Richmond’s Spanish Community

October 9, 2010

RICHMOND, Va. — America is usually referred to as the “melting pot,” a place where there is an opportunity to meet different cultures and ethnicities from around the world. The Hispanic population specifically has played a major contributing role in the growing diversity of this nation.

(The term Hispanic refers to all Spanish-speaking people in both hemispheres and with an emphasis the common denominator of language.)

According to the U.S. Census, By 2050 the Hispanic population is expected to nearly triple. Today, Hispanics make up 15 percent of the total U.S. population, holding the spot as the nation’s largest minority.

Ana Esteve, a native of Spain and a graduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University did not think Richmond, Virginia would be any exception. However, upon Esteve’s arrival her perception changed quickly.

“I haven’t met a single Spaniard so far. I have asked around but nobody knows anybody from Spain. The only time I heard about somebody from Spain was at the very beginning of my stay in Richmond,” Esteve said.

Esteve said while having lunch with a friend she asked a waiter, who was Spanish speaking if she knew anyone from Spain. The waiter replied that she knew only one person, the man who delivers olive oil to the restaurant. To this day, Esteve still has never met him or anyone in the Richmond area from her home county.

Ana Esteve, a native of Spain and a graduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University did not think Richmond, Virginia would be any exception. However, upon Esteve’s arrival her perception changed quickly.

“I haven’t met a single Spaniard so far. I have asked around but nobody knows anybody from Spain. The only time I heard about somebody from Spain was at the very beginning of my stay in Richmond,” Esteve said.

Esteve said while having lunch with a friend she asked a waiter, who was Spanish speaking if she knew anyone from Spain. The waiter replied that she knew only one person, the man who delivers olive oil to the restaurant. To this day, Esteve still has never met him or anyone in the Richmond area from her home county.

Esteve is not alone. Most Spaniards that move to the Richmond area find that they are one of the very few Spanish natives living in Richmond. According to the latest detailed (2000) U.S. Census Report there are more than 5,000 Hispanics residing in Richmond and among them only 24 are from Spain.

“Comparatively, the number of Spanish immigrants is amazingly dwarfed by the sheer number of Salvadoran immigrants, Nicaragua immigrants, Honduran immigrants, Mexican immigrants, the people who have been arriving to the United States over the past 20,30,40 years have been predominantly Hispanics from Latin America said, VCU Spanish Professor,” Laura Middlebrooks.

So, why is the Spanish population so small in Richmond?

“Let me say, most Spanish immigrants will move to Europe before they come to America and if they do come to America, you are much more likely to find Iberian influences (Spanish and Portugal) in major cities like New York, Washington D.C., or Chicago,” said Middlebrooks.

Middlebrooks attributes the lack of Spanish influence and immigration to the U.S. and Richmond to the political and economical differences among Spain and other Hispanic countries around the world.

“Most of Latin America has gone through their wars of independence, technological revolutions, in lets say their nations adolescence, where as Spain’s culture has not had to suffer that sort of Trauma at such a young point in its history,” said Middlebrooks.

Spain being a more developed nation politically and economically compared to other Spanish-speaking countries plays a major role in their reasons to immigrate. Manolo Macheo, a Richmond resident and a native of Cadic, Spain agreed.

“The difference between from Hispanics versus people from Spain, based on people I know, and talking to people here, they come here pretty much escaping from their own country to come to the land of opportunity. People I know from Spain that live here is different, I come to America because I wanted a change of lifestyle. When I was living for Spain I wasn’t really hurting for money. I didn’t come here to live a better life. I came here because I wanted a different lifestyle, that’s usually the difference,” said Macheo.

Macheo relocated from Spain and moved to the Richmond area in 1997 to pursue a career in information technology.  Macheo says that although his primary focus was to learn English and concentrate on his career meeting Richmond residents from his home country was always a rare surprise.

“Whenever I find somebody from Spain it’s a big thing,” said Macheo.

Macheo owns a small importing business, in which he imports goods from Spain and supplies local restaurants in the area.

“That’s actually how I met Emilio,” said Macheo.

Emilo Peiro, a native of Sueca, Spain, is the owner of Emilio’s which is the only authentic Spanish restaurant in Richmond.

“There are not many, people from Spain here in Richmond, the ones that are here I probably know all of them,” said Peiro with a chuckle.

Maria Yancey, a native of Madrid Spain and community outreach worker for the Chesterfield County Social Services Department is a big fan of Emilio’s but she said she doesn’t have to go into an authentic Spanish restaurant to feel like home.

“He’s the only Spanish place to go in Richmond. When I want traditional Spanish food, I go to Emilios, in fact I love it because there’s one right next to my house in Woodlake, but honestly I feel the same in a Mexican restaurant, I love that I can speak to the waiter in my native language. It doesn’t matter that it’s not from Spain,” said Yancey.

Although the Spaniard population in Richmond is dwarfed by other Spanish-speaking groups Yancey believes it’s hard for Spaniards to feel to far from home.

Yancey points out some of the many similarities that the Spaniards and other Hispanics share. First, it’s important to explain the historical connection between Spain and most of Latin America. Spain colonized most of Central and South America in the late 1400’s and when they traveled to the Americas they carried much of Spain’s culture with them, including the Catholic religion, their colorful costumes, and food.

The Hispanic culture is made up of many different Spanish-speaking countries and although Spanish natives may not share the same geographical origin as many other Hispanics in Richmond, Yancey believes that all Hispanics share a common bond that surpasses their differences.

“The love for life, you know. I don’t know if you noticed, but we are all very much into dancing, and music, and food, and family all of that is very important to us and it’s all across the border, not only in Spain but all of the Hispanic people are the same because, like I said because I’ve met people from Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Mexico, many many countries (here in Richmond) and they seem to share that. We share that bond in our attitude and love for family and life,” said Yancey.

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