Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Friday, 31 January 2014

In Case of Need

The statue on the left stands outside the museum in Cangas de Onis, the capital of Asturias, Spain. We visited the town in October last year as part of our tour of the North of the country. The beautiful region is steeped in history, but where does the young man on the left fit in, striding purposefully forward, suitcase in hand, full of good intentions and bright hopes for the future?

The label at his feet tells us that he is ‘The Migrant'. He certainly catches the eye as he gazes out towards the old Roman bridge in the town. From his dress we can guess that he is probably from the early to mid-twentieth century, but he clearly stands for all emigrants from the region, over hundreds of years, who set off with dreams of a better life. Most Asturians made for the Americas, taking with them the skills they had practised in their local industries of agriculture, coal mining, shipbuilding and metal working. Many suffered hardships and returned, but others settled and made a living, establishing businesses and schools.

I am indebted to fellow blogger Rob, who found that the sculpture was made by Ricardo Motilla as part of a twinning initiative with the town of Leon in Mexico in 2003.

Thanks to a detailed paper written in 1910(1) by Laura Martinez Martin a great deal is known about the life of one particular emigrant, José Moldes (c. 1860-1921) who was a prolific letter writer. Martin's study can be read on line courtesy of The University of Helsinki, where the Conference on European Ideas was held in 2008.

Here is José writing his first letter home at the age of just fourteen. He wrote 121 of them over a fifty year period. His legacy allowed Martin to reconstruct the experiences of just one of millions of emigrants.

Castropol, 8 April 1874
Dear mama: I take up my pen to show you my route from here to Coruña; so far thanks be to God I have lacked for nothing here, we are intending to make the trip on Friday; we will rent a carriage in Castropol, we are all well. I send greetings to everyone who asks after me and a kiss for my brothers and sisters and especially Florentino and finally to you with all my heart from a dear son W(ho) K(isses) Y(our) H(and).
José Moldes.

There are similar statues and memorials all over Spain. In neighbouring Galicia this moving portrayal of a family saying farewell to the emigrant, stands outside the Maritime Station in Vigo.(2)

There he goes suitcase in hand again, and with the same determined  stride, never risking a backward glance lest he should falter in his resolve.

This family of emigrants (3) have as much as they can carry in those suitcases and parcels, but what did they have to leave behind?

Here in Lanzarote we know that many people emigrated to South America, but what is not generally known is that just sixteen families from here founded San Antonio in Texas. Caminante (better known to me as my husband) has written about this on his blog The Lanzarote They Left Behind in a post title ‘The Rôle of Water in the Decision to Emigrate from Lanzarote to San Antonio’. The title doesn’t say it all and it’s worth a read as it highlights the harsh conditions faced by the native Lanzaroteans back then.

At the Museum of Emigration in Teguise we were able to view many humble artefacts belonging to the early settlers; simple stoves, sewing machines and basic furniture. Their suitcases were there too, but most moving of all were the letters written to loved ones back home accompanied by sepia photographs of individuals and families by which to remember them.  My impression was not one of cheerful hope for the future but of grim acceptance of their destiny.

This week’s Sepia Saturday gave a suitcase picture prompt. Alan suggested that suitcases mean holidays, but they have also been the means for people to carry their few possessions when moving away from the place they call home and in search of a better life, prompted by necessity. how do they choose what to take and what to leave behind?  See what others have made of the prompt below. You’ll be surprised how much they can pack in.

The Correspondence of Asturian Emigrants at the end of the 19th and beginning of the twentieth centuries; the case of José Moldes
2 La Familia del Emigrante, designed by Ramón Conde and courtesy of Contando Estrelas through Flickr Creative Commons
3 from Museo de Arte Contemoráneo de Barcelona by Xavier Miserachs through Wikimedia Creative Commons 


  1. How sad, the life of the emigrants. To leave your home at 14 all alone going to an entirely new and strange place. It's hard to imagine.
    Wonderful post.
    Ladies of the Grove

  2. I think the statue was made by Ricardo Motilla in 2003 (see http://www.dormiren.com/casaruralelcanton/fichacercana/cangas-de-onis/escultura-%C2%ABemigrante%C2%BB). His website states "2003 “AL EMIGRANTE”, escultura monumental en bronce ubicada a la entrada de la ciudad de Cangas de Onis, Asturias, España.". BTW impressive bridge, I suppose you walked over it.

  3. Sadly, the Museum of Emigration has been packed away to make space for a more "touristy" museum of pirates. That's a real shame, because the Singer sewing machines, the typewriters, the humble trade tools, and especially the cheap, battered suitcases speak eloquently of the normality of the people whose harsh, unyielding environment lead them to look for a better life in an unknown land. I found it a very thought provoking exhibition. I think Little Nell's take on the theme conveys well that sense of impending isolation, tinged with excitement that most emogrants must experience..

  4. You have reminded me that on my to do list is a visit to our Museum of Immigration regards Anne

  5. We, of course, live in a country the immigrants come TO, not leave, so the statues of families saying goodbye to those leaving is something very different and moving. They remind me how lucky I am to live where and how I do!

  6. I remember watching an Emigrants film in the 1970s about swedish emigrants who came to Minnesota. widipedia link:

  7. A thought provoking post. It made me think of other ways I could have used this theme.

  8. The suitcase is indeed the perfect symbol for the emigrant, or immigrant depending on one's perspective. I read the excellent companion post on the way drought conditions influenced emigration from Lanzarote. Unfortunately the future will continue to have the same pressure from extreme weather and climate change that will force millions of people to move for their survival.

    1. Thank you Mike. I tried not to get too depressed when writing this, but the research was so interesting. That short paper by Martin was fascinating reading. I was haunted by so many other pictures of refugees from Syria and the like clutching their few belongings, as well as WW2 evacuees and victims of the Holocaust, but decided it was all too dark for a SS post; this was nearer to home and more palatable.

      Interestingly when searching for sepia images of Spanish emigrants I came across quite a few musical ensembles and thought 'Mike would like that.' Unfortunately copyright meant I was unable to reproduce them with a clear conscience.

  9. Does make you think - about having to leave your country, your home, your friends and family out of necessity rather than desire, and how tough that must be. So relevant at the moment too in places like Syria. Remember seeing the statues of Irish migrants on the docks in Dublin - fleeing the Great Famine - such forlorn, tragic figures with the smallest bundles of possessions.

  10. That last photo says it all, doesn't it? I love the statues, too -- and I imagine that everybody who walks by them stops and thinks for just a moment...

  11. Thank you for bringing to life a place well worth viewing. I envy those that can visit places like this. I also enjoy statues and the stories they carry, perhaps not as heavy as that one suitcase, imagine how heavy it could have been.

  12. The good thing about emigration is the "fresh start" aspect of the experience and leaving behind the excess baggage. A very thought provoking post. Within a mile of our home here in a California farming area we have recent immigrants from all over the world...I wonder how many of them have that one significant suitcase still in the basement or the attic.

  13. so much pertinent history here and being from ancestrs who all were immigrants I especially enjoyed this. The photo of the three with the man hoisting the big suitcase onto his shoulder is tantalizing. It must have been very heavy and he would have been most strong to carry that way.

  14. A great take on the theme. Reminds me of some of the Jewish statues and memorials in Europe - another sad story.

  15. You turn my suitcase interpretation upside down (quite rightly) and remind us that suitcases can also be symbols of fear of the unexpected. Sometimes that fear is just the fear of a new life with all its challenges, but once you have set me on this train of thought, I am reminded of those awful symbolic brown cardboard suitcases with stencilled names and numbers and stars of Israel I have seen in various holocaust museums.

  16. A very thoughtful, interesting post - that luggage does not necessarily mean holidays and fun, but a sad adventure and journey into the unknown. This is what I love about Sepia Saturday, the very different way bloggers interpret the theme.

  17. Interesting that I came across the sculptures when researching what I was going to do and shied away from suitcases of Holocaust victims who did not survive. Immigration has become an emotive word to many these days, but there is a big difference between forced and voluntary emigration. A thought provoking post.

  18. Many of our family trace themselves back to a young man or woman with a suitcase in hand, heading into the unknown, into the future.

  19. The family in the black and white photo look a bit like refugees. I can't imagine having everything I own on my back or slung over my arm. So many people have done this in search of a better life - they deserve a few statues.

  20. How emigrants are portrayed whether in stories, photos, paintings, or sculpture always forces me to redefine what is "necessary." If I had to reduce my stuff to what I could carry, it wouldn't be much.


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