I love that show on PBS called Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The series uses traditional genealogical research and genetics to find the family history of famous Americans.
About 15 years ago, I became interested in learning more about my family history and started asking the eldest members of my family on my Father’s side about where they had come from and how did they get to America. I focused on my Father’s family because other than my Mother, I didn’t really have any contact with other family members on that side.
During my conversation with a cousin about our genealogy, she mentioned that someone had done a research project and published a book about Spanish families who had migrated to America from Spain to escape Franco’s dictatorship and our family was one of the families she had profiled. So I contacted the publisher and found out that the book called Memories Of Spain had been out of print for some time but I got the author’s contact information and I wrote to her to see if she may have some additional copies laying around that she would sell. She happened to have one copy of the book left and she sent it to me.
It was fascinating to read about how in 1907 my Paternal Grandfather and Grandmother came
to America. They were living in Malaga, Spain with one child, my eldest Uncle when a Sugar cane company came to their village recruiting skilled workers to work in the sugar cane fields in Hawaii with promises of a living wage as well as room and board and after 3 years of productive work they would be given a house on one acre of land. My Grandfather was a professional tree grafter and farmer and wanted to escape the political and economic oppression Spain was experiencing at the time.
The Long Voyage to America
Six ship voyages from 1907 to 1913 came to America from Hawaii, relocating nearly 8,000 Spaniards seeking a new life. They were recruited mostly from the Southern agricultural areas of Spain. The voyage was very difficult and long averaging 53 days for each of the six trips.
Life on the Sugar Cane Plantation
My Grandparents were located on a sugar cane plantation near Hilo, Hawaii. According to an interview in the book with my eldest uncle who was five years old when they arrived, “The Hawaiians were barefooted all the time, ladies and men. The Spaniards communicated well with the Hawaiians, (we called them Kanakas) and sometimes we had parties with them. There were Portuguese, Filipinos, Chinese, and Japanese working in the sugar cane fields side by side, but they lived separately from the Spanish camps. There was a grocery store nearby but my family raised and grew almost everything that we needed.”
In another interview with my Uncle, he said, “My parents did not stay the full five years of their contract. Three Spanish families left Hawaii previously and went to Placer County, California. They wrote to my parents about the beautiful land and jobs, and this helped my parents decide to leave Hawaii and go to California.”
My Grandparents settled in Central California and lived and worked on rented farms. They had 12 more children, the youngest of whom was my Father. My Grandfather died in a car accident and left my Grandmother to raise the kids.
Someday I hope to pursue some additional genealogy research on our family but this accounting of my families’ migration from Spain is a good start.