Chicho Ibáñez Serrador and the sad faults of overseas

The stories of the Galician and Asturian immigrants to Argentina or Uruguay are as well known as the influence of the Catalan Indianos both in Cuba and Puerto Rico and upon their return, in the same way that the footprint of the republican exile in Mexico has marked the history of country.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
16 March 2023 Thursday 22:48
35 Reads
Chicho Ibáñez Serrador and the sad faults of overseas

The stories of the Galician and Asturian immigrants to Argentina or Uruguay are as well known as the influence of the Catalan Indianos both in Cuba and Puerto Rico and upon their return, in the same way that the footprint of the republican exile in Mexico has marked the history of country. However, little is said about and the Valencian migration to the Southern Cone has barely been studied, beyond the footprint of Vicente Blasco Ibáñez in Argentina, embodied in his work Argentina and his greatness, which came to light in 1910.

Precisely, the Argentine tour of the Valencian writer was one of the great incentives for this almost unknown migration. Invited by Faustino da Costa, a businessman from the Odeón Theater in Buenos Aires, Blasco Ibáñez toured the entire country together with the Frenchmen Jean Jaurès, Georges Clemenceau and Anatole France, offering lectures and marveling at everything he saw. So much so that he did not hesitate to buy farmland to invite his countrymen to cultivate it and build the Americas.

This is how, first through advertisements in the newspaper El Pueblo and later thanks to the letters of the first travelers, the agricultural colonies of Cervantes, in Río Negro, and Nueva Valencia, in Corrientes, were born. As the historians José Luis Pinotti and Nuria Tabanera have studied, many peasants were seduced by the news that overseas trees gave kilo oranges and did not hesitate to try their luck.

The statistics are not misleading either and indicate that when the migratory flow from Spain to America was focused on Cuba, between the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th, 70% of Valencian migrants chose Argentina and Uruguay. The Círculo Regional Valenciano El Micalet, in Buenos Aires, and the Centro Valenciano de Córdoba, also in Argentina, were born there.

Uruguay was the destination of the family of Chicho Ibáñez Serrador, the producer who revolutionized the history of television in Spain in the 60s, 70s and 80s with shows like Historias para no dormir and Un, dos, tres. And he spoke of that Valencian heritage in his emotional speech as maintainer of the major fallera de la Falla de la Plaza del Pilar in 1970, which we offer in its entirety. Defining as nobody had done it or has done it again the sad faults of overseas.

“More than a month ago, an old friend called at my house: a Valencian journalist who spoke to me of times past and brought back memories of my mother and theater seasons that survive only in the memory of a few. This friend who said: 'Narciso, my daughter has been named fallera mayor of the Plaza del Pilar. Would you like to be the one to introduce her and all the girls who make up her court of honor?’ I accepted. I accepted not only because of the old friendship that binds me to him, but because it was a falla and from Valencia.

”I was born in America, in South America. The fact that a South American praises Valencia, its women, his traditions on an occasion like this, may sound like an obligatory compliment, a tribute dictated by circumstances and courtesy. For this reason, since I have to talk to you about Valencia and the Valencians, about fallas and falleras, about ninots and about fire, I want to tell you a story first.

”It is the story of a girl who was born in Grao many years ago. She sold fish, her feet were bare, her ankles bare, and she supported a large basket on her head containing the fruits of the sea. This girl, not yet a woman, joined a Catalan, a comedian from the league and they both went to America. To make the Americas. To try there fortune. That girl from Grao was my maternal grandmother.

”All my grandparents were Spanish, on my mother's side, Catalan and Valencian. On my father's side, Basque and Murcian. Those four Spaniards spoke to their children and then to their grandchildren about their memories and their lands, but there was one who put more fervor into her words than the others, a much greater passion.

"That's why that girl from Grao, when she was a mother and then when she was a grandmother, put her children and grandchildren to sleep by telling them stories about the sea and the garden and made them learn children's songs that all of us Serradors have memorized: 'An old doormat for uncle Pep's fault'. He taught us innocent and cheerful slogans: 'Three sparrows, a little bird, I always ride a bicycle. Cry little children, what sparrows you will have'.

”And so it was that one day in America some birds not seen until then were born, some small birds made of clay and feathers by the hands of a Valencian woman, so that her grandchildren would also have a pardalet. Through our grandmother we met Sorolla before Velázquez, Blasco before Galdós, Serrano before Falla.

”All of you are used to year after year, hundreds of speakers in the days before the Fallas, glossing over the east, the orange groves on the riverbank, the rice fields, gunpowder, the ninot. Valencia, in a word. And as Valencians that you are, Valencians of blood and soul, you are moved and feel great pride when they cover your daughters with compliments and you rejoice with the tremendous rumble of the mascletà, the brilliance of the Nit de Foc, and the tragic death of the ninots. You, Valencians, think you know and understand the fallas better than anyone, but you are wrong...

”You say that there is joy and tragedy in fallas, humor, sarcasm, tradition and many other things, but you never talk about sadness, because you have never seen a sad falla. It is impossible a sad failure. Each rocket that explodes on the 19th makes you smile. When the fire climbs through the figures, you take the arm and singing you celebrate the Sant Josep de la estoreta velleta. No, you Valencians don't know about sad failures. You do not know them because despite being Valencian you do not know all the faults. You do not know the faults of overseas. I do.

"Also this year, as every year, there will be in Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico... a group of Valencians who, to the astonishment and incomprehension of an entire city, in a suburban square or in a humble patio, or in a Some abandoned lot, pile up four poorly made dolls and burn them on the night of the 19th. Those who pass by will ask: 'And what is that?', 'What are they burning?'. 'It's a flaw'. 'And what is a failure?' And the Valencian from overseas will respond with a sad smile. 'This is a fault, it is Valencia'.

”Valencia, which is far, too far. In these overseas faults there is no joy, no bustle, no wealth. The few rockets that explode there sound like a distant echo of the hundreds of thousands that rumble here. His ninots are crude, poorly made, graceless, because there are no artists who know how to create them. These humble faults are also consumed in a small fire, since to make it big would be to contravene municipal regulations. And so, next to those sad bonfires, many Valencians from overseas, due to their age, or lack of money, or absurd political reasons, year after year burn the hope of returning.

”Her daughters and granddaughters dress as farmers, like you, but they speak with foreign accents. When the small procession of the Fallas passes through the streets of the city, they are followed by incomprehension looks. 'And what are those girls doing?' 'What are they dressed up as?' 'Is it carnival?' 'No, they are Valencian', the old emigrants reply again.

"I know that my obligation tonight would be to gloss the party, your beauty, your beauty and your youth, fallera mayor. I know that my obligation would be to extol the region and add joy to this festival of joy. That's why I apologize for not knowing how to do it. I ask your forgiveness and at the same time that you understand that my failures as a child were those small and poorly done failures, those failures that, far from Spain, arouse nostalgia and the immense love of the Valencians who live and die far from Grao and the orchard.

”That is why I allow myself to tell you that no matter how much you love Valencia and how much love you feel for your land, no matter how much enthusiasm you show and overturn your Fallas festivals, you will never know to what extent the Valencian land is strong in the Valencian blood of a Valencian, if you don't leave your region behind one day, far behind.

”But let's put an end to these words perhaps too full of nostalgia. I want you to know, dear fallera mayor of the Falla in Plaza del Pilar, girls from her court of honor, that this year's falla, your falla, will not die when the last flame goes out on the night of the 19th. It will not die because memories don't die

”That is why I allow myself some advice: in this your party, your failure, open your eyes, ears, even your nose. Record in your memory until the last grimace of the ninots. Make hymns and pasodobles enter your eardrums with more force than ever. Suck up the gunpowder. Open your five senses to smells, noises, music, lights, colors, explosions, laughter... Life, in a word; Valencia, in a word, so that this fault never dies in you.

So that one day you can tell your children and then your grandchildren how your falla was the day you were falleras. If you remember, this year's failure will not die in the flames. If you remember it, you can tell it later, as they told me once when I was very young and far, far from Valencia.

"In the name of that fishmonger from El Grao who sleeps forever in American lands, in the name of all the Valencians who on the 19th will not laugh at their little fires and their sad rockets, but will feel Valencia much more than you, I thank you for letting me you have allowed the luxury and the courage to speak of fallas to falleros and Valencia to Valencians.

"Thank you so much."