It's Saturday night, and everyone's waiting for the numbers to come in. Several little white balls will be selected, each ball bearing a number. A substantial monetary return is available if your ticket matches the selected ball. Sound familiar?
Pop Cuesta is standing in the middle of Jefferson High School's baseball field, just like he has for the past 37 years, watching about 20 first–and second-year students practice the hook slide, wondering what happened to the fundamentals. He shakes his head as one kid runs toward an imaginary second base and plows into the ground like a sleepy water buffalo. Pop shakes his head. He sends the young junior varsity players on a run around the outfield perimeter. "Let's go, son! Get moving," he shouts calmly. He gathers them around first base and asks, "Does anyone know what a one-way lead is?" He shakes his head again as only a few kids raise their hands. They listen closely as Pop–Coach Cuesta to them–goes over the fundamentals of base running. "Fundamentals," he will repeat repeatedly during the two-hour practice, "base running, bunting, sliding. Nobody taught them to you, so I'll have to teach you all."
Collectively, we're Latins. Ybor City Latins. West Tampa Latins. The Latin Community. We were here first. That's the deal. Newer immigrants–Dominicans, Mexicans, South and Central Americans–are arriving here daily, making Tampa one of the most diverse cities in the United States.
“Now is the time to make a decision.” Saying it, I surprise even myself. “The M. Fernandez Factory was called out yesterday, and the workers have joined the picket line. The Tampa Morning Tribune reports that Castange Ficcarrotta and Angelo Albano–two Italian anarchists–were found hanged this morning across the river in Tampa. I wait for this to sink in, and the workers, quietly setting up for a day of rolling or still shuffling into the galleria, all come to a stop. There is no collective sigh, no gasp, just their eyes watching me on the stand, and I can feel them staring; I can feel them beginning to shoulder the weight of what I have just told them. This strike has dragged on since June, the slow Florida summer doing little to alleviate the pent-up tensions. It’s all over the New York papers, too. The New York Times ran a story on Tampa’s “necktie party,” but I can’t bear to tell them that.
In 1887- 188, Tampa experienced the worst of the Yellow Fever epidemic!
Death is not always gentle or timely. As you visit Oaklawn Cemetery, Tampa's c.1850 public burying ground at Morgan and Harrison Streets, it is a jarring fact that many of the early Tampans interred in that peaceful spot died in violent and painful conditions, and many at a young age. Most of Tampa's founding families lost members in that fashion.
In 1886, Tampa was a city in transition. A small outpost on the west coast of Florida, Tampa was a community of less than 800 residents in 1880. The arrival of Henry Plant’s South Florida Railway and the establishment of the cigar industry transformed Tampa into an ethnically diverse urban center in the New South. By 1900, over 5,000 people called Tampa home.
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.
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).
Sunday, May 7, 2006, Tampa's legendary cigar industry fell silent for just a moment as a sign of respect for the death of one of its last chinchaleros (tobacco stand owner)–Vincent Ruilova, age 92. He was better known as Majomia, a Spanish nickname his friends gave him, meaning impatient or restless, describing him perfectly.
Having been on strike for 6 months, Cigar workers in Tampa called a workers’ meeting and voted to continue the strike. The Tampa Tribune reported on the meeting and called closed shops “un-American.” When the strike ended 4 months later, it had been the longest and most expensive in the Tampa cigar industry.
Several of Tampa's most notable culinary creations remind us of life's difficulties. The elongated loaves of Cuban bread betray a history of hunger and rationing during Cuba's struggle for independence from Spain. The Cuban sandwich turned those thin loaves into symbols of plenty. Tampa's deviled crab croquettes tell a similar story of want and abundance.
I am embarrassed to admit that I learned very little about West Tampa's rich history until the beginning of 2004. Then, on March 1, Judge E. J. Salcines (Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal) drove me into the historic community for a personal tour. I was privileged to begin a remarkable journey, simultaneously backward in time and forward in vision.
Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat. -Theodore Roosevelt (1858 -1919)
In the early 1940s, Justo Fulgueira worked as a cigar maker in a Ybor City factory when a shortage of cigar molds inspired him to design a fantastic machine. He would eventually become a "master mold maker," and his reputation would be known worldwide.
How were cigars made? What was the process by which tobacco was cultivated, harvested, and formed into a "Clear Havana" cigar? In this article, we'll look at the physical aspects of the cigar industry in Tampa, Florida, beginning with the opening of Vicente Martinez Ybor's factory in 1886 and through the industry's decline in the late 1930s. How did the industry develop? How did the factories operate? Who worked in them? What jobs did they perform? Though you may be familiar with the "Ybor City Story," sometimes the simple questions get overlooked.
Cities often grow because they have a fine harbor, an excellent climate, and a railroad junction. For these reasons the City of Tampa grew, and became the largest Gulf port in the state of Florida. But West Tampa, just across the Hillsborough River from Tampa, grew, not of the geographical or climatic possibilities, but because one “Tampan” (Hugh C. Macfarlane) saw an opportunity, and grasped it.