This book is a compilation of stories from descendants of Spanish immigrant families in Winters, California. The stories are based on memories, experiences, and tales that have been passed down for almost four generations. A few of the stories are from individuals that actually were born in Spain and immigrated to the United States, many of the stories are from individuals whose parents were the immigrants, and the remaining are from those whose grandparents and great-grandparents left their homes in search of a better life for their families. They found that better life in Winters.
The stories are mostly oral histories. Eighty seven people were interviewed and video-taped and a few more submitted written responses. A sample of the interview questions are listed at the end of the book. As with most oral histories, they may not be completely historically correct. Dates, numbers, and names of others may not be accurate. Since many of the first generation of immigrants were already gone when I began this project, only stories from the various families have been passed down. I tried to fill in some of the missing pieces of the bigger picture by doing a little research to put the early parts of the story in historical context. As the larger story unfolds, there are many first-hand memories that tell the story well. What is important is the big story of how immigrant families are the backbone of America. Equally important are the small emotionally charged individual stories of hard work, strong families, and good food.
Why did I feel compelled to write this book? I am a full-blooded Spaniard born and raised in Winters, a small agricultural and rural town in Northern California. I am the second generation to be born in the United States. My maternal grandparents were part of the first group of families to leave Spain in the early 1900s, traveled to Hawaii, and ended up in Winters. My paternal grandparents were in the second wave that came directly to Winters, via Ellis Island in 1920. I have heard dozens of stories throughout my lifetime of how my family and all of the other Spanish families came to Winters and how hard they worked. I grew up in a community with hundreds of others just like me: the language, the foods, the work ethic, and the strong family traditions tied us all together.
I also have taught a course in culture and diversity at Sacramento City College. I teach how important it is to understand one’s own culture in order to understand another culture and the immigrant experience. It is important to understand that the United States of America is a nation of immigrants and to understand why and how a group of people would leave their homeland, their roots, and come to an entirely new country, not knowing the language, not knowing the traditions and start a new history for themselves. Every immigrant group has done this in the United States but it is sometimes difficult for people to understand this if their families came several generations ago. The experience is still relatively recent for myself and other Spaniards in Winters. I want my children and grandchildren to know the stories.
Other nearby Spanish communities have published books. In Rocklin, California the Spanish group has two books: one on their immigrant experiences and the other a cookbook of traditional Spanish foods. There is also a book written on the Spanish immigrant families and their foods in Vacaville, California. I want to have our stories in Winters documented, also.
Another reason I wanted to document our history is because I believe that the community of Winters has benefited from the contributions of the Spanish immigrants. For the past 100 years, the Spanish people of Winters have been an important part of the history of this community through businesses, farming, and community involvement. History is seen through the eyes of the person telling the story. Previous historical accounts of the community have not always “seen” the history and contributions of the Spanish people. This is our history, but I also think it is of interest to everyone that has grown up in Winters, to new residents, and to those individuals that appreciate American history.
And why the title, An American Paella: A Century of Memories & Experiences of Becoming American & Staying Spanish in Winters, California? Honestly? My first title was, Our Stories of Hard Work, Strong Families, and Good Food in Winters, California. While on a walk one day with my daughter, she decided I needed a title that not only sparked more interest, but also was more descriptive. The story I wanted to tell was about how we all got here, what we have done since we have been here, why we still painstakingly make some of the traditional foods, and explain why we are not only productive citizens of the United States, we are also very proud of our heritage. Our food, families, and work ethic are all we have left. The title implies the connection between the traditional Spanish heritage and the adoption of the American heritage. As the reader will find, there is a story behind every paella and it is a combination of many ingredients. It is the same with the stories in this book.