Gallegos - Spanish for those born in the region of Galicia, Spain, and also applied to those with Gallego or Galician - the English equivalent - ancestry. This post was inspired by a tragic event a few months ago. A fellow blogger, La Ventanita, author of the Wall Street Cafe blog, to which Havana5060 proudly links, unexpectedly lost her father. Messages of condolence and sympathy were sent, and some emails exchanged; in one of these exchanges La Ventanita provided her father's surname, which was clearly of Gallego origin. Since the greater part of this blogger's family, on both maternal and paternal side, hails from green Galicia, this son of Gallegos decided authoring a post on Gallegos and their strong connection to Cuba might be a nice way of honoring the gentleman, my family, on both maternal and paternal side, and the hardy, hard-working sons and daughters of Galicia at home, in Cuba, and indeed in the many corners of the world to which Gallegos have emigrated, by the thousands.
Let us allow our friend, La Ventanita, to introduce the gentleman who inspired this post, the words taken from her own, moving entry in her blog, October 12, 2006.
"Papi was an immigrant all his life. Born in Lugo, Galicia Spain he migrated as a child to Cuba where teased by his classmates he quickly dropped his Spanish accent for the Cuban accent. He worked hard all his life. At the age of 14 he worked side by side with his father, while going to school as well. He barely got 3-5 hours of sleep. At the age of 21, he had achieved his dream - to own his own business: a restaurant bar named Wall Street.
In the 60's he left Cuba as soon as he could and moved back to Spain, where he met my mother who was also fleeing Cuba. They settled in Puerto Rico, where he worked for a while as a salesman for Kimberly Clarke. But Papi was a hard worker, and he liked to own his business. So once he had enough capital, he and three other Spaniards he had befriended in the island, created a partnership of four Panaderias. Papi loved us all very much - but his Panaderia was the love of his life. The picture above was the opening day of said partnership, and that is how I want everyone to remember my father."
We exchanged emails. In one of them, she wrote: “His full name was Jesus María Boveda Carvallo originally from Lugo, Galicia.” In other emails she revealed his "panaderias" - combination bakeries and grocery stores, in Puerto Rico, were called "El Mino." By the way, tilde over the n...pronounce it "Min-yo." The Mino - or Min-yo, as you please, is a river in the province of Galicia. The bakeries, aptly named, obviously reflected his pride in his ancestry.
Of course, there is also a Havana connection since Mr. Boveda Carvallo's Wall Street Cafe was one of the many bar-restaurants gracing the city, to be found at Aguiar 370. My father remembered the place well, and he speculated the name "Wall Street Cafe" was probably inspired by its location near Havana's financial and stock exchange district. Yes folks, there was a stock exchange in Havana - notwithstanding attempts by certain "rob-o-lutionary" robber-barons' insistence in painting the town as the capital of some Third World joint.
Now, there is no claim to certainty this is the original Wall Street Cafe. The exact location of these photographs is as of this date undetermined. However, let's just say a friend we shall refer to as our Anonymous Havana Correspondent took these photographs on a trip there not long after Mr. Boveda Carballo's unfortunate demise. Our friend had been asked beforehand to try and find the old Wall Street Cafe. If this is the right place, it sports a new name - "El Gallo," "The Rooster," and is under new...mis-management, as witnessed by the peeling paint and overall aspect of decay.
Dad, blessed with his prodigious memory, had previously said on one of his trips down Memory Lane, that the original Cafe was located around Aguiar and Obrapia streets. The Anonymous Correspondent did confirm the place pictured was near Obrapia. Perhaps we hit paydirt after all. One cannot help notice how the "rob-o-lutionary mis-management" ensured the name was changed so as to erase all trace and memory of a place whose name was inspired by a once-vibrant and relatively free economy.
There are interesting, yet not entirely unexpected, connections between Boveda Carvallos, Quirogas - my father's side, and Granjas - my mother's side. For starters, grandfather Quiroga also hailed from the province of Lugo in Galicia - from a town called Monforte de Lemos. Maternal grandfather, Manuel Granja Castro - hopefully no relation to ay member of the kastro klan kabal - also hailed from Lugo province; paternal grandmother Pastora Enriquez Alonso was another "gallega," from the tiny village of Caldelas de Tuy in Pontevedra province, this being dad's birthplace as well. The one exception to the Galician Connection was my maternal grandmother Maria Fernandez Aja, who was from the town of Ribas, Santander region, now referred to as the province of Cantabria. Nevertheless, she was not born that far from Galicia. Close enough to meet grandfather Granja Castro, at least.
As was the case with Mr. Boveda Carvallo, these gallegos, gallegas, and cantabrians wound up in Cuba, seeking opportunities for a better life. For this, we must thank the first President of the Republic of Cuba, Don Tomas Estrada Palma. There is a reference to the large-scale immigration from Spain to Cuba after the establishment of the Republic, as quoted in "Cuba - The Pursuit of Freedom," by author Hugh Thomas, found in Chapter XXXIX, page 471: "Spanish immigration began on a lavish scale, a bizarre consequence of the severance of Cuba's last formal ties with the homeland." We further learn, in Chapter XLI, page 497 - where Thomas discusses the increase in Cuba's population following the War for Independence from Spain, that "Economic recovery from the war and improved medicine and health were partly responsible but immigration from Spain was almost as important (blogger's emphasis): between 1902 and 1910 almost 200,000 Spaniards, mostly Gallegos or Asturians, emigrated to Cuba, attracted by opportunities for high wages."
There was a reason for this, and this takes us to the Estrada Palma connection, thoroughly explained by my father not too long ago. "My father, your grandfather Dario, took advantage of legislation promoted by President Estrada Palma, allowing Spaniards who were in Cuba and were willing to swear loyalty to the new Republic the opportunity to become Cuban citizens. In fact, President Estrada Palma opened the doors to immigration from Spain. He believed Spaniards were sons and daughters of Cuba, and we were as family, regardless of the conflict in which Cubans and Spaniards had engaged in not so long before his Presidency. So, your grandfather as well as many others, took advantage of this generosity and stayed in Cuba, becoming citizens of the Republic."
To which I can only add: Gracias, Don Tomas!
Unfortunately, some who took advantage of Don Tomas' generosity were the kind who did not care for Cuba, who wanted to use Cuba as a springboard for their own personal gain, and who deep down cared little for the Island Pearl and its people...such as a certain angel castro, inappropriately named, hailing from a small village in Galicia, Biran; who had found himself in Cuba as a Spanish army conscript. Regretfully, no stray bullet from an American Krag-Jorgensen found its mark into his fateful body, which was later to father a certainly satanic spawn, whom he named fidel castro...
You may wonder how grandfather Dario wound up in Cuba. His son had also previously told that story, discussed in an earlier post. "Your grandfather and his brothers Nicanor and Alvaro left Spain for Cuba hoping to avoid military service. They did not look forward to fighting Cuban rebels or any other foes. Nevertheless, shortly after they arrived in Cuba, sometime in 1897, they were inducted into the Spanish army. Because your grandfather had flat feet, and considered unable to do heavy marching, was posted to an artillery battery in La Cabana Fortress. His brothers Alvaro and Nicanor did go into the infantry, and saw some action when a troop train they were being transported in was derailed by the Cuban rebels, the mambises."
Grandfather was stationed here. This particular wall of the Cabana bastion is referred to as "Foso de Los Laureles," or Linden-tree Pit - the scene of many an execution of Cuban mambises by the Spanish. The same sad tale would be repeated inside its walls about 57 years after this image was created.
Fortunately, all came out of the experience unscathed. And then in 1902, following President Estrada Palma's generous decree, they all became citizens of the new Republic.
A brief pause to show you where most of our cast of characters hailed from, Lugo Province, Galicia, Spain. If you look carefully, you might find a small town to which my father's side has a strong ancestral connection...and I do not mean Monforte de Lemos, grandfather Quiroga's birthplace.
Well, lets see...how did these "gallegos" and "gallegas" make it to Cuba? What were the circumstances which, in at least this one family's case, intertwine their lives with, and become part of, the lives of the other inhabitants of the Pearl of The Antilles? Father's Prodigious Memory Bank to the rescue again! You can bank on it.
A grammatical aside: You'll notice throughout the rest of this post, descriptive names relating to nationality or ethnic origin, when the Spanish versions are used, will not be capitalized. This follows the usual grammar and punctuation conventions for Spanish. It does not mean one is diminishing the importance of a word or term.
Let him tell the story. He can do it far better than the son. At least the son can take good notes. No, thank you - do not aspire to be a journalist. Specially for the New York Times...being that we seek both news and truth here, backed by FACTS.
"After the war ended - the Spanish-American War - your grandfather Dario stayed in Cuba with brothers Alvaro, Nicanor, Alberto, and Constantino. Another brother, Antonio, had decided to emigrate to Argentina and made his life there. My father and my uncles went into business, setting up a small shop, a "baratillo," at the Manzana de Gomez commercial center. A "baratillo" could be described as a small dry-goods store, where they sold cheap household items, trinkets, and things like that.
As far as I know, the business was doing fine until 1907. That year, there was a fire at Manzana de Gomez, and the entire block burned. Your grandfather Dario and his brothers lost their shop - it was totally destroyed. These were the days before it was customary to carry insurance, so they lost everything."
Manzana de Gomez, 1899-1903 - by way of Pedro Pablo Peralta - his mother, Elvira Quiroga, was my father's aunt, one of the players in this story. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to meet her.
"My father had to return to Spain, to Monforte. Uncles Alberto and Constantino decided to find opportunity in the United States and went to New Orleans, together with their brother Alvaro. My other uncle, Nicanor, stayed in Cuba. Once in Spain, my father earned a living as an itinerant salesman, selling jewelry. This is how he met my mother; stopping during one of his travels at the village of Caldelas de Tuy in Pontevedra province, he stayed at the Hotel Enriquez, owned by my mother's family.
Mom worked with her family at the hotel. So, they met, courted, and then married in May 1910."
And, to use a historically-recognized cliche, "the rest is history."
Father at the ruins of the Hotel Enriquez, Caldelas de Tuy, Pontevedra, Spain - July 1976
Nicanor's narrative continues; that is, my dad Nicanor, not his uncle Nicanor, who unfortunately passed away in Havana March 1939, so regretfully our paths never crossed. "Eventually, things started going better with my father, and he returned to Cuba in 1922 to help his brothers Alberto and Constantino, who were in business importing eggs from New Orleans by way of their brother Alvaro's wholesale egg company Alvaro had founded in New Orleans."
Little, littler and littlest Quirogas at Caldelas de Tuy, the year before emigrating to Cuba - left to right: Dario Jr., Lola, Dad, Berta, and Manolo
"My father decided it was time for the rest of the family to join him, so he purchased steamship tickets for us and instructed mother to prepare for travel to Havana. Near the end of February 1923 our mother traveled with us to the port of Vigo from Caldelas, and from there we sailed to Havana February 28th, arriving at the port of Havana the 13th of March. The ship was the "Orcoma," belonging to the British Pacific Steam Navigation Company. Two recollections of the trip come to mind; these are thanks to your grandmother Pastora, who related them to me when I was older and could remember these better.
She said the steamship company's initials, PSNC, stood for 'Peor Servicio No Conozco,' that is, 'Worse service I am not acquainted with,' and 'Puercos Son Nuestros Cocineros,' translating to 'Our cooks are pigs.' Then there was the mystery of the disappearing cookies. Mother had bought several tins of cookies for the trip and kept them in our cabin or berth. We were traveling in 2nd Class steerage. Anyway, the cookies started disappearing and the culprit could not be found. This went on for several days until I was caught sneaking into the cabin and getting into the cookie tins. That stopped the cookie filching and solved the mystery."
To this day, father loves his bread, crackers, and cookies.
The "Orcoma" at the port of Liverpool, England - from www.simplonpc.co.uk; father was quite pleased when he learned images of "his" ship were available, and some interesting information as well, found while sailing through the Web at www.theshipslist.com/ships/descriptions/ShipsO.html.
11,546 gross tons, length 511.6ft x beam 62.2ft, one funnel, two masts, twin screw, speed 14.5 knots, accommodation for 246-1st, 202-2nd, 106-intermediate and 456-3rd class passengers. 247 crew. Launched on 2nd Apr.1908 by Wm. Beardmore & Co., Dalmuir. Glasgow for Pacific Steam Navigation Co., Liverpool, she started her maiden voyage on 27th Aug., when she left Liverpool for the West Coast of South America via Straits of Magellan. She was the largest and fastest vessel on the South American Pacific coast route at the time. From Mar.1915 she served as an Armed Merchant Cruiser with the 10th Cruiser Squadron on the Northern Patrol, fitted with 6 x 6inch guns and 2 x 6 pounder guns. On 7th Nov.1919 she reverted to PSNCo service via the Panama Canal and in 1923 was modernised and converted from coal to oil fuel. Jun.1933 scrapped at Blyth having been replaced by the REINA DEL PACIFICO. [Merchant Fleets, vol.8 by Duncan Haws]"
Father also added, confirmed by further dives into the Digital Ocean out there, that the PSNC favored giving their passenger ships names starting with "O," such as "Ortega," "Orbita," "Oropesa," and "Orizaba." "These ships bore some resemblance to the Titanic." But fortunately none are known to have suffered the same fate as that Unsinkable Leviathan...
Well, enough steamship stuff, before we get seasick. Suffice it to say traveling 2nd class in a steamship those days was an experience far removed from the one enjoyed traveling today's cruises to the Caribbean, Europe, and other exotic places. There must have been a reason why my grandmother's wry humor was manifested through her play on words or play on the initials of the Pacific Steam Navigation Company.
The voyage was uneventful, and on March 13, 1923 these Quirogas - grandmother Pastora Enriquez de Quiroga, her sons Dario Jr., Manuel, and Nicanor, with daughters Lola and Berta disembarked in Havana, there to stay until the 1960's.
With their father, my grandfather Dario Sr., they settled into their first home, an apartment in Old Havana, at Tejadillo No. 42, between Aguacate and Compostela streets. This is one of the first of many family photographs taken in Cuba. Sadly, of that group of Quiroga offspring, only dad and aunt Berta, standing next to him in front, remain as of this writing.
Commenting on this first address, dad explained that "in the 1950s, the mayor of Havana, Justo Luis del Pozo, decreed changes in the street addressing system of Havana, to make addresses clearer and more rational. The plan was that each city block would be assigned 50 specific address numbers. Many addresses from the beginning of the 20th Century changed, no doubt including that for Tejadillo No. 42. For example, Aguila street No. 71, where we lived at one time, became Aguila 257, across from 'El Mundo' newspaper; Muralla 82, where Charles Irving first set up his business, later was renumbered to Muralla 458; by then it was the Quiroga Hermanos (Quiroga Brothers) jewelry store.
Considering the rapidly progressing ruination of Havana these days, it is not at all certain that Tejadillo No. 42 - or whatever number it became - still stands; it is very doubtful dad would want to stand next to the ruins, if ruins is all that is left, and have his photograph taken.
I mentioned earlier the egg importing business my great uncle Alvaro - sadly, another Quiroga never met by yours truly - ran out of New Orleans with his brothers Constantino and Alberto - yep, another Alberto Quiroga. Constantino and Alberto had emigrated to The Big Easy in 1907. The United States 1910 census "found" them living at what no doubt was a boarding or rooming house somewhere on St. Charles Street.
It was not the intention to torture your eyes with this document, but it is the best that can be offered. If you count from the bottom, you will find Constantino on the 15th line, with Albert right below. They were bartenders at a saloon. Which one? I don't know, but no doubt they had a fun job...I'll drink to that! No, must stay sober to ensure this tale remains well-knit. Don't drink and blog. You might spill your cerveza Hatuey on the keyboard and prematurely end your blogging session.
They did well, and did all kind of jobs, as father recalls, sharing his wonderful recollections. I get the impression these two were his favorite uncles; certainly the ones who lived longest so dad had ample opportunity to share in their company. And lucky for this Alberto Quiroga, so did I. They were colorful, lovable characters. Constantino the quiet type, Albert the more voluble and volatile...hmmm, some characteristics appear to be genetically shared between Albert and Albert. Perhaps this is why my mother sometimes would jokingly express her belief that perhaps her son was really his great uncle Albert's offspring. I don't think so, though. Albert the great uncle was smarter.
They were not afraid of hard work because they knew that provided the opportunity to get ahead in their adoptive country. Years ago I remember examining a photo of Constantino, taken in a farm or ranch where he labored - said image unfortunately no longer available. Alberto cooked for crews of laborers in New Orleans or other places in Louisiana. Perhaps that is why he was a commanding presence in the kitchen; I still remember fondly a tasty, spicy, meat-n-vegetable stew he prepared which yours truly had no trouble wolfing down, only regretting reaching the bottom of the bowl so quickly. The dish seemed a combination of Spanish-Cuban-Louisiana Cajun flavors and its delectable taste is missed to this day. He was a first-class Kitchen Kommandant, and when the time came for him to do his magic, he had no hesitation in telling his brother, or anyone else who needed tellin', "get out of my kitchen!"
In New Orleans, for those of you who know The Big Easy a bit, they lived in St. Charles Street, Poydras number 515 - father states there is now a parking lot where the building was located, and Willow Street. Later they returned to New Orleans, and settled again in St. Charles Street; they owned a two-story home I recall visiting in 1954, during my first trip stateside. The stairwell to the second story seemed to go on forever, to a then four-year old.
Mother and father visited them at home in New Orleans, sometime in 1949-1950.
That's Alberto on the left - no, not THIS Alberto, although there is a Quiroga resemblance there. His brother Constantino took the photograph. Speaking of photographs, this is another thing the Alberto Qs have, or had, in common - a love of photography. If only the hundreds, perhaps thousands of photos and slides they took were available...what treasures! But sadly, after their death, these were scattered and we have but a handful to share with the readership - such as this one. The Quiroga photography gene lives on, though - just check out cousin Jorge's website and you will see. He too was fortunate to enjoy the company of this pair for a while.
They had stories to tell, many told to my father who engraved them in his outstanding memory. Mention was made that these Quirogas were not afraid to work and work hard, as needed. Father relates that, during the Great Depression, they had to look for work outside Louisiana and had to leave their beloved Big Easy for a while. "They had very little money, so they hitched rides on railcars - illegally, of course - and went North to Cincinnati, Ohio. There they found work as waiters at the Beverly Hills Hotel, which was a posh place in those days. One thing, Alberto was a hairy type, and had a lot of hair on his arms. When he applied for the waiter position, whoever was sizing him up for the job told him he'd have to shave his arms. Alberto was a little upset at that, and explained that since he would be wearing a long-sleeved dress shirt, he did not see how anyone would notice. Well, the boss or boss-to-be replied that he could see hairs sticking out of the shirt sleeves and Albert could either shave his arms or forget being a waiter. Albert shaved his arms..."
No whining in those days about "constitutional rights being trampled because I am being discriminated against for having hairy arms! I will complain to the Hairy Arms Protection League!" Alas, times have changed.
The job had its rewards. Dad's narrative continues. "Actors and actresses stayed at the Beverly Hills in those days, and dined there. Alberto and Constantino told me once how they waitered for the actor Al Jolson several times. They considered him a good tipper, because he gave 50-cent tips!" That was a fair piece of change at the time, in the Depressed 30's.
Perhaps you recognize Mr. Jolson better in his blackface alter ego - depicted here in this album cover, from www.parlorsongs.com; now don't get too excited..."politically correct" this may not be TODAY, but that was THEN, this is NOW. Live with it. At least one can say he was a generous gent - at least to my great uncles, he was.
Father tells how they saved and spent money wisely - no doubt aided by those 50-cent tips; they invested in the stock market and somehow, when others were losing their shirts in the market, they did fine. Their streetwise financial savvy allowed them to hang their waitering garb, or whatever work outfits they wore at the time, and they retired early, when that was but a fantasy for most people. They also profited from their association with brother Alvaro's egg exporting business, which eventually was liquidated. Here's another Cuban connection: the business closed its doors when, in the late 20's or early 30's, then-President -some would say dictator- Machado of Cuba imposed heavy tariffs on the importation of eggs into Cuba, which
caused the business to tank. But these Quirogas - once again - recovered from economic misfortune. It would not be the last time the family's economy would be affected by a dictator; no, worse - tyrant.
And for over 30 years, they quietly enjoyed life in New Orleans, and traveled extensively - to Europe, mostly to Spain; to Cuba and Mexico, and, of course, within the United States. During a trip to Cuba, in the early 50s, they were treated to lunch - or perhaps they did the treating? - at a popular countryside restaurant outside Havana, El Sitio - "The Place," located in the town of Wajay. Great food was to be had; I know - I was treated to lunch at said venue, more than once. Lucky 'lil guy!
This memento of a visit to El Sitio, from a Kodachrome slide dating to 1950-1951 could be titled "Gallegos in Guayaberas," don't you think? For those who might be a little puzzled, a guayabera is the typical, dressy linen shirt worn in Cuba and other Caribbean places. It has become a popular fashion item in the last 50 years.
Maybe the blogger is getting a little off track; maybe you think this is too much information, or perhaps it seems this exercise is turning into an "Albert & Constantino Quiroga Festival." Well, maybe so. These two were favorites, the equivalent of wise old owls with a good mix of life-and-street smarts, humor, bluntness - mostly on Albert's part - generosity, and overall fearlessness. You wanted to hang on to their words and advice, because there was much worth learning from them, and profiting from their experiences was very worthwhile.
Speaking of wisdom, experience, and bluntness...they saw through castro's poisonous political bulls...immediately, and made no effort to hide their displeasure with that toxic creature. On one of their visits to Cuba, in '59 or '60, I recall Alberto vehemently arguing with a niece about the bearded one's merits and demerits. For Alberto, there was nothing redeeming about that character and to put it bluntly, as he would have, he hated that bad scion of gallegos with abandon. The brothers' wisdom became evident when, once having given thought of purchasing an apartment at the Focsa building, they quickly gave up the idea after experiencing the changing environment in castroite Cuba. Thus the "bearded eminence" - sarcasm intended - did not get to filch a single penny from their pockets. I told you they were smart!
In January 1960 during one of their visits - perhaps their last - to Cuba, they gathered with most of the Quiroga clan in our last home, apt 29 CD in Focsa. It was winter, and although perhaps not particularly cold, the custom at the time was to wear dark colors for social events, even family dinners.
Maybe, given the dark, gloomy clothing worn by the participants, this one could be titled: "Gathering for Cuba's Wake." A wake-up call to the Cuban people would have been better...
Constantino is to the left; well, that would be your right, as you look at the image, speaking with an unidentified family member. Albert took the photograph; the young man holding little Albert is my cousin Raul Fernandez. Later, he was "treated" to a stint in one of castro's slave-labor UMAP - "Unidades Militares Asistencia Produccion" - "Military Units for Assisting Production" camps. These camps were punishment centers for those who displeased the "revolution" for "crimes" such as Raul's - daring to apply for permission to leave Cuba thus taking his engineering skills with him. Eventually, he got out but not before taking on a skeletal appearance from being overworked and underfed, with poor quality food at that. Think about these things next time you hear some ignorant never-been-there-or-done-that bozo extol the "virtues" of Cuba's crypto-nazi paradise.
During that probably final visit from the great uncles to Cuba, we took them on a road trip to the port of Batabano. It was a cool, gray, indeed dreary day and quite apropos, reflecting the mood of the times - which perhaps may also be seen in the faces of the subjects.
Great uncle Alberto did the honors with his trusty 35mm camera - probably a Kodak. Let me introduce other Cuban gallegos, or gallego Cubans, whatever you like, they were not picky about labels, unlike today's thin-skinned types. My uncle-by-marriage, Fernando Prego Sr., nicknamed - what else? - "El gallego Prego;" is translation necessary? - is to the right on the upper-right photograph. He was married to my mother's sister Josefina - who is seated next to her husband on the seawall. Mother and father you should be acquainted with by now; and, have no fear, they had military escort that day! You see, there were these stinking green-clad stormtroopers milling about, and naturally, suitable escort was required. Fortunately, all went well...which is a good thing as we were outgunned.
The next time we saw the great uncles was in the States, after our exile began in November, 1960. Thankfully, over the years, we were in frequent contact with them, and having themselves experienced upheaval and unforeseen change, they lent a generous hand when we needed it - but then, that is what a real family does...help each other through thick and thin.
Their former military escort from those Batabano days snapped this photo during a visit to our Miami home, summer 1975. By then, they had mostly given up wearing their traditional suits, although they still did so any time they went out to dinner. Dapper gents, they were, from another time, another generation - a great generation.
By then too, they had re-retired to a condo in Miami Beach - the Maison Grande, to be exact, Collins Avenue and 60th Street, for those who know the beach. And it was here that cousin George, in his early photography days, captured a slice of life in their condo, sometime in summer 1976.
Dad's sister, my aunt Berta, is in the middle, next to my grandmother. Little sis Grace is next to grandma. Whose birthday was it? Maybe Albert's, maybe Constantino. Within six months, Albert would be dead. Constantino passed on in December 1981. Both are buried, together with their brother Alvaro, in Metairie Cemetery, New Orleans. To this day, they are both greatly missed. But then, they were GREAT uncles, so that is appropriate. I can picture Albert arguing some fine point with St. Peter, while Constantino patiently and diplomatically looks on, getting a point or two across...
The brothers were not the only travelin' Quirogas, and the travel went both ways. In 1956, a young man - well, a six-year old - had his first opportunity to become acquainted with his family's ancestral homeland.
After an 18-hour flight in an Iberia Airlines Super-G Constellation, including a stopover at Lajes airfield in the Azores, an out-of-sorts mom with an 8-month old daughter in tow did not seem all that happy to be photographed at Madrid's Barajas airport, and having to pay 15 pesetas - the coinage at the time - for the privilege. That might have been all of 25 cents, in Cuban or USA coins.
Rule of Travel Number One: Do not spend 18 hours in the air with small children ...aren't you happy you live in these times of cramped seating, delayed flights, surly inspectors, terrorist threats, and bags-of-peanuts for passengers?
Things did not go that much better from that point. Grandma Fernandez, who traveled with us, became very ill in Madrid and had to be hospitalized. The six-year old also got sick...bowels got loose, perhaps due to withdrawal from rice-and-beans; he became dehydrated and to this day remembers being extremely thirsty because fluid intake had to be rationed - lest the bowels start a-grumblin'. Fortunately, there was literally a doctor in the family - one of dad's relatives, Dr. "Pepe" Parames, who tended to the boy and got him back on his feet. The memory of the intravenous fluid bag attached to his thigh is still kind of unsettling, fifty-one years after the "experience."
Dad, in true Quiroga photojournalism-verite style, captured this image of a pasty faced, thin, still-recovering future blogger at the port of Gijon, July 1956.
For these and other reasons, the trip was cut short, and we returned to Havana early September 1956, in time for school. That was fine with the little guy - he vowed never again would he set foot in Spain, gallego ancestors be damned!
He lied...in July 1973, he went back with four wild-and-crazy college friends, one a childhood friend from Havana days, to "do" Pamplona.
And he got sick again! This time, it was, as the Jimmy Buffett song goes, "my own damn fault."
Rule of Travel Number Two: Do not drink an entire bottle of cheap red wine - at the time, given the exchange rate, costing about 50 cents USA - for breakfast. It'll put you off wine for a long time, and the girls will have nothing to do with you.
All was forgiven and forgotten, and in 1976 an older, wiser, and sober future blogger returned to Spain with his family, visiting dad's birthplace for the second time, twenty years having elapsed since the first visit.
He took this image of his grandfather Dario's home, still in the family at the time, by the railroad tracks in Caldelas de Tuy. The house is to the left - the train barrier points to it.
It was a nice place in which to stay, if you could ignore the train's whistle, clack-clack, and rumbling. I seemed to have no trouble sleeping through the ruckus.
And in 1980, for the fourth and, so far, last time, and older, wiser, and married future blogger went to Spain, this time on honeymoon with his Carolina cutie, the happy couple finding their way to grandparents' Dario and Pastora's home in Caldelas de Tuy. The sad part of that pilgrimage is neither were there to greet us with their traditional kiss-n-hug. Nevertheless, we spent a few very pleasant days there, enjoying the hospitality of my grandmother's cousin Alvarito - "Little Alvaro," who plied us with his wines, food, and his family's warmth.
But in order to get there, we first had to cross over the Quiroga River, not a difficult feat when a good roadway is available for the crossing.
We stopped briefly at the town of Quiroga, where a nice "Quirogan," who had this eye-catching poster on display at his bar-restaurant, presented it to the visiting Quirogas and would not take a single peseta for it.
The poster announced the upcoming "Quiroga Summer Festival," to be held in August; wish we could have extended our visit and enjoyed the festivities. The object at hand today proudly hangs from a wall at the Quiroga home in Miami. It is a Quiroga thing, you know.
We continued our journey and then, before long, grandpa's house was just ahead, by the railroad tracks.
From whose upper story, a pretty girl would happily wave to her Worst Half during those unforgettable days spent there in July, 1980.
We need to backtrack a little bit, because perhaps the readership wonders, "why has he not said much about his mother's side of the family? Did he not care for them? Where they Black Sheep?" You do know the term, right? Well, on the contrary, your web-world friend is and was as close to his mother's side of the gallego confederation as anyone can or could be; yet, regretfully, he does not know much about the Granja-Castro-Fernandez family. Perhaps this is because the main players in that story passed away long before the writer developed an interest in delving into the family history, and before all these wonderful tools became available, enabling the average person to do a reasonably good job of cobbling these bits of history and graphics together.
This image was made before 1920. At the time, only four of the seven Granja-Castro-Fernandez children were in the world - from left to right, my uncle Manuel, whom we must all thank for most of the photographs which enliven these postings; my aunt Dolores, on her father's lap, her sister Josefina, and daughter Esperanza - "Hope" - next to her mother. Later, uncles Mariano and Eduardo - the youngest of the seven, and Teresa the blogger's mother would arrive. It is a shame there isn't a family photo with all of them together - children and parents. There is a reason.
According to mother, now the only one left who remembers family lore, her father was a successful electrician and a good provider to her family. In those days, that technical profession, as cities became increasingly "electrified" enabled a man to feed, clothe, and shelter his family reasonably well. Grandmother Fernandez was, typical for those days, a housewife. Never were any of her offspring heard to complain about her mothering skills, which were many.
Grandfather Granja-Castro enjoyed dressing well, and was usually seen in a suit. He also liked photography, and delighted in being photographed. Unfortunately, in 1929, a week before his youngest son Eduardo arrived, he died after an unsuccessful battle with a big killer in those pre-antibiotic days, pneumonia. And in those pre-insurance, social welfare, and retirement account days, the family was left with little to fall back on - so on to work they went, all except my mother and her brother Eduardo, the youngest of the seven. Grandmother fortunately found work ironing for a nuns' convent nearby. They had a tough life, but they rolled up their sleeves and looked after their survival, with success. "When life gets tough, the tough get going," - and get a life.
Perhaps later, these experiences helped all of them to survive worse times to come - in the form of "political pneumonia," asphyxiating those who refused to trade freedom for a few miserly crumbs from the table of a bad, self-appointed potentate, the spawn of a "family," if that is the term to use for that bunch, a disgrace to honorable gallegos everywhere.
My aunt Esperanza was the repository of her family's history and, being the oldest, remembered her father well. Unfortunately, she is no longer around to help us knit the story together and do it justice.
In January 1950, she paid a visit to dad and her sister Dolores, on the left, at the Quiroga Brothers store on Muralla Street, number 458. Not only Dolores, but her sisters Josefina and Teresa worked there with father, his brothers and grandfather Quiroga. I told you these gallegos were all hard-working! This fortuitous conjunction of Quirogas and Granja-Castro-Fernandezes resulted in the creation of this blog. Amazing, isn't it?
Dad, proud of his Galician heritage, did what many gallegos did in Havana, and other places in Cuba. In his young days - excuse me, but he is still thought of as a young man - he joined a fraternal society for gallegos in Cuba - the Centro Gallego, or Galicia Center, in Havana.
Membership conferred various benefits, not the least of which were the social aspects, the camaraderie, and the opportunities to make friends and make business contacts. We call that "networking" today.
Even medical benefits were included in membership privileges, providing access to clinics, hospitals, and medical care for nominal or very reasonable fees. This can be considered an early example of the health maintenance organization system in the United States, and from what father tells, the concept worked well and beneficiaries were pleased with the system.
His last Centro Gallego membership certificate was issued in 1960...
This is the back of the certificate.
Available physicians, medical centers, days and hours of operation are listed; there are even listings for physicians who made house calls - imagine that, in 1960 Cuba, BEFORE the mengele-of-Havana wrecked the Cuban health care system. Imagine that, "Micky" Moore - you're the real Sicko...go find yourself some "free kaSStrokare" in crumbling Havana.
The Centro Gallego still stands; its essence is well-captured in this 1920s postcard featured in www.guije.com; at the time the image was created, grandfather Quiroga was himself a member, and remained so until he departed from Cuba.
Depart...such a final sounding word. And final it was for these families, as the decade of the Fifties faded and we crossed into the fateful Sixties. For Quirogas, Granjas, and Fernandezes, the Wheel of Fate came full circle; the time arrived to say goodbye and go into exile - final exile, for most; for some it would literally involve returning to the land from which they had once sailed with high hopes.
In May 1960 the Quirogas gathered for what would be - unbeknownst at the time - our final get-together in honor of Dario and Pastora Quiroga's Fiftieth wedding anniversary. The photograph was taken at grandfather's home in Havana; the house was located in the Almendares neighborhood or suburb - "I believe," father says, "it was Calle Del Rio but do not remember the address, exactly."
A month later, my grandparents left for their home in Caldelas de Tuy. Granfather's distaste for the bearded, un-Godly gallego had reached its boiling point. The sadness evident in his visage cannot be hidden, and no doubt he was worried about his sons, daughters, and grandchildren. Perhaps deep down he foresaw never seeing most of them again. What should have been a happy occasion was instead marred by foreboding and fears of an uncertain future.
In Caldelas, he and grandmother received a pleasurable visit from Albert and Constantino in October 1962.
The rest of us, having just started rebuilding lives in exile, could not afford a visit, no matter how brief, timewise or moneywise. Dad and his brother Manuel were able to see their father one more time, in his last days. He died March 1964 and is buried at the Almudena Cemetery in Madrid. Grandmother Quiroga then came to the States, and she passed on in 1979.
Most of my mother's family made it across the Straits of Florida, where they lived out the rest of their lives in peace and freedom. Mom is the only one left now. Her brother Manuel Granja, his wife Emerita, and son Luis are buried in Cuba. We never saw them again after November 1960, although we stayed constantly in touch by mail and telephone - whenever it was possible to get a call through.
There was good to go with the bad, in those early exile days; even as some of us left our country or this world, there were new arrivals to brighten the scene - new life with a pinch and a dash of Galicia, Cuba, and Florida...
And so, we welcomed littlest sister Grace, who's graced us with her presence since mid-1961 - we celebrated her 6-month anniversary in Miami, at 471 SW 6th Street, to be exact - the first place we called our own in exile, even if it was a rental - for which mom and dad paid a whopping $110 monthly at the time. It was not Focsa, but most important, it was home, and we were home-free - if you catch the meaning, which surely you do.
That is the story. There is much more to tell about Quirogas, Granjas, Castros, Enriquezes, Ajas, Boveda Carvallos, about these gallegos, but there are time, space, and psychic limits, as well as limits to the patience of those kind enough to take a glance. Perhaps you have come to the conclusion that gallegos are determined, resilient, indeed tough, sometimes quiet, sometimes loud; passionate - with a tendency to fly off the handle sometimes - rational, yet irrational when passions are ignited...and hard to keep down, no matter how many times they get knocked down; unafraid to pick up and go, uprooting themselves, yet leaving roots behind, to which they long to return. Maybe that just proves they are...human.
Before closing this post, allow me to be a bit preachy about a subject - speaking of passions - over which your blogger has become somewhat passionate. You should not ignore your family's history. Every family has a valuable, and interesting history which should not be lost. Corral and cajole your elders, talk to them, interview them, get to know them well - you would be surprised how they warm up to this exercise because, in effect, you are saying: "You matter - your life means something to me;" as well it should. Explore your roots and your ancestry - you will not be disappointed. Do it before it is too late, before your beloved family members disappear and you are left with nothing more than nebulous recollections and a sad feeling of "what could have been." Do it now. Warm up to an excursion into genealogy - whether you are Cuban, American, American-Cuban, Cuban-Gallego, Irish-Cuban - yes, they exist - Moroccans with maracas, you name it. Honor your family, your roots. "Honrar honra," said Cuban patriot Jose Marti - "To honor, honors." Nothing more need be added. If you are blessed with a good, loving family, who sticks together through all adversity and survives tyranny, fighting to provide nurturing freedom to its members, you are rich and blessed indeed. Richer than any tyrant, even those who have taken all the material wealth and patrimony of a people. They cannot take those baubles with them - they will die without true riches - love, honor, peace, and God's forgiveness.
Consider this starting point for your quest...
Mr. Elizondo, on the right, ably aided by friend George - I work with his wife, a gallega herself; poor woman, not because she is gallega, but because she has to bear with me - will be happy to guide you through the world of Cuban genealogy. They patiently posed for the amateur wannabe photojournalist during his visit to Cuba Nostalgia 2007.
Go for it!