“The first of this family to go to New York was Luís, an uncle of my great-grandfather. First he took Julio Pita Concha and then he took the other brothers: Rogelio, Luis (nephew of the previous one) and Román.
Julio was the oldest, the first to leave and send money to support his brothers, since his father had died young and his mother had been left in charge of all the children. Julio was also the first one to return; in 1934 he established a clothing store in the street of Santo André in Coruña, which was called “New York in A Coruña” and disappeared in 2016.
Román was the father of my paternal grandmother, a native of Porto de Santa Cruz (Liáns, Oleiros). He arrived in New York on December 15, 1919 aboard a ship called Chicago, which had left Bordeaux. At that time I was 28 years old and already married, with a daughter (my grandmother) who was 4 years old. The document indicates that he was going to meet his cousin, called “Manoel Llanos”, who lived at 13 11th St. (13). No one in my family remembers this person and I have the impression that the real name could be Manuel Yáñez, because that surname was in the family (in this area there is an implosive seseo and I remember my grandmother pronouncing “Yáñez” as “Eañes”). On the other hand, the document indicates that my great-grandfather had previously entered the United States in 1914 and 1918, which was very surprising to me; in any case, I could not find the records for those voyages, although the digitization already covered the entries in the port of New York from 1892 to 1924.
Finally, in addition to details about physical characteristics, it is indicated that the profession he was going to take (“calling or occupation”) was fireman. This particularly surprised me. In my house it was always said that he had a restaurant called “Fundador”, in partnership with a man from Padrón called Bustelo, but it was never mentioned that he was a firefighter. I imagine that over the years he would have changed occupations many times. And there is another thing that intrigues me: at that time there were many people from this municipality living there. From what I was told at home, many of them worked as stokers in the heating boilers of the buildings and spent half their lives locked in those basements, until they ended up half crazy. Is it possible that I am misunderstanding “fireman” and this occupation has something to do with stokers?
At that time, migrants in New York sent all kinds of products to their families. At the height of the Spanish Civil War, they even sent La Giralda brand Spanish olive oil, which was not available in the market here. Also cod on Christmas Eve, Mundo coffee in round cans, meat concentrate in pills… My family also remembers an iron (electric and with thermostat), lots of clothes… My great-grandfather Román had a friend who worked on the ship Marqués de Comillas and sent things for him. Another neighbor, uncle Manolo, had another friend in Magallanes called Jaime and he was a waiter, thanks to which he also managed to send packages.
My great-grandfather spent practically the rest of his life in New York, with sporadic visits. In the 1950s (approximately in 1955) he returned here with the intention of staying, but the doctors detected a tumor and he decided to go to the United States for surgery. He passed away there and was buried in New Jersey by our relatives. In the late 70s, my grandparents traveled to New York and visited his grave, of which we have a couple of photographs.
In 2006 I also visited the city and wanted to locate the cemetery. A relative of ours (son of Celia Garrido Pita), who was a boy in 1957 and now lived in Las Vegas, replied to an email giving me the clue that the cemetery was in Elizabeth (New Jersey), near the Newark airport. From what he told me, many of the Galicians he knew had been buried there and he imagined that would be the place, but he couldn’t remember the exact name. I visited Mount Olivet Cemetery (Newark), but it happened to be Holy Saturday and the reception was closed. Now I think the cemetery must be the Rosedale and Rosehill Cemetery, in Linden (NJ), because there is evidence on the web of a Román Pita who was buried there in 1956.
Julio Garrido Pita spent a good part of his adult life in New York, where he owned the restaurant “Ebro”. With the money he earned, in 1959 he established the first gas station in the Porto de Santa Cruz, which disappeared in 2016.
Manuel Porto Blanco was born in Abeleiras de Baixo (Dorneda, Oleiros), and was the brother of my paternal grandfather and godfather of my father. His father Antonio had already been a merchant mariner: he died at sea and was buried in Santiago de Cuba. Manuel emigrated to New York and there he work on the same trade. First he went to Buenos Aires and from there to the United States. He started in Argentina because he had his brother Francisco there, who was the oldest and had a printing press, a bookstore and a bus company. Francisco had left because he already had some uncles in Argentina, who were his mother’s brothers. On the other hand, my family interprets that Manuel Porto Blanco maintained a certain commitment to the Republican side, among other things because, during the Spanish Civil War and the first Francoism, his merchant ship sometimes touched the port of Bilbao and he did not go ashore . He had some arguments with his brother, my grandfather Antonio, because of the cultural shock: Manuel insisted that in the United States he was Mr. Porto; my grandfather, who had been in the union before the Civil War and had a certain admiration for Russia and a some disdain for the United States, didn’t like that he did not use his full name, including his mother’s last name.
He returned for good in the 60s/70s and settled in Abeleiras with his sister and nieces. He remembered the time of the Civil War, when he collaborated economically “with the Republican cause”. At the end of the 70’s and beginning of the 80’s, my parents had just got married and accompanied him to the dinners and meals “of the Americans”. These were events that brought together emigrants returned from the United States in this area of Oleiros, Sada and Bergondo. They took place on the 4th of July and on Thanksgiving. My parents noticed that the diners left right after lunch, without a chat, and they always interpreted it as a custom they had adopted there. My father remembers an occasion when Emilio González López came and gave a speech.
On the side of my family, my mother is from Veigue (Sada). An uncle-grandfather of hers also migrated to New York, Antonio Vilachán Sánchez (brother of my grandmother María Rosa). He died in a construction-related work accident. The family received little information about what had happened. With the money they sent from the compensation, my mother’s grandfather made the old niche that the family still keeps in the cemetery of their parish (Santa Comba de Veigue, Sada). There were many residents and relatives of Veigue in New York at that time.
Outside of my family, my parents’ generation has many memories of neighbors who immigrated to New York and what that emigration meant for families in Santa Cruz, especially in the first half of the 20th century. To finish, I reproduce a Carnival song that was dedicated to one of those neighbors, who went to New York and returned shortly because he didn’t adapt well:
Eu fun a Navayor
aló botei un ano
trouxen un baúl
coma un americano
(I went to Navayor
I spent a year there
I brought a trunk
like an American)
Our thanks to Antonio Porto Sánchez for generously sharing this family story.