Emigrant Class

La Voz de Galicia – January 17, 2020 →

Cristina PatoWhen the show ended, I thought about how easy it is to forget that one hundred years ago, we were them. Everywhere I go, in the media, in coffee shops, in hospitals, I always hear negative comments about immigration. As if we were not the children and grandchildren of emigrants who in their host country were «the immigrants» (not always legal). We forget that we also fled and escaped injustices in the first half of the twentieth century (hunger, poverty, inequality, war) and that our people also left in terrible circumstances.

One of my favorite radio shows, Documentos RNE, broadcasted an episode about the wreck of the ship Valbanera. Through the stories of researchers and descendants of what was labeled the «Titanic of the poor,» the show does incredible work when it contextualizes the catastrophe of 1919: a shipwreck where close to 500 people perished, the majority of them from the Canary Islands.

If the story of the Valbanera is one of the bleakest in our emigration, it is not only due to all those lost lives, but also due to the conditions in which these people traveled (in an «immigrant class» that one of the passengers described with this phrase in a postcard: «not even pigs have anything to envy us») and for the forgetfulness around their stories.

This is why I was so moved when I heard the team of researchers that, one hundred years later, decided to honor those who had no voice, those who disappeared without an effort by any institution to recover their bodies. These are the stories that help us remember that we are also them: the seas and the castaways are different, but the stories are the same…

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