By Woody and Rebecca Fridae
Special to the Express
Mayor Cristobal Torreblanca Sanchez was reserved, polite and dignified. He was very familiar with our sisterhood and had been friends with Miguel Ruiz, the Winters citizen whose idea sparked the sister city idea over 30 years ago. Miguel (Mike) was born in Winters but decided to return to his parents’ homeland when he received the inheritance of a small home and piece of land from his father, Bernardo Ruiz. Miguel built a roundhouse in Los Nuñez and lived there for several years.
The mayor remembered that Miguel offered to sell him the roundhouse, called la casa redonda, when Miguel had to leave Spain after his wife had a heart attack and there were no such services available to the Ruiz family in the province of Almogía. Miguel kept his dream alive by uniting his beloved Almogía and the place of his birth in California.
Mayor Torreblanca had traveled to Winters in 1993 as a councilmember to help celebrate the initiation of the sisterhood of the two cities; he and two of his fellow councilmembers marched in the Winters Youth Day Parade. He remembered having dinner at our house when we hosted the delegation, as I had been on the City Council during the time the process of the sisterhood began.
The mayor also recounted meeting Craig McNamara, who, he said, also raised
almonds, as Mayor Torreblanca still does today. He said that the types of crops that grow in Winters are very similar to those grown in Almogía because the latitude of the towns is very similar. Winters is 38.5 and Almogía is almost 37 degrees, a difference of only 1.5 degrees.
Many of the original settlers who left Spain to find good land and work opportunities arrived in Hawaii first, but when the land and work was not as promised by the sugar plantation barons, they left and sailed into San Francisco, where they eventually discovered Winters.
There were many families who came to that route, not only from Almogía, but other rural towns in southern Spain. The Lopez, Ruiz, Martinez, Carbahal, Martín, Ramos, Fernandez, Carrión, Molina, Campos and Rubio families came from similar parts of this region, Andalucía.
Much flatter, but with similar climate and rainfall, they discovered that they could raise similar crops to those of their homeland. It must have seemed like a dream to them at the time; great, open, flatter land, similar growing conditions, and room to grow. Little by little, families and friends heard about the good land opportunities in California and followed the exodus from Hawaii.
While in Almogía, the mayor and councilmembers showed us the council chambers. There, prominently displayed on the front wall, was the Declaration of Sisterhood with Winters. The mayor proudly accepted the framed proclamation we had brought from Winters, and he gave us a similar framed document, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Sister City adoption. I had not realized that it was the 30th anniversary until that moment. We all posed for photos, holding both proclamations. They also displayed their Almogía flag, like the one Miguel Ruiz had raised on the steps of City Hall in Winters 30 years ago.
Later, we enjoyed some refreshments in the town square, just outside the Almogía city offices. This is the plaza where they celebrate the special town dance festival called the Verdial, an annual celebration that draws people from all over the region. A huge stage is set up at one side of the large plaza and youth perform the traditional dances and music of this region, called the “verdiales.” I imagined something akin to our Festival de la Comunidad, or our Tractor Parade.
The Verdial is a special ancient dance that is similar to the Flamenco, or Fandango, but even older. It is named for the verdial grape and goes back to the times of Moorish origins with Arabic instruments. Las Verdiales is typically celebrated as an annual competition between outlying villages and crowds from all over Almogía attend the festival. The music and costumes are a symbol of their culture and history.
We asked about the “Alcalde” statue we had seen above at the smaller plaza. “Oh, that word has doble sentido,” (double meaning) the current mayor explained. Alcalde means the mayor of the village, but in music, it means conductor, or director, as well. The stick, he explained, is the director’s baton.
Later, we had a chance to visit other tiny communities from which Winters’ families have sprung. We spent several days driving around Almería, Lubrin, El Chiva, and El Marchal. All of them represent possibilities of future sister cities. We took names and made a few connections. Something for a future trip, perhaps.
When we embarked on this journey, we were not sure if the Almogíans were aware of the sister cityhood, or if anyone here was aware of our town some 10,000 kilometers away. The emails I exchanged with the mayor’s office had been business-like, and somewhat terse. But we can clearly report that Almogía has not forgotten the Ruiz dream: from the street they named for us, to the plaque on the town hall meeting chambers, to the living memories of those we met, the sisterhood with Winters is alive and well.
We were privileged to carry the good wishes from our City Council to theirs. The proclamation we presented says, in part, that …Winters is a community that celebrates its diversity with inclusivity, nurturing care for others and respect for all, and bonding together over community meals, events, music and a little dancing in the streets — like the festivals in Spain … Now, therefore, be it proclaimed by the City Council of Winters that it hereby celebrates and honors its Spanish heritage and the town of Almogía, sending warm regards to its residents and our family members.