Living the American dream / Haciendo la América

Montevideo gained importance only in the 18th century because there was neither gold nor silver; only hides of wild animals were suitable for export. Therefore, European immigration to Uruguay gained pace only in the 19th century. Spaniards and Italians form the majority of Uruguayan population. After World War I, a large number of migrants from Central and Eastern Europe also stepped out of boats at the Montevideo port.


The majority of jobs for newcomers were available at meat processing plants, which demanded great physical strength. They were built in areas easily accessible by ships. Migrants, mostly from East Europe, settled nearby, predominantly in Cerro neighbourhood, and established a wide range of recreational and political clubs. For example, first Lithuanians arrived in the 1920s and soon there were self-help associations for "catholics, nationalists, socialists and communists". Those who came with such handy skills as crafts or trade settled in the city centre of Montevideo.

  Silvana Caetano Matulis

LEALO EN ESPAÑOL AQUÍ: http://ambarlamaga.blogspot.lt/2007/06/imgenes.html


The midday heat was unbearable.

Glaring sun was shimmering directly over their heads, and the ship was still sailing. Men on the deck were rolling up the sleeves of their white shirts. Women were covering their heads with handkerchieves.


It was summer and their oh-so-white skin was not used to the southern climate.


At the end of the journey a new beginning, and uncertainty were waiting for them.


The America of Plenty, with its excellent air, scents and colours. The other America, maybe not the real one, but the one in which they wanted to believe. The war did not reach up to there.


When the ship stopped in Brazil, they went out for a walk. After a while some of them returned terrified: they had seen a black man for the first time! "Perkūnas!", sweared some women: a clear allusion to a devil.

Some of them chose Brazil for their future life. While they picked coffee beans at coffee plantations, replacing slaves who had previously done this work, their children were dying from heat and fever.

Those who went on, reached the port on the first of January.


He found it hard to curb his anxiety. He remembered how he used to go to the neighbouring village almost every day to see Balys Sniokas and ask him: "Hey, compatriot, when are we going to America?"


Finally, that time had come.


Victor disembarked the ship wearing a tie and with some clothes in his suitcase. A skinny, blonde seventeen-year-old reached his destination, his second home.


He did not yet know that hard times were already receding and becoming more and more of the past.


He came having herded animals since he was four. Alone in the forest at night.

He told stories about how much he was afraid of wolves howling, about snow and sleds. About cold. About squirrels. About that day when in his native Rokiškis, a small Lithuanian town, he chased a squirrel up to the pine top. A branch broke and he fell head first on the ground.


About Rokiškis, where he once saw somebody riding a bicycle. And how all the children ran after that unreachable treasure. Where a shoemaker would come once a year and make shoes for the whole family. Their shoes would come in larger sizes than necessary, even if it meant limping along in those new, oversized shoes for the next six months.


Such simple and mundane were his stories. However, they did not mean a simpler life. Sometimes his face would change and he would tell about the day when he was five or six years old and saw his mother secretly eating cheese when for the children there was nothing to eat. Maybe his desire to leave was spurred by this.


He also told us how he used to sleep at school, because he had to look after the animals during the night. His teacher and mother complained, saying how could he sleep while the family sacrificed so much for him to be able to go to school.


Even though he was very intelligent, he could not continue studying and so, as a teenager, started getting ready for America.


I do not know where from he summoned so much courage.


I do not know how he was able to save money for the ticket, but his family helped him to go on this adventure. He boarded the train with a ticket for a ship voyage from a German port and never returned. The journey was long.


So, on 1 January 1930 he entered the port. Another gringo.  He spent a couple of days in a shed for immigrants, which was full of fleas. Jonas turned up and asked if there was a Lithuanian. I can imagine how he, with his innocent face, big green eyes and a desire to not look back, presented himself to Jonas. Another one lent him one peso, accompanied him to the boarding house and helped him in that challenge of settling down and finding a job.


Victor has, finally, arrived in Montevideo.






The Uruguay of Fat Cows /

El Uruguay de las Vacas Gordas

The presidency of José Batlle y Ordonez in the first decades of the 20th century transformed Uruguay into the continent's first welfare state and model democracy. It was a prosperous, egalitarian nation of over 2 million people with a large middle class population which ensured a smooth integration of its newly- arrived citizens.

Today Uruguay continues being a country of inspiration. According to the World Bank report (2016), "Uruguay occupies the top spots in the region in terms of various measures of well-being, such as the Human Development Index, the Human Opportunity Index and the Economic Freedom Index". According to the 2016 Transparency International report, Uruguay was less corrupt than a number of European countries, and according to the Democracy Index (The Economist, 2015), Uruguay was among the 20 countries in the world which function in "full democracy".



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Special thanks to:

Carlos "Beto" Gomez, photography

Vilma Dimitrijevienė, graphic design