According to the journalist Arturo Conde, it was “in the autumn of 1868, [that] a small group of Spaniards gathered at the modest storefront at 151 Bowery Street in Manhattan to create the first Spanish benevolent society. The founders, who came from different parts of Spain, wanted to establish a social center where all Spanish immigrants could find the support that they needed from compatriot residents in New York.”
The need to create such a benevolent society may have been related to the outbreak of the colonial war in Cuba in that same year, when many Spaniards, fleeing from the violence, sought refuge in New York
Since opening in 1868, the Spanish Benevolent Society, also known as La Nacional, has promoted camaraderie and kinship amongst Spanish and Hispanic-American residents of New York City. Tucked away on 14th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, the only sign of its existence are the Spanish and American flags waving side by side above its classic brownstone stoop.
According to Jesus “Lolo” Manso, who owns the club’s restaurant concession, La Nacional is the second oldest Spanish society still in existence in North America. In the heart of what was once known as “Little Spain,” it continues to strive for the preservation of Spanish culture by sponsoring flamenco performances, art exhibitions, film screenings and concerts upstairs, while downstairs a restaurant serves delicious tapas and sangria as diners watch Spanish fútbol games on the televisions.
As Spanish immigration reached its peak between 1905 and 1920, La Nacional served as a “mutual aid society,” helping its members gain access to otherwise unavailable social services, such as medical care and proper burials.
Even though the Spanish community has since declined and historical places of Little Spain such as La Iberia and Casa Moneo are long gone, La Nacional remains, a remarkable vestige of the small but significant Spanish presence in the city.
Nowadays La Nacional is more renowned for its restaurant, where you can often find Spanish old-timers eating paella and drinking sangria or cafe con leche while watching their beloved fútbol. And when Spain won the World Cup in the summer of 2010, avid fans (both Spaniards and non-Spaniards) flocked to La Nacional to cheer on the team and ultimately celebrate the victory.