Rodríguez Castelao, Alfonso Daniel

Rianxo, 1886 – Buenos Aires, 1950. Writer, artist and politician who stayed in New York from 1938 to 1940, in exile since the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939.
Castelao in New York (from Castelao, a UPG e outras memorias by Luis Soto, Xerais, 1983)

Castelao arrived in New York with his wife Virxinia Pereira on 26 July 1938, aboard the liner Ille de France, leaving from La Havre and with a stop at Southampton. The couple remained in the United States until July 1940 (including visits to other cities and a three-month stay in Cuba). They initially stayed at Alamak Hotel (Broadway, corner of 71st Street).

Castelao was invited by the Sociedades Hispanas Confederadas and the Frente Popular Antifascista Gallego, two anti-Franco groups based in New York and led by Galicians (Xosé Castro and Ramón Mosteiro, respectively), in order to gather support and funds for the republican cause. However, there are conflicting opinions on how this visit was funded and organized. In his memoirs, Luis Soto (who accompanied Castelao), says that it was President Juan Negrín who asked the Galician intellectual and politician to go to New York on a propaganda mission. However, Emilio González López vehemently rejects this theory, emphasizing that Castelao went to New York at the request of the Galician members of the aforementioned anti-fascist societies. This is also the theory suggested by Miguel Anxo Seixas Seoane, who indicates that Castelao had received an invitation from the FPAG before being contacted by the government, and that he had accepted this invitation in a series of letters now lost. Following the request of Minister of State Julio Alvarez de Vayo, the plan was for him to travel to Argentina on behalf of the Republic, and Castelao decided to first honor the commitments he had made in New York in August. Also according to Seixas Seoane, Negrín would have told him that he should go to the United States first, although it seems that these indications were given after Castelao had already accepted the invitation from the FPAG.

The choice of inviting (or sending) Castelao to New York does not seem accidental, as the Spanish community in New York (the biggest in the United States) included a large number of Galicians. Given his popularity as an artist and writer and his charismatic role as leader of the Galeguista Party, Castelao was especially positioned to galvanize Republican support in this country. Castelao was aware of the existence of a Galician community in New York, to which he addressed his letter “To the Galician anti-fascists of New York”, read before his arrival by the Galician politician Bibiano Fernández Osorio-Tafall in an event held at the Centro Gallego located in Union Square. Other aims that Castelao had in mind were to unify the community of Galician antifascists and to help those who were in Spain to leave the country.
Based on Castelao’s personal correspondence, Luis Soto’s account, and reports from the New York-based Spanish anti-fascist press gathered by Emilio González López and Amado Rincón, Castelao’s visit was a great success. One of the most memorable moments of his stay took place at a festival organized by the FPAG and the Sociedades Gallegas Unidas to raise funds, which took place on August 14, 1938 in the defunct Ulmer Park. There, Castelao made a speech that ended in Galician and with which he ignited the spirits of the Galician community. He also participated in several rallies in New York and New Jersey, for example in an event organised by the American League for Peace and Democracy, or giving speeches in Madison Square Park and in the venue of FPAG in Newark (St. George’s Hall 180, New York Avenue), and a lecture about Galicia delivered in Galician at the Centro Galicia. Luis Soto and him were named honorary presidents of the FPAG.

In 1938 he toured the United States, and visited Cuba between November 1938 and February 1939, in a propaganda campaign for the Republic. After returning to New York, , in the letters he sent several letters in 1940 appears a new address: 141 West 85th Street (Manhattan). According to Emilio González López, Castelao and Pereira moved to a residence where they rented a room with en suite kitchen and bathroom. They travelled across California in July and August, in a new propagandistic tour on behalf of a Catalan committee from Washington. In Hollywood he met Joan Crawford and Paul Muni, how were Republican sympathisers, and almost meet Charles Chaplin, but he was unwell. They then returned to New York.

After the end of the Spanish Civil War, Castelao found himself stranded in a country where he felt isolated and unable to find a stable income. This was in part due to his difficulties to learn English, but also to his status as undocumented, since his Republican documentation was no longer valid to work in the US. The Republican defeat and the internal divisions within the exiles increased such sense of loneliness and alienation, as can be inferred from the repetitive references to sadness in his New York letters. Despite his emotional state, until the end of his stay Castelao maintained his intense political activity, focused on helping the Republican refugees in France to travel to a destination in the American continent.

In New York he also published his third collection of Civil War drawings, Milicianos (1938), edited by the FPGA and exhibited in New York together with a variety of previous works, he wrote the play Os vellos non deben de namorarse, worked on the manuscript of As cruces de pedra na Galiza and began the second volume of his cultural and political essay Sempre en Galiza (first edition 1944, complete edition 1961).

The isolation that Castelao felt in New York came to an end when he moved to Buenos Aires, the ‘Ideal Galicia’ (in his own words), where he reconnected with the Galician community and a more familiar culture. But before leaving in 1940, he made a last effort to reinforce the feeling of Galician identity in New York with the suggestion that the FPAG change its name to Unity Gallega and leave the Sociedades Hispanas Confederadas. In the same year, shortly after its departure, Unity Gallega created the Casa Galicia that still exists today. In 1946, Castelao visited New York again, and was honored by the Casa Galicia of Unity Gallega, of which it was awarded its first honorary membership.

Selected Biography about Castelao in New York

Casa Galicia de Unity Gallega, ‘Historia de Casa Galicia’

Cochón Iris, Francisco Dubert, Alfonso Mato, and Henrique Monteagudo, “Introducción”, in Alfonso Daniel Rodríguez Castelao, Cadernos (1938-1948) (Vigo: Galaxia, 1993), pp. I-XXXIX.

Domínguez, César, “‘Eu son fillo dunha Patria descoñecida.’ Do Atlántico negro ao Atlántico verde a través da diáspora galega Castelao (cunhas notas sobre Whitman e Lorca)”, Grial 52: 64-71.

González López, Emilio and Amado Rincón, Castelao, propagandista da República en Norteamérica (Sada: Ediciós do Castro, 2000).

Mejía Ruiz, Carmen, “El exilio de Castelao en Norteamérica (Textos y documentos)” Madrygal 7:79-92.

Monteagudo, Henrique, “Castelao no desterro, na guerra, no exilio, Sempre en Galiza“, Homenaxe a Ramón Lorenzo, Volume 1, ed. by Dieter Kremer (Vigo: Galaxia, 1998), pp. 481-500.

__, “Tempo de derrotas. Castelao en Nova York 1938-1940”, Grial 52: 30-39.

Paz-Andrade, Valentín, Castelao. Na luz e na sombra (Vigo: Galaxia, 2012).

Pérez Rey, Nancy, “Panorama do exilio galego en Nova York”, Actas de Congreso Internacional ‘O exilio galego’ (Santiago de Compostela: Xunta de Galicia, 2001), pp. 600-614.

__ , “Unha achega á emigración galega a Nova York”, Estudos Migratorios 1(2): 31-61.

Rodríguez Castelao, Alfonso Daniel, Obras, Volume 1, ed. by Miguel Anxo Seixas Seoane, Manuel Rosales e María Cuquejo (Vigo: Galaxia, 1999).

__, Obras, Volume 6, ed. by Xosé Manuel Núñez Seixas (Vigo: Galaxia, 2000).

Seixas Seoane, Miguel Anxo, Castelao. Construtor da nación, Tomo II (1931-1939) (Vigo: Galaxia, 2020).

Soto, Luis. Castelao, a U.P.G. e outras memorias (Vigo: Xerais, 1983).