A Spanish Family’s Century-Old American Story

David Cambray’s family: (Standing) Ramón Gascón Faro, Antonia Agustina and Sebastián Cambray Pueyo (one unidentified); (seated) María Cambray Pueyo, María Armengol Soler and Agustín Cambray Pueyo; and the children Ramón Gascón Cambray, Joseph and James Cambray Armengol. (Photo via El Diario/La Prensa)

From the late 19th century until 1931, tens of thousands of Spanish immigrants arrived at Ellis Island, including a man named Agustín Cambray Puello. El Diario/La Prensa‘s Carolina Ledezma introduces us to his grandson, David Cambray, a Spanish-American who has traced the story of his family on both sides of the Atlantic, starting with his grandfather, who arrived 100 years ago to New York from his native Spain. The translation from Spanish is below.

David Cambray was born in Madrid but has spent most of his 55 years living in New York. He hasn’t lost his Spanish accent, and although the American lifestyle fascinates him, he lives between two worlds, in part because his father, James Cambray Armengol, who hails from the other side of the Atlantic, is in excellent shape at 94 years old.

David Cambray (Photo via El Diario/La Prensa)

David’s attachment to the Big Apple runs in the family: His grandfather, Agustín Cambray Puello, from Aler (a province of Huesca, Spain), arrived 100 years ago aboard the ship “Saratoga.” His name is in the registry at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, together with the more than 20 million immigrants that arrived in New York between 1892 and 1924.

David decided to dig up his grandfather’s story in the 1990s during a visit to the island museum, protected by the Statue of Liberty.

“Agustín Cambray Puello was a 28-year-old farmer who arrived broke from Cuba, where he worked on sugar plantations,” said David. “He lived in New York for a short while, then returned to Spain to marry María Armengol Soler. Upon their return to New York, they settled down in De Kalb, New York, where he worked in a coalmine.”

David’s grandfather paid the travel fare for his siblings Antonio, Agustina, María and Sebastián when they came in 1921. Their names are also recorded in the museum’s treasured books.

“I didn’t have any trouble finding my great aunts and uncles, but I did in finding my grandfather’s name,” Cambray explained. Whoever had written his grandfather’s name in the records caused the confusion: “In the registry his name is spelled Cambry.”

The other side of history

In the 1920s, Agustín and his family moved to Canton, Ohio, along with María, her husband Ramón Gascón, and their child Ramón. “My grandparents and their three children all slept in one room,” he said, recounting what his father told him. Times were tough during the Prohibition era. David explained, “They made wine and beer in their basement, which they sold for $1 a bottle.”

The Depression forced the Cambray family to return to Spain in 1932. Shortly afterwards, Ramón and María moved to Benabarre, in Huesca. James – a World War II veteran – his wife María Cruz, and their daughter Silvia live in Madrid today, but they always visit New York when they can.

The deaths of Ramón Gascón and his son, who carried his name, during the Spanish Civil War created a wound in the family that has never healed. Because of that, Gascón’s grandson, José María Paúl Gascón, wanted to honor his memory among the more than 700,000 individuals and immigrant families that are listed on the American Immigrant Wall of Honor at Ellis Island.

This year, the 100th anniversary of his grandfather’s arrival in this land of opportunity, David Cambray will do the same for his grandfather.

2 Comments

  1. A Immigrants Story:
    I am Spanish, too. I am sure that family must have gone through a lot in Ellis Island. I am glad the got here to the USA safe and sound. My family “immigrated” to the US 3 years ago, but I was born in Valencia, Spain. The plane ride was very long and very tiring. I feel bad for the people that had to stay on a ship for 3 months. many died on the way, too. I heard a story about 2 Italian brothers 12 and 7 years old, and a friend, 12 also and also Italian, went to America ALONE. Isn’t that surprising? They did not have anyone to take care of them here in the USA but they came here anyways. They changed their last name and went to the streets for a while. The friend, whose name was Dominic Cantori, died here in America 2 moths after they arrived. He just said “I am glad i got the see the land of miracles”. Issn that sad? Franchesco (12) and Paolo (7) survived, thanks god. They moved to new jersey with a foster family. I am glad at least they survived.
    Well, that is it for now, but as soon as I learn new storyes, Ill come back and tell you guys.
    My email is mollytequiere@gmail.com if anyone has a question or wants to hear a story.
    Molly <3

  2. Hi, guys, its me again with more stories.
    This is actually about a Polish Mother and her daughter. The mother names was Gretel (39) and the little daughter’s name was Sarah Le (6). The father (no name available) was in Poland and will follow them in a few weeks. Meanwhile, Gretel and Sarah Le were to go to America to live with the father’s brother for a while until the father came and got a house and a job. The boat ride was horrible, there was barely any food for them, and believe it or not, Gretel lost 30 pounds on 3 months. That is because she gave the mayoralty of the food they go to Sarah Le. When they got to America, in Ellis Island they lost one of their bags containing clothes. Probably a child with nothing to wear would do that. They only had 2 bags, and with one stolen, they only had 4 dresses for the mom, a couple shoes, and for Sarah Le only a dress and one pair of shoes. The fathers brother was not there once they were out of Ellis Island. They stayed there for WHOLE hours waiting for him. he never arrived. After a little of confusion, Gretel and Sarah Le were sent to a shelter, were they lived for 5 years. Gretel got a job, and they moved to a house. It was very hard for Gretel, as an single mother and a child to take care of. it was not like today at all. She was planning on re-marrying. It was not a easy choice, since one day she might find her husband again. Gretel waited for a little longer, to see if she could find her husband on the busy New York streets. She didn’t. She married a New York citizen that was born on the USA an worked on Ellis Island. He had helped Gretel find the shelter, and he had also helped her get the house, so they had an especial bond. He was a little older than Gretel, and they were both on their 50 s, so it was surprising when Gretel found out she was pregnant. The baby was a boy and they named him Jonathan. A year or so later Sarah Le got married. She herself got children of her own. The family was happy again. So, what became of the father? Did they find him? Oh, yes they did, a lot later, but, that is another story.
    Well, that is it for now, I will come back with new stories soon enough. My email is mollytequiere@gmail.com if anyone has any questions or wants t hear a story.
    See ya later,
    Molly, <3

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