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Talking to Manuel Tabuenca Gutiérrez (Barcelona, 1924)

by Almudena Rubio

Manuel Tabuenca Gutierrez is the son of CNT member Manuel Tabuenca Peña (Zaragoza, 1913- Mexico 1980). He was just 12 years old when the social revolution erupted in Barcelona in 1936. Now, at 94, he found the force to leave Mexico, where he lives, and travel to Amsterdam, together with his two daughters, Socorro and Rosa María. He came looking for information about his father among the CNT-FAI records, deposited at the International Institute of Social History. 

Delighted to find a poster of a meeting at Barcelona’s Victoria Theater in April 1937, in which Tabuena Peña spoke, together with other comrades, his son was happy to talk with me about his father and to share his memories on the explosive days of the revolution.

About Tabuena Peña
During the war, Tabuena Peña was the person in charge of the Sindicato Ferroviario of the Barcelona CNT, but he was also known for his talks behind the front. His son still remembers how, as a child, he accompanied his father to the Novedades Cinema, where they were going to discuss the general strike of '36… And how his fervent commitment to the revolution made his father board a train to Aragón… Yet this attempt to fight on the front was halted by the machinist and the fireman who recognized him and reminded him of his essential work in the rear. It is true that this outcome raised doubts among his comrades when Tabuenca left for France with five million pesetas in his pocket after promising to return with coal for the trains. Yet all suspicions disappeared when the fuel appeared in Barcelona.

From his extraordinary memory, Tabuenca told me about the surrender of the San Andrés barracks, about fascists barricaded inside the churches, about May 37, about the day he took refuge in the CNT-FAI building, and about Emilia, the miliciana of the Durruti Column wounded on the Ebro Front. And about his mother, who on hearing the news of Durruti's death while she was dining in a restaurant, couldn’t eat a thing anymore.

Like so many others, the Tabuencas managed to escape from fascist Spain in January 39 via Portbou and get into France. After six months in a concentration camp, where Tabuenca had taken with him a single blanket from the MZA to fight the cold, the family boarded the Mexique on July 27 of 1939 carring 2,000 people into exile. Once in Mexico, they got in touch with the Service of Spanish Refugees.

Tabuenca’s daughters told me that every first week of September they still attend a reunion of the families of those who fled to the state of Chihuahua in order to break the silence they took along and where Tabuenca and his daughter are the last living testimonies.

15 January 2019