The Journey to New York

David Miranda-Barreiro
Senior Lecturer in Hispanic Studies, Bangor University (Wales)

Galician migration to the United States has often been forgotten. The political and cultural relevance of migratory movements to Latin America and the high numbers of Galicians who relocated to these countries have often obscured the existence of a Galician community in the US, especially in the cities of New York and Newark. The few and much needed studies that have examined this phenomenon in depth (Pérez Rey 2001, García-Rodeja and Pérez Rey 2007, Varela-Lago 2007, and Vilar Álvarez 2009) suggest the existence of an important Galician presence in New York, especially when contextualized within the total numbers of Spanish emigration to this city, as Galicians seem to have been the biggest group. The main places of origin of the Galicians who left for the United States were mainly coastal towns such as Bergondo, Sada, Oleiros, Muros, Bueu, Boiro, Carnota, Ribeira, and also other areas such as as Tomiño and Ourense.

As part of my research, in the summer of 2016 I visited the Municipal Archives of some of these places, where the traces of this migratory movement can be found in the register of migrants. To complete my archival itinerary, I also researched the Archive of Galician Emigration in Compostela, the Municipal Archive of the city of A Coruña and the Archive of the Kingdom of Galicia. It was precisely in A Coruña where I found very valuable information that sheds light on the process that migrants followed before leaving Galicia.

As an example, I will start by following the path of Juana Coloma Martínez, who in 1921 is 21 years old and lives in A Coruña. That same year, she decides to move to New York. To do this, as expected, she has to apply for a passport, for which she needed a certificate of residence from the City Council. Since Juana does not live in the city center (her address was near the Ronda de Nelle), she has to ask for a certificate from the Mayor of the Neighborhood, a figure that dates back to the seventeenth century, and who worked as a representative of the City Council in villages and neighborhoods outside of the urban center. Below is the report written for Juana, found in the Municipal Archive of A Coruña:

(Arquivo Municipal A Coruña)

El alcalde de barrio que suscribe informa: que Dña Juana Coloma Martínez y su hija Juana González Coloma así como el niño Pascual Rogelio Bouzas de 6 años de edad, hijo de Rogelio y Adelaida, que va a residir con sus padres a Nueva York y bajo el cuidado de la Doña Juana Coloma, con domicilio los interesados en Juan Castro Mosquera nº8 – 1º, llevan más de dos años de residencia en esta ciudad. Y para que conste y [sic] efectos de embarque expido la presente en La Coruña a veinticuatro de febrero de mil novecientos veintiuno

Enrique Toral

(The undersigned mayor of neighborhood reports that Ms. Juana Coloma Martínez and her daughter Juana González Coloma as well as 6-year-old Pascual Rogelio Bouzas, son of Rogelio and Adelaida, who will be living with his parents in New York and under the care of Doña Juana Coloma, domiciled in Juan Castro Mosquera nº8 – 1º, have been living in this city for more than two years. And for the record and [sic] for the purposes of boarding I issue this document in La Coruña on February 24, 1921.
Enrique Toral

The report also tells us about the whereabouts of another couple of migrants. Following a usual trend in migratory processes (not only in Galicia, of course), it was common for many migrants to have a family member in the city of destination, with whom they would meet, and this case is illustrative of this practice.

In the Archive of A Coruña we can find more examples of this kind of reports. We can also find the requests made by the future migrants made to the City Council for the issuance of this document, as is the case of Francisco Freire Cácharo (image below):

(Arquivo Municipal A Coruña)

And here is the report of the Mayor of Neighborhood:

El Alcalde del Barrio (G?) que suscribe
Informa que Francisco Freire Cacharo, de 31 casado jornalero domiciliado en la Calle de las Cuevas nº 9 – lleva residiendo en esta Ciuda [sic] mas [sic] de veinte años.

Y para que conste a efectos de emigración sobre pasaporte en el Gobierno civil expido la presente en
La Coruña 19 de Noviembre – 1920 Juan Canosa

(The Mayor of the Neighborhood (G?) who undersigns
Informs that Francisco Freire Cacharo, of 31 years of age, married, day laborer, domiciled in the Calle de las Cuevas nº 9 – has been residing in this City for more than twenty years.
And for the record for the purposes of emigration on passport in the Civil Government I issued the present document in La Coruña November 19 – 1920 Juan Canosa

Another example of a report is that of Isidoro Galán Mosquera:

(Arquivo Municipal A Coruña)

The next step in the tracking of our case studies is to check whether they were in fact granted a passport. This can be consulted in the passport registration books of the Archive of the Kingdom of Galicia, also in A Coruña. Not all of those who requested or received a report appear later in this record, so it is not always easy to follow in their footsteps. For example, I was able to find the names of Juana Coloma and Isidoro Galán, but not Francisco Freire’s.

(Arquivo do Reino de Galicia, A Coruña)
(Arquivo do Reino de Galicia, A Coruña)

Before leaving, the migrants also had to request a card, which provides us with evidence of their physical appearance. This card seems to be something specific to the City Council of A Coruña, as I have not found a similar document in other localities. Was this card made before or after the passport? In the Archive they could not tell me. A reasonable explanation would be that it was issued after, once they already had all their papers in order to be able to embark. But in the case of Francisco Freire, who does not have an entry in the passport register, he does have one of these cards in the A Coruña Archive. It may be that his name was lost in the passport register and therefore we cannot find it, or that it was recorded in a different book.

(Arquivo Municipal A Coruña)
(Arquivo Municipal A Coruña)

To travel from Galicia to New York there were ships that made this route regularly, the best known being the so-called “Marqués de Comillas”. According to the manifesto that can be found in Ellis Island’s archives, Juana arrived in New York on April 7, 1921, aboard the ship “Black Arrow” (departure from A Coruña). Ellis Island’s database gives us more information: we know that Juana is going to reunite with her husband, Francisco Gonzalez, who lived at 108 Cherry Street.

Black Arrow (Ellis Island records)

For his part, and also according to Ellis Island’s records, Isidoro Galán left A Coruña on May 30, 1921, aboard the “Alfonso XIII”, and arrived in New York on June 11. His contact in the city was his brother José, whose address was 174 Ferry Street, New York.

Alfonso XIII (Ellis Island records)

There are several entries with the name Francisco Freire in Ellis Island’s database, but it seems unlikely that they are for our case study. Some of the entries are prior to 1920, and after that they restart from 1924. This year, a man named Francisco Freire arrived in New York from Puerto Rico. Could it be that our Francisco traveled first to Latin America? Arriving in the United States after spending time in a Latin American country was not unusual. On the other hand, entering the United States illegally was also a common practice, for example on board of merchant ships. However, Francisco Freire seems to have all the documentation in order, so it does not seem like this was necessary. Another possibility is that his name was not spelled correctly in Ellis Island’s record, although the fact that there are a multitude of entries with the same name seems to rule out this hypothesis. Perhaps he just decided not to travel or postpone his trip.

Once they arrived in Ellis Island, the migrants had to go through two medical tests. Firstly, the so-called “six-second physical”, in which a doctor looked for symptoms of contagious diseases or other health problems. If he detected any of these problems, he would write a letter with a piece of chalk on the person’s clothes, for example an X for mental illness, or a B for back problems. The second physical examination was an eye test that looked especially for symptoms of trachoma. Between 1891 and 1930 about 80,000 migrants were rejected due to illness or physical problems and were unable to enter the United States, although this accounts for only 1% of all migrants arriving in this period.

After the medical tests, the migrants were called for an “Interrogation”. Within two minutes, the inspector checked whether the information provided by the migrant (name, age, religion, last place of residence, etc.) was correct, whether they could fend for themselves, and that they did not pose a danger to society. Only 2% of migrants were rejected after this interview. Most of them were given their “landing card”, which allowed them to leave Ellis Island and continue their journey. Before leaving the island, they could exchange their money for dollars, buy train tickets, and retrieve their luggage.


What happened to Juana and Isidoro once they arrived in New York? Their trail is lost from this point. Juana would settle at her husband’s address in Cherry Street, a (now disappeared) neighborhood where many Galician migrants lived. Isidoro would join his brother in Ferry Street.

As historians Bieito Alonso and Xosé Manuel Núñez Seixas tell us, Galician migrants in New York were of lower middle class, mainly laborers, sailors and port workers, a fact that explains why they gathered in areas close to the port such as Cherry Street and Water Street. In these streets and other areas of New York, migrants also opened shops and restaurants, and founded their societies, which Núñez Seixas describes as “microterritorial” owing to the strong link they had with their places of origin, to the point that municipalities such as Bergondo and Sada (very close to each other in Galicia), had their own society.

(Arquivo Municipal Bergondo)

The Galician societies of this nature that existed in New York, and of which I am aware were: “Bergondo y sus contornos”, “Sada y sus contornos”, “Seguros Mutuos Muradanos”, “Unión del Porvenir. Sociedad de Instrucción y Recreo de Tomiño e Taborda” and “Unión Cultural de Bueu, Beluso y sus contornos”. Most of these societies disappeared gradually after the Spanish Civil War, and the Casa Galicia (Unity Gallega) became the main reference for the Galician community to this day. There were also similar societies and “Centers” created throughout the twentieth century in the neighboring New Jersey, such as the “Centro Orensano” and “Hijos de Palmeira”, some of them still open today.