Host Workers or Guest Workers?
A couple of weeks ago, Luis Argeo and I inaugurated a Facebook page that we hope will serve as a kind of dynamic storefront for a more staid and long-term scholarly and documentary project aimed at chronicling the history of Spanish immigration to the United States.
This past Sunday, I posted on that FB page a photograph that an informant had allowed me to scan several years ago. The informant is Joe Mora, who appears in the “Facing Fascism” videos that Katie Halper and I produced several years ago in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name at the Museum of the City of NY.
The photograph is of a banquet held in 1945 at the Spanish Workers’ Club in New York, to honor the veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. A packed hall of men, women and children stop what they’re doing to look at the camera. Some of them ham it up for posterity, pouring out the last drops from a wine bottle or holding aloft and toasting with pitchers of beer. Joe’s dad, José Mora, who had emigrated to NY from Tormón, Aragón, Spain in the 1920s and who by 1936 owned a hardware store in Spanish Harlem, stands out near the center of the image; his sleeves are rolled up, no tie, no coat. A banner above the stage refers to the vets as honorary citizens of Republican Spain. That banner is flanked on the right by the Spanish Republican flag; on the left, by the stars and stripes. And to the left of the US flag, another banner reads “Try Franco as a War Criminal.”
Within two days, the photograph had been viewed by more than 10,000 Facebook users; as I write, about 72 hours after the initial post, the count is at over 14,000. More than 125 people have “shared” the photo, contributing to its viral dissemination. By poking around Facebook, it is possible to discern that a good deal of the photo’s circulation happened in Spain. It is fascinating to think about how and why this particular photo resonates with so many Spaniards. Several of the comments left by Spaniards in different places, however, gave me pause.
To me, the photo is one more piece of evidence of a vibrant working-class Spanish immigrant community in New York, which had been growing and becoming consolidated throughout the teens and twenties and into the thirties; a “colonia” that mobilized intensely during the war to support the American volunteers and the Second Republic. The hosts of the banquet, after all, are the members of the Barrio’s Club Obrero Español, whose president at the time, was Joe Mora’s uncle, Manuel Magaña.
In their comments here and there on FB pages all over cyberspace, I could see that for a significant number of Spaniards, though, the photo serves primarily as evidence of the vibrancy and political commitment that must have been brought to New York by Spanish Civil War exiles…
I think we have our work cut out for us…