An Atlantic City, a Crossroads of Cultures
06 / 06 / 2024
Folklore, tradition, cultural heritage

The Port of La Luz has been a constant entry point for influences imported from the far ends of the Ocean

(photo: Muelle Grande, 1934. FEDAC)

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Thursday 7 June 2024.- The contribution of the Port of La Luz to the cultural evolution of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, seen in perspective, is a decisive factor for understanding the city’s status as a crossroads of cultures. Indeed, the concepts of a cultural city and a port city have gone hand in hand since 1883, when the British company Swanston laid the first stone of the docks that were to become a crucial logistical hub in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Much has been written about the economic importance the Port acquired from then on, as a centre for Canarian agricultural exports, bound for Great Britain in particular. Or the concentration of a large international fishing fleet plying their trade off the African coasts in the latter part of the twentieth century. Or the more recent arrival of the sophisticated offshore fleet operating in the Gulf of Guinea. It has also been a strategic dock for the supply of fuel and the transshipment of containers. And for the flow of trade in the region in general.

The Port of La Luz has indeed been a driving force in the development of the capital of Gran Canaria. However, at the same time, all this activity of ships, crews, port workers, passengers, and at certain times even migrants coming and going from South America or the Caribbean had a cultural impact on the city: beneath the surface, but so profound that it has ended up defining the very identity of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria over the years.

During the first decades of the twentieth century thousands of Canary Islanders set sail for Cuba in search of a better life. It was irregular migration, in many cases, which also reached the ports of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, although the most favoured destination was always the Caribbean island. Quite a few indianos – Spanish emigrants who made their fortune in America – later returned to the city, after their adventure. With them came Caribbean folklore, the echoes of peasant son and bolero music. Yes, the bolero, whose first great enthusiasts on this side of the Atlantic were the Canarians and which was first heard in premises dotted around the area just outside the docks.

From then on, the bonds between the capital of Gran Canaria and America were also strengthened on an emotional level, especially during the period from the end of the Spanish Civil War to the early 1950s, when many more thousands of islanders set sail for Venezuela, in another wave of migration – both legal and illegal – which would eventually export new cultural influences to the island and the city.

It was precisely during the years of the Francoist dictatorship that the Port became the ideal place to find the culture prohibited by the regime, whether through specific commissions by certain islanders with contacts or the natural traffic of international crews. This was how many books and authors that were censored at the time reached the city. Or the music of the later pop revolution, which arrived on the shores of Las Palmas entirely unfettered, long before people in mainland Spain were able to get to know it in all its splendour.

In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s the influences that so many foreign sailors left in their wake ended up being transferred to the restaurant sector as well. Much of the international cuisine that began to be enjoyed in the city dates from that time. It included, for example, the first Japanese restaurant to be opened in the whole of Spain: the Fuji, in Calle Fernando Guanarteme. Chinese restaurants also appeared, along with the odd Russian establishment and a place specializing in Central European fondues... At the same time, South Korean and Indian communities, among others, settled in the city, adding their own influences to the increasingly extensive food culture that Las Palmas de Gran Canaria can boast. Today it is a place where you can sample delicacies from all over the world.

The Port of La Luz remains to this day an essential focal point for the economic development of the capital of Gran Canaria. In more recent times it has seen the arrival of a large number of cruise passengers of many different origins, or entire crews of American platforms and rigs. They are the latest but one in a long line of passengers who have disembarked in La Luz and ended up also discovering new horizons for a city constantly connected to the world.

Before this, refreshing cultural influences had also arrived from the African continent, for which the docks of Las Palmas have also unquestionably been a point of entry. In the context of the cultural fusion of the twenty-first century, with the establishment of events such as WOMAD in the city, the opening of Casa África in 2007 as a national institution designed to foster closer links with the neighbouring continent, and the recurring presence of African musicians and artists at events both large and small, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria has ended up asserting its position as a city with a truly tricontinental dimension.