Centro de Instrucción y Recreo de Bergondo y sus contornos

Society founded in New York in 1924.
Bergondo y sus contornos committee (1934) (Arquivo Municipal de Bergondo)

Society founded in New York City by migrants from the Bergondo area on January 1, 1924, to address the migrants’ lack of education and how this hindered their lives and even communicating with their families (due to illiteracy). Its building was located in 94 James Street, 311 Water Street and later in 239 West 14th Street. Its members were primarily workers employed on U.S. merchant ships, and paid a monthly fee of 50 cents.

The aim of the society was to buy land in Bergondo to build an educational center, for which they organized social gatherings and balls to raise funds. They chose the lands of “A Senra”, and to acquire them, a twin society was founded in Bergondo in 1926, with the same name and based in the house of one of its founding members, Andrés Lendoiro. The society’s regulations stated that the center would provide free education to children of both sexes who were relatives of the partners, and to children from disadvantaged families, as well as night education for adults. The members of the New York society were also full members of the Bergondo-based society.

Founders of the society Bergondo y sus contornos in the 1920s (Arquivo Municipal de Bergondo, photo provided by Francisco Mosquera Muíño)

Thanks to donations raised by both societies, the building, popularly known as “A Senra”, was inaugurated on July 12, 1936. However, it was seized at the beginning of the Civil War, to be used as a barracks for Franco’s troops and as a German radio station to spy on the Communist Party’s Radio Pirenaica. After the war, it became the property of the regime’s Ministry of Education, which transferred it to the University of Santiago de Compostela, and functioned as a hostel for the SEU (Spanish University Union during the dictatorship). From the 1970s, the building was abandoned and declared in ruins.

“A Senra”, built by the society Bergondo y sus contornos (1936) (Arquivo Municipal de Bergondo)

In 1968, after many years of inactivity, a group of people from Bergondo began to meet in a committee of the Spanish Society “La Nacional” in New York City. Among them was Benito Santos, who played a key role in returning “A Senra” to the people of Bergondo. Despite the group’s continued efforts, also coordinated in Bergondo by Antonio Casal González, the requests sent to state representatives barely received a response. In 1987, the Defensor del Pueblo (Commissioner of the State) suggested that they apply to loan the building for social purposes. This solution was not carried out until 1999 by the mayor of Bergondo, José Fernández Ramos, making the effective transfer in the year 2000.

Committee for the recuperation of the building “A Senra” at the Spanish Benevolent Society, New York (1969) (Arquivo Municipal de Bergondo)

The building was renovated and reopened as a cultural center in 2007. Benito Santos, who was named Bergondo’s first Honorary Citizen, did not see the end result of thirty years of work to recover “A Senra”, which stands today as the legacy of New York-based migrants and the people of Bergondo who carried out the dream of building an educational center for their neighbors. (Sources: Bergondo City Council Archive, and the article “Unha achega á emigración galega a Nova York” (2008) by Nancy Pérez Rey).

“A Senra” after being recuperated and restored (personal collection)