One of the first Latino immigrants to Amsterdam recently celebrated his 100th birthday.
Amsterdam Mayor Michael Cinquanti said in a Facebook post that Aldelmo (Al) Camacho’s family, including grandson Rob Camacho, held the celebration at the Century Club.
Cinquanti wrote, “[Al] and his beloved wife Tina have contributed so much to our community since settling here in 1951 and to be on hand to see him share this incredible milestone with his loving family and friends was indeed a privilege.”
Aldelmo Camacho grew up on a farm near Yauco, a small city in south Puerto Rico. The youngest of ten children, he joined the Army in 1942 and served as a medical surgery technician.
After the war, he attended business college where he met his future wife, Ernestina (Tina) Perez. In 1948, they married and the family grew with the birth of two daughters.
Aldelmo said in a 2004 interview that two of his brothers had moved to America and settled in Amsterdam, attracted by newspaper ads from the carpet industry.
In 1950, Aldelmo left his family and arrived in Amsterdam on a Sunday in June. He had his first job the next day, making pocketbooks for Central Leather.
“When I came here, you could have a job, quit the job and get another job in that same building with another company,” Aldelmo said. “If you didn’t have a job here it was because you didn’t want to work.”
Aldelmo stayed in Amsterdam for four months, but returned to Yauco because he missed his family. There was no work in Puerto Rico so Aldelmo headed north again. This time he ran a milling machine at Collette’s, preparing rubber for tennis and beach balls.
Within a few months, Tina and the children moved to Amsterdam and Tina began work at Amsterdam Glove. Their first home was in the former Amsterdam Hotel on Main Street. Apartments followed and then their own houses on Academy Street and Bunn Street.
There were only a few Latinos in Amsterdam in the early 1950s.
“When we came in it was just Puerto Ricans and Cubans,” Aldelmo said. Today, Amsterdam’s many Latinos also have roots in Columbia, Costa Rica, Mexico and other countries.
In 1953, the Camachos were instrumental in forming the Spanish American Club, which closed in 2004.
Tina held jobs at Chalmer’s Button Shop, Hanover Dress, Martin Jay Dress and Mohawk Dress. She also earned her high school diploma and attended Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
“We made an honest dollar every place we went,” Tina said. “We started at 75 cents an hour and then it went up to a dollar an hour. We lived on that.”
Aldelmo worked several years at the Naval Depot in Scotia and then was a dress cutter at Hanover’s. Hanover’s closed its Amsterdam plant in 1972 and wanted Aldelmo to relocate to Vermont. Instead, the Camachos returned to Puerto Rico.
“We went back and I got a job in San Juan cutting dresses,” Aldelmo said. “But I was in San Juan and [Tina] was in Yauco, a hundred miles apart and we stayed just seven weeks. When we left Puerto Rico it was one way of living. When we went back it was too different. It was a different country for us.”
Back in Amsterdam, Aldelmo secured jobs at Coleco, then Gem Urethane, Bojud Knitting and General Electric before his retirement.
“This town [Amsterdam] came to be more important than the town where I was born,” said Aldelmo, who has a reputation for his skill at dominoes. “This town for me is like my hometown. It’s where I’ve raised my family.”