By 1939, Tampa’s cigar industry was clearly in trouble. Between 1929 and 1939, 17 factories closed, and Tampa’s cigar manufacturers employed about 5,000 fewer people than they did ten years earlier. A 1939 Tampa Times article cited “less than 20 plants which could be called ‘major.’” But in 1935, none of that mattered. In 1935, what mattered was the Cigar Industry Golden Jubilee. Over four days, the citizens of Tampa were invited to revere the industry that made the town famous.
Question: A “zarzuela” is (a) a royal palace in Spain, (b) a briar bush, (c) a Spanish operetta, (d) a seafood concoction, or (e) a Spanish word guaranteed to throw non-Spanish speaking people for a loop? Answer: All the above!
In 1886, the same year Ybor City was founded, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York Harbor. These two events are more closely linked than might appear at first glance. Between 1880 and 1890, 5.2 million immigrants entered the U.S., seeking the freedom and opportunity that the Lady in the Harbor offered. Some of these early immigrants were destined for Ybor City, and over the decades between the neighborhood's founding and 1921 (when the great tide of immigration finally began to ebb), many more came to live and work in the town that Vicente Martinez Ybor–himself an immigrant–built. This is their story, and it is up to them to say How We Got Here.
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).
"Janie, come on, get up!" she said, shaking me roughly out of a lazy Saturday morning reverie. Blinking sleepy eyes, I groaned in short-lived protest and then rolled out of bed. The gruff intruder on this humid summer morning was not my mother or one of my siblings. It was the local park director, Mochine Fernandez (pronounced "Mo-cheen"), rousing my two sisters and me to play a softball game. Quickly getting ready, we hurried out to her waiting station wagon. There were three more stops, and after rounding up her softball team, we headed across town to play ball.
When an unknown woman showed up on her doorstep, Ignacia’s life changed dramatically. As the two women spoke, she discovered the man she loved and the father of her children had a secret of his own–he had a wife in another town. The two women spent the afternoon talking, comparing their lives and trying to make sense of the painful discovery. It became clear how easy it was for this man to lead two separate lives. His job as a railroad engineer took him from town to town for long periods of time.