When they got on the plane they didn't know what to expect, but now they feel they have come 'home'. "When we go back to New Iberia we are going to recommend that everybody there does what we have done," say the three residents of this town in Louisiana which was founded by people from Malaga 240 years ago.
What they did was take a trip organised by the Sites Travel agency in America, Alhaurín de la Torre council and Juan Manuel de Molina, a local historian and researcher. It was a chance to travel back to the roots of a culture which until ten years ago these Americans knew nothing about.
New Iberia and Alhaurín de la Torre have been twinned since 2009, after De Molina's research showed that the American town had been founded by dozens of families from Malaga, many of them from Alhaurín de la Torre, Cartama and Malaga city. Over time and history, these Spanish roots were gradually eclipsed by those of the French, but in the archives it is perfectly documented that the Garrido, Villatoro and other Malaga families were the first settlers in the area, although nowadays those names have evolved and have become, for example, Gary and Viatore.
The visitors are Suzanne Mocery, James Villatoro and Daren Romero, accompanied by Cinthya Breaux Sites, who owns the Sites Travel agency which specialises in genealogical tourism. She is of French descent and last month she visited France to see where her family originally came from.
Suzanne Mocery has spent quite a lot of time researching her family tree. "I was very interested to know where my ancestors came from. I wanted to see for myself the similarities with New Iberia and to know why the Spanish didn't stay as a community in our area. That's what led me to get on the plane to find out," she says.
James Villatoro (originally Viatoro, from the French derivation) is directly descended from Alhaurinos. This is not the first trip of its type to be organised, but he wasn't able to come before.
"My grandfather could read, speak and write in Spanish. When I started to study the language I found it very easy, so I decided that the next time there was a chance to come to Malaga I wasn't going to miss it," he explains.
Daren Romero's interest in visiting Malaga comes directly from his mother. "She is 80 years old and has spent half her life researching her family tree," he says. For Daren, looking at this chart full of names written in black upon white paper was a cold, almost empty experience.
"There are a lot of Romeros, a lot of people called López. I could look right back and see Miguel Romero - he is the Malaga resident who set off to colonise the New World - and they were just names on paper. I needed to know more about them, find out who they were, what they did," he says.
What have these visitors discovered during their week in Malaga province? "The first thing I noticed right from the start was that we were somewhere very different, not just from the geography but also the customs," says Villatoro. However, he did find that the way of cooking in Malaga is similar to some recipes from New Iberia and the people "are very friendly and charming". He felt at home here. "I didn't feel like a foreigner, it really was like coming home".