We arrived in Llanes, a beautiful town in Northern Spain on the coast of Asturias, around midday. It’s a place of story-like cottages, a home to kind, smiling people.
My family and I were here to meet our second cousins for the first time, after our families lost touch in the 1950s.
As we arrived, I rang the doorbell to a beautiful home near the shore, not knowing who – or what – to expect.
A short, elderly woman opened the door with a huge smile on her face. "Victor, come down!” she cried to her husband. “They're here!"
A tall, white-haired man appeared and greeted us with excitement. As our eyes met for the first time, there was no doubt that we were family: When I looked at Victor, I could swear I was looking at my grandfather.
We all introduced ourselves, and started to share stories in the doorway. Lupe, Victor’s wife who greeted us at the door, ushered us in. We were soon joined by Pepe, Victor's older brother, followed by Paloma, their younger sister. The three of them were around 75 and 85 years old, yet they looked so fresh and young.
As I looked around the warm, smiling faces gathered, I realized this could've been my life had my great-grandfather stayed in Spain. Over tea, I finally got to hear the full story of how he came to be so far away from home.
As the eldest of five children, Antonio – my great-grandfather – lived through a rough patch in Spain. Back in the 1900s, their father passed away, and the tough economy meant he couldn't take care of his whole family.
But he found a way. Back then, many Spanish citizens were making their way to Mexico for new opportunities.
Knowing that, he packed a bag, said his goodbyes, and managed to cross the ocean with as little money as possible to find a better life.
Not just for him, but for those who now depended on him, too.
The next day, we got up early and began the journey to the towns where our ancestors had once lived.
First, we headed to Alles, in the Peñamellera Alta. It was a tiny village in the middle of the road, with very few houses and a church. Victor, Pepe, and Paloma knew exactly which house my great grandfather was born in and lived throughout his early childhood.
Next, we headed to an even smaller village with only six or so houses. The village was named Trespalacios – just like our family name. As soon as we arrived, I could feel a special connection: I finally know exactly where my name comes from.
The journey continued all day until, at last, we arrived at a little town called Trescares.
Paloma was the owner of a three-story countryside house, with a beautiful stream out back. When I stepped inside, it was like traveling through time. There were portraits on the walls of my great-grandfather and his siblings, smiling back at us.
This was the house my great-grandfather bought for the family after 20 years of hard work in Mexico.
The whole purpose of his trip was to provide for the family, and finally standing here, in this living monument of his hard work and sacrifice, was an incredible feeling.
The house was bought on his first visit back to Spain. He only stayed for a few days, barely even seeing his sisters, and when the deals were finalized, he headed back to Central America. That was the last time he came home again.
In the years that followed, he slowly worked his way up and became the owner of the Hacienda he started working for as a teen, becoming one of the largest and most important corn producers in Mexico.
In 1923, three years after buying the Hacienda, he met his soon-to-be wife, Ruth, and married within three months. They had five children, my grandfather Fernando being one of them.
By all accounts, great-grandpa became very successful, but at the cost of leaving his family behind in Spain.
Visiting that house in Trescares was the highlight of my trip. I finally understood why my great-grandfather sacrificed so much for the ones he loved; I saw how much they really appreciated it.
It was also a weird feeling, knowing that my life could have been completely different if he hadn't left Spain, but I’m glad he did.
Through all the suffering and sacrifice, I can only hope he was proud of all that he’s accomplished.
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