top of page

The Identity of the Galician Immigrant: Indian Houses

Migrations have become, as Ortega and Gasset would say, one of the topics of our times: they are undoubtedly one of the macrophenomena that define an entire era (Velasco and La Barbera, 2015, p. 15). The great migratory exodus from Galicia, Spain to the Americas is one of the most notable events in the contemporary history of Galicia from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. It is limited until these years due to the global economic crisis of 1929, after which American countries restricted European emigration. Overcoming the crisis, it was the Spanish Civil War and World War II with their immediate aftermath that made emigration difficult. Only from the 1948 treaties with Argentina, the ties with Galicia were resumed (Xunta de Galicia, 2000, p. 37).

The Galician exodus represented a third of all Spanish emigration during these decades, allowing the region to alleviate its demographic surplus by finding an open labor market overseas that offered upward mobility. Often, this journey was crowned with economic success, as the immigrants viewed The Americas as a source of secure and flexible income to fill their pockets and build a better future for their families. Throughout this pursuit, they unconsciously absorbed the surrounding cultural complexities (Táboas, 2004, p. 13). They encountered new habits, materials, textures, colors, and ways of dressing, particularly in the unconventional housing that broke away from traditional construction systems. The "Indianos", or according to the Royal Spanish Academy, "those who have returned from America with a small fortune that they will later spend in their country of origin" (Royal Spanish Academy, 2021) forged an indomitable and unique identity through a vast architectural legacy, turning emigration into an irreversible transformative process.

Figure 1: Indian house in Ribadeo, Galicia (The Voice of Galicia, 2020).

America represented to Galicia an open labor market that offered upward mobility and economic success, with the benefits periodically returning. But above all, it was a reserve of hope. "America", wrote Ramón Barreiro Fernández, former president of the Royal Galician Academy (2001-2009), "It functioned in the subconscious of every Galician as the great reserve of hope, as the promised land that made it possible, with its allure of well-being, to endure the days of an ill-fated present" (Barreiro, 1984, p. 50). Simultaneously, Galicians in America rediscovered Galicia in its cultural and political dimensions. As our study period begins, it asserts:

There is a tremor of 'Galicianness' in America, which is confirmed when the first Galician centers are established in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Havana in 1879, with Cuba still being a Spanish province. Each of these centers generates new branches that gradually make America incomprehensible without Galicia (Barreiro, 1984, p. 54).

The main work destinations were classified according to different regions of Galicia. Generally, Galicians from A Coruña and Lugo saw Cuba as an ideal ecosystem, Argentina for those from Pontevedra, and Brazil for those from Ourense or Pontevedra. Other destinations included Uruguay, Puerto Rico, and occasionally Florida. In the 19th century, on the Spanish Atlantic coast, specifically in the town of A Guarda (Pontevedra), Villa Domínguez was being built (each home was usually given a personalized name). This type of single-family housing was a common example of the time, conceived under prototypes derived from European Baroque tradition and interpreted according to the codes and stylistic patterns of eclecticism. The peculiarity of this house, considered a "palacete" or small palace, lies in the impression it must have made on the humble surrounding population. Its promotion was attributed to an "Indiano" (a term used to identify someone who emigrated in search of work to the American continent, usually the South) who, as mentioned before, returned to their place of origin after becoming wealthy, aiming to live comfortably for the rest of their lives and, in specific cases, to help the population through benefactor activities such as promoting private, public, and social projects (Cortés, 2018).

Figure 2: Indian house in A Guarda, Galicia (Xunta of Galicia, n.d.).

The "Indiano" figure was often the son of peasant families residing in the poorest regions of Galicia, who were sent to America at a very young age with the goal of making a fortune. This objective seemed easily achievable, to the extent that many of these families could subsist on the periodic remittances from across the ocean. Galician emigration was predominantly male, with the idea being that men would prefer to return to Galicia with a substantial amount of money rather than settle their families in America. Generally, physically demanding jobs fell on men, such as agriculture, cultural activities, and the construction of residences. Both types of work were linked to the immigrant's return and their integration into the local bourgeoisie, factors that led to their participation in cosmopolitan ideals (social ideals, cultural ideals) and constructive realities (Xunta de Galicia, 2000, p.38).

The author of the book Emigration and Architecture: Os Brasileiros Teresa Táboas Veleiro, reveals that Brazil was the primary destination chosen by Galician immigrants. Specifically, Salvador de Bahia became the most significant hub of arrival. Even those who returned from the Americas had a nickname dedicated exclusively to the immigrants, known as "Os Brasileiros". The city of Salvador de Bahia was founded in 1549, during the 16th century, by Portuguese settlers who decided to build it on high ground, with a vital relationship to the sea. Salvador was the capital of Brazil until 1763. Urbanistically, the initial layout of the Portuguese city followed the same dynamics as Spanish colonial cities: a grid pattern that has evolved over the years into an axial design, with "plazas" repeated along the main streets.

Figure 3: House model of chalet with low plant and attic in France (Journal Generale de l'Architecture et des Travaux Publics, 1862).

This picture appears in number 20 of the Journal Generale de l'Architecture et des Travaux Publics (1862) directed by C. Daly. It is a model of villa with ground floor and attic, that presents a compositional and ornamental scheme. This magazine includes illustrations of models of palaces and ornamental repertoires of the French imperial style and other French baroque writers such as Ch. A. d Aviler, G. Boffrand or J. F. Blondel that may have been a source of inspiration for certain palaces in Havana and that will later be source of inspiration for Galician people (Cortés, 2018).

The idealized plans for the city were sent from Portugal to Brazil in order to determine its future usefulness in the city's design. However, it is highly ironic to realize that there had to be emigration from Galicia to Brazil to understand that the neighboring country of Portugal already had similar architectural structures prior to the return of the "Indianos." Centuries later, the "Indianos" brought these architectural influences to Spain when they already existed in Portugal. This perhaps represents the most interesting worldwide paradox in the history of immigration, resembling a comedic and satirical scenario in an imaginary cinematic setting. "Os Brasileiros" exhibit features of both Portuguese architectural heritage and the succession of styles imported by the upper society of Bahia. As for other populations in Brazil, the inhabitants of Tomiño primarily occupied the city of São Paulo, specifically Goián or the state of Pará. Thanks to this phenomenon, currently 96% of the Spanish residents in these cities are Galicians, and more interestingly, 90% of them come from the province of Pontevedra. Reports from the Spanish Consulate in Salvador de Bahia confirm that 28% of the Galician residents in this city come from Ponte Caldelas, 22% from Fornelos de Montes, 20% from Lama, and they are followed in number and importance by the municipalities of Pazos de Borbén, Ponteareas, and Mondariz (Táboas, pp.22, 2004).

Professor of Art History and researcher Miriam Cortés López from the University of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia states in her article "The Legacy from Overseas: Identity, Tradition, and Innovation" that between 1887 and 1895, 150,000 Galicians emigrated, and later, between 1900 and 1930, approximately 1,200,000 would do so. Not everyone became wealthy, nor did everyone return, but those who did leave their mark on the Galician territory through the work carried out in the Americas, which materialized in what the "American gold" allowed them to build: schools, hospitals, roads, laundry facilities, and more. It is only through this context that the fortunes of different families in the Betanzos, Ribadeo, Vigo, or Viveiro areas in Galicia can be understood (Cortés, 2018).

Figure 4: Indian house "Chalé de Fondón" in Viveiro, Galicia (2023).

Alongside religious and public works, the social actions of emigrants to provide cultural assets to their communities of origin had a predominantly educational character. This was manifested in the construction or funding of hundreds of primary schools throughout Galicia, especially in the northern region of Lugo and the coastal area of Pontevedra in Galicia. The acquisition or renovation of urban or rural residential properties is often the final but frequently the primary activity of the "Indiano", who often "buried" their money in constructing or lavishly improving their homes.

The construction of personalized houses became an intimate and cultural legacy. Their organization, composition, and ornamental resources stood out from the rest of the popular constructions. This type of architecture or aesthetic trend was defined as "Indiana" in honor of its emigrants. However, it is not recommended to interpret it as a unique, singular, or prominent style comparable to Gothic, Baroque, or Neoclassicism. Instead, it participates in all those historicist currents and neo-styles that range from recalling English, French, Italian, or regional models to the use of certain more innovative resources derived from Modernism. It would not be appropriate to use the epithet "indiana style" understood as an artistic movement that adheres to closed and specific parameters, which are common to all those houses promoted with American money. The reintegrated Galician into their native society, as happened in any other migratory nucleus in Spain such as Asturias, Cantabria, Basque Country, Andalusia, or even outside Spain, Portugal, does not create a peculiar, exclusive, or unique style that sets it apart from other contemporary nineteenth-century bourgeois developments. Indiana architecture is not a stylistic, formal, or typological matter; rather, it is the manifestation of the condition of its promoter, creator, or "patron".

Figure 5: Indian house of Casiano Perez from 1920 (Rodriguez, 2023).
This indian house belonged to Casiano Perez, another "indiano" who returned to his homeland successfully, built in 1920 consists of an eclectic building in which the decorative elements of Modernism predominate. Formed by crystals in which the design of the carpentry is excellent. The space that advances on the main body indicates the access to the house.

During the 19th century, housing underwent such an evolution that it became the protagonist of architecture: the central point and core of professional activity. It had always been subject to design, but its representational function usually prevailed over functionality, or otherwise, it was almost exclusively the object of a craft that could be reduced to the economic and social realms. Housing has always represented and shaped family behavior. Understood as a "machine for living", according to Le Corbusier's controversial definition, housing in modern society is an abstract, standardizable, and projectable entity in itself, regardless of its location. Traditional housing, on the other hand, encompasses different local types as it reflects a family closely linked to the natural environment. In this sense, Indiana housing is traditional housing: it does not have, nor does it desire standardized or unitary types. And yet, it often appears to be modern, not because it is abstract and susceptible to replication, but because it can be extrapolated to very different climatic or geographical factors that are linked to the dual character of its promoter: both Galician and American. Furthermore, the Indiano world changes the functionality of domestic architecture in Galicia in its determined pursuit of residential comfort, which translates into a certain spatial differentiation.

Morales wrote:

It is possible to establish a wide range of functions and scale of buildings in relation to the economic level of their owners. Some indiano houses are truly very traditional houses, which only add more square meters, more floors, a garden, or some new viewpoint to the usual models of the popular house. Sometimes they are the result of facade beautification and hygienic conditioning reforms, interior and exterior modernization of the old rural family house (1987, p. 17).

Thus, it can be determined that Indiano houses have peculiarities and specific elements: colorful facades, symmetry and proportionality, ornamental elements, glazed galleries, or repetitive exterior carpentry (typical of Portuguese architecture), facades covered with tiles of various colors, ceramic or wrought iron elements present in each frame or column, rectangular or square floor plans, double roofs or clay roofs. As for common elements for all types and models, two underlying guidelines can be highlighted in Indiano architecture in Galicia: the desire to link popular tradition with adherence to successive artistic movements, and the Galicia-America binomial's presence in the duality between elements inherent to the native cultural tradition and those related to colonial American culture (Xunta de Galicia, 2000, p. 44).

Figure 6: Indian house of Clotilde Fernandez in the town of Ponte Caldelas, Galicia (Morriña de Cuba, 2017).
Los Molinos (Ponte Caldelas) is an Indian house created by the doctor José Estévez and Clotilde Fernández, known as Mamá Clotilde, in 1895. Located next to the Verdugo River, the house has behind it several mills and an electric plant, launched by the matriarch of the family in 1907. The Los Molinos Electric, which is the company’s name, survives today after having adapted to the times. The villa is a small rectangular volume of a single height with basement and basement. It is accessed through a staircase that goes up to a porch closed by a wooden gallery. Above it a pointed arch opening onto a wrought iron balcony. The decorative aspect of the panels with green tile or the decoration of the eaves stand out. Photographs by Manuel Casas Arruti and Iria Lagarón Jiménez (Los Molinos, 2017).

The process of architectural mestizaje is profound in these countries. The new emigrant adapted to the harsh climatic conditions, daily life, and forced labor, glimpsed the different characteristics of society or acquired its hygiene practices. All these experiences were crucial in developing a particular taste for the conception of housing and imitating the architectural avant-garde of different cities. Thus, the aesthetic discourse shows that, in most cases, a "profoundly eclectic" transformation occurred, a natural response to the socio-cultural conditions of the time. It could be inferred that Indiano houses are a material extension arising from the experiences of those Indiano individuals in South America. However, the entirety of the experience is translated into new ways of conceiving reality through behaviors, choices, preferences, or unconscious social segregation based on acquired wealth. An Indiano placed himself above the average of his population, and achieving economic success was the most admired luxury among his fellow countrymen. Many authors affirm that when returning to their hometowns, the Indianos wanted to stand out and differentiate themselves from the rest of the population through a majestic dwelling with avant-garde ornamental features and personal details. It is the story of the emigrant who returns enriched, the agent of a phenomenon of great dimensions and importance, and the protagonist of modern architecture in Galicia. Therefore, Galician architecture cannot be understood without their presence, indiano architecture is then a part of Galicia's history. The wonderful thing about understanding our past is that human beings have always sought to express their effort and progress through an innate tendency for order, and what better way to manifest order than through the personal creation of architecture, made like their image and likeness? A cosmopolitan, durable, ornamental, useful, and open-to-future-modifications place as them.

Bibliographical References

Barreiro Fernández, X. R. (1984). Los gallegos de América y la recuperación política de Galicia [The Galicians of America and the political recovery of Galicia]. Cuadernos del Norte.

Bores, F. & Xunta de Galicia (2000). Casas de indianos. Xunta de Galicia.

Cortés López, M. (2019). El legado de ultramar. Identidad, tradición e innovación en la configuración exterior de la casa indiana gallega [ The legacy of overseas. Identity, tradition and innovation in the exterior configuration of the Galician Indiana house]. Atrio Revista de Historia del Arte, no. 25. Universidad de Santiago de Compostela. Retrieved June 25 2023 from

Martí, J. (1889). La historia del hombre contada por sus casas [The story of man told by their houses]. Revista la Edad de Oro. Retrieved June 26 2023 from

Marquéz, I. (2023, march). Casas Indianas. Una perspectiva sobre el patrimonio, los flujos arquitectónicos y las historias humanas [Indian Houses. A perspective on heritage, architectural flows and human stories.]. Retrieved June 25 2023 from

Real Academia Española, Tesoro de los diccionarios históricos de La Real Academia Española. Indiano [Real Academia Española, Treasure of the historical dictionaries of La Real Academia Española. Indiano]. Retrieved June 26 2023 from

Velasco, J.C & La Barbera, M. C. (2020). Migraciones, fronteras y filosofía: una presentación [Migration, borders and philosophy: a presentation.]. Universidad Nebrija.

Visual Sources

Cover image: (1877). Casa moderna. E. Viollet-Le-Duc. Habitations Modernes. París: A. Morel et Cie. Fotografía del Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte [Modern house. E. Viollet-Le-Duc. Habitations Modernes. Paris: A. Morel et Cie. Photograph by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport]. Retrieved July 1 2023 from .

Figure 1: Pato, S. (2020). Casas Indianas: Nueve lugares para descubrir el pasado emigrante de Galicia [Casas Indianas: Nine places to discover the emigrant past of Galicia.] Journal The Voice of Galicia. Retrieved July 1 2023 from .

Figure 2: Galicia el buen camino. Viviendas urbanas en el casco urbano [Galicia the right way. Urban housing in the urban area]. Journal Xunta of Galicia. Retrieved July 1 2023 from .

Figure 3: (1862). House model of French chalet. Journal Generale de l'Architecture et des Travaux Publics [General Journal of Architecture and Public Works]. Retrieved July 1 2023 from

Figure 4: El progreso (2023). Casas indianas con encanto en busca de dueño. Indian house "Chalé de Fondón" in Viveiro, Galicia [Progress (2023). Charming indian houses looking for an owner. Indian house "Chalé de Fondón" in Viveiro, Galicia]. Retrieved July 1 2023 from

Figure 5: Rodriguez, A. (2023). Casas Indianas, Una perspectiva sobre el patrimonio, los flujos arquitectónicos y las historias humanas. Indian house of Casiano Perez from 1920 [Indian Houses, A perspective on heritage, architectural flows and human histories.]. Retrieved July 1 2023 from

Figure 6: Morriña de Cuba (2017). Proyecto Palmera, Los Molinos. Indian house of Clotilde Fernandez in the town of Ponte Caldelas, Galicia [Morriña of Cuba (2017). Palmera Project, Los Molinos]. Retrieved July 1 2023 from


Author Photo

Arianna Rodriguez

Arcadia _ Logo.png

Arcadia has an extensive catalog of articles on everything from literature to science — all available for free! If you liked this article and would like to read more, subscribe below and click the “Read More” button to discover a world of unique content.

Let the posts come to you!

Thanks for submitting!

  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
bottom of page