Joined: 17 Feb 2003
|Posted: Wed Aug 13, 2003 6:56 pm Post subject: Intrigued by his roots, biology professor helps create site
|Intrigued by his roots, biology professor helps create Asturian-American forum
by Claire Hart
This article originally appeared at this URL: http://www.quinnipiac.edu/x7630.xml. Thanks to Quinnipiac University for permission to repost it here.
©2003 Quinnipiac University
From the time he was a small boy, Bob Martinez, a biology professor in the School of Health Sciences, was intrigued by his family's cultural heritage.
His paternal grandparents came from the northern Spanish province of Asturias, a close-knit region that is smaller than the state of Connecticut, and features both spectacular mountains and breathtaking beaches along the Cantabrian Sea. Between 1900 and 1924, thousands of Spaniards emigrated from Asturias to the United States.
When his grandparents ventured to America in 1913, they endured a 10-day voyage in a crowded ship with a six-week-old baby, "all to look for work in a country where they could not even speak the language." They arrived at Ellis Island with only $40 in their pockets, and the quest for a better life, Martinez said.
Many of the Asturian immigrants took difficult and dangerous jobs, such as zinc smelting and coal mining, both in an effort to improve their lives and because they had performed similar work in Asturias.
"I was always intrigued by the language, the food and the stories that I heard as a child," said Martinez, who teaches classes in genetics and evolution. "I was fascinated by the old family photos of relatives, and I was very interested in learning about my grandparents' relatives who still lived in Asturias. It seemed like a past worth looking into.''
Martinez' grandparents, Victor Martínez Artime and Josefa Fernández Inclán, lived first in St. Louis, then in Cherryvale, Kan., before settling in Spelter, WV, where Victor worked in the zinc industry. The family eventually moved to Niagara Falls, N.Y.
In researching his family tree, Martinez learned of an article about Asturian language and history titled, "Talking Like My Grandmothers" by Suronda Gonzalez. He e-mailed her, requesting a copy of it. Instead of responding electronically, she called him on the phone and they talked for 90 minutes.
They discovered that their families had lived in the same area in West Virginia and each shared a great deal of family information and history. She, in turn, told him about her friend, Art Zoller Wagner and the three created the Asturian-American Migration Forum. They started talking about establishing the Website (www.AsturianUS.org) in December 2002 and launched it in March of this year.
A series of five articles in the Asturian newspaper La Nueva Espana has helped generate interest in the web site, which covers subjects ranging from culture and language to genealogy and recipes.
"I thought if we got 50 members it would be wonderful, and we're already up to 150 or 160," Martinez said. "We assumed it would be primarily a U.S. audience. But now the majority of our members are native Spanish speakers. We're trying to make the whole site trilingual-in English, Spanish and Asturianu." Martinez can read more than a dozen languages.
"Among the first 10 or 20 members I encountered through the web site was my third cousin,'' Martinez said, still surprised by the connection. He also met another person who is related to one of his grandparents' best friends from Asturias.
"I am happy that the Website provides a forum for those of us in the United States to share information with Asturians living in Asturias and in other parts of the world, and that it gives us a way to let them know that we will never forget our roots," he said. "I also want my children and grandchildren to know something about the people who remained in Asturias, as well as about those who left for a new country."
In 1999, Martinez, his brother and father visited Asturias and spent time contacting relatives and exploring the region.
"I would encourage anyone interested in his or her heritage to delve right in and investigate it," he said. "It is fascinating, but time consuming. If your ancestors come from a land where English isn't spoken, I would encourage you to learn the language or languages.
"I have a cousin who erroneously thought an email that she had translated into English with the assistance of a translation program was about 'tapeworm infestation.' We finally straightened it out (the writer had written 'tenia' for 'tenía'), but it was a little confusing for a while.''