Stories About Spain
Courage of Immigrants
Written by: Don Harris
I have talked with some Spaniards within our La Tienda community who tell us how they are building new lives in America. Still more tell stories about their grandparents, parents, uncles or aunts who left everything behind in Spain to take advantage of fresh opportunities for their families in America. Some of them were fishermen from Galicia, miners from Asturias and mountain people of the Basque Country. Their sense of adventure and perseverance is why their Spanish descendants prosper today in America.
A parallel drama is occurring here at La Tienda in Virginia, where our staff is composed of at least a dozen different nationalities from Latin America, Asia and Europe. Many, like the Spaniards of an earlier generation, have come from areas of civil war and poverty, and are determined to start a new life.
Through La Tienda, our family tries the best we can to support them with health benefits and a great working environment. They are welcomed as one of us in the La Tienda family. In the long run, perhaps the most valuable resource we provide them is the opportunity to learn the English language.
When Raúl, a husband and father, joined us, he could only sign his name with an “X”. He now uses English as his first written language, and is proud that he speaks his newly acquired language with growing fluency. Another worker, Evelyn, left behind her large family in El Salvador, and is working hard to support herself and her family as best she can. Her face lights up with a smile when she speaks to me in English.
Another of our employees, Lisseth, is a remarkable woman, inquisitive and full of energy. She is one who has prospered within the family of La Tienda workers. In fact, she has done so well that we have just promoted her to Line Supervisor in our warehouse.
Lisseth Borrego and her husband were happily married for fourteen years when they decided to take the risk of leaving the familiar confines of Cuba in order to improve life for themselves and their children in the United States. They knew there would be major challenges as they tried to adapt to a new culture and way of life. One cannot anticipate all the bumps in the road.
Because they spoke no English at all they knew this would be a major hurdle to climb. However, Lisseth had hoped that with a degree in elementary education from Cuba, there might be some slot for her, however humble, within the American school system. Unfortunately, it turned out that her skills were not marketable.
In an interview by Narille Living in the Williamsburg Neighbors Magazine, Lisseth said, “It was very hard the first two years I was here. I was nervous about going places because I wasn’t sure where it was safe and where it wasn’t. My husband and children were the only family I had here, so I didn’t even have anyone else to ask questions.” But Lisseth was undaunted. She was determined to learn to speak and read English, so that she would not spend her life being fearful, looking in from outside.
Then she signed up for a job at La Tienda and proceeded to work diligently. To her delight, Lisseth soon discovered that La Tienda provided free classes for any employees who wanted to learn English. The tutors came to our work site because of our partnership with a wonderful local group called Literacy for Life, associated with the College of William & Mary, staffed largely by volunteers. Neighbors from the Williamsburg area give their time to meet with those new to the area who would like to learn English.
Lisseth enthusiastically took advantage of this opportunity. Once a week for two hours she attended classes with some of her fellow employees. Wanting to progress as quickly as possible, she also signed up for sessions held after work. In September 2011, she passed her citizenship test, and a month later was sworn in as a United States citizen.
Now Lisseth is able to help fellow workers who do not understand as much English as she does. Although she does not know whether she could become a tutor herself, she encourages others to continue their efforts to learn. She has advice for those who might be struggling with learning the English language. “It’s hard, but if I can do it, you can do it,” she emphasizes.
We are proud to offer help to these hard-working immigrants, and they have become part of our La Tienda family. But we know that they deserve the most credit, for their courage and determination to start a new life and their commitment to learn a new language and learn a new way of living. Like the immigrants from Spain, current and of generations past, they are seeking out a better life for their families, while still treasuring the culture and traditions of their own countries.
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"I lived in Spain for 11 years, I learned the beautiful language, I made lifelong friends. When I came home for medical resaons in 1992, I became a volunteer interpreter for neighbors and patients in hospital. I also taught English to several Brazilenos and Latinos. I love Tienda. It keeps me close to my beloved Spain. It's almost verano, and no puedo esperar a comprar la horchata y el gaspacho de La Tienda. Gracias, Sr. Harris. Yo vivi en Fuengirola, Malaga 1981-1992. Creo que Usted y la familia vivieron en Rota durante algunos de estos anos."
"Dear Betty, how nice to hear from you. Spending 11 years in Spanish must have been a wonderful experience. I hope the medical condition you referred to is no longer a burden. We lived in El Puerto de Santa Maria for a few years in the 1970s, and then our grandchildren had a chance to go to school in Jerez de la Frontera for six months. They loved the Spanish school and the friends they made there. Best wishes and I hope that our paths cross – perhaps in Williamsburg Tu amigo, Don"
"My wife's father left the Basque Country & settled in northern Wyoming to work sheep in 1918. He raised 12 children & eventually owned a very large ranch. All of his family have done very well in the USA. We have visited the family in Spain several times. "
"Dear Ron, isn't it remarkable what the Basques did when they came to America. They did what they needed to do to make a home for their family. Many of them became sheepherders even though they had not had this kind of exposure before. And of course one of them became a US Sen. and another a governor. It is something to be proud of. I bet you are very proud of your dad and what he did to pave the way for you. Don"
"Don, reading this made me grow a bit misty-eyed. The United States seems lately to be a place of finger-pointing and vilification, and the nation seems to have forgotten its very origins as a country of immigrants. Thank you for sharing this story about your company's English classes and the successes of your employees. In the future, when I'm deciding whether or not to splurge on an item, knowing I'm purchasing from a company that is truly contributing to the advancement rather than the exploitation of its employees will make me much more likely to go for it and click "buy." Suerte a todos sus empleados en sus estudios. "
"Dear Jeanne, I appreciate your comments because you caught the essence of who we are at La Tienda, and find our efforts to a source of joy for you. I just came back from Spain, and met with small artisan families who are so nourished by our purchases and support. And here in many ways, we support our employees as well. Don"
"Congratulations!! I am myself an immigrant from France/Spain. I came in 1987, married an American citizen from Iowa, he is in fact an immigration attorney and we are in the process of opening our law firm. Stories like you are uplifting in a world where immigration is being questioned. Thanks for giving them a chance to have a better life, a new beginning. I order from you guys once in a while and your products are outstanding. "
"Dear Maria Luz, Thank you for your comments. I'm glad were able to give you a little taste of your early days. But what I think was greatest in your correspondence is that you and your husband are involved in being immigration lawyers. There are a lot of them out there who take advantage of the people who need their services – if only by providing no service at all. How great in your area that there will be at least the two of you who can provide the quality services they need to become healthy people and good Americans."
"Great stories of real immigrants, who through their perseverance have made the US a richer country through her diversity. And isn't that what America was built upon? The ingenuity and hard work of our immigrants!"
"A little earlier in this series of responses to my article, I outline my own family story where all of my grandparents came as immigrants with no education and built productive lives with healthy children who contributed to America. Three of my four uncles on my father's side went to MIT. On my mothers side, her twin brother graduated from Harvard. They all had meaningful lives. I only mention the education because it's an obvious accomplishment. But most important are the people who came and built solid families, which became the foundation of America. My best to you and your family, Don"
"Americans have no problem with immigrants, it's the illegals that cross into this country simply thinking that they are immigrants and can go where they wish that is wrong! Learn The American English language if you want to be American. Things are hard for Americans too! They should make their own country better instead of coming here and taking something illegally."
"Dear Rob, I could not agree with you more. If people to come to America for opportunity, they should be given guidelines and helped to be constructive citizens. After all, most of us are children of immigrants back at least a generation or so. When illegals come and have no protection and often no education, they are easy prey for the various predators that take advantage of vulnerable people. At the same time, when we need temporary labor, such as during various harvests, that should be handled by the proper authorities and the companies and not by the lawless. I hope we can change some of this quickly because we want to welcome those who want to contribute to our nation. We want to do it in a organized way so that everyone wins."
"My parents also immigrated from the South of Spain just before the Spanish revolution. My father was a miner and we settled in West Virginia. My parents never learned to speak good English. But they both worked and provided us with a good home and moral standards and never took a penny from any charity. Even when my father died at the age of 51 and left my Mother with 2 small children, my sister 12 and me 8 years old. We moved to California so my father could get out of mining. My first language was Spanish. I am very proud of my parents and their efforts to give us a better life!"
"Isn't it wonderful the kind of sacrifice our parents were willing to undergo to build a new life in America for their children? In your case, your dad came from sunny Andalucia to become a miner -- a tough and often thankless job. My grandmother immigrated from Armenia and ended up as a widow with two teenage kids. So she did what she could, rented out rooms in the house and put her kids through college. And because of her sacrifice, I, a grandchild, had all the opportunities in the world. Tu amigo, Don"
"Greetings! I could not avoid seeing myself reflected in the stories in your article. My experience in this beautiful country has been one of determination and achievements; however, I feel to be far from reaching higher goals. I've seen in your outstanding organization a great opportunity to achieve just that. I sometimes dream of working for you, and even opening a branch of your store here in Georgia...a dream that I wish you could share with me...
Guillermo Arenas "
"Hola Guillermo, I'm glad to hear of your positive approach to life. When your eyes are open to opportunities that work for you, I think you'll become more and more satisfied with life. Where did you come from originally? At present we have no plans of having another branch, in fact for 14 years we had no branc at all, except that which is on the web, but let's keep in touch and if you had ever happened to come up to Williamsburg, Virginia, I would like to meet you. My best to you and your family. Don "
"Not only do you have great products, but you also have a great organization. It's wonderful to hear of how you have helped others achieve the dream that is the heart of the United States. Keep up the good work!!! Oh, we really enjoy your products!!!
Hal y Pamela"
"Dear Hal and Pamela, thanks for your message telling us how much you enjoy our products. But what you suggested is indeed true: it is our opportunity to lend support to our brothers and sisters, both in Spain and here, which gives us the most satisfaction. Abrazos, Don"
"Don: This is not your normal everyday article to read from a retail online newsletter, thank you for sharing it. This connection you are fostering with your employees -- their aspirations, challenges and diligence -- is laudatory. My family has traced a similar path over the centuries. Our family name originates in Basque country, and many Lecuonas emigrated to the Canary Islands (dropping the Basque "K" for the C in the name). In the 1800's our ancestors sailed to Cuba, and descendants of this line now reside, happily, in the USA. I retraced part of this route with my father a few years ago, when we visited Tenerife to learn more of his grandfather, Ernesto Lecuona Ramos, whose progeny included the Cuban composer, Ernesto Lecuona, my great Uncle. It is well documented that El Maestro spent his last days in the Canaries, where he died in 1963. Unknown to us was the fact that his father (who was a poet and a newspaper journalist) returned from Cuba and also passed his final days in Tenerife. Returning to his homeland in April 1902, for reasons that are unclear, the timing coincides with Cuba's war of independence from Spain. He passed away in 7 days. He was 48 years old. Three weeks later, Cuba gained independence from Spain. His family remained in Cuba. We believe he was of two hearts, his past in Spain, and his future in Cuba. Meanwhile his youngest son, Ernesto, began studying piano with his sister, Ernestina. At any rate, this is only relevant here because, it turns out, La Tienda is a cultural touchstone for me. Like most, I often reflect on and relate to my own cultural heritage through very customary, humble traditions -- music, food, and holiday gatherings. Though I grew up without a taste for Turron even though I saw it every year at Christmas, I now embrace it and "force it" on others, who soon acquire the taste. Many other items in your store recall our days in Tenerife, and Madrid, and the wonderful food of Spain. We have not quite mastered the Paella, but we are certainly trying. Churros and chocolate, Jamon Serrano and queso manchego, "para picar". The list is, admittedly, long! I don't know when, or whether I will ever visit Cuba. My father left his country in the mid 50's, BC, Before Castro, and has not returned. He is now in Laredo, in his 80's and at peace with this. He, like many, has ALZ. When we visit together, I cherish those few moments through food, music, and experiences he readily can relate to and remember. You can't know how some of the simple things you do in your business touch people in ways you don't expect. But it does happen. If I can offer any encouragement to those working at La Tienda who face such challenges, it would be simply to say, Adelante. Go forward. The future is yours to make as you want. Remember your past, your heritage, but embrace this opportunity to build a new path forward. You must always know that future generations of your family will be grateful for your courage and sacrifice. Be proud of this.
"Hola Miguel, what a fascinating account of your family's journey over the years. If you read some of the earlier comments I made to other people, you'll see that my family had a similar complex journey to where we are today. The one thing I didn't mention in the other comments: my grandmother's family was Armenian, and lived in Turkey, where tens of thousands of them were massacred. She was one of the few who escaped with her parents and arrived in America at age 4. But she was undaunted all her life, and even though misfortune would occur, such as the loss of her husband, while her children were still in their teens. I think this is what makes our nation so strong and resilient. But I think the story of optimism and resilience needs to be repeated so that the country can continue on a constructive course. Thanks again for your long note. Don"
"As the daughter of a Spanish immigrant, I was happy to read this story on your website. It's great to do business with a company that prizes its immigrant workforce. "
"Hi Maria, thanks a lot for your note. Where did your parents come from and you ever go back to revisit your roots in Spain? My wife and I just got back from three weeks in Spain and it is quite interesting to see the difference in the cultures as well as their common values. It also helps me appreciate what a great country we have in America. Tu amigo, Don"
"When my father arrived in NYC from San Sebastian, Spain in the early 50's, all he knew how to say was "ham and eggs, cup of coffee." Much to his shock, the waiter at the coffee shop insisted on knowing how he wanted his eggs cooked. A shrug by my father made him a fan of "over easy eggs". He left it all behind and built a marvelous life here for us. I still visit family in San Sebastian as often as I am able. My late father was my hero and in his words, was more of an American than I would ever be (I was born here) because he chose this country! Thanks for writing this piece Don!"
"I think that is an interesting thought that because your father chose America in some ways he is more American that we who are native born citizens. We take a lot for granted, don't we? Your dad sounds as if he was a remarkable man. Don"
"FANTASTIC! Thanks for encouraging your employees, & thanks to their embracing education & family."
"Dear Toss, as you know, education is the key to so much else. My father's parents immigrated from Northern Ireland as teenagers and three of their four sons went to MIT. My mother's parents were also immigrants from England and Armenia. After my grandmother became a widow when her twins were still teenagers, somehow or another, she put her son through Harvard and Harvard Business School and his sister (my mother) through Simmons College. Then when they were safely through, she falsified her age so that she could be included in a college program herself! Education opened so many doors, and without language fluency, people can easily be lost."
"Don I commend your and your companies efforts to help immigrants advance in this wonderful country of opportunities. More companies should be like yours. It takes much courage in this day and age to share this story. Especially when the media portrays immigrants as criminals. I applaud you and because of this story I will buy more from La Tienda."
"As I indicated in an earlier response, providing an opportunity for literacy and language changes people's lives, and we are glad to be a part of this. All my grandparents were immigrants to the USA, and although themselves did not have all the educational opportunities, they made sure that their children did. Of course, I of the succeeding generation, was the IRA beneficiary of their commitment and struggle. The influx of immigration is what makes our country remarkably different and strong, we need to clean up our act concerning how we help people come to achieve their dreams and enrich our culture."
"How beautiful this article is. I am a Spanish teacher who came here because I fell in love with an American woman, and left my job as a "funcionario" (Official English teacher in Spain) to live in the country where my beloved was. So I felt touched by that story of people who were forced to immigrate to search for a better life with no knowledge of the language at all. I know how hard it can be as I have seen my students in Spain to struggle with the difficulties of a new language (in times when students struggled with their studies...) and I know that is not an easy task, especially when you know nobody but your husband or wife or...anybody. I am glad and thankful that La Tienda behaves like a real father and there is such a family atmosphere, and that you offer also English classes for those who want to learn (and become a part of this great country). I also thank that organization that in such a charitable way offers and provide for tuition to those who need to learn, a language, I thank God so much that you can still find such people and that this country has such asset on great souls. We, Spaniards, can easily recognize that kind of great value souls at first sight. God bless you all at La Tienda, bosses and employees, those who have helped them to be an active part of it and America and all people of good will and great souls, as you guys, in this Beautiful America.
"Dear Andres, what a beautiful and humbling message you have written. I am not sure I feel quite as noble as you describe, but we share a common goal. And I think it's one which traditional Spain shares too, and that is that all of us are precious and made in God's image, and that's why this spirit of welcoming and generosity pervades the Spanish culture. Fundamentally the traditional Spaniards know that we should take care of one another. Radical individualism has no place. Thanks again for your words of affirmation. Tu amigo, Don"
"Continue with that strong spirit of learning. My mother came from Panama, and learned English as a second language. She became proficient enough in the language to not only pass her citizenship test, but also to have worked for the US Government. Congratulationes!! Muy Felicidades por todos en la familia de La Tienda!! "
"Dear James, thanks again for your words of encouragement. If you read some of the earlier comments made, you'll see that I too believe that education is so vital and can free people to be the people they want to be. America is a fertile place to apply what you are learning. Tu amigo, Don"
"I find quite fascinating this story. I relate to it intimately because I am a product of Spanish immigrants. I too know the pain it caused my parents to be forced to leave their beloved homeland. It has indeed enriched this grand country of ours. If I may ask a question. I think it would be nice if an option were offered to be able to view your website in Spanish. Many of us have older relatives who do not find themselves as comfortable in English as many do. Perhaps even in a few other languages. Please take time to consider. As always I thank you for offering fine products and for spreading Spanish culture thru its fine cuisine.
"Hi Tony, I appreciate your insightful comments. As other people have said in response to this article, it is very, very difficult to leave all that you have in your family roots to come to America, not speaking the language, not knowing what will happen - but with this spirit of hope. We have considered putting the site in Spanish – that would be a logical thing to do but it is a very complicated and expensive process - and one that never ends because every time you add something new you have to do it in two formats. But is still at the top of our list because I know it would be very useful to thousands of people. So thank you for reminding us of the importance of this project to translate everything into Spanish. Thanks again for your thoughtful communication. Don"
Reflexiones en Español
He hablado con algunos españoles de la comunidad de La Tienda que me han contado cómo se han ido construyendo su nueva vida en Estados Unidos. Aún más son los que nos cuentan historias sobre sus abuelos, padres, tíos o tías que lo abandonaron todo en España para aprovechar las nuevas oportunidades de sus familias en América. Algunos eran pescadores gallegos, otros mineros asturianos y gente de la montaña del País Vasco. Fue su sentido de la aventura y la perseverancia lo que ha proporcionado prosperidad a sus descendientes hoy en América.
Un drama similar es el que se vive aquí y ahora en Virginia en La Tienda, cuyo personal se compone de empleado de al menos doce nacionalidades de entre Hispano-América, Asia y Europa. Muchos de ellos, tal como hicieron los españoles de una generación anterior, proceden de países que se hallan en guerra civil o con altos índices de pobreza y están decididos a iniciar una nueva vida.
A través de La Tienda nuestra familia intenta con todas sus fuerzas apoyarlos ofreciéndoles cobertura médica y buenas condiciones de trabajo. Los recibimos como a uno más de la familia de La Tienda. A largo plazo, quizás el mayor beneficio que les podemos ofrecer es la oportunidad de aprender inglés.
Cuando Raúl, casado y padre de familia vino a trabajar con nosotros, sólo sabía firmar con una cruz. Hoy en día ya escribe en inglés y se enorgullece de hablar la nueva lengua cada vez con más fluidez. Otra empleada, Evelyn, dejó atrás a su gran familia en El Salvador y trabaja con todas sus fuerzas para mantenerse ella y para mantener a esa gran familia. Se le ilumina la cara con una sonrisa cuando me habla en inglés.
Otra empleada, Lisseth, es una extraordinaria mujer, con inquietudes y llena de energía. Lisseth es una de las que ha prosperado dentro de la familia de empleados de La Tienda. En realidad lo ha hecho tan bien que acaba de ser ascendida a Supervisora de Línea en nuestros almacenes.
Lisseth Borrego y su esposo llevaban catorce años de feliz matrimonio cuando decidieron arriesgarse a abandonar a sus familiares en Cuba con el fin de buscar una vida mejor para ellos y para sus hijos en los Estados Unidos. Sabían que se enfrentarían a difíciles retos en el proceso de adaptación a una nueva cultura y forma de vida. Uno no puede predecir todos los baches con los que se encontrará.
Puesto que no hablaban inglés en absoluto sabían que se encontrarían con obstáculos añadidos. Sin embargo, Lisseth albergaba la esperanza de que con el diploma de Educación Primaria cubano tendría una oportunidad, aunque fuera pequeña, dentro del Sistema Educativo americano. Desgraciadamente, con el paso del tiempo descubrió que su preparación no era la que el mercado requería.
En la entrevista de Narille para la revista Living in the Williamsburg Neighbors, Lisseth afirmaba: “Mis dos primeros años aquí fueron muy duros. Me inquietaba mucho ir a nuevos lugares porque temía por nuestra seguridad. Mi marido y mis hijos eran la única familia que tenía aquí, así que no había a quién pedir consejo”. Pero Lisseth no se amilanó. Estaba decidida a aprender a hablar y leer inglés y evitar así pasarse el resto de su vida temerosa y mirando a la sociedad desde fuera.
Más tarde encontró un empleo entre nosotros en La Tienda y trabajó con diligencia. Para su sorpresa, Lisseth descubrió que La Tienda ofrece clases gratuitas de inglés para los empleados que lo deseen. Los profesores llegaron a este centro de trabajo a través de nuestra asociación con una maravillosa agrupación local llamada Literacy for Life (Alfabetizar para Vivir), que colabora con College of William & Mary y cuyo personal, en su mayor parte, trabaja de forma desinteresada. Los vecinos de la zona de Williamsburg ofrecen su tiempo para encontrarse con aquellos nuevos residentes que desean aprender inglés.
Lisseth entusiasmada aprovechó esta oportunidad. Una vez a la semana asistía a clases de dos horas con algunos de sus colegas de trabajo. Con el deseo de ir progresando cuanto antes también se matriculó en las clases que se ofrecen después del trabajo. En septiembre de 2011 aprobó su examen de ciudadanía y un mes después juró como ciudadana estadounidense.
Ahora Lisseth puede ayudar a los empleados que no comprenden tanto inglés como ella. Aunque aún no sabe si podría convertirse en profesora, anima a otros a continuar esforzándose por aprender. Puede aconsejar a aquellos que se debaten en la lucha por aprender inglés. “Es duro, pero si yo pude, tú podrás” les recalca.
Nos enorgullece ofrecer ayuda a estos inmigrantes esforzados, y ellos se han convertido en parte de nuestra familia de La Tienda. Sin embargo estamos seguros de que el mérito reside en ellos por su valentía y determinación en iniciar una nueva vida y por su compromiso por aprender el idioma y una nueva forma de vida. De la misma manera que los inmigrantes españoles, los de ahora y los de generaciones anteriores, ellos buscan una vida mejor para sus familias a la vez que albergan gran aprecio por la cultura y tradiciones de su país de origen.