As we got further and further away, it (the Earth) diminished in size. Finally, it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger, it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man.
James B. Irwin, Apollo 15
Google “Cuesta Rey,” and you get 58 pages of websites in many languages–mostly cigar stores that sell the brand. Sometimes they are listed as “Cuban Cigars” and sometimes listed under “Pre-Embargo Cigars.” The cigars are made in the República Dominicana by Arturo Fuente and distributed by the J.C. Newman Company. The Cuesta Rey cigar survived global tastes and global politics. The cigar’s original home, the Cuesta Rey Cigar Factory, did not. One of the largest and most successful cigar companies of the Cigar City Boom, Cuesta y Rey Co. employed 500 workers in its West Tampa factory beginning in 1896.
It was 1957, and I was excited about the crab enchilada dinner my parents and I were invited to at Nena and Ulysses Henriquez’s home. My brother had recently married their granddaughter, Yolanda, and our two families often gathered for big dinners. I always had fun at their house; the food was plentiful and delicious!
Dominos, the game, not the pizza franchise, has been a part of Tampa’s Latin culture for as long as anyone can remember. Although it appears to have been invented by the Chinese, with the oldest known domino sets dating as far back as 1120 A.D., it has become a tradition in our Hispanic culture. There are many versions of the game played throughout the United States and the rest of the world, but in Ybor City and West Tampa, playing dominos is as much a part of our heritage as cigars, café con leche y pan con mantequilla (Cuban coffee with milk and buttered Cuban bread).
As a boy growing up in Tampa, Al Perez enjoyed some of the best empanadas he’d ever tasted. A street vendor sold crab and beef turnovers on Saturdays, and Perez never missed a chance to buy one. What could be better than picadillo or crab enchilada folded into the flaky fried dough? Memories of that taste, smell, and texture stood sharply in his memory. Later in life, he became obsessed with recreating those tender, savory turnovers. The empanadas Perez loves so much have a long history.