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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
INTERVIEWEE: Armando Lopez
INTERVIEWER: George Pozzetta
DATE: April 24, 1980
P: Can you tell me where you were born?
L: In Cuba.
P: In Havana?
L: In Havana.
P: What year was that?
L: [That was] 1904.
P: What was your father doing in Havana? What kind of work?
L: He was a cigar maker in the early times of his life, but he
was manufacturer of cigars before my mother died. After that
he lose everything he got, because that's my father's whole
life, and we mourned, very poor. Not enough to be humble,
but very poor.
P: What was life like in Havana? Can you describe what life was
L: At that time, the poor people lived so badly. Like me.
P: Not much food. .?
L: Well, [there's] enough food, because we are to get more quantity.
So, if you have your food to get more amounts of anything, then
you be satisfied with that.
P: What was your house or apartment like?
L: No I go in there in some kind of a complex that we call solares.
Solares, in the Spanish, the real meaning is "lot", but over
there it means some kind of complex with so many rooms, but
P: Individual rooms.
L: You live in, but individual rooms. They've got. .
P: How many rooms did your family have?
L: No, not my family. Me, my two brothers and my father lived
in one room. All in one room. In that room, we eat, we work,
and we sleep, you see? Everything. Because at that time, the
toilets, the service, there is supposed to be a restroom for
every twenty or thirty people. You had to go outside the
room, and go where they have to give you your .
That's my young..
P: How old were you when you came here to Tampa?
L: Seventeen years.
P: So you came in 1921?
L: [In] '22.
P: Did your brothers and your father come?
L: No. I'm by myself. My brother was in Chile, because he's
eighteen months older than me, and he went to Chile with some
kind of corporation. [It] Went to Cuba to recruit him, cigar
makers, and he was a cigar maker already, and then he went to
P: Did your father stay in Havana?
L: In Havana.
P: Was it your father that taught you how to make cigars?
L: Oh, sure. Because he was [a] manufacturer of cigars in the
early times. But after my mother died, he wouldn't
in different things. He lose everything.
P: Did the cigar makers in Cuba make good money?
L: No, not that timebecause they are families, the larger families
work was so full, that-with the, Idon't remember exactly, but
I believe it because always I work with him, and in our room.
I made the cigars from. ..
P: You made the cigars in the room?
L: Oh, sure.
P: Not in a big factory?
L: No, in big factory. When I was about sixteen years, I then
went to cigar factory.
P: What did you do with the cigars you made in the room? Did
you sell them?
L: Yeah, he sell, because there's more sized to sell for three
or four cents a piece.
P: Did you sell them to ordinary people or to an owner?
L: No. To a little store. And besides, he was salesman on the
P: What did people in Havana know about Tampa and Ybor City? Was
there much information?
L: No, at that time I don't know nothing about Tampa. One of
the--were leaving, and that's all I knew at that time. One in
and the strike from Tampa. He went with the, what. .
P: The ten month strike, in 1920?
L: Yes, that's right. He went over there because he got family.
I know him over there, and I was talking to him about Tampa,
and I make my __. I came here, to live my life. But,
when I came to Tampa before was, he wait for me in
Tampa, and bring me to Ybor City, and he went into
Went to the small buckeye. The owners had told me, "Well,
everybody here is more competent than you because, in the other
big cigar factories, maybe you can, but right here, too cheap,
too cheap." Then he repeat that word, four, five, six times--
P: Did you know what it meant?
L: Well, cheap to make. I was surprised that it was. The cheapest
are, he told me that was cheap. Five dollars a thousand.
P: To the maker?
L: To the maker.
P: That's not much.
L: But, I have to accept it because the man that brought me here
was no cigar maker. It was selector.
P: How many cigars could you make in a day? Could you make a
thousand a day?
L: No. At that time I made four, four-hundred, four-fifty.
P: So it would take you two and a half, maybe three days.
L: About 250, or something like that, and then my room and
board would cost me six, nine dollars a month. I make
nine dollars a week. Since I got nothing else, nothing
remains. I pay my room and board, laundry, and that's all.
P: Did the cigar factories in 1920s have the readers still, the
P: What do you remember about them? What kind of things did they
L: They read different things. Different literations. In the
morning they used to read the morning news. News from
different parts of the world. Especially news from Cuba and
from Spain, and the news in Tampa. Then, in the afternoon,
and after they read the news, and before noon, they
have to read thirty minutes.
P: Labor union in the news.
L: What's happening over there, what a strike in some other place,
what they made it. We call that bracera. That means "labor
press." And afternoon stories. Stories after two ,
and they have thirty minutes for the stories. Mainly the
old histories, the way you used to select more that the name of
the books, the name of the authors. [Speaking Spanish]
P: [Speaking Spanish]
L: [Speaking Spanish], the writers, the famous, the. .
P: The famous writers. ..
L: That's right.
P: Who paid the readers?
L: We paid the readers. We elect one.
P: Fellow worker.
L: Fellow workers, that we call him president eleccion, mean
elected president, and then he collect, according to our..
commitments, close to the twenty-five cents a week, thirty cents,
according to the amounts of the salary of the reader, and
take in account the biggest. The cigar factory is cheaper
than we can get because so many, and then they used to be the
famous, the most famous reader.
P: Were the readers usually Cubans, or were some of them
Spaniards or Italians?
L: Well, regularly Cubans. That don't mean that maybe some
other people, but most of them were Cubans.
P: Which factory did you work for?
L: The first factory that I worked in was a little buckeye, the
That was a small buckeye. A small one. Then I
went to the That's a little bit bigger. And then,
I went to, we call That's..
P: The big one.
L: .the big one.
P: How many workers worked there when you were working there?
L: I figure about 700.
P: How many readers would work for that number of workers? Just
one or many?
L: No. Sometimes, one reader read the news. The other readers
do the stories, because the readers specialize, someone in news,
and someone in stories because they used to chacterize according
to the (laugh) book they are reading.
P: What did the owners think of the readers?
L: At that time, the accept them because that's mining. But
after they make their minds that the readers open our eyes, our
minds, and then they think can teach us, the lectors in the
lectures, how to fight for our benefits. They don't want any
benefits for us.
P: So what did they do?
L: They tried to stop the lectors. In the time being they win,
because one time they took out the.. .
P: The platform?
L: .the platform, and then we went to strike. And we lose
P: This was in the 1930 strike?
L: About that now I don't remember exactly.
P: [In] thirty-one.
L: [In] thirty-one, that's right.
P: So after the strike was lost, the readers were gone?
L: They never won again. Because they think that the lectures
teach us how we can fight better.
P: Where did you live when you first came here in 1922? Where
was your first house?
L: The first house, Eighteenth Street and Twelfth Avenue. Right
there. On the second floor of the Miami Cafe.
P: Were there other Cubans living all around you?
L: Well, mostly Cubans, but the Spanish too. The Spanish and
some Italians in that neighborhood, because down in the
Eighth Avenue, there live many Italian people. Down toward
Eighth Avenue, Ninth Avenue, Nineteenth Street, Twentieth Street,
and up to Twenty-second and Twenty-third and Sixth Avenue, so
many Italian people. No Cubans, what around here in
P: Was there an area where most of the people were Spanish?
L: Most people were Spanish around there. Sanchez Street, Ybor
Street, little bit north. .
P: Of where the Cubans were?
L: Yeah, a little bit north and a little bit west. Over there on
Tenth Street and North Avenue, Twentieth Street, I mean Tenth
Street, Eighth Street, Ninth, Nebraska. That's they've
got more Spanish, more Cubans around here, and more Italians
over there. That don't mean that exactly. That's concentrated,
more people there, because always, three countries, we get along
good. We get along because we never fight, and that's because
we don't be people to fight. We people to live here according
to the law. We respect. Plenty respect for the law, always.
P: So these three groups of people, you say, got along very
L: Very well.
P: In the workplace, the theaters.
L: In the entertainment, the theatre, and. .
P: In churches. .
P: Where did most people go to church in Ybor City?
L: In the Catholic Church.
P: Most of the people were Catholic?
P: What was the name of this church again?
L: Our Lady's Health.
P: Of Perpetual Health, yes.
L: Perpetual Health, that's right. OLPH, we know it by the initials,
P: Would you say that the church in the early days was an important
institution in the community?
L: Yes, but not to me, because when I came here, I had to fight for
my life. I mean working, that's the main thing. I've got no
time for that. So, they went all right, the most women. .
P: Mostly women went to the church?
L: Mostly women went to the church. The men would never get into
for the church.
P: What was Seventh Avenue like in the twenties?
L: That's the main entertainment of. .
P: Describe it to me.
L: We go to the Seventh Avenue, especially on a Saturday and Sunday
to go up and down, and view the windows, ad ::that's the place
where most married couples get in touch. That's the main road
to get in touch with.
P: The young boys and the young girls.
L: That's right.
P: The mothers and fathers go too?
L: Yeah. That's at that time, and the theatre, concentrated
on the Seventh Avenue, the old theatre, they have the funny
stores, we call them That's all the time.
P: You remember playing bolita in Ybor City?
L: Sure. That's the only game we used to get, but no special to
me. I never .liked bolita because I figured out the percentage
they take, that go for prizes. I don't like that. I like the
game much. But, I never use to because everywhere when you go
to play the game, they took what we call gatta. Gatta means "the
percentage," the amount like the Jai Alai, like the horse race,
like the greyhound race, and then you put over there a dollar
in the gatta. They took thirty cents from that dollar, and they
return only seventy cents, and I don't like that.
P: Did the wages in the cigar factories go up during the 1920s?
L: No, too low. You can get the proof, and the pensions, we got
it. Social security started in thirty-seven. Then, you can
be sure there's more pensions, and every way, in every trade,
is the cigar maker. That means that the cigar maker makes less
money than anybody else.
P: What happened to the cigar factories when the Depression came?
L: Well, [they] shortened work times. I had time when there was
only three days. Three days. With that money I have to feed
my wife and my son. I had only one son. Only one, because at
that time, [it was a] crisis. We can't afford to get more food.
So our plan was to have no more children.
P: What did most people do in the 1930s when the Depression came
and many factories closed? What kind of work did the. .?
L: Nothing, if they've got nothing to do. They got no other place
to work, especially the cigar makers. That's one thing that you
cannot be sure of, and we resented that at that time, but if you
review the laws and the contract, you can see that the law has
to compel men that know that they don't leave because we are
Spaniards. Her name was such and such that they-didn't go to
any place else. Even in the best store, they don't employ
Latin women. After then, the law changed, and then they compel
P: To employ these people.
L: They went to the school, and even with their high school
diploma, they don't employ over there.
P: This is in the old days?
L: I'm talking about the old days. Because the law changed the
minds of the people. Even those manufacturers, working
They don't lose anything if they employ different
peoples, because they working like the other peoples.
P: Do you remember any other instances of this discrimination
against the Latin people in the early days?
L: In every way. We can't go to some other places like
Clearwater, because they've got signs, "We don't like Latin
people, even dogs."
L: Really. That over there. Over there, right here in Tampa, we
call That's we call crackers. But they used
to fight with anyone that gone over there if they are Latin
people. We got jealous some time of young people that fighting
too, we went over there to get fights, too.
L: Not me, because Inever went so. And any place, I don't think
that they like me, if I think that you don't like me, you can
be sure that I ignore you.
P: Did you join one or more of the clubs here in Ybor City?
L: Yeah, I joined the Cuban Club. They give me some kind of
and some Sometimes, if I get sick, they give
me a small amount of money. Two dollars a day, for thirty or
forty days the most, because when you pay, it's only a small
amount of money. And other societies, that we call
We call that means, consumers store belongs to the
peoples that, in that year that they joined. Then we go over
there to buy our groceries, and pay the amount, and then
at the end of the three quarters, three months is quarter,
a quarter of a year. They give some kind of dividends. We
call dividends, that's the profits that we make in that days.
P: Is this still in existence?
L: No. When the war, the war coming. .
P: The war? When the war was coming?
L: Everybody went out, because we have to work over there for a
small amount of dividends. Most of our members think that
they can, at that time, work in another place. So we, be
only twenty or twenty-five only, that remain because we had
more, more. Somethings where they could put even
at the end, we get tired too. And then go.
P: Do you belong to the Cuban Club now?
L: No I lose my membership over there in the thirty-seven. When
the crisis came, I went to New York, with the mind to remain in
New York, but I don't like that life.
P: Did you live with Cuban people in New York as well?
L: With the family. My sister my brother,_ ,
but I don't like that kind of life, and then return, and came
home in eleven months. I'd be back. Then, I lose my membership
in the Cuban Club.
P: Were there other people than Cubans who belonged to the club?
L: Oh, sure.
P: Spanish people?
L: Oh, sure, they don't discriminate. Even if you are a China, you
can belong to the Cuban Club if you want to, or any of the others.
Naturally, the most is Cuban.
P: Yeah. But even in the old days, you didn't necessarily have to
L: No, only to be president, do you have to be Cuban. That's the
only, privilege the Cubans got. To be president, you have to
be Cuban, or a son of any Cuban. The same goes for the Spanish
Club, too. The Spanish had the same thing.
P: What were the World War II years like here? Was it a
prosperous time? Did the people get jobs?
L: Yeah. In wartime, they don't usually, [go] to the beach,
so they give orders to make the other _. They go
and then that time can be so strict with the. .
P: The money.
L: Oh, the money.
P: Were you working in the cigar factories during World War
L: Well, I went to where they make tugs.
P: On the boat docks?
L: Yeah. I don't remember the name of the place, but I only went
six or nine months because I had an accident, and they gave
me my discharge. At that time, I was thirty, thirty-five, so, I
have to go over there or get drafted.
P: Were you living in Ybor City when the urban renewal came?
P: What did you think of that?
L: This is a nasty thing they do, because they can do it a better
way. They could do it, tearing down one block, because the
business in that block was, Then, they built it up
and gave it to all the peoples.
P: When did you come and live here, in Hacienda?
L: I believe it was October, 1972.
P: Are most of the folds that live here Cuban?
L: Most are Cuban, but not exactly, because we got a wait here. In
the building where I was living, there were twenty people and thirty
Cubans. But we've got fifty apartments over there. Only now is
the minority Cuban.