Born on February 18, 1880, in Figueres, Spain, Cristina Carles would spend her life traveling across the globe trying to promote a better appreciation and understanding of Hispanic culture, language, and commerce. Cristina grew up in Spain, marrying her husband Emilio Carles on April 23, 1902, and birthing their daughter Montserrat in February of 1903. Following the birth of their daughter, the Carles family would leave their homeland and migrate across the globe to South America. After spending time living in South American and then Mexico, the Carles family immigrated into the United States of America through New Orleans in October of 1915, finally settling in Jacksonville in June of 1916. Once settled in Jacksonville, Cristina spent her time teaching Spanish to interested residents of the city and helped her husband with his import/export business. Her passion for Hispanic culture would lead Cristina to start the Spanish Club of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce in October of 1930. During her time leading the club, Cristina would travel to Cuba and Puerto Rico in order to further her own understanding and connections to these other Hispanic cultures.
The Spanish Club of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce was a social organization under the purview of the Chamber of Commerce, similar to the Junior Chamber of Commerce. The Spanish Club’s main missions were “to strengthen the bond of friendship and good-will between this city and those of Central and South America; to foster better commercial relations; to teach and practice the Spanish language; to spread the use of said language among the business men of this city; to give lectures about traditions, customs and commerce of the mentioned countries.” Being founded during a time when the United States was beginning to implement the ideas of the “Good Neighbor” Policy to improve relations with Central and South America, the Spanish Club of the Chamber of Commerce strove to educate the businesses of Jacksonville on the cultures, languages, and traditions they might interact with if they did business with Central and South American nations.
This club, founded and led by Cristina Carles (second from right), held many types of events in order to bring a better “Pan-American” understanding to the residents of Jacksonville, including a “Good-Will” tour to Cuba and Mexico with the support of the Florida and Jacksonville governments. This tour was intended to take members of the club and business community to Cuba and Mexico so they could experience the culture and language, while also forming deeper connections between the communities. Another type of popular event hosted by the Spanish Club were ‘Fiestas.’ these celebrations were often held at event halls, such as the Woman’s Club of Jacksonville, and would feature Hispanic art, music, dances, and cuisine, often performed and created by natives of Hispanic nations.
The Spanish Club of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce would go on to separate from the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, due to a shift in focus to cultural and educational purposes, in November of 1937. This separation also prompted the changing of the club’s name to The Pan-American Club of Jacksonville. Over the years, this club would hold meetings in hotels across the city including The Seminole Hotel, The Mayflower Hotel, and The Carling Hotel.
Unfortunately, after the passing of Cristina Carles in 1958, the Jacksonville Historical Society lost track of the club but is currently trying to learn the rest of the story of the social organization that attempted to bring Jacksonville into a “Pan-American” mindset.
Emily Cottrell, Assistant Archivist
Jacksonville Historical Society