I was just cleaning (really, I promise) when El Abuelo, a beautiful song by Argentine singer/songwriter Alberto Cortez came on my playlist. My mind was fully somewhere else, but it’s impossible to listen to that song and not shed at least a tear. At least for those of us who were born in countries made out of immigrants – or who are immigrants ourselves.
In the song, Cortez sings about his grandfather who left Spain for Argentina to look for a better life – he never was able to return. Cortez, meanwhile, would go on to reside in Spain himself.
My story is a little bit similar. My grandmother (Granny) was born in Albany, NY and grew up in Schenectady. At 21 she married my grandfather, who was in the Argentine Navy, and moved to Argentina. Despite time and space, she never thought of herself as anything but an American, and loved America until she died. She would also tell me about America all the time, to the point that I grew up to love it as she did, the two were so associated together in my mind. She did get to go and visit her family several times in her life – for which I’m very glad.
And so are the turns of life that, after she died, my family (parents and siblings) moved to the US. Not to NY state, but California – to an America that was probably quite different from the one she knew, but America nonetheless. And who knows? Perhaps one day, my own grandchildren will move back to Argentina and repeat the cycle.
Here is my free translation of the song “El Abuelo”.
Grandfather one day
when he was very young
over there in his Galicia,
looked at the horizon
and thought that another road
perhaps existed.
And to the Northern wind,
who was an old friend,
he spoke of his hurry,
he showed him his hands,
that tame and strong,
were empty.
And the wind said:
“Build your life,
behind the seas,
beyond Galicia.”
And grandfather one day
in an old ship
left Spain.
Grandfather one day,
as so many others,
with so much hope.
The loved image
of his old village
and of his mountains
he took with him, engraved
very deep in his soul,
when the old ship,
took him away from Spain.
Grandfather one day
got on the wagon
of raising life.
He pushed the plough
fertilized the dirt
and time ran by.
And he quietly struggled
to plant the tree
that he loved so much.
And grandfather one day
cried under the tree
which was finally flowering,
he cried of happiness
when he saw that his hands,
a little bit older,
were no longer empty.
And grandfather then,
when I was a child,
talked to me of Spain,
of the Northern wind,
of the old village
and of his mountains.
He liked it so much
to remember the things
that he carried engraved
very deep in his soul,
that sometimes silent,
without saying a word,
he talked to me of Spain.
Grandfather one day,
when he was very old,
beyond Galicia.
He took my hand
and I realized
that he was dying.
And he told me then,
with very little strength
and with even less hurry,
“promise me, son,
that to the old village
you will go one day,
and to the Northern wind,
you will tell that his friend
to a new land
gave his life.
And grandfather one day
fell asleep
without having returned to Spain.
Grandfather one day,
as so many others,
with so much hope.
And later grandfather,
I saw him in the villages
I saw him in the mountains
and in each morning
and in each legend,
through all the roads
that I took in Spain.

El abuelo un día
cuando era muy joven
allá en su Galicia,
miró el horizonte
y pensó que otra senda
tal vez existía.
Y al viento del norte
que era un viejo amigo,
le habló de su prisa,
le mostró sus manos
que mansas y fuertes,
estaban vacías,
y el viento le dijo:
“”Construye tu vida
detrás de los mares,
allende Galicia””.
Y el abuelo un día
en un viejo barco
se marchó de España.
El abuelo un día,
como tantos otros,
con tanta esperanza.
La imagen querida
de su vieja aldea
y de sus montañas
se llevó grabada
muy dentro del alma,
cuando el viejo barco
lo alejó de España.
El abuelo un día
subió a la carreta
de subir la vida.
Empuñó el arado,
abonó la tierra
y el tiempo corría.
Y luchó sereno
por plantar el árbol
que tanto quería.
Y el abuelo un día
lloró bajo el árbol
que al fin florecía,
lloró de alegría
cuando vio sus manos,
que un poco más viejas
no estaban vacías.
Y el abuelo entonces,
cuando yo era niño,
me hablaba de España,
del viento del norte,
de la vieja aldea
y de sus montañas.
Le gustaba tanto
recordar las cosas
que llevo grabadas
muy dentro del alma,
que a veces callado,
sin decir palabra,
me hablaba de España.
El abuelo un día,
cuando era muy viejo,
allende Galicia.
Me tomó la mano
y yo me di cuenta
que ya se moría.
Y entonces me dijo,
con muy pocas fuerzas
y con menos prisa,
“”prométeme, hijo,
que a la vieja aldea
irás algún día,
y al viento del norte
dirás que su amigo,
a una nueva tierra
le entregó la vida.
Y el abuelo un día
se quedó dormido
sin volver a España.
El abuelo un día,
como tantos otros,
con tanta esperanza.
Y al tiempo al abuelo
lo vi en las aldeas,
lo vi en las montañas,
en cada mañana
y en cada leyenda,
por todas las sendas
que anduve de España.