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  HOME | Mexico

Women Were Key in Integrating Spanish Exiles into Mexico

MEXICO CITY – Behind the scenes and often with a sewing machine as their main survival weapon, women were key in successfully integrating Spain’s Republican exiles into Mexico 80 years ago.

The majority first came to Mexico via the port of Veracruz between May and July 1939. The vessels Libertad, Sinaia, Ipanema and Mexique brought thousands of Spanish exiles who had supported the losing Republican cause in the European country’s civil war and who had fled to Mexico to try and start their lives over again.

Others arrived later on board the Nyassa, which made several trips between Spain and Mexico transporting refugees in 1942. All of these vessels transported various numbers of Spaniards to Veracruz up through 1942, and estimates are that between 22,000 and 30,000 Spaniards arrived in the country during those years.

Now that 80 years have passed since the arrival of the first Spanish Republican exiles, the city of Veracruz will commemorate the anniversary with cultural, artistic and literary events from June 12-16.

Ateneo Español will participate in emphasizing how Mexico welcomed the Spaniards and the tremendous contributions they made to Mexican culture and education, as well as to the country’s economy.

If anything unites all the Spanish refugees in Mexico it is their ability to adapt and their lack of bitterness. They came with empty hands, with just the clothes on their backs, to a country that welcomed them with open arms.

Mexico provided a small amount of help to them. Most of the women received sewing machines that helped them to earn some money until the men could find jobs and earn a living.

The determination of the women was key to the success of the Spanish exile community in Mexico due to their ability to adapt, their strength and sacrifice so that their children could get ahead, attend college and have a better life, Concepcion Michavila Garcia, born on Sept. 9, 1938, in Barcelona, said.

She arrived in Sinaia from France with her parents and a sister, studied at the Madrid high school, where she became a teacher, and got a degree in biology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

She is married to Jose Maria Cid, another Spanish exile born in Tortosa in 1933 who, after crossing the border into France, spent a season in that country until he could board the Nyassa for its last voyage.

“We crossed the border, my parents, my sister and my aunt and there we separated. My father went into a concentration camp, my mother and me to a hospital and my aunt and sister they took to a spot near Paris,” said Concepcion.

“My mother adapted better. With the sewing machine she gave us food. They didn’t return to Spain until the socialist government of Felipe Gonzalez” in 1982, she added.

Once a judge in Vinaroz, her father started selling homemade jam made by his wife in Mexico City. “Years later, my father became the manager of an oil factory and my mother could rest,” she added.

Another sewing machine helped Jose Maria’s family to survive, his mother sewing and earning money for the family.


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