Victorina Graciani - matriarch of the Besteiro-Graciani Families of Spain, Cuba and the US

[and - briefly - her husbands]

By Emilito
Rev. 2011-02-04

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Victorina Graciani c. 1930
Victorina GRACIANI LORENZO c. 1930
Date based on location in Carmen Lagos' 1930s scrapbook

Because she left Spain in 1907, before any of her grandchildren were born, Victorina is not well-remembered by the branches of her descendants that remained there (i.e. descendants of Emilio BESTEIRO GRACIANI  [C-sic] and Jorge BESTEIRO GRACCIANI [CC-sic], in Emilio's case, descendants of his adopted son Teodoro Lancha, in Jorge's case, descendants of his nine children).  Furthermore, what little remembrance the family has of her does not put her in a good light.  This is due perhaps to two factors - 1) when successful businessman Ricardo BESTEIRO FERNÁNDEZ married the 19-year old actress, there were apparently some repercussions (in the Besteiro family - "honest people" didn't marry teen-age actresses), and 2) when she, as a widow, married the much younger Manuel LAGOS TOLEDO, this simply reinforced negative family opinion of her.

Her reputation in the Cuban and US branches of the family, however, far surpasses that in Spain, as the grandchildren that knew her loved her and passed their love of her on to their children.  The family nickname for "grandmother" in the US Lagos family began with her, as a mispronunciation of "Mama Victorina" by her first grandchild Carmen LAGOS BESTEIRO sounded like "Maina."

Shortly after Victorina's death Carmen wrote the following poem to her grandmother.

A Maina, mi Abuelita

Hoy cuando desperté
y a mi ventana
oí que me llamaba
el viento frío
del naciente invierno,
me dió mi corazón
violento vuelco
pensando el daño
que te hacía el frío.
Y recordé tu cara siempre hermosa
[¿ . . . ?] tu voz como una lira
[¿ . . . ?] –ome a mí cuentos de mil cosas,
y entre ellas, tus elogios de Sevilla.
Allí, el viento suave y cariñoso,
Allí, la rosa hermosa, y cada día,
nuevo clavel su perfume esparcia;
allí, jamás un arbol deshojado,
jamás un niño que se hallara helado;
Allí todo clemencia y alegría . . .
ése fué tu retrato de Sevilla.

Y yo, por tus palabras inspirada,
pedía a Dios, que nuestro amor mandaba,
que con su ayuda yo pudiera un día
ir de tu mano a visitar Sevilla,
mas hoy, sabrás que tan solo es mi anhelo
el ir, y estar contigo allá en el cielo.
To Maina, my Granny

Today when I awoke
And at my window
Heard myself being called
By the cold wind
Of the nascent winter,
Violently, my heart
Skipped a beat
Thinking of the hurt
The cold brought you.
And I remembered your face, always beautiful
And I remembered your voice like a lyre
I thought of you telling me thousands of stories,
And among them, your praises of Seville.
There, the wind soft and caressing,
There, beautiful roses, and every day
A new carnation scatters its bouquet;
There, never a tree without leaves,
Never can a child freeze;
There all is joy and goodwill . . .
That was your picture of Seville.

And I, by your words inspired,
Asked God, which our love required,
That one day I might go, helped by his will
And led by your hand, to visit Seville,
But today, you should know all I want to do
Is go to Heaven, so I can be with you.

Carmen J. Lagos
Carmen Lagos Besteiro

Victorina GRACIANI LORENZO was born on  March 23, 1862 in Alcalá de Henares and probably baptized in the same baptismal font as Miguel de Cervantes more than 300 years earlier.  Unfortunately, due to the July 1936 burning of church documents throughout so much of Spain in the early days of the Civil War by anarchists and communists, there is no record of her birth in Alcalá.
Baptismal Font of Cervantes and Victorina
Baptismal Font of Cervantes and Victorina Graciani
With Emilito (R) are cousins Ricardo and Yolanda BESTEIRO DE LA FUENTE

She was the younger sibling of Joaquín GRACIANI LORENZO, another "character" about whom more will be written in We have very little knowledge of the early days of Joaquin nor for that matter do we know very much of their father Francisco GRACIANI PASTOR, other than that he was born in Alicante in 1832, was a sculptor, and died in Madrid sometime after 1889.  We know of their mother Joaquina LORENZO BLAS mostly from her trip to Havana in a failed attempt to bring her 46-year-old daughter Victorina back to Spain to have the baby she was expecting with her younger husband Manuel LAGOS TOLEDO. 

We know from the oral history recounted by her daughter Isabel BESTEIRO GRACCIANI that Victorina was brought up as if she were the sister of her first cousin Alejandrina CARO GRACIANI, daughter of Francisco's sister Dolores GRACIANI PASTOR.  Victorina told her daughter Isabel that Dolores was widowed young and moved to be near her brother, so the girls grew up together. (Furthermore, until she left Spain at the age of 10, Isabel was as close to Alejandrina's daughter Julia DELGADO CARO, her second cousin, as if they were sisters.)

Alejandrina Caro Graciani
Actress Alejandrina Caro Graciani

Both Alejandrina and Victorina became actresses young (if my conclusions are correct, Alejandrina was about 2 years older than Victorina).  Alejandrina would remain an actress all her life, traveling around Latin America as well as Spain and later in her life would make at least two movies - these are listed in  In fact, for those familiar with "Bacon numbers (degree of  separation of a given actor from Kevin Bacon), Alejandrina has a Bacon number of 3.   Perhaps even cooler,  Alejandrina Caro has a "Chelsea Lagos Number" of 3 (Chelsea being a great-great-granddaughter of Victorina.)

Alejandrina's branch of the family produced several more actors: she married a famous actor - Paulino Delgado, and their daughter Julia, grandson Fernando Delgado and great-grandson Alberto Delgado followed her onto the stage (the latter two still at it in 2005; Emilito had the great fortune to see both Fernando (1998) and Alberto in performances on the Madrid stage.  By her second marriage there were more actors - her son Salvador SALA CARO and granddaughter Pilar SALA LÓPEZ - the latter, who died in 2004, played one of the leading roles - that of Rosa - in a classic 1949 work by the Spanish playwright Buero Vallejo, "Historia de una escalera."

Oh, by the way, Julia Delgado Caro also has a "Chelsea Lagos Number" of 3.

And Fernando Delgado as well.

Emilito is checking on Alberto to be sure it's the right actor, but he believes Alberto has a CLN of 4.

Delgado Family Actors
Julia Delgado in 1919                        Emilito with Fernando Delgado in 1998                  Alberto Delgado in 2003

But Emilito, as usual, digresses.  (It's the vivíparo thing again.)

Victorina also showed great promise as an actress.  Her 1880 certificate from the "Escuela Nacional de Música y Declamación (National School of Music and Declamation)" has been in the family for more than 100 years, and was in a state of great disrepair.  Thanks to the abilities of computer restoration, the nearly legendary diploma has been restored and several copies are now floating around the family. The certificate notes that Victoria [sic] has been awarded First Prize in Declamación ("Declamation," one of whose definitions is "Vehement Oratory").

Victorina Gracian i 1880 Diploma

The text reads -

    "En los ejercicios públicos de oposición á premios verificados en el presente
año el Jurado adjudicó á la Srta. D.a Victoria Graciani y Lorenzo,
el Primer Premio en la enseñanza de Declamación.
    Y para su satisfacción se libra el presente Diploma que recibirá en la solemne
distribución de premios.
                                    Madrid 1o de Julio de 1880"

El Director                                                                           El Secretario
Emilio Arrieta                                                                      
Manuel de la Mata

    "In competitive examinations for prizes verified in the present year
the jury awarded Señorita Victoria Graciani y Lorenzo,
the First Prize in the discipline of Declamation.
    And for her satisfaction she will receive this Diploma in the formal
Awards Ceremony.
                                         Madrid July 1st 1880"

The Director                                                                         The Secretary
Emilio Arrieta                                                                       
Manuel de la Mata

Of possible interest is the signature of the school's director, "Emilio Arrieta."  Arrieta was a well-known composer who wrote several zarzuelas including the still popular Marina.

At Christmastime, 2004, Emilito received an email from Amparo Graciani García, a Graciani cousin, in Spain, who had found a search engine in Spain referencing many articles.  Entering the word Graciani returned 16 hits. All but one went back to the time period 1930 to 1966 and were from her branch of the family, but the last Graciani entry, dating back to 1881, amazingly contained a couple of paragraphs about Victorina.

Gaceta de Madrid 1881 - re Victorina Graciani
The article is from the Gaceta de Madrid - Núm. 71.  Translated it says "Shortly Miss Graciani, first prize in Declamation at the Conservatory, will debut on the stage at the Theatre Español.  An acclaimed playwright has written a work for her appearance, in which the newcomer will interpret four distinct roles."

Victorina Graciani as St. Joseph
Actress Victorina Graciani as St. Joseph

Had Victorina followed up her training, followed in the footsteps of her cousin, she may have had several generations of actors follow her.  Instead, 3 generations of potential actors went missing.  Finally, three great-great granddaughters have followed Victorina's footsteps to the Performing Arts.  Sisters Chelsea and Aimee Lagos have made their marks as actor and producer/director, respectively, and Emily Beaton is a class of 2005 Theatre major at George Washington University in Washington, DC.

Chelsea Lagos 1999  Aimee Lagos 2011
Actor Chelsea Lagos and Producer/Director Aimee Lagos

Emily Beaton in Blithe Spirit
Emily Beaton in Blithe Spirit, George Washington University 2003

But Victorina did not follow up.  Sometime in 1881 or 1882 - Emilito has not yet found out where or when - she married Ricardo BESTEIRO FERNANDEZ, a successful Madrid businessman, and on January 9, 1883 Domingo BESTEIRO GRACIANI was born.

Victorina and


We don't know all that much about Ricardo Besteiro, other than that he was a madrileño of gallego ancestry, the 2nd oldest child (oldest son) of José BESTEIRO GUIZA and Juana FERNÁNDEZ GARCIA.  José was born in Lugo and Juana in Madrid, the daughter of parents from Lugo.  Ricardo was the oldest of eleven children, only four of whom would live to become adults.  It appears Ricardo Besteiro inherited his father's successful [grocery?] business.  According to author Juan Antonio de la Rica (who Emilito was to find out is a 4th cousin), José's location was in the best part of Madrid, on the corner of the Costanilla de Santiago and calle de Milaneses. Ricardo died at the age of 45, when his children were 16 (Domingo), 14 (Pepita), 12 (Emilio), 10 (Jorge) and 3 (Isabel).

Ricardo Besteiro Fernández

One will never know the influence of Ricardo on his children, but with the possible exception of Emilio - who never made the trip to Cuba - the fact remains that the children spent far more of their growing-up time with their mother Victorina - Domingo, Pepita and Isabel until her death, and Jorge until about 1912 - when, at the age of 23 he returned to Spain to marry his sweetheart Elisa.

With respect to Victorina and Ricardo, the oral tradition has it that his family was scandalized at his marrying a young actress, but whether or not this was acted upon in any way was unknown.  In fact, very little about Ricardo has come down to us through the years - we know simply that he gave his name as well as that of Victorina, to 5 children.  Three of them would be named BESTEIRO GRACIANI on their birth certificates; two would be named BESTEIRO GRACCIANI.  The single-double consonant phenomenon remains high on Emilito's "things to research."

Victorina and


Tío Manuel is another story entirely.  It seemed like, to the Lagos Besteiro kids, he was always around, although with the death of Paquito LAGOS GRACIANI at the age of 13 months, he would have no lasting legacy in terms of blood descendants.  Nevertheless, it appears that he was the person primarily responsible for initiating the family's move to Cuba and therefore, from this point of view, perhaps the single most influential person in shaping the future of the US Lagos-Besteiro family.

Emilito thinks he was also a whacko.

Manuel LAGOS TOLEDO, as was his younger brother Antonio, was born in Periana, a small town in the province of Málaga, on January 3, 1878.  He and his family moved to Madrid in 1885 and little is known about their existence during the next 15+ years.  Several siblings died in that time period, the family history has it of tuberculosis, and in 1900 and 1903 first his father, then mother, died of tuberculosis.  At the age of 25, the oldest surviving sibling (of Antonio, 22, Paco, 18, and Mercedes, 11), Manuel was without parents, and Paco and Mercedes would both die of tuberculosis within the next seven years.

In 1903 Antonio met Pepita BESTEIRO GRACIANI, an 18-year old who had lost her father at age 14, and became attracted to her.  Manuel, whom Antonio introduced to the family, became attracted to Pepita's mother, the relatively wealthy widow Victorina GRACIANI LORENZO.  Part of the story is told elsewhere in, which recounts a little sketch Emilito's mother Carmen wrote for Pepita's 82nd birthday party in 1966. 

At any rate, we don't know the details, but on January 4, 1904 26-year old Manuel married 41-year old Victorina in Madrid.  After the marriage, Manuel didn't think it proper for his brother to court the daughter of his wife, so he forbade their courtship.  Luckily, Antonio and Pepita were to marry despite Manuel's orders.

Manuel Lagos - Victorina Graciani wedding 1904
Bride and Groom - Victorina Graciani (41) and Manuel Lagos (26)

Emilito found documentation that Manuel Lagos visited both the United States and Cuba in April 1905 (New York on the 11th and Havana on the 18th).  Family lore has it that Manuel went with his brother Antonio and Victorina's eldest son Domingo BESTEIRO GRACIANI.  No evidence, however, has been found of Manuel and Domingo's arrival with Manuel (although it is very likely - Emilito has in his possession a "permission to leave Spain" document for Antonio dated June 1905 - that they too arrived in Cuba sometime in 1905).  At any rate, Manuel would return to Spain, then go back to Havana - his exact travels are unclear, but finally Victorina and three of her children - Pepita, Jorge and Isabel - joined Manuel (and certainly Domingo and Antonio) in Havana in April 1907.  Emilito found this information after hours and hours of searching microfilm copies of the Havana daily (well really twice daily) Diario de la Marina at the Library of Congress.  "OK," says Emilito, "the newspaper says 'Gración,' but I'm 100% sure this is Victorina, Pepita, Jorge and Isabel."

Diario de la Marina 1907 re Gración
From the afternoon edition of the 3 April  1907 Diario de la Marina, the arrival of Victorina Graciani and 3 children

Victorina & 3 kids - Cuba 1907
Victorina with Pepita, Jorge, Isabel (left to right)
immediately upon arriving in Cuba in 1907
The note shown below was on the back.  It says
“This is the latest group of us that have come to this country
where you don’t see anything but gold and you sweat a lot;
today the heat is really oppressive.
How do you think we've turned out?

Note on back of Vic & kids picture

Manuel's role in unsuccessfully continuing to try to disrupt his brother's relationship with his step-daughter is also documented elsewhere; suffice it to repeat that his efforts were ultimately unsuccessful.

On October 13, 1908, Manuel and Victorina had a son, Francisco LAGOS GRACIANI, who died tragically at slightly more than a year old (Emilito does not know the cause of death).

Paquito Lagos Birth Announcement
Birth Announcement of Francisco "Paquito" Lagos
    "I, Francisco Lagos Graciani, came into the world on Tuesday the 13th,
two days that they say are ominous, but I don't believe it.
  Having presented myself, I would like to tell you:
  That I was born in the house numbered 104 and 106 of the street named Consulado;
    That my parents are Manuel Lagos Toledo and Victorina Graciani y Lorenzo
    That my baptism today the 13th of November, should have taken place
at the church of Monserrate, but due to the whim of my father and godfather,
I have received the waters of the Jordan in my own house;
    That my godparents are Antonio Lagos Toledo and Isabel Besteiro Graciani.
    And no more . . .

Paquito Lagos Graciani
Paquito Lagos Graciani
Emilito's mother's uncle and first cousin

Manuel was always very solicitous of the Lagos Besteiro children, and the 1913 photo below came with a note to Emilito's Aunt Vicky, then 6 months old, noting that he dedicates the picture to her.

Manuel Lagos in 1913
Manuel Lagos in 1913
He dedicated this picture to his niece and step-granddaughter Victorina Lagos

The next 20+ years found Manuel and Victorina traveling very many times between Cuba and the US, and at least once - 1914 - their visit here was part of a Cuba -> Spain -> US -> Cuba voyage. We don't know where they traveled while in Spain that year, but Emilito would be surprised if they didn't visit the Graciani family in Seville, with whom it appears Victorina was very close.

Apparently there were a number of years in which the nature of their relationship was unclear (the only things the Lagos kids would say about Manuel was that there were rumors that he was a "ladies' man;" in 1922 they came to New York from addresses on opposite ends of Cuba (she Havana, he Santiago), and on her ship's manifest on this trip she was listed as "single."  Nevertheless they returned again in 1924 and 1927 for extended periods of time as a couple.

During 1922, when Victorina was living in Havana, Manuel was in Santiago working for the Electric Company there.  He is shown in the upper left-hand corner of the montage below.

Comañia Electrica - Santiago (incl. Manuel Lagos)
A collection of pictures of the Electric Company of Santiago. 
Manuel Lagos is in the upper left-hand corner, and his signature is in the lower right of that picture.

Victorina left the US for the last time in 1928, when her daughter Isabel became pregnant with her second child, her son Pepe GARCÍA BESTEIRO, born on October 15, 1928 in Havana.  But Manuel carried on.

Following Victorina's death in 1931, Manuel continued his regular visits to the United States to visit his brother's family.  In between - in 1934 - there was an unsuccessful attempt to commit suicide.  Antonio went to Cuba to visit him and discovered it was over a woman.  A woman, Antonio reported to his family in the US, that looked just like Betty Boop.

Tio Manuel in 1934
Tio Manuel in April 1934
4 months later he attempted suicide

Betty Boop
Betty Boop

We don't know exactly what Manuel did in the following years, but we do know that for many years he was a judge at the Marianao race track in Havana. 

Manuel's relationship with the US Lagos family ended on a sour and unhappy note.  There had been some unpleasantness between Manuel and his brother Antonio - no one knows the cause, but apparently they were not on speaking terms. When Antonio, however, was diagnosed with cancer in 1952, he wrote his brother and pleaded with him to write and to visit.  Not only did Manuel not respond, but when Antonio died in November of that year, Domingo Besteiro went to pick Manuel up - "Come, Manuel, we're going to your brother's funeral" - but Manuel refused to come.  In 1955, when the Carmen and Emilio Signes took their children Emilito, Carmen and Richard to Havana for the first time, Carmen refused to visit her uncle because of the way he had snubbed his brother, her father.

Manuel lived out the rest of his life in a room at the Hotel New York in Havana's Chinatown, where he died alone on July 26, 1960. He is buried in the same grave as Victorina.

Tio Manuel in Hotel New York 1950s
Tio Manuel in his Hotel New York room in the 1950s

Victorina and Manuel Graves
Left: Victorina's ossuary / Center: Slab from ossuary with Manuel's death date / Right: box that is probably Manuel's bones
More on this can be found in "Your Man in Havana," article written by Emilito about his 1999 trip to Cuba

Shortly after tío Manuel's death, Emilito's Uncle Manny received a letter from the Cuban government stating that the family might be entitled to an inheritance. Due to the fact that the Cuban Revolution and the US government were no longer on speaking terms (this was shortly before the Bay of Pigs invasion), Manny did not follow up.  Later, however, he found out that the inheritance would probably have been worth less than the cost of the trip and red tape to get it.

Manuel LAGOS TOLEDO cuts a strange and sometimes shadowy figure through the US Lagos Besteiro family history, but as he is the one central figure without whom we might not be here, Emilito felt it was worth telling you something about him, even if there's no longer that much to know.

Although the US Lagos-Besteiro family members think of our Maina and Papa when we think of our origins, Emilito notes in closing that we should recognize the vital logistical role of both Victorina and Manuel in originating the family.

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