Story of the Lincolns Sweeps History Day Competition

May 17, 2023

Iago Macknik-Conde.

Iago Macknik-Conde, a high school student from New York City, performed his new one-man play, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade: The First Desegregated American Fighting Force for the National History Day competition this spring. He won 1st place for Senior Individual Performance at the New York City Regional and New York State Contests, moving to the national competition on June 11-15.

ALBA spoke with Iago and his mother, Susanna, to learn more about his personal connection to Spain, including two great-grandparents who served on opposite sides of the Spanish Civil War. Having immigrated from Spain in 1997, Susanna recalled her early memory of Franco’s death and Juan Carlos’s coronation. She also discussed the failed coup attempt of 1981 to explain why family members had been hesitant to discuss the family history, particularly those who fought on the side of the Republic.

Susanna’s paternal grandfather, Ildefonso Martínez-Conde Cantera, was a practicante or nurse in Republican Spain. After the war, he was arrested by Franco’s police for alleged communist leanings. Some say he was involved with union organizing and that he was arrested because someone else reported him to the police. He was sentenced for a brief time, then served a long jail sentence. His partner, and Susanna’s future grandmother, fled to France to avoid persecution. She was held at a concentration camp there with harsh living conditions, though even less was known about her experiences. When Ildefonso was eventually pardoned, he lost his job and was forced to work as a coal trimmer. By the time he was offered his old position, he was ready to retire.

Susanna’s maternal grandfather, Enrique García Casal, survived the sinking of the SS Castillo de Olite. Originally conscripted into the Spanish Army, his company was captured by the rebels and was drafted into their army, where he served for three years. He recalled this dramatic finale to his service under Franco in a diary he kept during the war. Advancing with a broken radio, Enrique’s group was unaware that the Republicans had been able to retake the city. He described how unprepared they were for the battle soon to come: they were celebrating, drinking wine and eating chocolate. The Republicans didn’t want to just sink the ship initially but eventually started shooting at the ship as they failed to heed their warnings. Enrique remembered how his crew believed the gunshots were rebel planes celebrating their arrival or that they were mistaken for “reds.” Out of the 1,500, only 600 survived the largest naval disaster involving a single boat in the history of Spain, including Enrique.

With such a rich family history on both sides of the civil war, it’s no surprise that Iago has found inspiration in the story of the Lincolns. For this year’s National History Day theme, Frontiers in History, his play features two soldiers discussing how the Lincolns were the first racially integrated American military unit. Embodying multiple characters and switching seamlessly between accents, Iago’s performance clearly impressed the judges, who awarded him first place. Regardless of the trophies and accolades, Iago’s play is a fitting tribute to the Lincolns who dedicated their lives to passing on their stories to the future generations—as Susanna has done for Iago, and as Iago is doing for his peers. No doubt the Lincolns would be deeply touched by his moving portrayal of their important role in breaking new frontiers of history.

ALBA wishes him the best of luck as he continues onto the national competition.

Cole Stallone is ALBA’s Communications Associate.