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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
HILLSBOROUGH-YBOR CITY, ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEWER: GARY MORMINO
PLACE OF INTERVIEW: YBOR CITY, TAMPA, FLORIDA
DATE OF INTERVIEW: May 23, 1984
Wilfredo Rodriguez was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1901. As a young boy he
traveled with his family to Tampa, Florida on the steamship Olivet. His
father, Francisco Rodriguez, was the famous Ybor City lector "Mexicano."
Wilfredo was also a lector. He left Ybor during the 1931 strike and worked
in New York City as an elevator operator and at other odd jobs. He later
returned to Ybor to drive a cab.
The interview is short, and Rodriguez's memory is sketchy. He recalls
little and his language is broken. He does, however, remember several
newspapers and novellas, along with some of the tensions that existed
between cigar workers and manufacturers. Rodriguez does not recall any
communistic tendencies on the lectors part, or street fighting during the
Ybor Cigar strikes.
Interviewee: Wilfredo Rodrigez
Interviewer: Gary Mormino
Place: Ybor City
Date: May 23, 1984
M: Mr? Ro'frigez, can you tell me something about your family background?
Who your father and grandfather were.
R: Well, I have to give names.
M: Oh, certainly, uh huh.
R: The name of my father was Francisco. Do you know how to spell it?
R: Francisco Rodriguez. My mother's hame was Maria Luisa Rodriguez. My father was
reader in the cigar factory.
M: He was a lector, uh huh.
R: Yeah, and we came to this country when I was a year young.
M: Uh huh, and what year were you born then?
R: I was born in Havana, Cuba.
M: Uh huh, in what year?
R: You must ask me a question that's more easy for me to answer your question.
M: Okay, what year were you born?
R: In Havana, Cuba.
M: Yes, okay.
G: En que ano?
R: Yeah, yeah.
G: En que ano
R: In 1901.
M: In 1901, uh huh.
R: July 5th, 1901. One day after
M: Okay, tell me something you remember about Havana. Where, what district you lived in
Havana. Your neighborhood, growing up in Cuba.
R: In Cuba, well, I can't remember very much. I was too young, you see.
M: Yes. What, what factory did your father work in in Havana, do you remember?
R: In Havana? One was the name by Henry Clay.
M: Henry Clay factory.
R: Cigar factory, that was one. The other one was Partagaes. P-a-r-t-a-g-a-e-s. Partagaes
Cigar factory, and the other one was Romeo and Julio Rietta. Romeo and Julio Li-t .
M: Uh huh. Yes. Very good. Whal :feeq?
R: ITM- I couldn't remember.
M: Was your father a cigar maker then or was he
R: No, no. He wasn't a cigar maker. He was, he worked reader in the cigar factory.
M: How dide become a reader?
R: How he become a reader?
M: Um hm
R: Well,*he A trd O4 in the old country,
R: Yeah. He went to the cigar factory, and you know how they used to be?
R: Fellow feads something from the paper or story or something, and if the cigar maker
like it the way he read it, they make a F4 7-1\ and they, he was elected the cigar,
the cigar reader. The cigar factory reader.
M: He must have had an education.
R: Well, of course, he had to know how to read, how to write.
M: You know how far he went in school?
R: y father?
M: Uh huh.
R: I don't know.
M: Yeah, right. Did you ever, as a young boy, go and hear him read?
M: When you were a young boy growing up, did you go watch your father read and listen
R: No, I never did. For he taught me how to do that at home. You know? I mean to how to
read in the cigar factory because I went to school here.
M: Okay, okay. What was he involved in the revolution?
R: No, no, no.
M: The ten years war or the
R: No, nothing of that kind.
M: About Jose Marti and Antonio Masayo. Did he know them, or work with them?
R: Well, he know like many other Cubans, knew them by name more than by p( re- o
M: Right. Why, why did he leave Cuba and come to Tampa?
R: Well, there was a big doghfrt of cigar maker in Cuba and somebody from here write to
him why he didn't come to Tampa. There was a good place here where he can develop his
ability you know?
M: Um hm
R: So he did that. He came out first, and then a few months later, we came. My mother and
my brother and myself.
M: Do you remember the voyage on the steamship?
M: And what was it, what was it like?
R: Ste-mslhip, olivet.
M: Olivet. Oh, yes. Very famous. What was it like leaving Cuba? Do you remember the voyage,
anything about it?
R: About my wife?
M: About the voyage, the trip by ship. The Olivet.
R: Yes, he came with me. I came with her.
M: Yes, right, right. What were your, what'd you think of Tampa when you first saw it?
R: Well, wasn't very, was it very poor condition in those days, you know? But I think
kid, I can't tell you much about that, you know. Well, I was reared in here and seems
developing different way over the year. I went to school.
M: What school?
R: I went to the public school first.
M: The public school, the free school.
R: And then I went to the Sacred Heart.
M: Sacred Heart, uh huh, yes.
R: When Sacred Heart was located on First Avenue and rTWIhiS close to the
M: Yeah. How much schooling did you get? When did you quit school? What age?
R: Well, you know, Sacred Heart stage, that was the last time I went to school. I stayed
about two years.
M: And when did you get your-first job? How old were you?
R: My first job, I was, well about, let's see....I was about sixteen or seventeen years
old, with the Western Union delivering telegrams.
M: Oh really..
R: That was my first job. And after that, I became a reader,too. Cigar Factory reader,
and that's what I did for years, and when the reader, there was a big strike here,
and the cigar manufacturer, the cigar factory manufacturer refused to have any more
readers, readers on the factories, so then I went to New York. I stay in New York for
a few years.
M: Let's go back just a little bit. How did you get a job as reader? Did you first make
cigars or role cigars?
R: No, no. As I told you before. You.werked et this factory, if, not only me, if you're
R: reader make a
M: An audition?
R: An audition, that's right, that the right way. An'audition at the cigar factory and
the cigar maker make a votation and choose the reader they want.
M: Do you remember what you read to audition, what story?-
R: Oh, no. I can't remember that.
M: What factory was it?
R: 'he one where, what's that, factory in West Tampa by the hame of Bustillo
M: Bustillo, uh huh.
R: Bustillo Cigar Company.
G: When your father was teaching you how to be a lector, what did he tell you?
How did he teach you? What kinds of things did he teach you?
R: Well, he writ before 0L piece of paper or book or something and I try to
imitate him while he do it. You see? Like the way he told me and not because I say
to myself when I was pretty fair.
G: Did you, when you were reading a novella, did you
R: Novella, periodicos.
R: Local paper in those days, we had a paper here by the name of "La 'i Ck e- "
4jA was -4J make introduction from the English
R: =gifs papererlSwM4 paper to the Spanish language, you see? l^
G: When you were reading novellas, did you change your voice to become different
R: Oh, yeah, we had to do that. anybody can do that, see? Or we were suppose
to, if there was a lady speaking, we were suppose to speak like a lady or an old man
or children, baby or b_ d_ kid.
M: Your father was a pretty famous lector, wasn't he?
R: Yeah, he was.
M: Wasn't he called El Mexicano?
R: El Mexicano. Exactly. How you know that?
M: I think we talked once before. I don't know if you remember, but I've heard about
your father also.
R: My father was my older brother, he was as good as my father, and I was not so good
that they what I did...
G: Was-it hard to fCrreo I
R: The last factory I read was in Correro PascE .
M: What year was that?
R: When they, when they making the strikeand the manufacturer refused to have any more
G: What happened? Did the manufacturer come and tell you not to read any more?
R: No, no, no, no.
G: What happened?
R: When they make an arrangement with the people that we present the cigar maker, they
put a __ All right we, I said what you want him? More, more moneyA -r
o we don't want any more readers in the factory and the cigar maker accepted.
G: He accepted?
R: He accepted.
G: Oh. They didn't go on strike?
R: Because the strike, i strike last about a month. It's a big time i people were
separated to go to work.
G: Well, how did you know that you weren't suppose to read anymore? Who came and told
you that you weren't suppose to read anymore?
G: Nobody came to tell you?
R M lem J !
"R: N There were, they weren't going to have anymore
reading, tr in the factory. -t oeror4we. Because you know, the cigar maker
has a union, you see, and the cigar, the cigar factory owner has a union.,too. So the
union A'^ '-w They don't want anymore readers in the factory.
M: Some people have said that the lectores were radicals, that they...
R: No. No, no, no, no. That was not right.
R: That was not, What happened was this: the cigar maker had what hey called a presidentE
M: A president, um hm.
R: That president -eed the material wieh was suppose to to the cigar maker. So we
were not responsible. We had to do what he say.
M: Right. Right. What kind of literature did the workers like? What were their favorites?
R: Well, they have the first i0_____ you know the was too many cigar maker, one
like the novel, novella. Another one like the news and another one like what they
call a label, k$J literature.
M: Literature, uh huh. Give me some examples. What were some favorite books and authors.
R: Let's see if I remember I don't remember the name..
M: Let me just throw out some and you can respond. Benito feeJ Id/ ?r
R: Well, some, was some paper from out of town. I know that.
M: Uh huh. Right.
R: U h hNew York or in Chicago ( )1
M: Yeah. How about Benito Peres Galdos?
R: That was a novella.
M: Novella, uh huh. Did they like him?
R: Yeah, they loved m.
M: How about, ervantes? Manuel Cervantes?
fo --/ M er r(7aj.O( -rM i %
R: Oh, highly res ected Don Quixote.
M: That was i sly; huh?
R: He was famous for that.
M: Uh huh. Yeah. How about Cropotkin?
R: Who is that?
M: Peter Cropotkin. Russian anarchist.
R: I don't know.
M: Miguel Vicunyan?
R: I don't remember anything of that kind.
M: Okay. VTctor Hugo. Victor Hugo.
R: Oh, Victor Hugo. Yeah.
R: Victor Hugo, Pedro Mata. That was another one. and Sam Acois was another one.
Well, they were the _D -- Just novels, like any, of any kind.
M: What was the, was there one particular novel that was the most liked?
R: Amofig Cigar makers?
M: Um hm.
R: Don Quixote.
M: Don Quixote, uh huh.
G: How many times, do you remember how many times you read Don Quixote to the workers?
R: I never read it.
M: No, no. You're kidding.
R: I never redd it because when I was a reader, there was years and years that you are
used to hear the Quixote and they changed to another thing.
G: They were tired of it.
M: What year now, we haven't pinned this down, what year did you become a lector?
How old were you when you became a lector.
R: When I became what?
M: A reader.
R: A reader. 1928.
M: 19... How old were you in....
R: No, no. Yes, 1928. Because I was married on 1930.
M: Was Senor Operisio reading then?
R: Yeah. I remember
M: What do you remember about him, Manuel Operisio?
R: Operisio was a good reader. There was a few of them were pretty good.
M: Victoriano Mantega?
R: Well, before he had the, lagaseta, when he was young man, he was a redder too. Was
pretty good ftoo.
M: Anofrio Palermo?
R: Which one?
M: Anofrio Palermo?
R: I didn't knew that one.
M: How about Medina?
R: No, I didn't knew that one either.
M: Uh huh. Right. We never have explained. How did you father get the nickname "Mexicano".
R: Well, it happened this way? My father was born at the end of the Cuban Island,
Santiago de Cuba, you see. That's were my father was born. And in those days, the
transportation from Santiago de Cuba to Havana was very hard. There was not many people
from Santiago de Cuba that came to Havana. And Santiago de Cuba has a way to talk that
is pretty like the Mexicans, you see? Now he was like me, brunette, a dark brunette and
they called him Mexicano. Mexican. Because they, they said they wanted Mexicans.
He was born in Santiago de Cuba.
M: Did they call you that too?
R: Santiago de Cuba is tbm province, the is born
in Mandi1llo. There was a town in Santiago de Cuba.
Ybor Hills 4A
M: How do you spell that?
M: Okay, right, right. What did his father do there, your grandfather, in Mancillo?
R: You mean by my mother or by my father?
M: Both, both.
R: Well, about my grandfather by my father, I never knew, S neuvr know. But about my
mother, he was a bookkeeper.
M: Bookkeeper, uh huh, yes. Right. Right.
R: I believe, I don't, I'm pretty sure, I believe that my grandfather by, on my father's,
father, that he die in the revolution in Spain. Now what I remember...
M: Ah, yes.
R: What I knew then, even I don't remember his name.
M: Uh huh. Right. Right. What, your memory of the great strikes, La Huelga de Diez y
R: Well, that was the one I told you when I went to New York.
M: Tell us about it. I, it'll, can you elaborate?
R: No, I don't know much about that strike. I, I mean I don't know why they say I make
__ they're asking for, all I know they were asking for a4high on the salaries and
that's all I remember.
M: This was 1920?
M: de Mee de dice,
G: Diez y Meses.
M: Diez y Mese.
R: the one that last ten months, yeah, yeah, that was it, because that was just
to big a strike here. g' was when I was a kid,that last seven months.
M: What did you do as a child? Do you remember the strike in the streets? In 19.. this
was the one in 1910.
Ybor Hills it4A
R: What they do?
M: What happened during'that strike?
R: Well, all I IB4 J is you can make it the work, to work to work.
Oh, there was nothing, no revolTtion, no nothing, fighting nor nothing like that on
M: Do you remember when it was used to be called Concinas Economicas, the soup
R: I hear about that but I never know much about that. I hear about that Cocina Economica
M: Um hm. Right. Why did you go to New 2ork during that other strike?
R: Well, because my brother, my two brothers was living New York and I /
knows how to read. I couldn't do that here, and then I went to New York.
M: In the factory? To work in the factories there?
R: No, no-no no no. I work in different, in different jobs.
M: Um hm. Right.
R: I was elevator operator over there.
M: A what?
R: Elevator operator. I work in a radio factory.
M: Oh, radio factory, uh huh. Right, right.
R: And I work in hotels and I work in different jobs.
M: Did you ever go back
R: And then I -work on a national biscuit.
M: National Biscuit, huh.
R: That was my first job in New York.
M: Did you ever return to Cuba?
M: Never, never went back to Cuba?
R: I remember when I was a kid, with my mother I stayed over there about six months and
then come back again.
M: Um hm. Right.
R: Where I was...
M: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
R: Two brothers. No sisters.
M: Uh huh. Did they ever come to Tampa?
R: Yeah, they were here with us.
M: And then ya'll left. What did they do in Tampa, what kind of work?
R: When, when my brother was a reader and the other one was a cigar maker.
M: Then you left for New York during the 1920 strike. Did they return?
R: Yeah, they returned.
M: Um hm. Yeah, and then they
R: In fact they died here in Tampa.
M: Um hm. Right. They continue work in the cigar industry?
M: They, they continued to work in the cigar industry?
tkc ANre-. k-Joeer. Olf
R: Yeah, yeah, they did after -r4te, r
M: Um hm. Right, right. How about, did you belong to eirto __ Cabano?
R: Yes, yes I do. Only in a way. I pay so much a *month and then I have a right to see
a doctor. Because I have three different scale, you know? That's one. The other one is
you pay higher. And the other one.. no, there's only two.
M: Um hm.
R: One, the.i less to see the doctor only and the other one that you have all
the rights that a member has of given club.
M: What do you remember about going to the Cuban Club?
R: Let me show you That's much better. You see. That's only to see
M: Uh hth. Yes. Do you remember dances there? Did you go to many dances as a young man
in Nova Verbenas?
R: Not many, no.
Ybor Hills '4A
M: No, no. How did you meet your wife?
R: My wife?
M: Uh huh.
R: Elena. Yes, I remember that. Elenal Memory.
M: Uh huh.
R: You know, I forgot to tell you that before. I was a cab driver here in Tampa for
M: After, after you were a reader?
R: Yeah, after, after the years. That reading finished, was all over. I was a cab driver,
and I pick her up downtown and took to the cemetery because hbr first husband die,
you know. And she went to the cemetery to put some flowers and I waited. And I liked
my passenger so much I said I was going to find out where she lives.
M: Was she Cuban?
M: Was she Cuban?
R: No, she was born in Tampa.
M: Uh huh.
R: Yeah. Oh, by the way, I am a citizen. I became a citizen in 1938. So when I drove her
home, you know, I see where she lived and I start to, and I was free, through during
the day to come back and get spurned, passed by until we get acquainted, you see. And
then we marry.
G: Oh, what year was that?
R: 19, 1962. Met in '62.
G: How did you meet your first wife?
R: My first wife died in 1959, and I got married in 1962.
G: How did you meet your first wife? Do you remember that?
R: How what? *
SOh, yeah. I meet her at, in the neighborhood, she used to live close to where we were
Ybor Hills %'A
R: living, you see.
M: And where was that? Where did you live in Ybor City?
R: Right here on Thirteenth Avenue.
M; Thirteenth Avenue, uh huh. Okay. And was she Cuban? Or Spanish?
R: No, no. She was born in Tampa.
M: Uh huh, what, what, okay. What was her name.
R: Edelmira, and the same last name that I got--Rodriguez.
M: Rodriguez, uh huh.
R: We were both Rodriguez. That was a common thing, you know. Her sister was Rodriguez and
she married a named Rodriguez.
G: There were a lot of
R: So there were four Rodriguez in the family.
M: And uh, uh huh. How many children did you have?
R: I had three.
M: Uh huh.
R: My daughter and my son, that's living here in Tampa, and my first daughter, there is
that one, that picture you see over there. She died in Miami.
M: Um hm. Yes.
G: What, when did you move out of Ybor City?
M: I move out of Ybor City? No, I always be living in Ybor City.
G: Oh, I see. So you weren't moved away By urban renewal. When they tore down all the
R: Yeah, I was living in Ybor City. We were living in
M: When you were a lector, before you would go to work in the morning, would you go to a
special restorante or cafe?
R: No, no, no, no.
R: We used to do that. We used to have a light, a very light breakfast, you Lee? ,
We had a very light breakfast and then we would in the morning read /i__IT_ / .
Then when we finished reading _' we go back home, and then we have
a light, a light lunch, light. Very light lunch, and then we go back to reading
again the rest of the day until three o'clock.
M: How much did you make a week?
R: Well, it was different Don't always 1' :' the same salary because, you know,
there was depending on how many cigar makers were working.
M: Yeah, uh huh. What's the most you made?
R: Forty dollars.
M: Forty dollars. That was pretty good money, wasn't it?
R: v'g / /'p' j/ -_ S you could get along pretty good.
M: Um hm. Yeah. Right.
G: Who is the woman in the picture on the wall?
G: Is that your relative?
R: No, that, no.
G: Who is that?
R: That man a priest. Oh, you mean this one here?
R: Oh, that's my wife's mother. I thought you were referring to that one.
G: Oh, no. No, the photograph.
M: Mr. Rodriguez, are you the last lector still alive, as far as you know?
R: In Tampa?
M: Well, anywhere.
R: Let me think it over.
R: That's right, I am the last one. Because there was my brother and me. My brother
die, so I was. I was the last one.
M: Did you know Mr. Dominguez who lived here?
R: Oh, yeah.
M: He was a reader alsowasn't he?
R: Yeah. Yeah he was.
M: Una3ato, Dominguez.
R: Unoato, Dominguez.
M: Uh huh. Yes.
R: Father and son both were readers.
M: Oh, also huh? Yea'. Well, we appreciate you talking with us. Thhnk you very much for
taking time out.
R: Well, sorry I couldn't do much better, you know.
M: No, no, very interesting. Thank you.
R: In beginning with I talk English very, very, to say, not too often, you know. Not
because I don't want to, but because other people that live around the neighborhood
G: Everyone speaks Spanish.
M: How do you like this, by the way? Hacienda Ybor.
R: Oh, I like that very much. I wish it be, Ybor is not what it used to be. That's a fact.
Ybor was a pretty nice town in every way. Now nice town that when I was
a young man about seventeen or ____ years, young man, I was a young man, I used to
live with my father and mother and brothers on Fourth Avenue between Nineteen and
Twentieth Street and in summertime it was the time was so hot, we used to live with
the windows and the door open to let some, some air, you know. You can't do that anymore
Look what we got in these windows. So that's happened. There has been a big, big change
in the Yor City used to be a what it is right now. But I love Ybor City
just the same.
M: Thank you.