The Girl Immigrant
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Hawaii! Manuela's small Spanish village buzzes with tales of life in a faraway land free from starvation and angst. In the early months of 1911, with nine children between three Silvan Hernandez (and Gonzales) families, they boarded a British immigrant steamer, the SS Orteric, bound for the Hawaiian Islands. Sugar plantation owners hired the ship to transport immigrants from Portugal and Spain to the islands. They’d advertised on posters and through their agents in the countries, looking for people interested and able to work on their plantations. Free passage was provided to the prospective workers and their families, guaranteed work and school for their children. In a starving and poor time where the military brandished a strong arm, the families took a gamble along with other families in their community; many cousins and a multitude of friends joined their exodus to spread their families to the wind.
The SS Orteric crowded a too-large number of Portuguese and Spanish immigrants aboard, creating extremely poor traveling and living conditions. During the voyage, measles and scarlet fever epidemics broke out. Many children died. And forty eight days across an ocean’s watery prairie gave them a deep appreciation for terra firma.
Nine-year-old Manuela was the oldest child and only daughter in one of the families. Leaving behind her grandmothers, cousins, aunts, uncles and many friends behind in Fuentesauco, Spain, she was sure her heart would break into pieces.
Living through the trials and tribulations of traveling through Spain to the coast, a place she’d never seen was a nightmare and a dream. An ocean, ships, big cities and the fears waited for her; she learned very quickly her childhood, as it was, would be forever left behind.
But the beauty and world of flowers in the Hawaiian Islands lured her into bits of happiness she hadn’t imagined. And meeting her young man in Hawaii and finding him again in California gave her the intensity of life that the trek from Spain promised. This is the Silván Hernández family’s story; similar to many immigrants who left their homes and fought their way eventually to arrive in America. It is the beginning of Manuela’s petals.the children, the family, the memories, the stories and a life in America.
It is an epic immigration story filled with tragedy and triumph. Adversity and love. Loss and promise. And it’s our story too. Studying Spanish history, the land they left behind and various immigration resources helped Patricia Ruiz Steele paint a rich portrait of the people who came to America and the lives they created.
It is the beginning of Manuela’s petals.the children, the family, the memories, the stories and a life in America.