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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY-YBOR CITY, ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEWER: GARY MORMINO
DATE OF INTERVIEW: July 6, 1984
PLACE OF INTERVIEW: YBOR CITY, TAMPA
Eugenio Rodriguez was born in 1899 in Havana, Cuba. Eugenio's father had
left Spain for Cuba in the same year. The family then moved to Tampa in
1901. Eugenio grew up in Tampa. Most of the interview deals with
Eugenio's life in Tampa, first as a child and later as a cigar worker.
The interview is short and Mr. Rodriguez's voice is difficult to understand
in a number of places. However, Mr. Rodriguez recalls in detail going to
work in the cigar factory at the age of thirteen. He recalls his
employers, various employees, and the factory, as well as the strike of
1910. He remembers that translators used to read novels and the news to
the workers. Mr. Rodriguez concludes the interview by'discussing Christmas
celebrations among the cigar workers in Ybor City.
Interviewee: Eugenio Rodriguez
Interviewer: Gary IMrmino
Place: Ybor City
Date: July 6, 1984
H: Mr. Rodriguez, could you tell me something about your grandparents?
R: iy what?
M: Your grandparents?
R: VM grandparents. Well, the one that I really knew well was my mother's mother.
She died when she was ninety-six years old. She was from the Canary Islands.
M: Uh-huh. She was islanio.
R: But my grandfather on my mother's side died when she was a kid. Well, on my father's
side, my grandmother, of course I was there when I was seventeen and I met her, but
"I didn't meet my grandfather because he died.
M: Um-hm. Right.
R: He was seventy years old and my grandmother waa / she died of and
this one that was my mother's mother, she died at ninety-six.
M: Um hm. What kind of work did they do in Spain? What occupation?
R: The fields.
M: They were farmers?
R: Farmers. They live in the, well, they have a pretty big farm because of work.
When it comes to knowing all the dates and places up there in the mountains, you calcul:
you know, how much you're going to get when the old man dies. Well, my father got a
thousand dollars and there were nine kids. They were pretty healthy. They have a,
fields, you know___
but my grandmother left that little village I believe since she married my grandfather.
and the same happened with my uncle. The only one that left the area were two other'
brothers, you know, and three of them, but the rest of them, they were born and died
in the same little village you know and
M: Thaat was the name of that village?
M: Tdhat was the name of that village?
R: Las Villas.
M: Las Villas. Okay, and was that in Esturias or Gallicias?
R: Was a real small village. What?
M: Esturias or Gallicias?
R: Asturia, no.: Asturias.
R: Gallicia is father west of,;you know, because Asturia is you know, and
Gallicia is another proithce. You know, we have forty-nine provinces in Spain.
M: And they all speak
R: They speak a dialect. Course the main language is Spanish, but they talk their own
dialect and the Asturia is the more intelligent, you see, cause the Gallegos, they
R: nd the Catalonians and ... In the southern part of Spain is where they speak
better language, you know. In Valencia and Sevilla, they have more, better Spanish.
in the school they speak Spanish. In all the schools, but everybody, they
speak their own dialect in the little towns. Sometimes from one province to another
you don't know what they are talking about. The Camalonians, they have a kind of d,:--:
-hat is hard to understand and the Gallicians are -he same. Or Gallegos, they call them
'Chey are really, you know..
M: Tell me something about Las Villas, what kind of town it was. Was it a village or
a town or how many people lived there?
R: don't believe there were four hundred people, ard the of being a
-he people leave off their work. Once in a while they may sell a young cow or something
you know for the clothes, but outside in those days, they leave out of the work, a
R: working in the field you know. Raising corn and meet and all the things that are, and
wool. Of course I remember that well because although it was a long
time ago, when I came from there that was in 1916, I came in 1917. That's quite a few
M: Well, we'll talk about that in just a second. In Las Villas, where there any churches?
R: Churches? Yeah, there was a main church because there were three small towns, one on
M: What were the names of the towns?
R: Oh, one of the towns was Noceda.
M: No ?
M: Noceda, okay.
R: Noceda. And the other one, Tolinas
R: Tolinas. Tolinas. That was, well, those two small towns they used to
come to us because that's where there was a church.
M: What was the name of the church?
R: I don't, I don't know. You know, every of those little towns in Asturias, they have wha
is called a patron. Well, in the little town next to _, that is Noceda it was
St. Anthony and the place where I was it was was Corpus Christi. In Las Villas it
was Corpus Christi. In Corpus Christi they have a feast for about a week you know. All
those little towns, when the patron come, they have a feast for at least a week. And,
M: Right, right.
R: I enjoy pretty well until they told me that I had to work. I didn't like the idea of
working in the fields over there.
M: How old were you when they told you that?
R: In -he summer, in the winter time it's all right because you start about eight o'clsok
in -he morning and later after three in the afternoon, it's almost dark. But in -he
R: summertime ten o'cicsk is, and in the morning, three o'clock it's already
daylight. You know, you come to look at Spain is parallel with the state of
New York. But I think it's a little farther north than New York so naturally, the
summers are very long and the winters are very short. And
M: Where was
R: and just working the field, I
M: Was Las Villas in the mountains?
R: What's that?
M: Was Las Villas in the mountains?
R: They had very nice stretches of wood orf and
M: Blue earth'?
R: They had the best wheat in the world in there. The wheat, they raised the wheat and
they raised the corn. ey armed the potatoes and the greens, you know. We had a
little garden there that is always, we planted with vegetables, see, and had the
potatoes and the collard greens and believe me, that is what we ate.
There was not much meat.
M: How about cidres? Cidres?
M: The cider, the apple wine, the apple cider?
R: Oh, well, everyone of there is very __they have a, several apple trees and
believe me they make a qui;e a few gallons of, bottles of cider and not sweet, our
cider. Yeah. Believe me, I used to go at night and have
two or three bottles of that cider and i- was just, very strong because they don't
Just as soon as it is made, they let it ferment and when a certain time
of the year comes in the fall, then it has fermented enough. And then,they start to
drink. at right and drir_. Drink beer.
M: What about the SebaA a, the bagpipes?
R: Oh, the ell, is the main instrument when they dance the
whatever they call it, and use tambourines, you know.
R: the girls play the tambourine and sing and dance and dancing a you know.
And the main dancers were what they called the jotas. Or there's another one that
goes round and you know, everybody goes round. And then that one, they call him
R: No, no, no, no. I just mentioned the name right now and then I forgot it.
Well, I hope that it..........and the girls are the music. They sing and they play
G: The tambourine?
SR: Yes, and they dance. And they have a very good time.
M: What about the history of the village in terms of the, of Spanish history. What about
the Moors and Asturias?--
R: Oh, well let me tell you, I think they did much damage than. they did before
that. And then you know, the Moors, you get so Asturia. You know, Asturia is
a very, very mountainous country. You hardly find a level space and you go up or down,
unless in the mountains there are valleys, that they are, where they have the grass-
for the, for the stock. Where they graze and then in the summertime, you know, they
cut the grass and they clear the reed and that's where, that's the way they, that's
the way of living. In other words, you take my grandmother. I think that when she got
in that house, and you know the houses there, they are like fortresses. The walls are
about that thick.
M: What are they made of?
R: Oh, the bricks they are made about that big and I think a eanon can hardly blow do-wn
one of those old houses, but of course, I am talking about seventy years ago or more.
In a way, you know, if I came back I, here to Tampa, right away I
I an never wanting to about going back there and then my father married
another woman and we didn't like the idea because we were sick with
R: ._ No matter how nice the other woman may be, but there is always the
R: step-mother idea. Once I was not here when she caze back, cause they went back to
Spain in 1920, was already 52 or 53 and then he met this other woman and he married
her and he have four little kids with her. When he die, the youngest one was twenty-foL
and already have children.
M: Um hm. Right.
R: a long life.
I: When did, when did, how old were you, how old were you when you first heard of Cuba
or Tampa? Was there a long history in your village of
R: When I came over here, I was, they brought me when I was six months old.
IM: Six months old.
R: In 1900.
M: You came to Cuba or Taipa?
M: From Las Villas.
R: Yes, and my father / in Havana, Cuba, see? And he was here in Tampa the first
time in 1893 or something like that
M: Uh huh. And his name was
R: And you know it meant you almost had to go to Port Tampa, get the boat and go there,
the same as if you went to another part of town. And naturally, and when. he got married
-rs A-merican war those days. See, '97 he got married,
'98 was the war, and I was born in '99. And
M: You were born in 1899
R: 1899. October.
G: Where were you born?
R: I was born in Havana, Cuba but they brought me here when I was six months old. I have
a picture of, that was taken on 4,, IK Street when the sidewalks were made of boards
R: My father could have bought a half of on Franklin Street for fifty
dollars, but he didn't have intelligence enough to, or you know.....Not exactly,
they were not thinking, you know, about money. But if they would have thought about
money, it would have, they would have owned half of Franklin Street. Fifty dollars
for the lot.
M: Where, what'd your father do it Tampa? As far as, well, let's hear first, what did
your father do in Havana?
R: My father went to Havana in 1889. He left Spain when he was twenty years old. And he
came to Havana in 1889. And then as I said, you know, he came here in 1901. By tugboat.
And we live here ever since. Outside from me going to Chicago but the rest of the
family, they live here most of their lives.
M: Now, how do you know so much about Las Villas?
M: How do you know about Las Villas?
M: No, Las Villas in Asturias.
R: What do I know about it?
M: Yeah, I mean, but how, did you liv-e there as a young boy?
R: I, I live there in my grandmother's house.
M: Okay, but you were born in Havana.
R: I was born in Havana. And my father got married in Havana and my mother was born
there. But my grandmother was born in the Canary Islands
M: Right, right,right. But when did you live in Spain?
R: In Spain?
R: When did I live in, wait. Now I went to Spain in 1915, and we live there for t.o
years in that little town. In -ha. little town as I said, if there were
there were too many. There was about four hundred people ..
M: Okay, I've got my chronology okay. Was your father a cigar maker?
R: Ch, yeah.
M: How did he learn the trade?
R: That was the main, that was the main way of making your living right here in this town
up to about 1920. Right here in Wes- Tampa alone there was about ten or twelve ci-ar
factories. Some of them used to employ oh, five hundred people. There was few of
them made. Few but, an outsider and in New York City, the same. It was hardly no other
kind of trade in this town. They used to call it the cigar city. Tampa was called the
-cigar city because it was known all over for that.
G: Didxi't they make cigars in Havana?
G: No. What did he do in Havana?
R: .No. When I went, when I went to Spain, I was about fifteen. I was learning the trade an
my father, I got a kind of a _. He got a notion to send me to the mountains
so I went to Havana because there I had my grandmother, and my grandmother's two sister:
G: In Havana.
R: They'd have a dry good store. Another one, they had what they called a bazaar
Another one have a Spanish, how you call
that, what the Spanish, small, small bank of Spain in Havana. And they were all three
well-off. Iy father used to live there. because in those days you only have
to go to Port Tampa, get in the boat, go over there, come back next day or next week.
There was none of the tape of going or coming out of these -owns. Now you have to have
passports, and well, I don't know, I don't know about now because I have been li-ving
steady here Who can tell that easy because I go by the year.
_Only a couple of them
You know I was born in October you see.
G: October what?
G: 16. My son was born on October 16th.
G: Yes. yes..
M: What kind of work did your father do? Cigar maker?
R: That's all.i-
M: How did he learn, how did he learn the trade?
R: He learn in Havana.
I f: Well, how, in the cigar factory. And you know, in those days, you have to, the
apprenticeship was three years and they didn't used to pay you a cent. They only
give you room and board. In Havana. Well, that's where he learned the trade. As I said,
and then you take for instane the nineteen hundred cigar factories tried to come to
Tampa. And for, oh, for about twenty years, he was known all over the United States
Tampa make cigars famous. Cause, in those days it was all hand-made. It was no machine,
R: Um hm. And what type of work did he do with cigars?
M: Well, as you know, when you do it by hand, you do all, the whole thing you do it by
hand. He never became a seledore?
R: There is no there is no molds, there is nothing. Now, of course they don't,
thereis no handmade now. Everything is made by machine.
M: Did he ever become a selector or a buncher?
R: Well, yes. He proceeded to take the crafters. They are the ones that find the cigars
and select it, you know, by color and by braids and then, that is a fact
and then the selectors select. you know because is done
by a selector. But now everything is done mechanically you see. And
you have to learn to take piece by piece and mold it in your hand until it was, it was
kind of, don't think that it took, it took pretty long to learn the trade. For that
very reason they used to, took three years right here and then the manufacturers
R: were Spanish and they were the cheapest, bfitcctT men there is. They never give
out presents or nothing free. They were not that kind of people took over the hrade
and they were more generous. They used to be the ....._ or ....... but the
Spaniards, the only thing they used to do is hire you maybe when you need it most. But
they were really, they were very, a very bad 4 very bad.
M: Did your father belong to Central BetnrTiT de Havana?
R: Well, he me into Central Ea i o because he belonged to the Central
Es1tdia n in Havana, cause you know those Centrals in Havana, they are very well
you know, they are what you call mutual
M: Mutual aid..
R: Mutual societies. Just- t_help the ones who need it. Just imagine for the dollar
a month you used to get the hospital and the doctor, everything. Even here, unusual.
A dollar and a half a month, you used to get medical care, hospital if you were there
two months or one day. And you need an operation, anything. Only for one dollar and a
half a month. Well, right now through the Central Eepa l, cause I belong to the
Central -Esen-l, I pay nine dollars a month and I get, I get sick and I go there and
don't cost me a cent.
M: Right, yeah.
R: And then of course you know they are on the medicare, you see. And they are even better
off than before because now they charge medicare for my staying there, so
M: What, what do you remember about growing up in Tampa? VWhere did you live?
R: Well, we, the only thing I remember when I went to school and we would play ball all
the time, when I would act good, you see, we go to school, first I went to Spanish
M: Which one?
R: Oh, that don't exist for the last hundred years. And you know, and then when we learned
the Spanish, that was about eight or eight years old, we were in my father's
Was a Catholic school. And there the nuns try to get through
M: What was that, the nuns what?
M: Too finicky?
R: He took first from the convent and send it what he used to call it in
R: Used to call it in those days free school cause we didn't pay nothing and the convent
my father used to pay sixty cents for each kids. And that was plenty in those days, in
1908 and9'. There were
M: Where, where did you live in Ybor City? What was your address? Your first home?
R: I, the first home was right in West Tampa.
M: West Tampa. So you, and you went to, ,
R: When I, what I remember only since I was three years old, something like that, that
there was a big fire, and it burned half of it down from up to the woods and.
then to the woods right around there. It was very unpopulated. It would be in
what they called Santa factory. They were building the factory then, and I
remember it so well that if I, if I close my eyes I could see the smoke. And it was
M: 1903, well,,,
R: Well, that's the reason one of my sisters died. Cause she was the baby, my mother was
"-bt breast feeding her and maybe her milk went bad or something. Anyway, she got sick
G: She was the twin? No, no-.
R: No. No they, that took the first one.
And then I was the third and then was this one and my sister, the and then
this other baby that died. And my father got kind of sick and he was seventy and
he have that, he didn't have it. His father had that house in Spain, you lknow, 6t:
for the last two or three hundred years I imagine. And he was, the doctor say, well,
R: Frank, I don't believe you'd live six months, and he got scared in the facil
cause there was my mother, my grandmother/and four kids and himself, so they took us
to Spain in 1904 or 5
G: All of you?
R: All of us. Seven of us. And then it was there, we got there in April and we came
back in September He got well and he told his father that welcome
back to Tampa. And his father, my grandfather, he didn't want me to come because you
know, my father didn't like the idea to in that little town. Town
Swas a village, I guess there might have been thirty or forty houses, you know, and then
he was, in 1905, that. was a long time ago, and I remember it really well. I remember
really well when I went because you know, your mind is very present when you are young.
And you remember things barely that happened last week. Cause they stay in your mind
M: And when did you return to Tampa? Or did you return to Cuba or Tampa?
R: No, no. We came back, well, we arrived, you know, when you go from here to Spain,
you go to Cuba, to Havana to take the boat to get to Spain. When you come back, come
back to Cuba and then you come back here. We went up there in 190- and we came back
here in 1906.
M: Um hm. To West Tampa?
R: Yeah, the whole family. We bought a house right here on Chesnut Street. We bought
a house on Chesnut street that was , brother Joe was born. And Aruina. Those two
were born there and there's where my mother died. And that's where
(Tape A, side 1 ends here)
M: When, do you remember the some of the strikes? Do you remember the 1910 strike in
West Tampa? La Huelga de
R: I, the one that I remember well is in 1910. Used to call it the seven-month strike ar.5
then when I left here in 1919, then -here was another strike in the twenties, and thae
strike was ten months old. It was a question, and if it wasn't for those strikes, I
R: think most of the still lve here. Cause yoqu know, they could not make enough
cigars. There was the strike breakers, and you know in those days, to call a person
strike worker was the worst thing you can call, and you watch out for the recognition
of the union. For now they have the union because the government let them have it, see.
Otherwise there would be no union, and if they won't have been those strikes, I think
they, the industry would still be well-established here.
M: What was West Tampa like during the 1910 strike?
R: were paid. I think the only, the best paid was usually on Main Street.
Then the other ones, they were not even paid. I remember __ kid, eight, nine, ten
years old, the cars' used to pass in front of the house of the boy. It was mormon,
was Mormon aind-they used to go to Blue Field when Blue Field was a big
PT _, they used-to go ahead and shoot deers in there and they used to come and
pass Sunday afternoon with a deer on his side of the car and you know,
M: During that 1910 strike, two people were hanged during the strike. Do you remember
that? During a disturbance.
R: Yeah, that was Albano.
M: Albano and Picaroto.
R: Picaroto, yes.
M: Do you remember that?
R: Well, of course I remember that. They, you know there was a, wha- they called a
citizen's committee. They used to go with separate cars they used to have.
Each one of them have a big rifle in their hand to scare the peoples, and they said
that they were the instigator of that strike, that They were two nice
persons. And they shoot them and then they hang them the bodies. Of course, they shoot
them and then -hey hang them. It appeared that they were hanged, but -hey were really
M: Did your father take part in the strike?
R: No, my father was neutral. No, my father stayed home for seven nmnths.
R: in those days. And most of the grocery stores, they were owned you know by Cutsns cr
nice families and they usel to give credit to the people all and there was
no way of getting the money from the place. The only thing that I was lucky th:t my
father bought that house although in those days they had no use or reason for -hat one
or that one. They used to pay three dollars a week rent. In those days, 1910, -7
father already owned a house so we didn't have to pay no rent. But we used to eat a lot
of beans and then the beans were pretty cheap in those days.
M: When did you, what was your first job?
R: -My what?
M: Your first job.
R: My first job? The cigar-factory.
M: How old were you?
R: Well, thirteen.
M: Thirteen, uh huh. How'd you get a job?
R: Well, I got the job through my father knew a foreman and they give me the job. They
didn't have to pay me anyhow. And used to do all the cleaning up after everybciy went
away. There were four,five other people working. We used to use the broom, clean
the place for nothing and then they, when we start to make the cigars, it was 7ossi'ble
that he used to pay us nothing. We were They didn't h=-ve to
M: What factory did you apprentice at?
R: I first went to Santa Ella.
M: Santa Ella, -- 'crss the street, yeah.
R: You know, that was one of -he biggest factories here once upon a time. That was one
of the biggest factories. And then there was Garcia Vega and Vega, :h, their,
M: Bustillo? What was your first paycheck? How much, do you remember, you made?
R: How much when they start :r'pay me, they used to pay me four dollars for one
M: Yeah, and how many could you make a week?
R: Well, I used to make about two dollars or something.
M: Uh huh, were you a cigar maker...
R: Four dollars for a thousand, forty cents for a hundred. As I say, they were very cheap.
M: Were you.a good cigar maker?
M: -Were you a fast cigar make? Were you a fast cigar maker?
R: Fast? Well, when I wanted to, I used to work pretty fast. I would do
around fifty dollars a week.' In the twenties I was bringing in good money in those
days. Then I was in Chicago in 1941. 1919, the
end of the last 'war, I mean the first of the war, I went there you know, I like to
be independent and live by myself.
M: Why Chicago? lWhy did you go to Chicago?
R: Well, it just happened that I knew, my father knew a fellow, an Italian fellow that-
he used to live in Chicago. Then he came home to Tampa to be with his family. But this
Italian fellow used to live there with his wife and in those days, 1919 in April, came
one of little strikes, cause there were many strikes in those days. Some of them used
to last a month or so, others did more, others one week. And this fellow said _
how you like to go to Chicago? I liked, but I didn't have the money. So I slave
Boleto r. you know, what Boleto is, and it happened tha- I got a number three and
number thirteen. And number three came out, I have seventy-five cents and I got sixty-
seven dollars. If-it wasn't for that, I would have nevwr come to Chicago. My father
would have never given me the money to go there, and then I was making around twenty
dollars a week You know you save twenty, it doesn't look
but you kncw you have to In those days you could buy a good pound of
iT;e' you know for twenty cents a pound. The Spanish steak was fifteen cents, a pound
of rice was five cents and a pound of beans was five cents or four cents. Gee, I
R: remember we used to make what they called the list every week and they used to bring
two baskets full of baisee-atll of groceries for three or four dollars. Now you go to
the store with a twenty dollar bill and you, you hardly buy anything and you don't
hardly have enough to pay. Things are terribly, terribly high. People don't realize
that because they in those days. Just a pound of good
steak or chops, fifteen cents a pound.
M: When you were working at the factory, do you remember los lectores?
Un lector. The reader.
G: -The readers, the lectors. The readers.
M: Un lector.
R: Un lector, yes, yes. We had lectores. We used to have lectors in every factory here.
And they used to read from half past ten, no, from ten o'clock to three o'clock.
First they give what you might call the world news, and I remember reading. the First
World War in 1914, and
M: Uh huh.
M: What else, what else would they read?
R: Anyway, you know. What was1 saying?
M: About what he would read, the world news in the morning...
R: Then they used to have a translator that used to translate from the English paper to
Spanish. And that was about for forty-five minutes, and then in the afternoon, they
have of novels. You know, any kind of novel. You don't notice, in
hundred percent of. their novels were in Spanish. Well, got those and most every part
they used to Cervantes you know. Don Quixote.
G: Oh really.
M: What was your favorite?
R: Well, let me tell you. They were a good many, many good Spanish authors in those days.
R: There was one by the name of Gados.
M: Peras Gados.
R: That was very good writing. And of course, Cervantes was known, Don Quixote
you know. I would have read many more novels by him. And then they would translate
for French writers. That was the main you know.
Like Victor Hugo and Maupassant and this other one, the songs of the people,
Eugene Seurs, he was a very good writer. The Songs of the People, they used to call there
you know, you have a novel that goes back to three thousand before Christ and
M: Did they also read radical literature? You know, Vi and Marx? Lot of people think
the readers were socialists, anarchists.
R: Well, you know, they were-sometimes '_. They were a kind of socialistic,
but that doesn't mean the reader have to read what the people like. And they used to
read for a a week, each. Well, if there were a hundred people in the shop, there-
were a hundred quarters. Well, there was one that used toread in Santa Ella where there
were seven hundred people, that fellow used to make
M: What was his name?
R: I'm a reader.
M: Do you remember his name?
R: E-s-c-h-a-e's-c-o-b-a-r. Feafba C A e COcs 1
M: Do you remember Qparici..
R: Oparicio, sure I remember him. He was an amateur actor. He was a pretty, and you know
the best part of the old lectors, when they read a and it was a woman talking,
no man, they used to imitate everyone. You take it was a Spanish writer
that the cigar makers used to like his way of writing, and he came to Tampa in 194,
and they were reading one of his novels in the factory, oh, and he was surprised how
well that reader interpreted his writing. He was, he was raised in Spain, but he was
born in Cuba. They had, I wish I, read any of them you know, and you wil
R: kow his name. I forgot his name at this moment. It was really prolific writer and
then there was a Spanish writer born in Asturiano ard most of the things he writes, yot
krow, was about the little towns, oh, and the way, real good, you niow the way they
used to kneel and and everything. There was hardly a feast over there in
Asturias that it didn't end with sticks. It was
half a dozen came out with a big head the next day, fighting. And -hat was all right,
before they start to introduce thd gun. And that was worse. Cause before they go, and
-there was a knife or the stick, but when the gun, the gun was different. The gun
was more dangerous. Yeah...I remember every feast always end in a fight. You know,
wine, pour the wine, drink it, and they used to get pretty high.
M: Do you remember opening in 1912 of El Centro Eaoe el on Howard Avenue?
R: Of course I remember it.
M; Did you go to it?
R: Sure. And I went to dances in there. And I remember when the school was
cpened. That the first school, the biggest one Zw u-sed to be in those days in
West Tampa. The school is what I mean. I remember the szho3l. I think they
tore it down.
R: They tore it down. I don't see why cause it was not so old.
Y: 7hat was the opening of
R: I don't know, it was opened in 1912.
1': 'hat was the Centro- Espanol like here? On Howard Avenue?
R: The Cen-rcl Espanol, they build that about the same -ime they build -he one in Ybor
M: ?--g'ht, 1912.
R: -And you take the Centro Estudi-aHo in Ybor City, the oli Centro was burned,
b-rned io..n. That was in 1906 or 7, and they build -his one buildin-g ohey '-ave now.
.-at building is there now.
M: Did you go to a lot of dances there?
R: Oh, I used to go, I used to go to the dances there. Now I don't. Before I went to
Spain, I didn't go much to then because I was only a kid and then I learned to dance
and used to go there and then every Sunday they used to have a stage show. Every
Sunday. And my father used to take all four kids to the stage show. Well, we used
to love, and especially the comedians, you know. Well, the commedians came out,
you know, you're ten, eleven, twelve years old, and my father, just because they were
-what they call "social functions," you know and that didn't cost nothing. You have
to show your receipt. Then the theatre used to get full and the people used to like
__ shows, but you know, in those days, the moving pictures were really not
L / -
so hot and Vee, we'd rather go to the stage show than see a moving picture, and then
when the movies start to come here, I remember we were my father
used to give a dime, a nickle for the show, a nickle for peanuts. And we kids used
to go there at six o'clock and the pictures used to last maybe half hour. We used
to see the picture two or three times before they'd shoo us out. They'd tell us to-
get the heck out of there. That was, _moving pictures here
Real men, and then, in West Tampa _started hitting the
corner of Howard and Main, have a drugstore and next to the drugstore there
was a moving picture. Now thereis none. But you know, now people have more money, the.:
SYou can stay home and watch a television
M: Wha; about Buenos Noches?
M: Blenos Noches.
R: Buenos Noches.
M: Uh huh. 'fhen you were a young boy, what was it like?
R: Buenos Noches, buenos noches. ic ,*V (JLLf A7j t I /
R: Buenos Noches means good night.
M: No, the Christmas eve, I'm sorry, the Christmas Eve celebration, what do you call tha-
R: No, that is felices backwards. That is Merry Christmas. Felices _
R: And I know no Merry Christmas and Feliz Ano Nuevo
M: What would your family do Christmas Eve for celebration?
R: That was the best night of the whole damn year. We, we stay for the misa and midnight
dinner, you .see. And we kids would drop in the chair, on the chair asleep you know,
but gee, we wait til eleven o'clock and finally, then wait til twelve and then start
to put down the chickens and the La Chong. Do you know what the La Chong is?
M: Pork huh?
R: Yeah, sucking pig. That-wv aThe main dish for the banish and Cubans. Even now, -
it is, you know, we didn't know what Christmas was. We didn't celebrate
Christmas. It was
M: Where would it be held? At your house?
R: Buenos Noche'. Noche k .
M: Noche Bueno.
R: But Noche Bueno is one thing and Buenas Noches is another. Noche Buenas is a, the rig:-
evening or the good evening or the good night. You know, or Mexico's
birth is Christ or something. Or what I call it.
M: Was your family religious?
R: Well, not so much. Although we went to the convent and we take communion and all that
kind of monkey business, but after we grow up and in the factory especially, they
didn't believe in that monkey business.
R: Because not a, you take Emile 5olQ, you know he always run against religion.
M: Who is this?
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R: Emile Zola.
M: Okay, Zola, okay.
R: Emilio Zola. And he was a very good writer, but you know, he was anti-religious. You
know, he have a novel by the name of Fecundity.
M: What was the name of it?
R: Fecundity. ..
M: Fecundity, okay.
R: Well, the name of that is because there was a fellow that was a priest and when he
realized that that was religion maant, he got out and got married. And he had, I don't
know, he had tensor twelve or fourteen kids. That's the reason the novel's name
is Fecundity. Or, _. You know that's another
novel. Earth is the name of it. Oh, he had many good novels. I know more about French
operas than I know about English. And I like toread, or you take many of those French
were very good, very popular in Spain.
M: What about the church in Ybor City, in West Tampa. Did it have much influence?
R: They have I think a the is right here somewhere like this. Iy
is a convent and a church. You know, I think of people here, they are not
so relieved. Like me, I have never been in a church since I left Spain. And then I
go to because my grandmother She watch over
You know I remember how you people can get along and I said
well, grandmother, I know how to pray. You know I pray. I don't know how to pray in
Spanish. I know how- to pray in English. and when I finish
she said, I cannot understand how God can understand that kind of lingo.
Okay, the only language God could understand was her language, and
M: What, when you were growing up as a young man, did you consider yourself Spanish or
R: You know, let me tell you, we kids used to go in the kind of atmosphere that we didn't
Ybor Hill 43A
R: believe much in those things. We didn't believe in being Cuban or being Spanish.
Although, you know, when Italiano we used to call hey, hey, you macaronis. Call each
other names, see, but when it comes to being subject towards any kind of nationality,
we never worried about it, because you know .
M: If someone had asked you..
R: Somehcw you know even now, I don't give a damn about it because I believe that they
were the miracle or a happening that just happened, that's all.
You are not for us, you are not to come or nothing. They just preach it,
.and that is a reason. You know and then we used to read a lot of these how you
call open-einded writers, see that didn't believe t much in religion or t ''1
cause for them had to be have the best way
to making rare money, see. And the more patriotic they are, some time the more
they are. Otherwise they would find no crooked patriots. Let me tell you, find a
congressman, somebody that is deep in politics the only reason.
M: WTen you were growing up, how did the different groups get along? First of all, what
were the major groups who were living in West Tampa when you were growing up?
M: Ethnic grc-ps. Ethnic groups.
R: The library
M: No, no, whZ lived in West Tampa? Italians and Cubans and Spaniards?
R: Ch, well, :he majority of them, once upon a time, they were Cubans and Spaniards. The::
when -hat -hing happened in New Orleans that I don't know if you remembered it or not,
that -the-Italian got too strong in there and they went ahead and they __there.
and they s-art to come to Tampa. Italians who were here in 1914, they uses
;o come fr:m Louisiana.
M: From where?
R: From Louisiana.
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R: They used to call it Lousy-ana. Yeah.I-Uuch ar1
M: So there were a lot of Italians in West Tampa?
R: The they used to come by bunches. When they went ahead and got rid of,
you know, like what happened in New York that they got so strong that they came the
chief of police and they, they J plenty of them, like the same thing happened in
New Orleans. The chief of police _got murdered because the
Italians were pretty strong you know when it comes to
R: You know. And they went ahead and they start to lynch a few of them and they start to
come by bunches.
M: How did the Cubans and Spaniards and Italians get along here?
R: Well, let me tell, you take the Italians and you take the Spanish. They are more
intelligent than the Spaniards because there was hardly an Italian that came here
that didn't know how to speak Spanish. Well, it's because the factories were owned
by Spaniards and they'd learn their language quick and then it's easier for an
Italian to learn Spanish just the same as it would be for the Spaniard to, but we
were used to speak Spanish just as good as Spanish. then you know
in Spanish you take I was in Chicago for twenty-two years and
Spanish they have a place to meet and they don't speak any other language but Spanish.
Spanish. That's the only thing they speak. You take all the Aationalities like the
Polish and the they come and right away they had learned the
language. But.The`.Spaniards, there were Spaniards here for four years they
and the only word my father knew was go to hell or something like that.
G: Your father didn't speak English?
G: Your father didn't speak English?
R: No, not a word.
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G: Oh, my goodness.
R: When we kids started to go to school and learn English, we used to speak English at