How My Spanish Ancestors Ended Up in the United States

From as early as I can remember, I was taught to be proud of my Spanish heritage. My siblings and I all have Spanish middle names. “You are a quarter Spanish,” my mother would always say. My dad would teach me words and phrases, and Spanish colors and numbers were a regular part of my vocabulary. We listened to the children’s song “De Colores” over and over in my Spanish grandmother’s cadillac during drives around Morgan Hill, California. When my first grade classroom got a new student, a girl from Mexico named Maria, I befriended her and spoke with her as much as I could. It’s funny, though, that I don’t actually remember doing this. When I visited my friends from that school several years later, they remembered that I had been a friend to the girl who could not yet speak English.

Both of my parents speak Spanish. They served missions for our church in Argentina before meeting and getting married. I wish they had spoken to us in the language more often, that I had become fluent. I’m not. And I’ve forgotten most of what I learned in my Spanish classes in college. I know it would come back if I practiced, but I don’t.

I do, however, practice searching for my ancestors. In the last few years, I’ve discovered that the Januarys emigrated from France to the United States in the early 1700s. Currently, I’m trying to figure out where my Spanish ancestors came from. I want to know more about who else came before me in that line, and I want to know exactly where they lived and what they did in Spain. I have not discovered the answers to these questions yet.

I have made a big discovery in terms of their circumstances, however. A few months ago, I put on my researcher’s hat and said, “Why did they come to Hawaii and then end up in California? What was going on historically during that time?” I searched the internet for information about Spaniards immigrating to Hawaii, and I hit the jackpot. I found out that during the early years of the twentieth century, Spanish and Portuguese people were recruited to work on fruit plantations in Hawaii when the Japanese no longer wanted to. I found the ship’s manifest that lists my great great grandparents and their children, and I figured out why my great grandmother Antonia Montosa, for whom I am named, was born in Hawaii. Her parents had moved to Hawaii for work.

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Antonia’s family ended up in Los Angeles and eventually the Sunnyvale and Mountain View areas of California, where much of my family still lives and the area where I was born. I learned all of this through an amazing website called Spanish Immigrants in the United States (http://tracesofspainintheus.org). I also ended up ordering the book created by the owners of the websites, professors interested in making these Spaniards visible in the history of the United States.

Invisible Immigrants

 

It came with some beautiful postcards and a cool canvas bag.

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It included a map showing all of the enclaves where Spaniards ended up.

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And of course it has many pictures, including those of the plantations in Hawaii where many of these people worked.

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The back cover explains the creation of this amazing book.

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And of course, all text is presented in both English and Spanish.

These are my ancestors. I had hoped to see their pictures in the book, but I did not contribute them so they were not there.

Maria Urbano Romero with husband Jose Aguilar Montosa. Children L to R are Eulalia Montosa, my great grandmother Antonia Montosa, and Jose Montosa.

Maria Urbano Romero with husband Jose Aguilar Montosa. Children L to R are Eulalia Montosa, my great grandmother Antonia Montosa, and Jose Montosa.

 

My great grandmother Antonia Montosa on her wedding day with Felix Juanes, my great grandfather.

My great grandmother Antonia Montosa on her wedding day with Felix Juanes, my great grandfather.

I had hoped to learn more about the Montosas and the Juaneses specifically from the book, but I didn’t. The book is more of a cultural history that highlights the various movements, clubs, and activities of many groups of Spaniards in the United States in the early twentieth century. Although I did not get any specific information from this book, I did get a sense of why Antonia’s husband, Felix Juanes, arrived in the United States via New York and made his way through Ohio and eventually to California where he met my great grandmother.

Of course, I sent a copy of this book to my Spanish grandmother for Christmas.

The next step in this quest for family information is a trip to Spain. I have not planned it yet, but somebody I will go. I need to know them. They have always been my people.

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