Puerto Rico and Venezuela: American often means South American or Caribbean to Corsicans. In the 1760s, when France took over the island of Corsica, many Corsicans settled in the southwestern section of Puerto Rico. In the nineteenth century there was a large scale emigration from the island to Puerto Rico and Venezuela. It is said that there are more than 400 000 Corsicans in Puerto Rico today, most of whom have a strong identity as ‘Corsicans’, but don’t speak Corsican, nor even French, and have no idea what their homeland might look like.
So far, 486 Corsican surnames have been traced in Puerto Rico. Many of these ‘Americans’ made their fortunes in their adoptive countries. When they returned, especially those from Cap Corse, they built imposing new houses, known now as American houses. If you’d like to know more then you could contact the secretary of the Puerto Rican Corsican association – Nydia Lucca in Puerto Rico. The address of the Asociaciòn de Corso de Puerto Rico is Aparto 194433 San Juan, Puerto Rico 00919-4499. There is a Paris based association A Lea that has established links between Corsica and Puerto Rico.
For example, there was the family Benigni-Molini who left Rogliano in Cap Corse in 1863 and ended up in Yauco, where they became very successful the the production of a coffee named after the Cap Corse village of Luri – on a plantation of 1 200 hectares. Yauco is a place that was almost a Corsican village and many mayors have been of Corsican origin. There’s a memorial in Yauco with the inscription, “To the memory of our citizens of Corsican origin, France, who in the C19 became rooted in our village, who have enriched our culture with their traditions and helped our progress with their dedicated work – the municipality of Yauco pays them homage.”
There’s an interesting new book out that is based on historical research into the Corso-Americans of Puerto Rico – their architecture, lives and fortunes. For Puerto Ricans looking for genealogical links, it could be a good place to start. Los Corsos Americanos – Les Corses-Americains, essais sur leur architecture, leur vie et leur fortune au XIXe siécle. It’s published by the Archivo de Arquitectura de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, which you can contact by email.
Elisa Arraiz from Caracas, Venezuela has just published a novel about a Corsican that came to her country in the XIX century – Te Pienso en el Puerto. Her mother’s family originated from Pino in Cap Corse and had cocoa plantations, “through the difficult years of the Federation War,” she told Corsica Isula.
Corsican Coffee: Yauco Selecto is the latest expression of Puerto Rico’s well developed coffee tradition. The history of coffee is closely tied to the history of this Caribbean island. First brought in 1736, the Spanish immigrants who settled on the island relegated coffee to a secondary role for the most part of the 18th century. At the time, the fertile valleys were their main concern and sugar and the crops were the order of the day. During the early part of the 19th century, events in Europe forced a migration of residents from Corsica. They arrived to Puerto Rico and were quickly told that if they wanted to farm, they would have to go to the highlands for all the valleys were taken by the Spanish immigrants. They settled in the Southwestern Mountains of the island, mostly around a town called Yauco. Hard work and determination was rewarded when they brought forth the idea of growing coffee in these high mountains. By the 1860s they dominated the coffee industry on the island and then made two important decisions that would affect the course of their history. Puertorrican coffee, particularly from the Yauco region, received a premium price all over Europe and by the 1890s represented a standard of excellence in production that many other countries sought to imitate. The island’s production was the sixth largest in the world, and the fruit of those high lands that the Corsicans brought to life, was the pick of the crop. Yauco Selecto’s owners trace their origin to this period.
Here, for example is some information received from a correspondent whose family came from Tomino in Cap Corse, “my father’s family farmed coffee in Guayanilla on the “Hacienda Tomino”, which my father says extended in a triangular shape from Guayanilla to Pinuelas and Yauco. My father spent part of his life on the plantation before moving…I am told that most of the work was done by slave labor and that it was one of the largest coffee producers in Puerto Rico. I am told that much of this property was sold off over the years. The portion with buildings/structures left on it is owned by a cousin of mine. I recall one structure with a very large stone wheel that was ‘imported from France’ for the grinding of coffee. My grandfather’s name was Ulysis Olivieri.”