Letters from Argentina: Fabricating the Experience of Migration

Picture from the departure of Coral Sanz from Cadiz to Buenos Aires, with Puri Zahino and family
Picture from the departure of Coral Sanz from Cadiz to Buenos Aires, with Puri Zahino and family

Posted by Cristina Colmena- PhD Candidate at Spanish and Portuguese Department NYU

My project focused on the construction of identities through the correspondence of Spanish migrants who went to Argentina during the 1960´s under Francoism. My point of departure was the letters sent by Purificación Zahino to her family in Spain from 1962 to 1969. She died at the age of 34 in Rosario and those letters and photographs were the “texts” to elaborate a kind of autobiography not only by her, but also by their relatives who stayed in Spain. In Puri´s letters there was some confusing information about her life and the people who were her employers -and at the same time a sort of “family”- so I came to Argentina to get some interviews and maybe find more archival material that allow me to fill the gaps. After some research in CEMLA (Centro de Estudios Migratorios Latinoamericanos) in Buenos Aires and contacting with Centro Navarro in Rosario where she used to work, I found the relatives who lived with her and also had the chance to talk to people who knew her and gave me very relevant information for my study.

Their memories about her, and the epistolary and photographic material that this Argentinian family gave me, complete the portrait made by her relatives in Spain in previous interviews. My hypothesis of work was that this epistolary exchange became a narrative where fiction and facts were woven by different narrators: the woman who wrote the letters but also the ones who read them, constructing all together a kind of family myth that still remains in the new generations.

Also my work in the archives of CEMLA allowed me to find some previous studies about the letters of migrants as a valuable material to address individual experience of immigration and the narratives that were fabricated on both sides of the ocean. Since the economic Spanish emigration during the Franco dictatorship has been relatively studied little in comparison with the large body of research about republican exiles, my research tries also to analyze the expectations and desires of a better world by those who lived under the oppressive atmosphere of Francoism in the 60’s.

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