Ironically, our farewell dinner in Spain had been Codfish Rice!

At this point let me explain that all aides, from landing time on, were Puerto Rican because they spoke Spanish, much to the relief and delight of the “Strangers in Paradise.”

We also had a bigger plot of land, where my father immediately planted pineapples,


The Puerta family according to the 1910 federal census, Papaikou Village, Hilo, Hawaii.

bananas, papayas, sweet potatoes, etc.  The coffee tree front of the house was ornamental as well as productive in the last year of our stay.  My father also built an oven, which tumbled with the first earthquake the following day.  The second oven was built by a native Portuguese.  It was earthquake-proof and served my mother well with baking and roasting coffee.  To a Spaniard bread is truly the “staff of lie” because it constitutes a great part of the meal, beginning with soup and ending with cheese.  Therefore baking was a major household chore in our family.  I recall the ease with which my mother managed the long handled paddle to remove the enormous round loaves baked on banana leaves.

The Contract

TERM:  4 years

WORK:  Planting and cutting sugar cane –6-day week.

WAGES:  Men -$24.00 per month.  Increased to $30.00 the 2nd year

                   Women –$10.00 per month.  Increased to $15.00 the 2nd year.

HOME: Rent free (with land for gardening)

BONUS:  Gift home on completion of the 4-year term.

EDUCATION:  Adult evening classes in English, tuition free.

hawaicartelThe plantation life proved very disagreeable and undesirable for my parents and grown children, who missed the culture and comforts of city life they had known in Spain, They yearned for better social life and surroundings, therefore a few months previous to the termination of contract my oldest brother, Frank, obtained employment on merchant ship bound for San Francisco and made several crossings, returning each time with glowing reports on the beauty of the city and countless employment opportunities with better wages.  In view of such bright prospects my parents decided to make the move on termination to the contract, which was near expiration.  He forfeited the “bonus gift home” and as son as freed from contract we moved to Hilo in preparation for the final move to San Francisco.  My father and two brothers went ahead and soon were employed, rented the largest flat on Telegraph Hill and arranged transportation for Mother and the rest of us.  In early Spring of 1912 we embarked on the SS Wilhelmina in Hilo and arrived in San Francisco 5 days later.  We have all remained in California, except for Remedios (our baby in the voyage from Spain) who returned to Spain after her retirement in 1974 and remains there enjoying the Spanish way of life among our countless cousins.

Mother passsed away in June 1919, age 52, victim of that year’s deadly epidemic of influenza.

Father passed away in December, 1934, from intestinal hemorrhage.

The seven of us remaining and well:

Teresa –88

Carmen –87

Emilia –78

Angela –76

Remedios –73

Matilde –70

Clemente –69



Angela L. Plumbo, Immigrant

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Home Jersey or Away Jersey

by Luis Argeo

Any one who would be surprised to find a Sporting de Gijón jersey framed between trophies and other soccer relics behind the bar of a social club in a city in the Midwest United States, should perhaps read this story.

[A slightly different version of this article appeared in Spanish in the Spring 2016 issue (#16) of Líbero (Madrid, Spain).   Translated by Alejandro J. Fernández]

The Spanish Society Soccer Club of St. Louis.  The Society and club were founded by Asturian immigrants like Prudencio “Pete” García (in suit, in center), to provide structure and recreation as well as moral and financial support to the lives of the Spaniards who had come to the area to work in local industry, primarily the zinc works that had been built on the river front in South St. Louis. [Photo courtesy of Lori Becker and family]

In the neighborhood of Carondelet, in South Saint Louis (Missouri), the brick family homes that were built over a century ago still characterize the landscape; most are just a short walk away from the once-booming metal works that line the banks of the Mississippi River.  And ever since 1937, one of those reddish buildings, located on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Blow Street, has been home to the Spanish Society, a club founded by Spanish immigrants 10 years prior. In addition to a modest auditorium on the second floor and an impressive smokehouse for chorizos out back, the association has a cantina where the members, still today, can reminisce about the old times, while they play an occasional card game or the traditional Asturian past-time of “la rana.”  Two plasma screens feature European soccer matches whenever there are games. One afternoon, in 2011, a match between Real Madrid and Sporting de Gijón was on those flat screens. After watching a few plays, one of the old-timers in the club pointed to one of the rojiblanco players, a center midfielder named Nacho Cases, and wondered aloud:   “Hey, do you think that Cases boy might be the grandson of Chus?”

It turns out that the answer was “yes”; but to understand why an elderly man in St. Louis, Missouri was on a first name basis with the grandfather of a soccer star from northern Spain, we need to look at the fascinating and intertwined histories of soccer and immigration in the city of St. Louis.


At the start of the 20th century, huge steam ships crossed the Atlantic loaded with European immigrants who had hopes of prospering in a new continent. Between the XIXth and XXth centuries, some four million Spaniards packed their bags with equal measures of fear, hunger and excitement. Although the majority headed to Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas, tens of thousands of them passed through the Immigration Center of Ellis Island in New York.  Many stayed in the New York area, but many others boarded trains and headed towards factories with impossible names in places like Ohio, Kansas, or Missouri. Legend has it that a Basque man who lived in the Big Apple, Don Valentín Aguirre, would meet fellow Spaniards at the Manhattan docks and lead them to his Cherry Street boarding house, which doubled as a restaurant and an unofficial employment agency.


García Football Club of East St. Louis, c. 1921.  [Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Rodríguez]

Aguirre, and his wife, Benita Orbe, would provide the immigrants with baskets of food, whose size depended on the length of their train trip.  The Basque hosts would also pin a note on to the travelers’ lapels, indicating their final destination, so that the train conductors would know when to tell them to disembark.  It is thought that Atanasio Fernández and Ángel García were the first to get off the train at Saint Louis station, in 1901. They knew that there was work for them. The Edgar Zinc Co. factory needed men;  that company and others  would soon hire many more workers from the same part of Asturias as these two skilled laborers. Thus began the story of the Spanish colony of Saint Louis.  

In those first years of the twentieth century, while the people of the city hummed the song “Meet Me in St. Louis,”  and the town hosted both a major Universal Exposition and the third Olympic Games of the modern era (1904), the zinc foundry in Carondelet attracted large numbers of Spaniards, many of whom had experience at the zinc plant run by the Royal Asturian Mining Company in the seaside town of Arnao (Asturias). More men from that part of Asturias continued to arrive, seeking homes and jobs; new factories opened up on the other side of the Mississippi, in places like Fairmont City, Illinois, and even in states as far away as West Virginia or Pennsylvania.  The Spanish immigrants become known for their skill and endurance as furnacemen at the smelters, and a chain of vibrant and interconnected Asturian colonies eventually emerged along what we might call the zinc circuit, stretching from St. Louis and East St. Louis, all the way to Cherryvale, Kansas, Spelter, West Virginia, and Donora, Pennsylvania.  This surprises many Americans: though not as well known as other, larger immigrant groups –Germans, Italians, Irish or Scottish, for example– working-class Spaniards did participate in the immigrant history that forever transformed the US in the XIXth and XXth centuries.

By the time those first Asturian workers began arriving to the city, Robinson Field in North Saint Louis was already hosting soccer matches with more than 6,000 spectators, like the one between St. Teresa’s and Cycling Club in April of 1897. And when in 1905, the “Pilgrims,” an English team on an exhibition tour, was invited to play in the city against a team composed of local all-stars, there was an overflow crowd of fans at the 15,000-seat Cardinals baseball stadium. Just two years after that English visit (the locals lost 10-0), and three years after the exhibition matches of the Olympic Games in the city, the first fully professional soccer league in the United States was created: the St. Louis Soccer League (SLSL).


Match between Spanish American AC (East St. Louis) and St. Louis Olympics, Spring, 1928.  The Spaniards won, 2-1. [photo courtesy of Linda Rodríguez Sampson]

Spanish immigrants also wanted to participate in the fashionable sport, and in that same year, 1907, they would establish the first Spanish soccer team in the city, named Asturias Club, made up of metalworkers with last names like García, Fernández, or Menéndez. It would not be entirely professional, nor was it the only team born in the city’s fledgling Spanish community. The men basically learned how to play in their free time, kicking the ball around the open spaces between the river and Broadway that the Edgar Zinc Co. had reserved for coal piles.  Despite all odds, they got quite good at the game. The grave shortage of proper playing fields in the city was not rectified until years later, when, thanks to the good offices of a priest, municipal institutions were pressured to create adequate pitches. In 1912, three fields were inaugurated, one in Carondelet (the Spanish neighborhood); in that same year, municipal leagues were organized for the amateur teams. That MUNY League had nothing to envy about the professionals. Father Dooley had arranged for referees, official structure, local sponsors, and even trophies. In addition, spectators could attend the games for free. Players in the professional leagues were often not very happy about the success of the MUNY league, and the more ambitious professional clubs would even try to poach talent away from the amateur organization. The Spanish soccer players competed with gusto on both sides of the Mississippi. Among the most glorious teams, we could highlight the Spanish Sports Club, that played in the MUNY of Saint Louis until 1935, when the team moved to the professional league, and was sponsored by an undertaker (Burke’s Funeral Home). The Burke’s Undertakers won two titles in the SLSL before the league passed on to a better life in 1939. On the other side of the river, teams like the Spanish American AC (municipal champions of East Saint Louis in 1930), or the García Football Club (sponsored by a transport company that worked for the American Zinc Co. in Fairmont City) played their way into Illinois soccer history. “Banjo Suárez and my grandfather started playing in the East Saint Louis/Fairmont City league”, explains Christopher Cueto. “My grandfather was the manager of a semi professional team. In fact, the reason why he got promoted to the position of foreman at  American Zinc was because the owners of the factory had seen him running his soccer team. He was just a worker, but they told him: ‘anyone who can manage those boys on the field should be able to do it in a zinc factory as well.’  That was how they promoted him. And in the end, he would be promoted to Supervisor,” adds this proud grandson of asturianos.

The Sociedad Española or Spanish Society of Saint Louis was founded in 1927, and their soccer team would travel to all the Spanish colonies of the area. In the midst of the Great Depression, the dues of the club members allowed the Society to acquire its own clubhouse in less than ten years, where they could organize parties and recitals, and even offer health and burial insurance to compatriots with problems. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), the Sociedad Española would


The Sparta Leader Chicago team vs. the team of St. Louis Spanish Society, 1934.  Sparta dominated the league for years. [Photo courtesy of Lori Becker and family]

serve as a center for fundraising meetings on behalf of the Spanish government. At the same time, their soccer team played against professional clubs from Saint Louis or Chicago, and players like Prudencio “Pete” García would, without knowing it, start their journey toward the US Soccer Hall of Fame.  “My father and his brother in law, ‘Chic’ Fernández, were founders of the Spanish Society”, comments Prudencio’s son, Donald García. “Before marrying, the men lived in boarding houses, all together, so sports were a form of entertainment. My father was always involved in sports, and he always wanted to make sure that young people would have something healthy and productive to do. That was how the team Los Caballeros arose, at the beginning they played in the league of the Catholic diocese. Years later, my father would become a soccer referee.”

Prudencio García was born in Salinas (Asturias) in 1899. He would arrive with his mother to the United States in 1907, to be reunited with his father who was already working in the city. His love for soccer made him a player and a tireless promoter of the sport within the Spanish colony of Saint Louis. Like many of his Spanish compatriots, following the tragic outcome of the Spanish Civil War, Prudencio did not wait long to request citizenship in his host country. He obtained more papers in 1949, documents that certified him as a FIFA referee, and that he would use a year later to travel to Brazil, as part of the delegation of the American Referee Association that participated in the World Cup. In this way, Prudencio became the first American to participate as a referee in a World Cup. “Since he was already 50 years old” comments his son, “they put him as a linesman.”  From the four games that Prudencio ran along the sidelines with the flag, maybe the most bitter thing for him was the match between Sweden and Spain for third place. His country of origin lost 3-1, with a goal from Zarra.

The US also fielded a team in that World Cup. Their only victory in the group stages was against colossal England.  On that US team, which barely fielded a professional player, were six players originally from Saint Louis. And among those, the defender Harry Keough, a mailman who, by his own admission, had learned how to play soccer with the Spanish workers from Carondelet. The Irishman Keough’s neighbors were as amazed at his skill with the ball as they were at the ease with which he spoke Spanish.  In fact, his proficiency in that language led to him being appointed team captain in the US World Cup debut against the Spanish National Team (Spain 3- Us 1).

Harry Keough wasn’t the only American soccer legend close to the Spanish immigrants of Saint Louis. Adelino “Billy” Gonsalves (1908-1977)–the “Babe Ruth” of US soccer– is considered the most outstanding player every born in the United States, and he played for some seasons in St. Louis.  “My father’s older brother, Joe “Cobby” Rodríguez, was a goalie on the Shamrocks where he got to play with Gonsalves. “I remember my father would talk about Billy Gonsalves, about his strength, but he always referred to him by his nickname, ‘Pianolegs,’” recalls Linda Rodríguez.


Written on back:  “Juan:  this is the third one born at home.  As you can see, I’ve got a complete mid-field now.  OK.  –Enrique Menéndez.”  [Photo courtesy of Marleen Menéndez]

Following the Second World War, when soccer was ceding ground to other professional sports, in a country whose habits and lifestyles and lifestyles were in the midst of radical transformations, the children and grandchildren of those Spanish workers from the Saint Louis area continued finding in soccer a sign of their identity. That is the only explanation of why, year after year, descendants of Spanish immigrants continue meeting on both sides of the river to play the annual “Chorizo Bowl.” Charlie Suárez, a grandson of immigrants who settled in Fairmont, explains: “We think that everything started in the year ’47 or ’48, as a friendly match, as a challenge between the asturianos from Saint Louis against those from Fairmont and East St. Louis. They decided to face each other every 1st of January . Since American Football had its Rose Bowl or its Orange bowl, they named the match ‘The Chorizo Bowl.’  A year’s never been missed, it’s played in rain, sleet, hail or snow.  In recent years, the teams’ compositions have been changing, and many participants are from different ethnic groups. On the team from the East there are many Mexicans now. And it’s the responsibility of the host to make the chorizos that will be eaten after the game”. When they play on the East side of the Mississippi, the meeting point is Koke’s, a tavern right outside what was once the main gate of the American Zinc Company in Fairmont City, Illinois. The next year, the members of the Spanish Society of Saint Louis are in charge of preparing the chorizos. Thomas Fernández reports from Saint Louis. “My brothers and I have been participating for 29 years. At first I played, but now I do coach work. If I get back in shape, maybe next year I’ll play.  There are men older than me doing it. And even though I don’t have all the results at hand, I can honestly say that I only remember one loss and one tie, the rest have been victories for the team from the Saint Louis side. Including the 5-1 victory this past January.”  Responsible for the chorizos this year was Brian Kestler, a grandson of Asturians who zealously guards his Grandma’s secret recipe.


“Hey, do you think that Cases boy might be the grandson of Chus?”

Chus Cases, grandfather of the midfielder for Sporting, Nacho Cases, was a late immigrant to Saint Louis, though he was still able to enjoy that sense of camaraderie that the Asturians fostered and managed to pass on to their neighbors and descendants in the Carondelet section of St. Louis. Chus arrived in 1964, and two years later would have his wife and his sons join him. Jesús Cases, son of Chus, father of Nacho, spoke to us in a café in Gijón, reminiscing about his childhood in Missouri:  “My father used to take me to the Spanish Society where he would play la llave [another Asturian past-time brought to St. Louis by the immigrants] . Just two days after arriving, I was already playing soccer with the kids’ team. I learned how to play in the snow there; and I remember the good organization and resources of those children’s leagues. When we returned to Spain in the 70’s, there weren’t even balls, the children just played on their own in the street.” Jesús Cases brought soccer back from Saint Louis, Missouri, to Spain, in his suitcase. In Asturias he played for industrial teams, like the Camocha, the Caudal, or Ensidesa, and he passed the St. Louis home-grown passion for soccer to his son Nacho Cases.  Nacho, midfielder on Sporting de Gijón, told us:  “One day, in 2011, my father was contacted on Facebook from the United States. I think it was the daughter of his coach in Saint Louis. On a television at the Spanish Society they had seen me play against Madrid in the Bernabéu. We were thrilled, and we sent them a jersey with my signature.”

That Sporting de Gijón jersey today occupies a spot of honor in the Spanish Society of Saint Louis. For some people in the cantina, perhaps the youngest, or those who don’t have Spanish origins, the garment probably just seems like one more ornament in a space crammed with objects, trophies, and flags from distant places. Many people in the United States don’t know the long history of soccer in their own country, thinking that the sport is a more or less recent European importation. But for the older members of the association, for those whose memories reach all the way back to those early days when soccer was still a worthy rival of American Football, or for those who might recognize on TV the grandson of an old compañero at the factory or the club, the signed jersey isn’t a symbol of distant and exotic stardom.  Rather, it is a reminder of the deep history and the strong ties of a beloved community.  For them, Chus’s Sporting shirt is practically a home team jersey.


As a young boy, Jesús Cases learned to play soccer on the youth teams of the Spanish Society in Saint Louis.  When he later returned to Spain, he continued playing the game on regional teams, and he transmitted his love of the sport to his son, Nacho, who is now a midfielder for the Sporting de Gijón.  [Photo courtesy of Jesús Cases]


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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



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

Asturian Picnic in WV

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


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.


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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SS Heliopolis in the News, March 1907


Nuevo Mundo, Thursday, March, 14, 1907.
Año XIV, Num. 688.  

The US has gone searching for workers in Europe, with the aim of colonizing the Hawaiian Islands; the Europeans would replace the Japanese, whose immigration to the US has been radically curtailed. To that end, they contracted 850 Andalusian families, totaling 3,823 people. On the 7th, the British steamer “Heliopolis” arrived to Málaga to transport them to Hawaii.


The emigrants in the patio of the house where they have been lodged while in Malaga.

The boarding process was completed on the 8th, but on that same afternoon, the citizens of Málaga were surprised to see that those who had boarded were returning to shore in small boats. They were furious, it was said, about the awful and deficient food that they had been given, and about the poor hygiene conditions in the ship’s hold. They demanded to be brought back to shore.


The Heliopolis, the British ship that is transporting the first expedition of emigrants to the Hawaiian Islands.

The governor of Málaga, fulfilling his duty, got involved, and convened the US Consul, the director of Maritime Health, the outfitter of the ship, and the Civil Guard lieutenant, who had been on board to observe the embarking process. He was also visited by a delegation of the disgruntled emigrants.

As a result of this meticulous review, it was decided that things had been enormously exaggerated. So much so that on the next day, March 9th, the governor telegraphed the Minister of Government to say: that the hygienic conditions aboard the “Heliopolis” were much better than those of the majority of ships that transport emigrants, as it even has bunks


Father Ildefonso Romero, Catholic chaplain, who will go to Hawaii with the emigrants.

for small children; that the ship had good and abundant provisions, concentrated milk and baby bottles for the children; that what had happened the day before was caused only by a lack of organization in the food service and that this has been corrected; that abundant cold cuts had been distributed to the emigrants, and Spanish bakers and cooks had been added to the crew; and finally, that even though the law requires only 2.25 square meters per person in the cabins, the Heliopolis offers more than 3 square meters, and that the bunks and mattresses are completely new.

Nonetheless, the commotion led about 600 of the contracted emigrants to change their mind and stay ashore. The Heliopolis lifted anchors on the 10th, departing with the remaining 3,200 passengers.”

“They were furious, it was said, about the awful and deficient food that they had been given, and about the poor hygiene conditions in the ship’s hold.”


The emigrants prepare their luggage for boarding.


Embarking emigrants, port of Málaga


The emigrants who changed their mind about making the journey disembark from the Heliopolis.


Invisible Immigrants:  Spaniards in the US, 1868-1945.  Order herehere.

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La huella invisible

loscuatro.jpegLou Piniella, de Tampa, Florida, ocupa un lugar privilegiado en la historia deportiva de EEUU, por sus logros durante tres décadas como jugador y “manager” en las Grandes Ligas del béisbol. Dan Albert, de Monterey, California tras los 20 años (1986-2006) que ejerció como alcalde de su ciudad natal, es una figura casi legendaria. Ralph Abascal, de San Leandro, California, es un auténtico héroe entre los defensores de los derechos humanos en California; como abogado tenaz y astuto fue el artífice de la estrategia legal que por fin logró la prohibición del uso del mortífero pesticida “DDT” en el estado. Carmen Fariña, de Nueva York, en la actualidad dirige el sistema de escuelas públicas de su ciudad, el más grande y complicado del país. ¿Qué tienen en común estas eminentes personas nacidas a lo largo y ancho de EEUU?

Todos son descendientes de españoles que se asentaron en EEUU a finales del XIX o principios del XX. Y en realidad, sólo forman la punta del iceberg: son los descendientes más visibles de una diáspora sumergida. Porque muchas veces ni siquiera los mismos descendientes se dan cuenta de que, entre 1880 y 1930, decenas de miles de españoles acabaron buscando su fortuna en EEUU, asentándose en compactos enclaves desperdigados por todo el país, entre compatriotas, en estados como Nueva York, Florida y California, entre otros.


Del libro Invisible Immigrants:  Spaniards in the US, 1868-1945, de James D. Fernández y Luis Argeo.

En realidad, la historia de estos inmigrantes españoles en EEUU es un pequeño apartado de dos historias mucho más amplias y mejor conocidas. La primera, la historia del ingente trasvase poblacional de Europa a las Américas, que transformó de forma radical los dos continentes entre el siglo XIX y el XX. España participó en este fenómeno, “enviando” a unos cuatro millones de sus ciudadanos a las Américas, entre 1850 y 1930. La vasta mayoría de esta diáspora tendría como destino algún punto de la América de habla hispana; no obstante…

La segunda historia -estrechamente solapada con la primera- en la que habría que inscribir el fenómeno de los españoles en EEUU, es la de la emergencia estadounidense como una gran potencia “hemisférica”. El declive del imperio español a lo largo del siglo XIX -desde las guerras de independencia de principios del siglo hasta el “Desastre” del fin de siglo- coincide con la creciente hegemonía de EEUU en la región. A lo largo del siglo XIX (y también durante todo el XX), mediante inversiones, intervenciones e invasiones, EEUU irá circunscribiendo “Latinoamérica” dentro de su esfera de influencia. De tal forma que, ya para 1900, un emigrante español, una vez en La Habana, Veracruz o Buenos Aires, se podría sentir mucho más cerca de Tampa, Nueva Orleans o Nueva York que de Santander, Vigo o Cádiz. E igual que sus “primos” puertorriqueños, cubanos, dominicanos, mexicanos -que también emigraban a EEUU en estos mismos años- el emigrante español podía decidir enfrentarse a los retos -y las oportunidades- de ese nuevo y turbulento intersticio “entre imperios.”

Azúcar y tabaco

En 1898, las islas Hawái se vuelven territorio estadounidense. Los nuevos plantadores de caña de azúcar del archipiélago desean “blanquear” y estabilizar la fuerza laboral de sus plantaciones, y, por lo tanto, deciden reclutar obreros de extracción europea con experiencia en el cultivo de la caña. Importan primero a puertorriqueños y portugueses. Pero en 1907, descubriendo que hay tradición azucarera en las provincias de Málaga y Granada, y conociendo la profunda miseria en la que está sumida el campesinado español tras el “Desastre”, los plantadores se fijan en España. Y así se iniciaría uno de los episodios más importantes y más fascinantes de nuestra historia.


Cartel de reclutamiento.  [Documento cedido por Fraser Ottanelli]

Algunos descendientes conservan en sus archivos familiares ejemplares de los pasquines con los que los plantadores reclutaban en España. Como uno de sus objetivos era colonizar el territorio recién adquirido, buscaban atraer a familias enteras, multigeneracionales. La respuesta no se hizo esperar: entre 1907 y 1913, se apuntaron más de ocho mil españoles -y no sólo de las zonas azucareras de Málaga y Granada, sino también del resto de Andalucía, de Valencia, Extremadura, y hasta de las lejanas provincias de Salamanca y Zamora. El viaje del primer barco que hizo la travesía de Málaga a Honolulu suscitó una gran polémica internacional. En España, el triste espectáculo de la partida de centenares de campesinos indigentes rumbo a un territorio yanqui tan lejano levantó ampollas: el 9 de marzo de 1907, publicaba La Correspondencia: “la opinión general es opuesta a esta emigración, que se considera aventurera y a la que se augura un resultado desastroso […] Todo el mundo califica de absurda una emigración a unas islas donde todo será extraño a los emigrantes, usos, costumbres y hasta el idioma”.

Para algunos emigrantes, la experiencia pudo haber resultado desastrosa o absurda. Pero para la mayoría acabaría siendo más acertado el pronóstico optimista lanzado también en 1907 por el Washington Post: “Dentro de pocos años […] aquellos españoles que están en Hawái trabajando por su salvación serán buenos ciudadanos estadounidenses”. Es cierto que las promesas de los carteles se antojaban muy exageradas; y muchos de aquellos emigrantes -quizá 6,000 de los 8,000- en cuanto pudieron dieron un segundo salto, esta vez a California, donde se establecerían en compactas comunidades en la parte centro-norte del estado. Tal es el caso, por ejemplo, de los padres alicantinos de Daniel Albert, quien llegaría a ser alcalde e hijo predilecto de la ciudad fundada por Junípero Serra y Gaspar de Portolá; y tal es el caso de la madre sevillana de Ralph Abascal, el mencionado paladín de los derechos de los trabajadores agrícolas de California.

aventurahistoria3 .jpeg

Hijos de jornaleros españoles, cerca de Sacramento, California, durante la cosecha, c. 1925.  Muchos españoles se afincaron en esta zona de California tras el periplo hawaiano.  [Foto cedida por Mike Muñoz]

El azúcar se encuentra en el centro de las historias de Albert y Abascal. Pero el lugar de honor de la historia de decenas de miles de inmigrantes españoles que se desenvuelven en la otra punta del país, en Tampa (Florida), lo ocupa el tabaco. De nuevo, estamos ante unas historias que transcurren en los intersticios entre imperios. A causa del estallido en 1868 de la guerra independentista cubana, buena parte de la industria tabaquera de la isla se trasladaría de La Habana a Cayo Hueso, en La Florida. Los dueños de muchas de las fábricas más importantes eran españoles, entre ellos, el valenciano, Vicente Martínez Ybor; el cántabro Ignacio Haya; el asturiano Serafín Sánchez, etc. Pero ya para mediados de la década de 1880, la diminuta y mal comunicada isla de Cayo Hueso se quedaba pequeña para los magnates del puro. Sería en 1886 cuando Martínez Ybor y unos socios y rivales decidieron trasladarse de nuevo; esta vez, a una pequeña población en la costa occidental de la península de Florida: Tampa. Así comienza otro de los episodios más espectaculares de la diáspora española en EEUU.

En 1886, Tampa era una somnolienta aldea de pescadores, con apenas 700 habitantes. Pero en menos de treinta años, gracias en gran medida al tabaco, la ciudad se transformaría en un vibrante centro manufacturero, con una masiva presencia de españoles, principalmente de Asturias, Galicia y Cantabria. Un informe preparado en 1913 sobre los españoles en Tampa describe así sus contribuciones al desarrollo de la ciudad: “La industria del tabaco está casi toda en […] manos [de españoles]; las instituciones españolas no tienen igual en el país; … sus hoteles, restaurants, cafés, salones de licores y comercio en general nada tienen que envidiar a los mejor establecidos; y los trabajadores pueden presentarse como ejemplo de laboriosidad y corrección, a las que va unido un previsor espíritu de economía”.


Españoles e hijos de españoles beisboleros, Tampa, Florida, c. 1930.  [Foto cedida por Alicia Menéndez]

En esta época dorada de la “Capital Mundial del Tabaco” (1890-1940), decenas de miles de españoles -entre ellos los abuelos asturianos de Lou Piniella- convivirían en Tampa con cubanos e inmigrantes de otros países europeos. A la sombra de las enormes fábricas de puros que jalonan el paisaje de Ybor City y West Tampa apenas se trazaron canchas de balompié; todos los hijos y nietos de los habitantes de esta ciudad jugaban al béisbol.


Hacia la visibilidad

El relevo imperial no explica todo el fenómeno de la emigración española a EEUU. Hay capítulos importantes de la historia -el los españoles que encontraron trabajo en las minas o en las industrias pesadas de lugares como Arizona, Virginia Occidental, Ohio, o Pensilvania, por ejemplo- que se atribuyen mejor a la incipiente globalización del mercado de trabajo a principios del siglo XX, y a la creciente demanda de mano de obra barata en EEUU. El fascinante capítulo de los pastores vascos en los estados montañosos del oeste parecería tener más que ver con la oferta de unas destrezas peculiares, y con la creación de redes informales que conducían el proceso. Se podría decir otro tanto del caso de los cántabros que trabajaron principalmente en las canteras de granito de Nueva Inglaterra.

Manuel, Herminia and Andres Sanchez

Inmigrantes gallegos, en el tejado del “tenement” en el que vivían, con el Puente de Manhattan al fondo, c. 1920.  [Foto cedida por la familia Alonso-Sánchez]

Pero el concepto de relevo imperial sí ayuda a contextualizar buena parte del fenómeno. Incluso, por ejemplo, la peculiar historia de la emigración española a Nueva York. La Sociedad Benéfica Española de Nueva York -la organización española más antigua de la ciudad- se fundó en 1868. Los fundadores fueron empresarios y profesionales españoles residentes en la ciudad, muchos de ellos vinculados, de alguna manera, al comercio colonial. Y algunos, cómo no, al mundo del tabaco y del azúcar. Decidirían fundar esta organización benéfica en la coyuntura concreta de 1868 precisamente porque el estallido de la lucha independentista en Cuba en ese año generaría una oleada de exiliados españoles que huían del malestar en la isla, buscando refugio en Nueva York. Ya durante las primeras décadas del siglo XX, la colonia española de Nueva York tendría como núcleo una comunidad de vascos y gallegos fuertemente vinculada al transporte marítimo atlántico, radicada en tres de las zonas portuarias más importantes de la ciudad. De la colonia gallega -coruñesa, sadense, para más señas- que vivía en la zona de los muelles de Brooklyn, procede la familia de Carmen Fariña, actual Directora del sistema de escuelas públicas de la ciudad de Nueva York.

Albert, Abascal, Piniella y Fariña. La mayoría de estadounidenses no reconocería la ascendencia española de estas cuatro grandes figuras con apellidos poco comunes. Y quienes sí la reconocen, probablemente la interpreten como casuales casos aislados y no como unas cuantas muestras, más o menos notorias, de una sustanciosa diáspora sumergida y casi invisible.

© James D. Fernández

[Una versión de este texto ha aparecido en La Aventura de la Historia, 208, febrero de 2016, pp. 60-63

Co-director, con Luis Argeo, del proyecto archivístico: “Ni frailes ni conquistadores: Españoles en Estados Unidos”.


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