|ASTURIAS, Spain, August 11 - As a direct descendant of the Don José Matías Longoria Chapa heritage in Texas when he and his two other brothers - Pedro and Vicente - received Spanish Land Grants from King Carlos III on Texas soil in 1767, I felt somewhat compelled to visit their places of origin in the “Principiado de Asturias,” nestled within the mountains of Northern Spain.
Ruled by Prince Felipe and Princess Leticia, it is a region within Spain, also called the “Switzerland of Spain,” and a sportsman’s paradise, for its many attractions that draw tourists from all over the world. One can enjoy a multitude of sports, bicycling around the many excellent roads that surround the ever green mountain, or canoeing in the many rivers, as well as horse riding along many fine mountain trails.
So it was that I, along with my son and 11 year-old granddaughter Juliana made the long flight over the Atlantic Ocean of nearly ten hours in order to taste the fine Spanish life, its beautiful culture, visit with its courteous and hospitable people all within a ten days journey. We landed in Madrid, a city of almost six million Spaniards, a city that never sleeps, with its bustling traffic, beautifully structured downtown buildings, busy streets, and hordes of shopping stores, as well as hundreds of restaurants, where people congregate at all hours of the day and night to simply visit, converse, and have a cup of “Sidra,” or wine, or a cold beer, served along with “tapas” made of cheese, anchovies, “jamón de pata negra.” It is, indeed, a clean city, where all mingle with tourists, and people of all ages go about their daily lives. We spent that evening in Madrid at a four-star hotel that enjoyed all the amenities, and the next morning we boarded the train “Renfe,” a high speed transportation that is the delight of Spain, and that connects most cities within that country. It was an almost five hours venture to our destination - Oviedo, Asturias and during the trip we were served an excellent lunch by helpful stewards, and enjoyed comfortable seats, while we enjoyed the scenery of country Spain along the way to our destination.
We arrived in Oviedo, Asturias, where we immediately rented a car so that we could move fast into areas of activities, with my son driving along the wide mountain range of Northern Spain, with a winding and well maintained beautiful road. We were impressed with the small automobiles used, and the level of slow speed maintained by the drivers, and all cars seemed to be not more than a few years old or almost new. We headed toward the “Cantabria area” close to the Basque country of Santander, to a small town called Colombres, where I needed to research some aspects of “Asturianos” that made their trip to “hacer las Américas” during the 17th and 18th centuries. However, finding no suitable lodging in Colombres, we ventured into a most beautiful town nearby – Unquera - where we spent the night at a Hotel Canal. The people there called themselves “Cantábricos,” as opposed to “Asturianos, Castellanos, Sevillanos, Vascos, Madrileños, etc.,” as they are very proud of their ethnic background, even though they all live within Spain. From there I visited the “Archivos de los Indianos” and made contact with a “Sub-Directora” who will scan me records of historical data that can help me in my research. This is possible material for a future few articles that can then translate into a book, a research so badly needed so that Texans of all persuasions can fully understand the impact Spain has had and continues to have on our daily lives. I cannot say enough about the “Cantabria” people, except that they are similar in nature to a great segment of the people of the Río Grande Valley and Northern México: hospitable, courteous, unpretentious, friendly, helpful, with a strong work ethics, as we did not see one single beggar on the streets.
After a couple of nights in Unquera, and tasting all aspects of this culture, of people still clinging to many old traditions, customs, and daily routine, that we were, indeed, impressed by how much of their way of life transferred here via many years of Hispanic presence in Texas. To fully understand the Hispanic/Tejanos one must visit the country of Spain, visit with people, taste their food, be around them at restaurants, and sit alongside them and listen to their conversations about all things in general. Only then can one view the spiritual and human side of Hispanics; considering heavily that this European country of Spain impacted the New World with its traditions, its religion, its language, its genetic pool, its way of living, and a deep feeling for the human adventure. Hispanics/Tejanos are made of many ethnic units, to recall some: Celtic, Visigoths this explains the fair complexion, blond hair, red hair, and blue or green eyes of some Hispanics), the Romans (that left us the Latin language, out of which was born the present Spanish), the Arabs, the Spanish Jewish, people, the Greeks, the Iberian, the Basque, and finally the eminent Native-American gene pool Hispanics carry as part of their ethnic makeup.
We left Unquera, Cantabria, and headed on to neighboring Asturias, and landed in Salas, close to Láneo, from where we were to visit three “Casas Longorias” in that area of Northern Spain. In Salas we lodged overnight at the Castillo Vargas de Salas, an old Medieval Fortress, across from a Medieval Cathedral. The weather was soft and cool, and no need for air condition in the evenings. As we ventured into the main area of the town we noticed that it is also a haven for retirees and tourist. After a night in Salas, we made our way to a beautiful seaside town called Soto del Barco, very close to the ocean, to other beautiful Asturian towns, all nestled within the ever green mountains of Northern Spain. It was from this town - Soto del Barco - established as our so called headquarters, that early the next morning we made the trip to Láneo, an area that contains the first “Casa Longoria” and thus to meet at last our distant Longoria cousin, Luis Argüelles Meres Longoria, the last surviving descendant of the original Longorias who had left those three villages - La Pontiga, Longoria (Llongoria in Asturian language), and Láneo to “hacer las Américas” in 1603 and landed in “La Nueva España.”
Luis and his lovely wife Fernanda graciously invited us to their all-brick two story house located in Láneo, in northern Spain. It was, indeed, a lovely home with a well-kept lawn of beautiful flowers, with a large gate. The town itself does not have many residents, and its winding roads leads us to other surrounding similar homes nestled in the beautiful evergreen mountains of Asturias. When we went inside this “Casa Longoria,” one of three still in existence, one could feel the presence of history, of long ago Longoria generations, of hard working, prominent families, devoted to God and to family that made up countless years of striving and dedication. The living room was filled with pictures of other long ago Longoria patriarchs, a remembrance of living history, a culture, a life of service, that still honors those individuals who left their presence in 1603 to make their fortunes in “La Nueva España,” and they certainly did succeed.
We had a long visit with Luis Argüelles Meres Longoria, also a Professor of Spanish Literature, a guest columnist for local Asturian newspapers, and an accomplished author who has written a book on Alonso de la Pontiga Longoria, an individual who departed the area bound for Cuba, never to be heard from again. Luis and his wife Fernanda showed the Asturian courtesies, friendliness, and their unpretentious way of life, seeking only to please those who had traveled hundreds of miles to visit the “Casas Longoria” and to discover and to later on comment on the strong links that still unite these adventurous two Longorias - Don Lorenzo Suárez de Longoria and his uncle Don Pedro de la Pontiga Longoria - who one day years ago in 1603 decided that their fortune, their destiny, their life’s thrust belonged in the Americas. Don Pedro de la Pontiga Longoria arrived in “La Nueva España” holding an important position as an “Oidor” for the King of Spain, an office that heard all cases of civil and criminal activities responding only to the Royal Authorities. Some authors who have done extensive research claim that he received this appointment due to his genealogical ties to the King, although to this day I have found no data supporting this version, even though it is known that Asturian people have produced many Kings that have ruled Spain for many years, including the present day King Carlos.
We were than escorted to La Pontiga to view the oldest “Casa Longoria,” a 15th Century building now abandoned, but still standing as a testament to the original owners who departed to “La Nueva España.” Our last stop was the village of Longoria (Llongoria - in Asturian dialect) where we viewed the last of the three “Casas Longoria,” a building occupied by residents, and still standing strong and livable. We saw many Asturians with blond hair and some with red hair, all reflecting their Celtic/Visigoth/Romans genes, and what impressed us most was their cordiality, their naturalness, their “simplicidad” in living their lives, their good nature as a people still not corrupted by modern life.
To finish our adventure we stop at a roadside inn - El Gato Negro - owned by Elena, an Asturiana, who so graciously made us feel at home. There my cousin Luis enjoyed visiting with local friends over a glass of “Sidra,” gossiping, and enjoying the tranquility of this most beautiful piece of Paradise we call Asturias.
Brownsville native Dr. Lino García, Jr., is an 8th generation Tejano. A regular contributor to the Rio Grande Guardian, he holds the chair of Professor Emeritus of Spanish Literature at the University of Texas-Pan American, and can be reached at: LGarcia@utpa.edu.