Interviewee: Lillie Rosalita Cannella Ferlita
Interviewer: Gary Mormino
Date: May 15, 1980
M: Tell me something about your parents. Were your parents dead? I am
interested in that.
F: I was nine years old when we went to Italy.
M: So you were born in Tampa but went back to Italy right?
F: Yeah. And married Brian Rawlins. After I got married I came back to Tampa.
M: What do you remember about going back to Sicily as a young girl of nine. What
year would that have been? What year were you born, if you don't mind me
F: I was born in New Orleans.
M: No, what year though?
F: The year, I remember the year you see, I mean October.
M: Okay, 1900 you were born then all right, okay. Right, yeah, that is amazing.
What did they tell you about Sicily? What did you expect Sicily to be like when
you went back?
F: Right before, the main thing that when we went back to Palermo, See it was my
family and another one that worked together always __ that came to Italy too.
And they'd go around and us kids, we were two or three story high, so that
natural, people that were around there they kept saying __ In Italian it says,
you brought any money with it. And being able we were a bunch of kids we
would all saying, Yeah, Wanda, Wanda look how many kids over here and
she said, no, denada, denada. I'll never forget that.
M: The you have a lot of money cause you __
F: Yeah, __
M: Why, now why did your father go back?
F: My father wanted to go back.
M: Oh, he was homesick?
F: No, he was, came to Italy from Italy I don't know how he was when he came and
he married my mother in New Orleans and we stayed there.
M: What did your father do in New Orleans?
M: Business, ah-ha, do you know what type of business it was?
F: Well, like, anything that you needed in the house, cooking and different things.
M: And what did he do when he moved back to Sicily?
F: Oh, when he went back to Sicily, he had a __
M: In English.
F: wasn't it, like a __ It was open, draining all the time. And what killed him
was that cause he closed it up.
M: Is that right?
F: __ living. __ you know, four or five times during the day and my mother
would get up a clean rag and put another one on. It was like that all the time, but
___ was very active.
M: He was a young man when he died?
M: What type of business... Is that right.
F: Thirty-three or thirty-six. From New Orleans, we went from New Orleans first.
M: Right, right, how old were you when he died?
F: I was nine years old when we went to Italy.
F: I must have been about eleven.
M: Do you remember the funeral over there? Can you recollect...
F: Wel,l the funeral over there I remember. My mother got into the window and
hollered her head off, poor thing, __ you know they bring the car, the coffin, I
don't know what they do now, but they just bring it, people bring it, six people
bring it and they come around the corner from where we had the house our
house was right around the corner and naturally everybody was crying and then
when they bury them they had a place where they bury him and my mother had
just, she refused to, in New Orleans in business all the time, well, in Italy she had
to stay in house, there was nothing to do. She was __ a business by herself,
so finally she decided to come back to America. Instead of going back to New
Orleans, she didn't want to go back to New Orleans because too many
memories, so came to Tampa, that's, I was nine years old when I came to here. I
was nine when we went.
M: Describe Santa Maria de la Encina.
F: Well, Santa Maria de la Encina. It was a town, it had a lot of people in it, a lot of
people and they had festivals you know, sometimes they had to go way out of
town to, for the festival and they take their donkey and whatever they had to go
and the they __ the third floor was where the cooking pot is because the
smoke had to get out, they couldn't go down you see they had to go all the out, it
was a beautiful home, beautiful home. Marble stairs, the first steps all marble and
that was my job every morning before going to school was to clean them. I can
just picture it all beautiful white.
M: Tell me now, so your family, your father was not a Contodino then, in Sicily.
Before he left, before he left for New Orleans what did he do? Do you
F: He was a kid, I guess, he must have been a young boy. My father died over
there. My mother came here. He had a grocery store.
M: What do you remember about the churches in Santa Maria de la Encina?
F: Well, the church, they don't have too many church, I don't know now. But they
only had two churches in Santa Maria de la Encina.
M: You spoke, what languages did you speak when you went back? Did you know
M: Did you have a hard time adjusting with your friends, since you had been raised
F: No, because you know like I said when we stopped in Palermo and all of us kids
you know were like one of the family. There were three families that were
around. And the people across the street, I can just picture there were like nine
in all people that lives there and __ I didn't know how to write in Italian, so
when I went there they gave me the first lines and I tried to write them in English,
there would have been zeros all the time. So I just had to start all over again
from the bottom, so like I said I was nine years old.
M: Did you want to come back to America, as a young girl?
F: __ twelve years old, and my mother, my mother__ New Orleans were the
business all the time. Over there my mother had to stay in the house. There
was no communication, lets go to see this friend, or the other friend. Especially
after my father died my mother didn't care to see anybody anyway. And my
father had the horse, he had a horse and he had it downstairs in the house, you
know. And that's the first floor for that the second floor was marble stairs and
that was my job every morning, I will never forget it, every morning cleaning up
job and it was white, nice and pretty. And the stove, made a built in stove with
the __ that go in, I think they use them someplace around here __ I don't
think this is and we are down here.
M: At that time were many people coming to America from Santa Maria de la
M: Why did most of them come to America?
F: They came to America from other there to see the difference you know, like I said
over there they have a country, the food __ there was you know, they had a
place where the, buy the meat or buy the wine, but it couldn't be brought in __
like that. So people just stayed there and sit and sit like my mother after my
father died, but she wouldn't dare go out any place, sit and sit and sit and she
says, I can't stay there.
M: When you came back to America did you come back with anyone, other than
M: Did anyone accompany you?
F: The other family that came with us, they didn't want to come back, they stayed
over there, and my grandmother, my father's mother she had __ children, they
all died, he was the only one who lived. We had a bad trip going up and there
was an excuse that she took out that she didn't want to come back, she didn't
want to go through that again you know, and time from New Orleans to New
York, the boat sunk all the way in and all that water rushed in, oh my lord I can
just picture it now. Everybody howling and crying and. ..
M: Anyone die?
M: How did you get from Santa Stefano to Palermo?
F: W ell...
M: To leave, to leave.
F: Well, they had like a horse and wagon you know and they would take you.
M: Caretta __ right.
F: And some of the __ I mean in the city they all just kept asking about the
F: __ beacher and I say yeah, look how many we got for kids, and just like that
I'll never forget.
M: Do you remember the voyage between New York from Palermo?
F: Oh yes, sure.
M: What do you remember about it?
F: Well, my __ trip. Like I said my mother, my grandmother didn't want to come
back because we had a bad trip going up and she had a little house over there.
She had, I don't know how many children she had and they all died, my father
was the only one that lived and he had like a pistol. See that when we went to
Italy that closed up. __ up and down, up and down you know in the country
just to do something, he had some people to work on him, but no, they wouldn't
dare let the owners go walk and the worker was going to have to ride on like
a horse, they wouldn't dare do that, no sir-ee. And that was that.
And my grandmother had the little house over there, so she had I don't know who
was the woman __ had an __ made. And in __ they told my grandmother
this boy Dominic, the name and everything was going to die on the trip and it was
M: What did he die of?
F: Pneumonia or something like that.
M: How old was he?
F: He was, let's see I was nine, ten, eleven, I was eleven. He must have been
about six or seven, little kid.
M: Do you remember the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island?
F: Oh yeah, sure.
M: What did you think when you saw the Statue of Liberty?
F: Well we, I was going from Tampa, I mean from New Orleans to Italy, already had
known __ a lot of things you know and then coming back. Then my brother
like I said, when my mother told him when we separated he says, you are not
going to reach it to America and it was true. He told my mother, he says you
know what momma told me that I am not going to reach America. It was true,
__ but I mean wanted to take him straight to New Orleans you know, or
to Tampa either one but he wouldn't do it. Just as I got the money for it and
M: When you arrived in Tampa what did you think of Tampa? This is about 1912,
when you came through? What were your first impressions of Tampa, Ybor
F: Well, it was different then. You know we stayed mostly in Stanford. There are a
lot of Italian people there in the west Tampa section.
M: Right, what was that like? Describe west Tampa when you were a little girl.
F: Well, I had to go back to school.
M: But did you know any English at all?
F: Well, no you forget you know we were there for about three years, little more
than three or four years and when I went to west Sanford, we lived in west
Sanford __ first house and from there I was like I say, I was twelve years old
when I came back, I got married fifteen, engaged one, that makes fourteen and
being that there was a man in the family then my mother kept talking you know
with my husband if they would like to go back to New Orleans so the
over there with the business and everything and he says, yeah, let's go, so we
went to New Orleans.
M: So you went back to New Orleans, right?
M: When you were nineteen. Describe your courtship, how did you meet your
F: How, he used to, they had a big place.
F: No, not __ __ is the other family. His was, and then they had next to
them there was a relative of my grandmother's right next to them see and he was
engaged to get married, my husband, so being that he, bring me up to the sky, I
was so smart you know, so young and I knew the Italian language and the
English language and all that stuff, he brought me up to the sky. So, there was
___ and there was a cousin of mine that was a young boy, very sick
that lived in west Stanford and the doctor told, told the __ if you could find
somebody that has some good wine, he says, don't buy it in the store, so
somebody who has the real good wine will help him to come back. So, right
next to the, ah, __ which was, you had the wine there, was this friend, my
grandmother's brother, and he lived in Italy, in America so naturally she rose me
up to the sky, I was so smart you know __ __ teaching some kids in Italian
and so my husband came over there and brang the wine and my grandmother
kept telling us, when are we going to eat the cookies or candies, when are we
going to eat them? You know like a wedding, for the wedding and she says, oh I
don't know, maybe when I get married I will come and live around here. Here,
__ intentions with me see __ And naturally when she come over there like
that and then my husband brought the wine and being that they were selling
bread so my husband, my mother says you know you bring us bread everyday,
so he was there everyday and every night. Come by just for company, not to get
married. No just to keep company.
M: Did you need a chaperone then?
F: Well, we never were alone.
M: Never were alone.
F: Oh, to go some place the others had to go. Everybody goes together you
M: Where would you go and date in west Tampa then?
F: In west Stanford we lived in, I can't remember the name of the street),
somewhere, I just can not remember.
M: That's okay.
F: I know it is in west Tampa. I got some relatives that live there, cousins you know.
So then he used to bring us the bread everyday. So my grandmother she was a
type, you know, inquisitive you now trying to find things and kept saying now
when are you going to get married and he says well it won't be too long and
that's one thing that I will never forget. He says it won't be too long, he says,
because I got customers around here see, so I come by and drink some coffee
every time I come. So then my mother kept telling me that this women that was
___ house came to ask to marry her, that is what she said. You know my
mother used to give __ you know __ to me. And she was laughing and
saying, you know what, man never brought the bread or the wine and says he
wants to marry me. And I said what, it is up to you. __ it is up to you. __ you
want to do it, then she starts laughing and she says, oh it is for you. It was so
different then, nobody went out you know. They had to __ chaperone with
them. I ought to go out every __ everywhere. Out of the states and
M: Did you have any desire to be a cigar worker?
M: Did many of your friends work in the factory?
F: They had plenty.. ..
M: Why not?
F: Well because I was fifteen when I got married, I was one year engaged so
that makes fourteen, what I did a few days, I would teach other kids school. I
had a bunch of kids you know, give me maybe a dollar for the week and I used to
teach them Italian.
M: Did you help in the bakery store?
F: Bake bread?
M: Bake bread.
M: No, now was __ ..
F: The house is still standing.
M: Is that right. Is it near ? The original __ bakery in east Tampa, in west
F: Ah, no.
F: West Tampa, we lived in __ homes. Then we got this house that was, big
house, two-story house. I think they built the house. __ built, two-story house
and my sister and my mother, my father died there and my mother died too. And
my sister she was living with us too. __ you know. And she __ always in
school together going to Catholic schools. And she had a good time with __
She lost her husband too.
M: Did you or your mother ever go back to Sicilly?
F: Yeah, my mother died when she very young. Then we went to __ Louisiana.
M: Is that near Napoleonville, or Iberia, New Iberia?
F: That is in New Orleans.
M: What did you do in New Orleans?
F: Well, we had, I think we had a business in New Orleans.
M: How long were you there in New Orleans? How many years before you came
back to Tampa?
F: Well, back to Tampa, Larry was born in __
M: No, but how long were you in New Orleans though?
F: That is what she said. Well from Italy.
M: Then you came back to Tampa.
F: Then we came back from Tampa.
M: Then you went to New Orleans.
F: After I was married.
M: Then how long did you stay there before coming back to Tampa?
F: You mean from New Orleans to Tampa?
M: Right, right, again. Right, she did come back to Tampa though? Why did you
come back to Tampa from New Orleans?
F: Well, my husband.
M: Oh, he wanted to come back?
M: What did he do in Tampa when you came back?
F: He had a business like sandwiches or something, what was that. . A bar.
M: Right, where was that located?
F: It was in Tampa, I don't know where. That is where we lived on Twenty-Second.
M: Okay, so it is in Ybor City.
F: It was a house. That is where we lived.
M: What was Ybor City like in those days, in the old days?
F: Everyone was very friendly, everybody was very, just a few people had cars, you
know, and everybody walked, go to the movies and not too much.
Then from there I went to __ Louisiana and I think Mary was born in __
M: Do you remember any of the strikes in Ybor City the labor strikes, cigar strikes?
F: See, I never went to factories.
M: No, but living in Ybor City do you remember any of the 1921 strike. Do you
remember that one?
F: Well, I know they used to have strikes, but being that I didn't never went __
There is a lot of people, a lot of in my family __
M: What about the depression?
F: Well, I guess it was __ You couldn't get too much stuff. I got bread, then the
other stuff if you could get away with you would get away with it you'd get away
with it, that is all.
M: Right, now __ was that your husband's too or was that Sam's other
F: That was some other ours was Ferlita.
M: Ferlita, and it was a bar.
F: And then was one branch of we lived in the same street and were
M: How long did you live in Ybor City, how many years before you moved out?
F: __ I lived there long because a very nice house.
M: What was your maiden name? [Directed to woman in the background, "BW."]
BW: My maiden name was Rodriguez.
M: Rodriguez, Cuban or Spanish?
M: How did the, when you were a young girl, how did the Cubans and Italians get
along in Ybor City?
F: They did get along, they didn't do too much going out, damn cause someone
could be watching you when you went out with someone __ take a tail with
M: What about, did you spend much time at the Italian club, __ Italiana?
F: __ special
M: Right, would you describe those, what you remember about them?
F: Well it was nice __ dinners ;you know, to eat and then out dancing, it was nice.
____ two weeks ago? __
M: Will you go up to the ballroom on the third floor?
F: __ people was dancing, eating and dancing.
M: Well, I would like to thank you very much, very interesting.
M: [Speaking to background woman.]
[End of the interview.]