The Latin Beat Grows Louder in the City

Groups and Communities
Published October 22, 1998

The Latin Beat Grows Louder in the City

| Published October 22, 1998

Frank Morales congratulates Jose Rosario founder of FOCUS on his retirement, 1989. The Star-Ledger

This year not only marks the centennial of the Spanish-American War, it also signifies a century of extraordinary growth of the city’s Spanish, Spanish-American, Hispanic and Latino communities.

By definition, Spanish is the Romance language of the largest part of Spain and of the countries colonized by Spaniards. Similarly, Spanish-Americans are residents of the United States whose native language is Spanish and whose culture is of Spanish origin. Hispanic is defined as 'relating to the people, speech or culture of Spain and Portugal or Latin America,' while Latino means native to Latin America or of Latin American origin.

Three Waves

We turn our attention today to the three waves of Spanish-speaking settlers who made and continue to make Newark and the Newark area their home. Some of the earliest settlers arrived in the city in the 1880s. A few migrated after the Spanish-American War in the late 1890s, but the majority arrived after World War II. Puerto Ricans came in the 1950s and 1960s. Cubans came in the 1970s. More recently, at least 20 distinct and separate Spanish-speaking immigrant groups migrate from the other islands and Central and South America.

Early references to mainland Spaniards in Newark indicate there was some Spanish settlement in Newark in the 1880s, a decade before the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. United States census figures for Newark from 1900 until 1950 show the number of Spaniards, Mexicans, Cubans/West Indians and Central/South Americans living in the city. In 1900, there were 28 Spanish, 13 Mexicans, 77 Cubans/West Indians and an undetermined number of Central/South Americans. By 1910, there were 54 Spaniards, 10 Mexicans and 183 Cubans. There were no figures for Central/South Americans. In 1920, there were 555 Spaniards, 43 Mexicans, 366 Cubans, and in 1930 there were 1,370 Spanish, 49 Mexicans, 145 Cubans and 375 Central/South Americans. The 1940 census shows only 949 Spaniards, 35 Mexicans, 131 Cubans, and 337 Central/South Americans. By 1950, the number of Spaniards grew to 1,174, with 39 Cubans and 57 Central/South Americans. As the 20th century moves toward a close, New Jersey Business magazine reported in 1995 that the American Spanish-speaking population had become the fifth largest Spanish-speaking group in the world. This number doubled in only the last 15 years.

A Magnet for Immigrants

In 1989, the Trenton Times reported that 'few states in America are more affected by the new wave of immigrants, mostly non-European, than New Jersey.' Reporters found that the 'Garden State ranks fifth in the nation as a destination point for new arrivals.' At that time, it was estimated that 25 percent of Americans have Hispanic roots. While Newark’s first Spanish-speaking immigrants were from Galicia in northern Spain, they are coming today from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile, making New Jersey a Latin American mosaic.

Let’s look at some of the earliest settlers. In a series of interviews with a half dozen Spanish Newarkers, the overwhelming reply, when asked what part of Spain they had come from, was Galicia, the coastal highlands region with a population in excess of 2.5 million. Galicia occupies the northwest corner of Spain along the northern Portuguese border, the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay of Biscay. It takes in the provinces of La Corufta, Lugo, Orense and Pontevedea in a mountainous territory cut by swiftly flowing rivers. The people of Galicia are independent minded. From the beginning of time, they have earned their livelihood farming, fishing and mining. The Romans knew of and used their iron and tin reserve, a use that continues until this day. In the Middle Ages the area’s great shrine of Santiago de Compostela brought pilgrims from across Spain and other countries to its doorstep. Today the region is the site of small farms. The landscape is dotted with homesteads and pastures instead of great estates. In the 19th century, heavy South American emigration partially depopulated the region. While many of the area’s admirers were forced to leave for economic reasons, a nostalgic longing for Galicia continues in literature and folklore. In the series of interviews with a half-dozen Galician Newarkers, several key points emerged. Most of them considered the family all-important. They also see Newark as having 'a caring community of people from back home' who help newly arrived immigrants. Both the church and social clubs remain extremely important in making the new arrivals feel at home.

The Spiritual Heart

The center of Newark’s Spanish Roman Catholic Church was the old St. Joseph’s Church at Lafayette and Prospect streets, originally the Fifth Baptist Church. The old brick Greek Revival building became a Latin parish when the Portuguese community established Our Lady of Fatima in the 1950s. In 1966, renamed the new Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, it opened its door to a parish composed mostly of Newarkers whose roots were in Spain. The old building was rented to the Newark Board of Education, but Masses occasionally were held in it. Its catacombs were modeled after the famous church tombs of St. Sebastian, St. Priscilla and St. Clixton in Rome. According to The Star-Ledger, 'these were the only such catacombs in the Eastern United States and a piece of history.' While they were briefly closed for repair, they are again open upon request and one can see several likenesses of selected Spanish saints. By 1984, the city’s Spanish parish claimed to have nearly 1,000 families. Another Newark/Galician institution is the social club. The two best known are the Orence and the Club Espaa. The latter was founded in 1962 and is located in a three story-building on New York Avenue. It is one of the largest and most active associations in Newark’s Spanish community, open to Hispanics of Spanish descent. Club Espaa claims 1,200 members, a women’s auxiliary and a youth group called the juventudes . Members take part in the 'Dia de la Raza,' a Hispanic parade. Services offered include classes in English and Spanish languages, art, voice, Spanish bagpipe lessons. Club members also participate in all phases of soccer, from instruction and playing, to winning in the statewide Schaefer Soccer League. The club also operates a program to help displaced persons in conjunction with the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church and hosts Sunday gatherings for tapas (Spanish hors d’oeuvres) and espresso coffee, a local custom. A social center In addition to its social, educational and cultural program, the club is well-known for its dances, fund-raisers, excursions, picnics and a wide variety of social gatherings. It also sponsors social programs that emphasize the language, culture and tradition of the community and awards many scholarships. Teachers at the club emphasize Spain’s contributions to the new world, reminding students of events such as Ponce De Leon’s discovery of Florida, its sale to the United States in 1821, the establishment of St. Augustine as the first permanent white settlement in America, and Spain’s $5 million loan to the Colonists during the American Revolution. Most important is the concept of respect for parents and family values. Successful sports achievements include a winning soccer team in 1970 and 1976. The soccer champions participated in the inaugural flight from Newark to Spain, followed by a 10-day tour of the mother country. As a result of the visit, La Corua established a sister-city relationship with Newark.