Forgotten history

Bensalem’s Emiliano Martin releases ‘Spain’s Footprints in Philadelphia’ to spotlight Spaniards in the city

Spotlight on Spain: ‘Spain’s Footprints in Philadelphia,’ by Bensalem’s Emiliano Martin, brings to life the almost forgotten history of people from Spain in the city of Philadelphia. SAMANTHA BAMBINO / TIMES PHOTO

If local writer Emiliano Martin keeps producing books at the rate he’s going, he’ll need a second Bensalem residence just to store all the pages. Because yes, all his work is created by putting pen to paper. It may seem “old school,” but that’s how he likes it.

“I have papers all over the house. My wife is going to kill me one of these days,” he said with a laugh.

The Times first spoke with Martin in June 2019, when he released Vulnerable Excellence – a 90-page chronology detailing the storied life of famed surrealist artist Salvador Dali. Since then, he’s written a tear-jerking reflection of his time spent serving in the special forces for Spain, of which he is a native, and his latest project – Spain’s Footprints in Philadelphia.

Martin’s newest book brings to life the almost forgotten history of people from Spain in the city of Philadelphia, and highlights steps taken by Spaniards that left behind a set of footprints he felt was worth mentioning. According to Martin, their stories were often ignored, but he doesn’t want them to be forgotten. Ultimately, the book is a dedication to those who helped mold the American frame and keep the “Spanish torch” lit while away from their homeland.

Though Martin began writing Spain’s Footprints in Philadelphia approximately five years ago, the idea began forming when he came to the U.S. as an immigrant in 1971.

“I was introduced to a bunch of old Spaniards. Most of them are dead now, but they were very knowledgeable people that knew stories about the Philadelphia area and I was intrigued by what they were saying,” Martin reflected. “By listening to the stories of these old guys, I decided to put together some notes.”

As Martin adapted to his new country, becoming president of Círculo Español of Philadelphia, founding the Northeast Philadelphia Poetry Forum in 1998, and serving as director of Latin American Guild for the Arts and president of Pennsylvania Poetry Society, he continued to learn all he could about Spanish people in the city.

He already knew some history, such as Spain’s wish not to be seen helping American soldiers in the American Revolutionary War, but he also learned many fresh tidbits – there is a Spanish embassy in Philadelphia, and a statue of the first Spanish ambassador to Philadelphia in Logan Square, just to name a few.

With piles of notes and research, Martin decided to compile all of the information into a book to share with fellow Spaniards (and anyone with an interest) the fascinating spots he discovered.

Spain’s Footprints in Philadelphia is a relatively quick read at under 100 pages, and encompasses photographs and stories of landmarks that are vital to Spanish history and culture. For example, there are details on a church that was formerly located at 19th and Spring Garden streets, which was founded in 1910 by a Spanish priest.

The ‘write’ stuff: Though Emiliano Martin began writing ‘Spain’s Footprints in Philadelphia’ approximately five years ago, the idea began forming when he came to the U.S. as an immigrant in 1971 and began learning fascinating stories of Spaniards in the city. Source: Emiliano Martin

The book also includes details about a sign at 9th and Pine streets that says Joseph Bonaparte, older brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, lived in the area; a center at 4th and Pine streets that aided new Spanish arrivals in the English language, finding housing and job placement; a former dancing hall at 7th and Pine streets; and a Spanish market on 2nd Street between Lombard and South streets.

“That was around 1908. They used to open on weekends,” Martin said, adding that the story was told to him by a friend whose grandfather worked at the market after he came to Philadelphia in 1905.

Collecting and verifying all of the stories in Spain’s Footprints in Philadelphia took time, to say the least, but Martin wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

“I had a ball putting these together. People were very kind to me. But unfortunately, they haven’t been mentioned in the history books or in the papers in the street. These are stories that people did not know about,” Martin said, explaining how most Spaniards kept, and continue to keep, a low profile. “They have their jobs, they’re part of the American fiber, and people don’t even know that they’re here. Everyone knows there are the Polish, Irish, Italian, African American. People don’t know about Spaniards in Philadelphia.”

By mid-March, Martin plans to release the book in Spanish. While he admitted the translation process made him want to pull his hair out at times, Martin is having the time of his life as a full-time author.

“I must say, I’m enjoying my retirement,” he said. “Since I was a little kid, I have enjoyed very much writing. I’m a dreamer by nature, so every dreamer eventually becomes a poet or writer. Not necessarily a good one, but that’s what dreams lead to – writing, putting your thoughts together.”

Additionally, Martin is testing the waters of a new profession next week – a tour guide. A group from New York is scheduled to visit, with Martin showing them most of the places mentioned in his book.

“Imagine that, a tour guide at this stage of my life,” he said in disbelief.

Spain’s Footprints in Philadelphia is available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Martin will host a book launch and signing for Spain’s Footprints in Philadelphia on Sunday, March 29, at Moonstone Poetry @ Shakespeare & Co., located at 1632 Walnut St., Philadelphia.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com