Un entierro digno

Among the many amazing informants we met during our recent trip to the province of Ávila was Benito Montero Caamaño, grandson of Indalecio Caamaño Ruda. Indalecio was the oldest of 5 siblings, and the only one of the five to stay in the village when the rest emigrated to Hawaii (and later, California) in 1913.

Here Benito reminisces about Grandpa Indalecio, about the packages his family would receive in La Adrada from their cousins in California, about the visit from California of Aunt Elisa and her son Luis, around 1960, and about the execution of Indalecio’s youngest son, Mariano, during the Spanish Civil War.  Mariano still lies in an unmarked mass grave at the entry to the town. But most of all, Benito talks about dignity.

A very rough translation:

I am Benito, grandson of Indalecio Caamaño. These people have come here to make some kind of report, and I would like to know something about my relatives in the States, because even though I was in contact with two of them a long time ago, but I never heard from them again, and we practically don’t have any memories of them, so we’d like to get back in touch and learn a little about them.

Explain to us who Indalecio was…

Indalecio Caamaño was my grandfather. He raised me, because my father died when I was a young boy. So my grandfather took me in —with my sister and brother— and we lived our whole lives with him and our grandmother, until they died. When my grandmother died, they only had that one house, and there were four or five heirs, so they sold it. And my mother came to live with me, because I have two apartments where I live, and my mother lived the rest of her life in the downstairs apartment

What was your grandmother’s name?

My grandmother’s name was Petra. I have a photo of her if you’d like to see it. In this picture, you’ll see Petra and my mother.

This is the photo. Here is grandma Petra, Indalecio’s wife, and my mother, who was a widow. This was a small photo, but my son enlarged it on his computer…

What do you know about Indalecio’s father and siblings? [In 1913, the father Mariano, a widow, emigrated to Hawaii with his four other children –Elisa, Félix, Joaquín and Bernarda. Indalecio was the only one to stay behind.

I only know about Elisa. When they left for America, she had a piece of land here. It was called Cabildo. When they left for America, my grandfather farmed that piece of land; he farmed it every year until his death. I would go with him, with a mule that we had, to work on the farm: there were grapes, chestnuts, cherries, everything. A couple of months after my grandfather died, his sister Elisa came to La Adrada from California, with her son Luis. And they sold that piece of land to a guy who had much more land than us —four or five times more land— they sold it to him. I still remember the price. 35,000 pesetas. I was there at the farm with an uncle —my mother’s younger brother, Teodoro—when they made the deal and sold the farm.

And what did she do with the money?

She took it with her! She got the money, and took it with her. She had been sleeping and eating in my house for a couple of months, but she didn’t give us a thing. Of course I didn’t ask her for anything either.

Tell us: what do you have inside here?

Inside I have all kinds of junk. A sister-in-law redid her apartment, and all the furniture she replaced? Here it is. An nephew need to store some stuff? Sure. Just take it to Benito’s storage space! Benito will have room for it!

I have a couch in there,and some times I come here just to sit on the sofa. And it’s never cold. On a chilly day like today, you can be there in your shirtsleeves. And on hot days, you might need a sweater, because it gets cool. So lots of times, I just sit there and fall asleep. I have a lot of stuff if you want to come inside to see…

[Inside the storage space]
They would send, I don’t know, maybe once a year, some sacks about yay big, like those mail sacks you’ve probably seen, and they would send it [from California] full of clothes. And my grandfather would dump everything into a big pile in the big kitchen. And he’d choose a couple of things from himself, maybe a shirt —there didn’t used to be shirts like this one around here— two or three things. And the rest, for his four or five children. He would make piles and number them. And he would take his cap —he always wore the same clothes, black corduroy pants, vest, jacket and cap— and he’d put pieces of paper with the five numbers in his cap. And he’d say to one of the grandchildren, one of the smallest: “Take a number out of the cap.” “Let’s see: Number 4?” You get pile #4. Next!” Then maybe one of my siblings, my sister, who was the youngest: “Take a number? Number 2. Elvira [that was my mother]: you’ve got pile #2. And that’s how it went. Equally divided among the children. And what they sent to my mom, with the letters that they would send —I probably still have some, I’ll have to ask my wife, she knows better— they would sometimes enclose a dollar bill.

They told me that during the Spanish Civil War, we were on the Left, we practically still are. I don’t know if my uncle Mariano did something or said something —he was only 16 years old— he was the youngest of the brothers. And they said they were looking for him to kill him, so my grandfather hid him. So some time went by, and they tricked my grandfather. Some priests intervened, and they promised my grandfather that they were going to harm Mariano, that they just wanted to speak with him, and my grandfather told them where he was hiding. And they went after him.

And right there at the entrance to the town coming from Madrid, they shot him and two or three others, and left him there. Right after they picked them up. And they didn’t tell the families or anything so they could bury them. He disappeared. That’s how they killed here.

Of course, my uncles and aunts and my grandparents felt great resentment. And my grandmother said that for as long as she lived, she would never ever step foot again in church. Some time past, and since I, since I was a young man, had become the head of the household —my grandfather died, my father was gone, and I was the oldest of the boys— I played the role of the father. And my grandmother always used to say to me, even when she was old and pretty sick, sometimes the priest would sometimes go to visit her to my house. And he would say: “Petra, one has to forgive and forget those things.” And she would say: “I won’t neither forget nor forgive. I never did anything, but what you all did to me, I will never forgive. I’ve never stolen or killed; but you all have stolen and killed” —she would say that to the priest. “So when you come to talk with me”, she would say, “you’re just wasting your time. Because I’m not going to listen to you or pay any attention to you. And I’ve already made it clear to my family: the day that I die, don’t even think about taking me to church.” And then, one day, my grandmother dies. In my home.

And the priest comes over and says: “Well, mass will be at 4:00.” That was the custom. They’d take the deceased person to mass in church, and from there to the cemetery. And I said: “No, from my house, my cousins and I will put the coffin on our shoulders and take her directly to the cemetery. Under no circumstances will she go to church. You know this very well, because I’ve heard her tell you forty times what had happened, and how she would not go to church even after dying. And I’m going to respect that.”

“Well,” the priest said, “if she doesn’t go, I won’t say mass for her, and I won’t give the response or anything.” And I said: “For all I care, you can stay at home or in church doing whatever; my grandmother will not go to the church.”

“Well, then do whatever you want with her.”

“That’s exactly what we’ll do.”

The next day, the day of the burial, at 3:00 or 3:30, he was already in the house. We had grandmother’s casket in the entrance, and the neighbors were there, some praying, some crying. He came, murmured some prayers, and took off. “Goodbye.” “Goodbye.” And my cousins and I took her to the cemetery. She’s in the grave where my father is; he was buried first. My mother bought that grave, in perpetuity. Then my grandfather died, we buried him there. My grandmother too. Then my mother. All four are buried in that same grave.

I made the grave myself. I did the whole thing. I used stone, and at the head I made a cross out of ivy. With strings, I’m tying and shaping the ivy so it takes the shape of the cross. But my grandmother did not go to mass or church or anything..

Can the tomb be visited?

Whenever you like. You’ll see the tomb, made out of small stones, moss…

[in the cemetery]
Well, as you can see, we are in the cemetery where Indalecio Caamaño, Petra, his wife, my father, Alejandro Montero and my mother, Elvira Caamaño are buried.
[he describes the cemetery]
I built this tomb myself. The whole thing. Digging down approximately two and half of three meters. With a cousin, and some relatives. I made this grave and many others.

I don’t want it to be marble or anything like that. And my brother said: “When you’re going to do it, let me know and I’ll help.” And he came one Saturday, and we did it. I had the stones all ready; I found them in the fields and brought them here in my car. And I had a pile of stones here. My brother would hand me it. First we lay the bricks, then we seal it with cement, and in the middle I left this square to put the initials of the four people buried here. First we buried my father, Alejandro Montero; Indalecio Caamaño; Petra González, y Elvira Caamaño. These stones I went looking for them at a place we call “La Garganta” where there are a lot of nice small stones. I was careful to choose stones that were more or less similar in size. I poured cement, and then set the stones right in the cement.

Please explain the letters to me again:
Here is my father, Alejandro Montero. Then, Indalecio Caamaño. I was 9 when my dad died; 17 when my grandfather died. And I became the head of the house. […] This is Petra González, the wife of Indalecio. And the last one to die was my mother, Elvira Caamaño. She was never sick; died at the age of 94…

Video | Posted on by | 2 Comments

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York, December, 2016


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

The pamphlet can be ordered on-line here:


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

ESTRENO DE “LA PLOMADA” (Spanish press release)

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

2016, Repaso/Review

This gallery contains 20 photos.

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

Gallery | Leave a comment

May We Toot our Own Horn for a Sec?


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 Cabo 37lowerresam 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.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Hawaiian Star, front page, 27 April 1907.


“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.



Further reading:




Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment