Se estrena en Tampa (Florida) LA PLOMADA, nuevo documental de Argeo y Fernández,
La 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org y 629 05 18 74)
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 →
We recently put out a call to some of our friends and collaborators, to ask them to reflect on what our project has meant to them and their communities across the United States. The response has been very heartwarming. Here are excerpts from some of the notes we’ve received. Thanks to all who responded. We love you too! This kind of feedback is what keeps us going, through thick and thin. There’s much work to be done. If you’d like to support us, please consider purchasing our book Invisible Immigrants: Spaniards in the US (1868-1945).
¡Gracias, y adelante!
Photo courtesy of Luz Castaños. Avelino Castaños, c. 1920
Robert Sanfiz, Director of Centro Español/La Nacional, New York City
Founded in 1868, the Centro Español/La Nacional is New York’s oldest Spanish immigrant organization. Once a center of the social lives of thousands of Spaniards in New York, La Nacional fell on hard times when, throughout the second half of the twentieth century, the immigrants dispersed and assimilated. But now, at the start of the twenty-first century, thanks to the renewed interest of the immigrants’ grandchildren, together with the arrival to New York of a substantial number of young Spanish expats, new life has been breathed into our organization.
The work of Spanish Immigrants in the United States is invaluable to all of us, because it constitutes the bridge to the past that we –both the descendants of the immigrants, and the new arrivals– urgently need, in order to understand and honor our past, and to chart and navigate our futures.
Mike Muñoz (northern California)
My name is Michael Campos Munoz. I am the past Chairman of the Archie Green Fund for Labor Culture, and the founder of the Hawaiian Spaniard Project. We are the descendants of the eight thousand Spanish immigrants who found their way to the United States via Hawaii. I am also a member of the Club Español in Woodland Ca and the Rocklin Spanish Club. These two clubs were formed to support and improve the lives of Spanish Immigrants and have existed in one form or another since the 1920’s.
Spanish children of migrant farm workers, near Vacaville, CA, c. 1925. Notice the tents in the background.
Until Professor James Fernandez began to collect and record the voices of our elderly parents and grandparents, very little had been done. Our rich history was dying, becoming invisible. James Fernandez has brought our historical memories back to life. Accumulated in his vast files are first and second hand accounts of the Spanish American War (1898), the building of the Panama Canal, The Vacaville Pruners Strike 1932, The Spanish Civil War 1936, the diaspora of thousands of Spaniards to North America between 1898 and 1940. They include forgotten memories of food and culture, our left wing roots brought from Spain, erased from our memories by Francisco Franco, Joe McCarthy and the anti communist union purges of the 1950’s .
His collection of photographs is incredible, and through social media, he has re-united families in Spain and the United States. He has given us a face of our own in the Spanish speaking community of Americans. Most Americans are dumbfounded when they learn that working-class Spaniards took part in the modern immigration history of the US.
I can only compare his work to that of Alan Lomax the renowned musicologist, and the modern day folklorist, Archie Green.
JOHN RANÓN, Tampa, Florida
Ángel Rañón and José Oural, at the Centro Asturiano in Tampa, Florida.
For years, many of those who comprise the Spanish colony in Tampa wondered how we fit into the big picture of Spanish immigration in the United States. We were curious and suspected that we were a significant piece of the puzzle, but we could not be sure. Dr. Fernandez’ stellar research on a national level has resulted in giving form to the whole of the picture. In so doing he has enlightened us and confirmed our place in the larger story. Of course, for this we are grateful, but for the Centro Español of Tampa in particular, his efforts have also served to energize and encourage our now 126 year old institution to continue in its quest to preserve, honor, and celebrate the legacy of our founders and those that came after. His methods, curiosity, scope of inquiry, devotion, and unflagging energy are an inspiration.
Kathy Pujazón Meers, Canton, Ohio
Our grandparents came here from Spain and their children grew up as life long friends. I am a second generation born here in the United States and feel the Spanish American Center Club has made me the person I am today. When the club first got word that you wanted to visit, the older members were not sure what you wished to know or how important your project would become. Facebook has been the best social media out there for everyone to see the interviews you did and post the information you have gathered. Jim, your project has brought all of us here in the United States and Spain together. Through pictures that you have scanned and posted, families across the world have been reconnected.
You lit a passion in myself to learn more about the Spanish people who came to Canton. I started the project of gathering obituaries, pictures of headstones, and funeral cards for past members of the Spanish American Center. I am interested in finding what jobs they did here, where in Spain they came from, where they might have lived in Canton, who are their family members, etc. I found an obituary just last week for Florentino Fernandez who died at the age of 22. He was the first Canton soldier to be killed in the North African area March 1943 during World War II. He received the Purple Heart posthumously. The members of our club have told and shown me their appreciation for my interest in this project.
We need to continue with what our grandparents started when they came to America, preserve our heritage, continue the values they passed down, the importance and closeness of family, traditions, and recipes.
Your continuation of this project is so important. Little did I know that there were so many of our Spanish communities throughout the United States. Many of these communities no longer have active clubs. You have traveled to meet many of the descendants of our ancestors who came to America, and to document this history that can not be lost. You just have to see how many people follow your Facebook page, Spanish Immigrants in the United States, to realize the impact you have made on all of us.
Thank you again for all that you have done and bringing us together.
“My grandmother (child in front) and her family arrived to Hawaii aboard the Heliopolis in 1907.” –photo and caption courtesy of Robert Martínez
When Columbus discovered America he knelt and offered a prayer of thanksgiving, according to history, and when the Spaniards discovered Honolulu this morning they also bent the knee and supplemented the act of adoration by fireworks.
Daylight fireworks in the grounds of a United States immigration station is something unusual So thought inspector Raymond Brown today when he heard a sizzling, hissing, sky-rockety sound and rushed out to see what was up.
There was a little group of bare-headed Spanish men and women, with rapt face turned toward the morning sun, and in their midst one of the immigrants was shooting off rocket after rocket as sort of an announcement to high heaven that their long journey was at an end an to God and the Hawaii Board of Immigration belonged all the glory.
Two thousand tho hundred eighty four men, women and children not counting three stowaways landed on Hawaiian soil between 7:40 and 9:40 o’clock this morning from the British immigrant steamship Heliopolis. 47 days from Malaga, Spain, which was off the harbor and examined by the quarantine officials yesterday afternoon and lifted er anchor to enter the harbor at 6:15 a.m. today, docking at the channel wharf at 7 o’clock sharp.
The great open ports, that permitted the egress of the lot of new citizen material, faced the growing daylight which made beautiful every thing upon which their eyes first fell when they marched ashore.
Passengers preparing to embark on the Heliopolis, Málaga, March, 1907. Photo appeared in the publication “Nuevo Mundo,” April 1907.
Eleven hundred, half of the multitude, are under fourteen years of age. They are sturdy looking little ones, these children the large majority, and their parents are wholesome appearing people for the most part. Poorly but cleanly dressed, packing baby-chairs, small boxes and trunks, bags full of clothes, sacred articles of household furniture, souvenirs of the homes left far behind in the old world, articles which are to be the nuclei of new, it is hoped, better homes here, trudged one after the other in a long, wondering, observing, happy-looking line from the towering immigrant ship, through the channel wharf shed, across the road to the fresh, green lawns and tidy grounds of the Federal immigration station to undergo the examination and registration required before they are fully admitted to the Paradise of the Pacific.
Inspector Brown had his coat off and every now and then would take a sailor’s hitch at his suspenderless white flannels. He had his hands full and his head full, and his hear full too, for there were, of necessity in so great a crowd and after so long and continued a voyage, several little lives just going out and the doctor had to be called here, and a dose of medicine administered there, and a hurried call for the whisky bottle had to be attended to.
Among so many children it is remarkable that more are not sick. As it is, but eight cases of contagious disease at present exist in “New Madrid,” seven of measles and one of mumps.
A number have already been segregated on account of trachoma, and where one member of a family is sick the whole family is put apart, so that the members need not be separated.
There were a few deaths among the children during the voy age and the original shipment from Málaga was somewhat increased on the journey by births to the number of about two score. Life prevailed over death by several points. The increase has not shown any signs of ceasing and returns are expected daily.
The men of the crowd are a hardy looking lot, though they do not as a rule run to longitude. Many appear lazy in manner, but perhaps there is more nonchalance than downright laziness in their composition. They are good family men, if one may judge by the concern shown for their offspring. They seem ready to relieve the often overburdened mothers as much as possible in the matter of caring for the youngsters.
Religion percolates the host of immigrants as meat streaks the bacon fat. Among them is
Priest who accompanied the immigrants aboard the Heliopolis.
a priest. They would not come without him. His blessing at a birth, his comfort at a death, his continued prophecy of sure arrival in the new country and his invocations in the night watches for the cessation of the storm, were as the voice of a father to his fearful children.
Among them there will develop villains, men in whose blood is the brew of brigands, men who will wield the knife when angered and need the strong hand of the law when steeped in wine, but by far the greatest number of these men are honest, reliable, reasonable, wholesome, clean-minded, children- and home- and wife-loving men whose philosophy is practical as it is sometimes picturesque.
Among them there will develop villains, men in whose blood is the brew of brigands, men who will wield the knife when angered and need the strong hand of the law when steeped in wine, but by far the greatest number of these men are honest, reliable, reasonable, wholesome, clean-minded, children- and home- and wife-loving men whose philosophy is practical as it is sometimes picturesque.
And the women, they are workers and helpers and made of stern stuff, for they are poor and know what is endurance, suffering and labor. They came with glad smiles and happy hopes, looking upon Hawaii as a promised land. Theirs is to write much of Hawaii’s future history. Among the girls are the someday mothers and grandmothers of governors, legislators, supervisors, priests, merchants, teachers and leaders. Beauty is well represented. There are many beautiful maids among them and in their eyes are fair promises for Hawaii.
The boys are a vigorous lot and eager. The rising generation of these immigrants will be the greatest return on the investment of this big migration.
But little trouble was experienced throughout the voyage from Malaga. Once or twice the cook spoiled the bread and disturbances were threatened. One man, of an ugly disposition showed an inclination to lead an uprising which was promptly settled by the right hand of a ship’s office carefully placed under the tip of the jaw. The ship’s doctor, as may be imagined, was kept busy. The vessel was crowded and there was, of course much to be put up with. But the accommodations aboard the Heliopolis were way above those the Suveric had when she brought the Portuguese shipment from the Azores and Madeira.
Among the girls are the someday mothers and grandmothers of governors, legislators, supervisors, priests, merchants, teachers and leaders.
In a little galvanized iron shed at the mauka end of the channel wharf are the offices of Walter F. Dillingham and Consul Canavarro. [Dillingham was appointed, it will be remembered, by the Hawaii Board of Immigration to look after the immigrants after they should be passed by the Federal immigration authorities and Consul Canavarro will be on hand as long as the people are being handled to listen patiently to all complaints and to set all troubles right.
For some reason no one was allowed aboard the Heliopolis. The master of the ship, according to the first officer, had given such orders. Not that anybody was particularly desirous of going aboard, except in the interests of duty, for an immigrant ship is about the most ill-smelling thing in the world. Nothing exceeds the unpleasant odor unless it be that which emanates from a still larger immigrant vessel.
This forenoon all the families with sick members were transferred to quarantine island, where they will be well cared for; children dying upon arrival will be buried or cremated this afternoon. Tomorrow morning it is hoped that the Hawaiian band will play for the immigrants.
Over eight hundred bunks have been arranged on the channel wharf for the accommodation of women and children as they are passed by the immigration authorities and until they are disposed of on various plantations.
This morning numerous representatives of sugar plantations and other citizens viewed the newcomers and the general opinion was, as nearly as could be gathered, that they were a far better looking lot of people than those brought here in the Suveric.
Inspector Raymond Brown is of the opinion that they are a most desirable people and so expressed himself this morning. From his close observation he believes they could not easily be excelled as a lot of immigrants.
There is one among the immigrants who represents a newspaper of Madrid. He is a young, adventurous sort of chap, evidently, for he has undergone the hardships of an immigrant ship for the express purpose of writing back the story of the journey, the reception and prospects in Hawaii. He is Señor Brozas and he will go along with a family, like the rest to a plantation and do his share of the work, remaining incog as far as possible. Incidentally he is going to look up grape growing possibilities for certain home interests. He is authority for the statement that the present expedition received the blessing of the Pope, which is doubtless some satisfaction to the religious members of the crowd.
As a matter of form an investigation will be held here by the immigration authorities into the incidents of the journey, treatment aboard ship and the conditions under which the people embarked. It is believed that everything will be found absolutely satisfactory.
The Heliopolis goes hence to Hong-Kong to load for an English port or Dublin.
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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?’”
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Idioma: Inglés y español con subtítulos en español
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.
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.
The 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.