Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

Ignacio raised his hand and called to the man with the cap. The gentleman, rather elderly, rushed toward the group, pushing a large baggage cart.

"Soy portero de la estación. Hay dos coches que les esperan afuera. Darme su equipaje y les llevo ahora mismo."

The man described himself as a station porter. He told Ignacio that two cars were waiting for them outside the station. He offered to transport their luggage and began loading the bags onto the cart.

Fernando had advised his brother of their arrival details, asking him to help arrange hired cars with drivers. He was impressed and relieved that all was going as planned.

The parents and children almost instinctively arranged themselves into the two cars, as they had done in Havana.  As the porter was loading the final bag into the trunk, he turned to Fernando.

"Muy bien, señor. Y de dónde son ustedes?"

The porter had asked Fernando where they were from.

"Somos americanos, pero yo y el otro señor nacimos aquí."

Fernando replied that they are Americans, but that he and the other gentleman had been born here.

"Ah, americanos. De dónde, La Argentina o Cuba?"

The porter understood that they were Americans but wondered if they were from Argentina or Cuba. At that point, Fernando remembered that in Spain, "America" refers to the entire region of North, Central, and South America, not to just the United States. He felt embarrassed that perhaps he had developed a bit of the geographical arrogance commonly attributed to those from the U.S.

"Perdón, señor. Somos de Los Estados Unidos."

Fernando apologized, explaining that they were from the United States. 

"No sabía que había inmigrantes españoles en Los Estados Unidos. Pensaba que todos habían ido a Cuba o La Argentina. Bienvenidos a tu tierrina."

The porter expressed surprise, telling Fernando that he was not aware of Spanish immigrants in the U.S. He thought they had all gone to Cuba or Argentina. He then welcomed him "home".

Fernando smiled, and handed the porter a rather generous tip. The old man smiled and thanked him, tipping his cap.

As children, neither Fernando nor Ignacio, or their families, ventured into Oviedo very often. Their lives were focused in and around their small country villages. However, they both noted significant changes in the city, with notable improvement in infrastructure. There appeared to be an emerging middle class, symbolized by the surprising number of modern automobiles. 

As the cars approached San Román, both Fernando and Ignacio agreed that little had changed. Cars were a rare sight, donkeys still the primary means of transport. One notable change was the presence of some electrification, mostly of government buildings and some private businesses. 

A small crowd had gathered in the center of the village. As the cars came to a stop, many people rushed toward them. 

Fernando and Ignacio immediately recognized their parents. As they emerged from the car, the two immigrants were embraced by their mothers, both of whom were crying uncontrollably. The frenzy of hugs and kisses made it almost impossible to breathe, a small price to pay for these moments of unbridled joy. 

After the introductions and more rounds of hugging and kissing, the group made its way to the Suárez home, located immediately outside of the village proper. Both families had organized a welcome dinner for the visiting Americans. Several long tables had been placed beneath a trellis on which a flowering vine was growing. 

"Entonces, han regresados los indianos!"

Ignacio's father had announced the return of the "Indians". This was the term used in Spain, primarily in the north, to describe those emigrants who had settled in the Americas. This was a result of Christopher Columbus mistakenly assuming he had sailed to India when he stepped foot on the island of Hispaniola. As immigrants prospered, many returned to Asturias and built large, stately homes. These homes were of a unique design, often with an American or Victorian influence. These dotted the Asturian countryside, and were known as "Casas de Indianos", "Homes of the Indians". The visiting Americans, particularly the children, were fascinated and amused by this cultural curiosity. 

The Spanish relatives were impressed that Fernando's and Ignacio's U.S.-born children, as well as Giuseppina, were so fluent in Spanish. This surprise also extended to their familiarity with the local foods and customs. Fernando and Ignacio explained that parts of Tampa were very much like Asturian or Galician villages that had been extracted and moved across the ocean to that city in Florida, so far away. 

The days that followed were spent "playing tourist" and visiting old friends and extended relatives. Fernando and Ignacio had arranged to hire the two cars and drivers for their entire visit. The drivers were offered food and accommodations in a spare room at the Suárez house. The children, in particular, were impressed with the beauty and serenity of the Asturian countryside, particularly the rugged coastline. More importantly, they had bonded with their grandparents and other relatives beyond what their fathers had ever imagined possible. 

Fernando and Ignacio grew more intrigued by the "Casas de Indianos." They inquired as to what the cost would be to construct one. The price was very reasonable, and they were giving strong consideration to building one large enough for both of their families to share. The idea was to visit often, and perhaps return permanently after retiring. After locating property for sale in the village of Somado, they arranged to meet with a building contractor to gather more information. Somado, or "Somao" in the Asturian language, was a small village about 10 miles from San Roman, with a view of the nearby Cantabrian Sea. It had become popular with immigrants returning from Cuba, and had many beautiful "Casas de Indianos."

Friday, July 17, 1936 was a particularly beautiful day. The Spanish sky was cloudless and of a deep blue color rarely seen in Tampa. The meeting in Somao with the building contractor had turned into a family outing. While Fernando and Ignacio would meet with the construction people, Sofia, Giuseppina, and the children would be driven to the coast for lunch and a visit to the beach. The Spanish relatives, busy cutting hay for the coming winter, would not be joining them. 

The meeting took place in a cafe in the middle of Somao. The contractor and an architect were waiting at the cafe when the cars arrived. After introductions and polite conversation, the wives and children departed. As the four men ate an early lunch, they discussed the general concept of the house. After lunch, they took a short walk up a hill to view the parcel of land that Fernando and Ignacio were considering purchasing. The view toward the sea was breathtaking. Suddenly, the men became aware of shouting in the distance. Glancing down toward the cafe, they could see a frenzy of activity. People were rushing about, some getting in their cars and speeding away. Others were rushing into the cafe. Though difficult to discern what was being said, it was obvious that something very profound was happening.

The four men quickly descended the hill, retracing their steps back to the cafe. As they approached the entrance to the dining room, they could hear the distinctive crackling sound of a radio broadcast. Inside, a crowd had gathered around a radio at one corner of the bar. 

"Por favor. Que ha pasado?"

"Please. What has happened?" The contractor addressed the crowd, seeking an answer. One man turned toward them.

"Un grupo de generales del ejército han tumbado el gobierno en Marruecos Español, y parece que otros en otras ciudades por la península están haciendo lo mismo!"

This man had advised them that a group of Spanish army generals had toppled the government in Spanish Morocco, and other generals were attempting to do the same in other parts of the Spanish mainland peninsula. Apparently, a coup d'état was underway.

Fernando and Ignacio, realizing the gravity of the situation, knew they had to gather their families and leave Spain as soon as possible. Their wives and children were due to return to Somao in approximately one hour. Desperately trying to decide what to do next, they were distracted by familiar voices.

"Fernando! Ignacio! Por favor, que está pasando?"

Sofia and Giuseppina, speaking simultaneously, had rushed into the cafe and were frantically calling for their husbands, wondering what was going on. 

Luckily, they had heard the news while having lunch at the coast and immediately headed back to retrieve them. They raced to the two waiting cars. Along with their children they hurriedly began driving toward San Roman. 

As they approached San Roman, they noticed that the fields and farms were devoid of people. On entering the village, a large crowd, practically all of the local residents, had gathered at the small train station. One of the few radios in San Roman had been placed on the outdoor platform, at full volume. The visitors joined their friends and relatives already gathered.

The news was grim. While most of the efforts to take over major mainland cities had failed, Seville had fallen to the rebel forces. These forces were led by generals opposed to the democratically elected Republican government. They favored returning the monarchy and restoring the formal power of the Catholic Church. They had established a military foothold in Southern Spain, allowing Spanish rebel forces from the African colonies to invade the mainland.

Spain was at the beginning of a civil war. Fernando and Ignacio stared at each other in disbelief. 

--

This is a work of fiction. With the exception of references to known and publicly documented historical entities, the following apply:

Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. ©Tony Carreño 2020