History Corner: Spanish Settlers Crossed 3 Oceans to Live in Mountain View

by Lisa Windes

Spanish involvement with Mountain View began in 1842 when the Governor of Mexico gave a land grant to the Castro family. The Castros were descendants of a member of the Anza Expedition. Their 14 square mile ranch included what are now Mountain View and Sunnyvale.
A new set of Spanish immigrants came in the early 1900’s. They arrived from an unexpected direction — crossing the Pacific from Hawaii!

When the US annexed Hawaii in 1898, sugar plantation owners were searching for new labor sources because the Chinese exclusion laws eliminated their traditional labor supply. The U.S. government and plantation owners sponsored free trips to Hawaii, promising employment at a dollar per day, housing, medical care, and schools. Immigrants were required to sign a contract promising to work a predetermined length of time (up to 10 years!) to pay for their passage and the company’s expenses before they could go elsewhere.

Over 8,000 Spaniards, called Los Viajeros (The Travelers), eagerly signed the contracts to escape government and economic instability. They were at-tracted by the high pay — five times what they earned in Spain — and the opportunity to move to the US mainland when their contracts were up. From 1907-13, there were seven voyages from Gibraltar around Cape Horn to Hawaii. The journey by steam-ship averaged 56 days. Living conditions on board were very poor. Many immigrants became ill and some died.

Upon arrival the travelers went to La Casa de Inmigración in Honolulu, a fenced area with barracks and tents where they regained their health before going on to the plantations. Los Viajeros worked rain or shine, sick or well, 6 days a week. Although schools were provided, children were encouraged to work too. Living was expensive in Hawaii, so the higher pay didn’t go very far.

Dissatisfied with conditions in Hawaii, Los Viajeros looked to California where friends and family wrote to them of better jobs, better wages, and better housing. To pay the $25 per person fare for the 7-day trip to San Francisco, the Spaniards supplemented their income by raising cows, chickens, and vegetables.

After living in Hawaii, San Francisco’s cold weather was a shock, and most of the Spaniards moved on to the Santa Clara Valley. Many moved to Mountain View and settled in the Washington/Jackson Street area. They called it la charca de la rana (the frog pond) because the low lying land flooded during the winter rains. They started working in fields, orchards, and canneries. Eventually Los Viajeros leased land for farming, later purchasing farmland or small businesses for themselves.

This article is reprinted from the June 2001 issue. If you are interested in writing about local history or any other topics, please contact editor@omvna.org.

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