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Interviewee: Manuel Alfonso
Interviewer: Susan Greenbaum
Date: June 4, 1984
G: What year were you born?
G: You were born in Tampa?
A: In Tampa, Ybor City.
G: Your parents were born in Cuba?
A: My father was born in Cuba and my mother was of Cuban descent but she was
born in Tampa.
G: She was also born in Tampa?
A: Born in Tampa.
G: What year was she born?
G: So she was here early.
A: My father was born in 1888. My mother was born in 1893 and my mother was
born in 1888. He migrated to Tampa in 1910 for cigar-making.
G: Your mother was already here?
A: My mother was already here.
G: So they met here?
A: They met here and they were married here and then they moved to Cuba and my
mother got sick during the second World War. My mother got sick and the doctor
told her that she was __ and she should go to a warmer climate, so my father
went to Cuba and he lived there for about two or three years until she got better.
G: You were how old?
A: I was not born yet.
G: You were not born yet?
A: No. As a matter of fact I was almost born in Cuba. She got pregnant and now
she wanted to be with her mother which was in Tampa, my grandmother. So she
came back to Tampa, otherwise I would have been born in Cuba.
G: And have been a Cuban?
A: I would have been a Cuban then. My father continued to work in the cigar factory
but my mother was never well after that.
G: What part of Cuba did your father come from?
G: What section is that?
A: Guanabacoa is a village right outside of Havana. It is part of the city of Havana
but it has got the bay in between. It is a village. It is close to where Hemingway
used to visit.
G: You spent some time in Cuba.
A: I did.
G: During what period was that?
A; I went to Cuba in 1939 and I married there and I returned in 1946.
G: Why did you come back?
A: When I married my mother asked for me to come back and then while I was in
Cuba, the second World War broke out and me being an American citizen I had
to register at the consulate in Havana. They did not call me for service, they told
me they were going to use me as an interpreter in the San Antonio Air Base. It
was a big air base the United States had and I stayed there all through the war.
G: You stayed in Cuba all through the war?
A: All through the was.
G: Did you serve as an interpreter?
A: Yes, I did. It was the Cuban engineers and the army and the American
engineers and we used to ride in the jeep staking out all of the land that was
going to be used for the sir base. I was the interpreter. Then after that I stayed
in the construction of the base as a foreman. They gave me a crew of men and I
was the foreman until the end of the war. When the war was over, i had married
already so then my mother told me, come home, come home. I was going to
stay in Cuba, I liked it there but she said come back home, so we came over.
Even though I was with the military I was not considered a veteran but I served. I
did my part.
G: You were not considered a veteran?
A: No, I was there all the time as a civilian and I could get all the benefits too,
because I used to got to the VA and buy things as a soldier and at the price they
would give it to them. But I was not considered.
G: Why did you go to Cuba in the first place?
A: I went there because my father thought that it would be better for me because
things were bad.
G: Was this during the Depression?
A: Yes, in 1939.
G: Had you been a cigar worker before that?
A: No, I never made cigars. I used to work with my uncle in an ice bin. There used
to be a big ice bin here on 21st Street and he worked there for many years and I
used to work with him in the truck delivering ice. Until I finished school I used to
go there delivering ice and doing odd jobs. He thought if I would go to Cuba, it
would be better for me.
G: Was it? It must have been, you stayed for a while.
G: Were there other people from Tampa who went to Cuba during the Depression?
G: That was an unusual thing to do?
A: Yes, most of them went to New York.
G: Do you remember that period? Do you remember when people were moving
A: Yes, I remember.
G: How quickly did it happen? How aware was it that people were packing up and
moving or was it more gradual?
A: No, one went at first when they started moving out and they all followed because
I would go and I would find a job there and I would write back come on over,
things are good. So people would leave here in trucks and some of them
walked. They used to rent these cars, like vans that used to hold eight
passengers and there were people who would get in those cars and they would
charge $10 a trip.
G: Somebody had a business shuttling people back and forth?
A: Yes, shuttling people back and forth and whole families would leave in trucks.
They would get a box spring and a mattress and put it in the back of big trucks,
they were not semi-trailers but they good sized trucks. They were more than a
pick-up. It was between a pick-up and a trailer and they would put the mattress.
It was like that novel, what is it called...
G: The Grapes of Wrath?
A: That is it. That is the way people were moving in here.
G: Were there a lot of lay-offs that went on before that in the cigar factories.
A: Oh, yes.
G: Were there particular factories and particular circumstances around those lay-
offs or was everybody being laid-off?
A: They were laying-off. There was a big lay-off and naturally the blacks would go
G: Was that just understood? I mean that is somewhat contrary to a lot that is said
about the cigar industry not being that discriminatory. Had it become that way by
A: Yes, it had become that way because at the beginning of the cigar industry, they
all used to work together, black and white. Once, they started teaching the
women how to make cigar, the black cigar-makers became the minority in the
cigar factories and the foremen and the owners whenever they got, I do not think
it was the owners, it was the foremen at the cigar makers. A black would come
and you were able to give it to a white woman or to a white man than to a black
G: As soon as jobs started to shrink...
A: They were the first ones to go. There still were some that were left. I do not
mean by this that they were all laid-off. There were some that were left in the
cigar factory because they were really good cigar-makers. They had some
special brand of cigars they used to make and they were exploited, they went all
out so the cigar factories would keep them because they were capable of doing a
good job at making the cigars that they wanted. If they would have found a white
man who could have done it, they would have left him. The black people had
that special skill to make that special cigar.
G: Were there discrimination in the kinds of jobs that black and whites had in the
early period? Was that one way?
A: Mostly all the blacks, were cigar-makers. I never knew of any other work other
than the cigar factory that the black man did. The black women were strippers
and the man was a cigar maker, but I never knew of a black foreman or they had
something they called pickers of the tobacco.
G: Those were more highly paid jobs?
A: Oh, yes.
G: So there was a certain limit?
G: Who were the foremen? What groups made up the foremen?
A: Spaniards. The majority were Spaniards. No Italians.
G: I heard that it was Italian women in large part who were replacing black cigar
workers is that right?
A: It was.
G: What did that do to relationships between Cubans and Italians especially black
Cubans and Italians?
A: The relationships between the black Cubans and the Italians was good. We got
along good as far as a relationship like that, it was good. The white lived here
and the blacks lived next door and we used to all play together and we got along
G: Why do you think that was? Why do you think there were not frictions especially
when there was job complications? Was there a sense that you had things in
common or just good people?
A: That is a good question.
G: It is kind of a negative question because why didn't you disagree?
A: Because even though they had most of the jobs in the cigar factory and all of
that, we did not ever fight as much as in reason. I guess we all took it for
G: What about with the white Cubans? Let me ask you this, do you know what
exactly lived in the formation of Marti Maseo?
A: I will tell what I heard from my parents. When the Cubans, and when I say
Cubans I mean white and blacks, migrated to Tampa, they used to be together
and they had the same club. They all went to the same club and there came a
time when they had to go one way and the other had to go the other, first
because of the law of the state demanded they had to be separate, there was no
such thing as integration. Then the Cubans, too, they started where they were in
this country where they were white and they started discriminating against the
blacks. There was enough black Cubans here to have their own club so they
went ahead and started the club, what is today Marti Maseo because they had
two black clubs, La Union and Marti Maseo, so then they decided to join and
make one club and they added the name of each, La Union and Marti Maseo.
G: It goes nice together because it is like the union of Marti and Maseo.
A: The only place after that when I was a kid where we used to go and mingle
socially was at the labor camp. The labor camp used to be on 8th Avenue and
16th Street. Between 16th and 17th Street and they used to have this place and
once or twice a month they had these plays set up on a stage and all of the
Cuban community would just go there and we used to sit together in the labor
camp because the labor camp was made by collection from all the cigar makers'
ship in once a month or weekly towards making it. It was a nice building, very
nice, it was not too long ago that they tore it down during the urban renewal. I
guess since everybody chipped in to make the building they could not tell you
that you could not go in but even though we were together in there, all the black
Cubans used to sit more or less together. It was not required because naturally
we were friends and they used to sit black with the black. You could sit any
place you wanted in there but there was no friction.
G: So people sort of accepted that that was being imposed by Cubans?
A: Yes, they blame the Americans for a lot of things that happened like where
discrimination was concerned, they country. The laws of the state would impel
you to separate.
G: So they did not have any choice and their was not that much hard feelings about
A: No, there was not. There was no hard feelings, we used to get along good. As
a matter of fact, it was said that it was a city within a city. If you live in Ybor City
and you were a Cuban, Italian or a black Cuban, now if you cross Nebraska,
there was an area down there between Downtown and Nebraska they used to
call the scrubs. They used to be all black Americans. North of Columbus Drive
coming back this way, there were not so many blacks, there were white
Americans. Then going towards the East, from 22nd Street back, that was the
__, that used to be white Americans too. On the South, it is Palmetto Beach
we call it. That used to be Cuban back then. I am just showing you the
boundary. We live in here and if we try to go over on the other side, the black
Americans would gang up on us. They called us __ Dry
A: Yes, and the theater used to be on Sanford in the scrubs. We could not go to the
white theaters here in Ybor City because we were black, so we had to go to the
scrubs, but we used to go in a group because if you went by yourself, you get
G: They could tell that you were not from their neighborhood?
A: That is right, that we were Cuban to call us __ We used to have to run and
they would be waiting outside of the theater. They would be waiting for us and
we had to sneak out and run and run and when we got to the boundary line
which was Nebraska, everything was alright. They would not come on this side.
Now, if we catch them on this side, we used to beat them too. I could not go to
the white theaters like the Casino and the Italian club had their theater too,
downstairs but we could not go to that.
G: What about places to eat and places to shop, how segregated were those
A: To eat, we did not have no place. There used to be a cafe where the Cuban club
is now, Marti Maseo. They used to call that Cuba Cafe. We used to go eat there,
white and black used to go eat there but other than that you could not eat in any
other place, n other restaurant. As a matter of fact, if you wanted to buy
something, you had to buy it from the sidewalk. I think that at you could
not eat but you could go in the back. They had windows in the back where they
could open it and you tell them what you want and they close it back and they fix
up your sandwich or whatever you want and they would open again and hand it
to you through there. You could not go in the door and inside.
G: So you had to wait outside?
A: Yes and if you wanted to buy rice or regular food, you had to come around the
back and go into the kitchen, bring your own pot and go. That is the way it was.
G: That is the way it was in the rest of Tampa also right?
A: That is right.
G: So Ybor City has been basically the same?
A: The same and in business places that is the way it was. The five-and-ten-cent
stores, people used to sit on the fountains but you could not sit down so in a
way, it was not only that you could not blame the white Cuban, it was part of the
law of the land at that time.
G: What were relations like in Cuba at that time? Do you know? Do you have a
sense of the difference between there and here while those things were going
A: Well, in Cuba there was no such thing as discrimination as far as going to places
to eat, marrying or anything like that. There was no discrimination at all so the
black Cubans when they came down, they found themselves with discrimination,
something they did not know about.
G: Is that hard to get used to? I know you did not experience it, but other people
who might have talked about newcomers who realized what it was like in Tampa?
A: Yes, it was hard, some of them could not stand it and they had to leave. They
had to go back. They were used to in Cuba sitting down any place they wanted
to and they did not like it so they would leave and go back. That is why it was so
hard for those people to live.
G: It was a lot harder for black Cubans in Ybor City than for white Cubans trying to
A: Yes, it was. It was very hard. Let me tell you how my father came to this
country. He had a friend who used to make cigars with him and they were both
young in Cuba in Havana. They were both working in the same cigar factory.
This white fellow had been here in Tampa before and he told my father, we do
not make any money so let's go to Tampa because over there we could make
more money. My father did not want to come so finally he talked him into
coming. He said O.K., I will go to Tampa with you. I knew the name because my
father had shown it to me years later after I was born, this man got on the ship
and the ship was stuck in Key West between Havana and Key West. They were
friends and the vessel failed because of how old it had been and when they got
to Key West, my father said the man stopped talking to him. You know, you have
got a friend who talks you into coming to a country and then all of a sudden he
stops talking to you and you think I wonder what I said to him, what I did? He
kept asking, Fulano, why don't you talk to me? What have I done? The man
would not answer, he would not tell him what. When he got here in Tampa, he
did tell my father the Negro (the black people) you ride the first car, but I am
white and I ride in the other car on the train and he did not talk to him no more.
A: Never again. When I was a kid, my papa used to tell me the story that I am
telling you now. He said that man brought me to this country and he did this and
that and that to me and my father used to look like a white man. He had pretty,
long hair. I used to play with his hair because my mamma was black. My
mamma was a black woman and my father, you would say he was not black but
he wanted to be black. I used to tell him all the time, you should tell them you
are white. He used to have pretty hair and he used to let his hair fall down and it
was real bright. I used to play with his hair. I used to make braids with it. I used
to tell him you should have told them you were white in the other cars in the train.
G: So why do you think that guy did bring him?
A: I guess that he realized that if he stayed being friendly to him, I guess he figured
that he must have been a very ignorant person.
G: I guess.
A: Yes because he figured if I be friends with him, they are going to think I am black
and nobody wanted to be black so I guess he said well, I will stop talking to him
and that is it.
G: The club must have been really important in terms of what people could do?
That was a place where everybody could get together?
A: All the families. The white families had the club and they all used to meet there
and we, the black, had our club with all the activity that would be around the club.
Like I said there were so many black Cubans here that even they had class
among the black.
G: Explain that to me?
A: Class, there is always a certain class of people. I was a human being but in their
ways and all that you are able to discriminate one color. You such and such
people are lower. When you have a big community, you are able to do that but
when you do not, you all have to stick together. When you are very little in order
to survive you have to join forces with the other people. I remember that
he used to say that family there they are no good because of this, that and the
other. Those sort of people used to group with the other people like them.
G: I believe you. Were there distinctions made between people who were from the
countryside and people who were from the city originally?
G: Was it just personal reputation?
A: It was personal reputation, it was not because you came from one part. As a
matter of fact, I think there were very few who came from the big city, most them
came from "el interior." When you say "interior" it means inside of Cuban, small
towns and all of that.
G: How did they get into the cigar-making? Did they go first to Havana and then
learn the cigar industry and then come to Tampa or was it in their villages?
A: In their villages they would learn and then they would come here. Most of them
learned in their villages. It was a great thing to be a cigar maker. The cigar
maker was considered an artist because to make a cigar is an art, really. You
never seen how to make a cigar?
G: I watch the Ybor City and it is.
A: It is an art and the cigar maker considered themselves above the rest of the
working class. Here in Tampa, you did not learn any other kind of work in the
cigar market they used to work with a hat and a coat.
G: They made better wages relatively, didn't they?
G: There was also that there was more money?
A: More money and while they were working they were learning. They used to read
all these big novels, Les Miserables, and Don Quixote and all of that. They
would be reading to you and you would learn. I remember my father, he used to
come home and talk about it. I used to know about all the big novels hearing my
father when he comes home talking about it, Jules Verne and all of that. It was
wonderful. They were really educated. In the books that you have in the
university you can see that those people who wrote I do not say they were the
best but you can say that for a person that had mostly I do not think they even
went to the sixth grade and they were able to do what they did. I give them credit
because they did not have the education. They had very little education.
G: I agree. I have spent a lot of time looking at the records and one of the things
that comes through is that this was a complicated thing that they were
organizing and carrying out in terms of all the benefits and all the utilities,
collecting dues from all the members, making sure that this one added up to that
one and month after month there would be this huge volume in and a huge
volume out and a little bitty balance and I am very impressed with the way.
Especially in the early period you can see the beginnings of developing the
system of keeping track of things and it is very intelligent, very well done.
A: Tremendously and keeping there club up and they were on their own.
G: That is one of the things that I have gotten particularly interested in as I have
gone through these is that these were very difficult kinds of things to undertake
and it is worthwhile to see how it works because I think it is good. I know other
groups today try to do less ambitious things and having a lot less success and I
A: They did it.
G: When you remember about things you used to go to, what were the events and
A: They always used to have those plays and the outfits were from the members in
G: Were you in the plays?
A: No, I never was. One time they used to have a section for the poems and I
remember one time I said a poem and it came out good and people were
clapping. Next time we had another poem to be read and this time I got up and I
forgot it. That is the most embarrassing moment in my life and I never forgot it.
my mind went blank, completely clap. The people started clapping and the more
they clapped, they worse I got. They tried to prepare us in a small way to do a lot
of things like how to relate with people.
G: The references in the minutes to a school or classes for children. Was that going
on in your memory? Do you know of that?
A: No that was before me. That one my mamma went to there because I hear
mamma talk about it. They used to have this lady that she use to have this
school for the black Cubans. She would teach them Spanish. I never went to
that because I went to a Catholic School they used to call Saint Benedict. It is
still over there on Columbus Drive and 20th Street. We used to go to church
there. It was more like a missionary. The white people had another one
and we could not go to that.
G: That was a separate building?
A: That was a separate building and a separate school. The sisters were from the
same convent but we went to different schools.
G: Were there only Cubans that went to your school or were there other
A: There were Americans too.
G: You got to know Americans at school?
A: We met them in school. We had very few Americans, the majority were black
Cubans and we had some Americans but somehow, I do not know, but they were
different. I guess the education they were getting made them different.
G: When did you start getting to know black Americans?
A: In the school because we used to be with the Latins all of the time and once we
started going to school that is when we came in contact with the Americans and
there were black Americans. We went to school and then from there we had to
go to public schools and it was mostly all black Americans. In junior high there
was black Americans and then they had elementary schools too, they were all
public and that is when you came in contact.
G: Most black Cubans went to the Catholic school for elementary school?
G: So junior high school and high school, that is when people first began to have
close contact with black Americans plus you had them in the neighborhood many
G: What were the attitudes of black Cuban families towards black American friends,
particularly girlfriends and boyfriends?
A: They would not accept it.
G: They would not accept it?
A: No. There were certain cases but very, very few. If a woman or a man would get
to the point of marrying, they would talk about it. It was something to gossip
about. They would say so-and-so has got a black American boyfriend and as a
man they would not look hard on him up to the point when it got ready to get
married. If he was going to marry a black American girl, then they would point
G: So there was a double-standard about who could deal with black Americans?
A: That is it but my uncle, Mrs. Joaquina, her husband who was my uncle. His first
wife was an American, a black American and she turned out to be bad, very bad
to him. My mother told me that up to her dying day she told him not to marry this
woman. See. It goes to show you.
G: That she was right?
A: She was against her because she was an American woman.
G: SO those kinds stories, were those evidence or used as ammunition when
people would argue against somebody else getting involved with a black?
A: They were evidence. They were not the same.
G: How were those differences? How did you perceive those differences?
A: The way they carried on socially. We used to look down on them because they
were not the same. I guess you have to go back to the Spanish colony, when
Cuba was a Spanish colony. The slave would be given a better treatment
culturally then the whites in this country would od with the slaves so we came out
with a little bit more culture out of the slave and that made a difference. When
they called come over here they would find a black American that would fall
behind. That difference is what did it. I do not think it was because they were
American or Cuban, I think it was on the part of the culture that they had. They
would not act right and since they did not act very good, they did not want them
with Cubans. They were loud and do this and that nd things that we were not
used to and we did not want to be with. I am telling you the truth.
G: I want you to.
A: I am telling you what I saw and what I lived.
[Interruption in the tape]
A: Tom, how are you doing? I want you to meet Miss Greenbaum.
G: How do you do?
T: How do you do?
A: I was telling her about the time we were kids here in Tampa. About the
discrimination and the club and all of that.
T: That is why I left here 43 years ago.
G: So you have been in New York all that time?
T: All this time. I wanted to come back home.
G: Is this the first time you have been back to Tampa since you left?
T: No. it is lovely here.
A: We were talking about the discrimination there used to be when we were kids,
you know? Even the Cuban with the black Americans.
T: We were different see. We used to live here the white and the colored Cubans
used to live together, but the American negroes used to live apart. You were
G: No, I was born in Kansas.
T: Kansas City?
G: Actually I was born in St. Louis but I lived in Kansas City.
T: How about Florida?
G: I came to Florida in 1981, first time I had ever been here.
T: Did you like it?
G: I like it. The weather is much more agreeable than Kansas and other things and
the ocean is nice. We did not have that in Kansas.
[End of side Al]
G: What about when there started to be a Civil Rights activity? Did that change
attitudes? Now that is much later.
A: Yes, with Luther King and all?
G: Right. What was the reaction of black Cubans to black Americans and did with
that whole issue?
A: By that time, that was back in the 1960s, there was a closer relationship between
the black Cubans and the black Americans. There was more marriage between
them, things had changed a whole lot and during the civil rights struggle, I did not
because it was really the younger people that went down desegregating the
stores and all of that and they both did it at the Casella and the __ for the
children and they all joined together for the civil rights movement. The majority
were the black Americans who were the majority then and they still are but they
carried the torch but things had changed since then.
G: What are some of the ways things had changed? You mentioned marriage for
G: What were some of the other changes that seem to be important in that time?
A: People were awakened socially to make a change.
G: What about not working in the cigar industry any more, did that bring you more in
contact with black Americans at least black Cubans more in contact with black
A: I will tell you, during the boom time of the cigar industry there was some black
Americans in the cigar industry but only two or three, you could count them, two
or three that is all. How they got in, I do not know. That I do not know but there
were some, very few in the cigar industry.
G: Were there black Americans who belonged to Marti Maseo?
A: There were not allowed to belong to the club.
G: That was part of the charter?
A: Part of the charter said that that was strictly for black Cubans.
G: How did they begin to draw the line when they had Cuban Americans, basically,
who were born in America and had been there for a long time, they were still
considered Cuban because of their parentage?
A: Cuban. Look at me, I am an American but my parents are from Cuban and we
used to give these dances in the Cuban club and the blacks when they came to
Marti Maseo they went on to rent Marti Maseo and they will not rent it to
anybody, any black. As a matter of fact there used to be a society that you could
call the high society of the black Americans. They used to come to Marti Maseo
because they did not want to go where the other black Americans went.
Whenever they gave functions, they would come to Marti Maseo, a big building
that we used to have, and they would look down on the other blacks because
they would come to our club and that is something special.
G: Were those class distinctions recognized that existed within the black American
community you recognized also?
A: That is right.
G: And those people like Blythe Andrews and people like that came to Marti
A: It was something big for them to come to the Marti Maseo. I cannot think what
was the name of it. They used to have a club and whenever they had a big
function, they would come to Marti Maseo.
G: Did the people from Marti Maseo ever go to their sorority functions or any of the
kinds of things that they would do?
A: No, they did not go but they would come to Marti Maseo because that was the
best meeting place because I guess those clubs, they used to probably meet for
the meetings i n a home I imagine because they did not have no club they
owned. When it came to the functions, they would come to Marti Maseo and it
was something big. Whenever they had any other function, not this club but
some other club or a black American came over there, we used to put a white
policeman. They wanted a black policeman but the policeman was white and it
was hard on the blacks. I remember one case where this white policeman,
Robert was his name. I can see that man, he was short. Sometimes a black
would come in there with a hat on and he would say, Negro, take that hat off,
can't you see you are in a Cuban club here? Take that hat off when you walk in.
That is the way it was.
G: He was policing your club?
A: That is it. He was policing the club and we used to keep him there because they
used to fight. That is why I tell you that it was different from them. Whenever
they start a fight or an argument or something, right quick, he would get them
and get them out of the building and run them off, put them in jail, call the patrol
and they brought some big old wagon and take them to jail. Then we had
another there was a he was something like a deputy and he would do the
same thing. He used to be there and one time this Cuban couple had a big _
going around the building and this man he was hitting on this black woman so he
grabbed the black man and held him over the railing and he said I ought to drop
you and he said no, Mr. Mc do not drop me. He said why do you want to
beat on a woman for, I am going to drop you and I ought to let you fall. He was a
mean man and that is the way it was.
G: Were they mean to everybody in Ybor City? Were the police meaner to the black
Cubans than they were to white Cubans or did they sort of lay-off in Ybor City?
A: When it came down to a black Cuban and a white Cuban, they would go for the
white Cuban. To them you were black. They would treat you a little better than
the black Americans, you had a better break, but when it came to the white and
the black Cubans it went back because they were white. Like I said, you had
discrimination in here but not as bad within this community. I think Tampa, or
Ybor City, let me put it this way, Ybor City was the only city in the South where
the black and the white lived next door. N other place in the South will you find a
black and a white living together and you will find it here in Ybor City.
G: What was West Tampa like? Were you familiar with West Tampa?
A: About the same thing, he is from West Tampa and it was the same thing in West
Tampa. West Tampa was the same as Ybor City.
G: A little smaller?
A: The community was smaller but the relationship was the same as it was in Ybor
City because they had many cigar factories in West Tampa and had a lot of black
and white Cubans working at the cigar factory, they had quite a few.
G: There were, in the records, there is a West Tampa section and an Ybor City
section in the club, is that a fairly formal distinction that you made?
A: No, the reason of that was for collecting because they had the collectors for West
Tampa and the collectors for Ybor City.
G: So it was more convenient to collect it.
A: They would name one of the members and he would collect all the members
from West Tampa so he had to do it in two sections. He would go collect and
then he would come down and bring the money from West Tampa and when we
had a function, we all joined together.
G: There was no rivalry or anything like that?
A: When you say so-and-so is from West Tampa, people from Ybor City thought
they were better.
G: Did people move back and forth very much?
A: Yes, they moved back and forth during working hours, for work.
G: I mean changing houses. Did people move from Ybor City into West Tampa and
A: No, they did not move that much. If you were from West Tampa mostly you
would stay in West Tampa.
G: The people there worked in those factories over there and lived around the
A: That is right. My father used to work in West Tampa for a while. He could not
find no work in the cigar factory in here and you would go to West Tampa. He
worked in Cuesta Ray, that was a big cigar factory. He used to go there and
work and we would go visit from one side to the other. It was nice but we would
always say we were better. This relationship between West Tampa and Ybor
City and I look back at it now and I think it was a wonderful thing. It was not
perfect but I think it was a really good thing for this town.
G: What about labor problems? Do you remember hearing about any of the strikes,
any labor activities?
A: I did. They had many strikes and now I look at it and I think that the majority of
trouble with the cigar industry was caused by the same cigar makers. They were
robbers, they would not take nothing from nobody and then the management, as
owners they would try to squeeze the working man but the cigar maker was
really rough and they did a lot of harm to the cigar industry because of the strikes
they used to put out because I am not against strikes. I think a working man
should strike demanding his rights but there is a limit at the way you go about it.
Now I am looking back and for me, when there was a strike, I was there because
I was a kid and my father did not work so we used to go crab fishing and also for
me it was fun but the way they used to go about it, it was not right because you
se, when you are making cigars, you have to keep them wrapped in a damp cloth
so they would not dry up as they set out the work for the day to make tobacco.
Many times, the cigar makers, at noontime, when they go out for lunch, the
Cuban was a great orator and they loved to say this and that and complain about
what they did to another. They would say, let's not go back in, let's go home and
that costs money because the owner of the cigar factory, he had put out that
much tobacco to be done that day so that kept on and then they would have
strikes for this and strikes for the other and so they introduced the machine and
that is what did it. That is what did it. They started bringing those machines in to
make cigars and the cigar maker, they would say, well, the cigar is not as good
as a hand-made cigar, that is alright because they were making them and they
were selling them and the machine did not go on strike, the machine would run
so they started trying to eliminate and then came the Depression and this and
that and the other, so finally that was the downfall of the cigar industry. I think
that if the cigar makers would have been more balanced with the owners up to a
point, I do not mean that they would get ahead but up to a point, the cigar
industry would have survived more than it did. They had a strike there that lasted
G: This is one that you remember?
A: I do not remember this one but I remember the other strike and then they had
some other strikes and you would go to the labor camp and the bakeries would
give the bread free. You go over there and pick up your loaf of bread. The labor
problem here in Ybor City was related close one to the other, the baker would
help the cigar maker in this and give them bread.
G: These were Italian bakeries?
A: They were Italian bakeries most of them and the grocery store used to be run by
Cubans and the Italians used to do the milk too. They had some Spanish too
that used to come in the morning and give you your milk and your Cuban coffee
and your bread and then they would come at the end of the week and collect and
whenever they went on strike, you did not pay them and they tell you, that is
alright when the strike is over, we come and collect. That is the way it was.
G: So there was a lot of solidarity there?
A: Yes, between them.
G: Were black and white Cubans together in the labor movement or was the
solidarity there also even though there was segregation in the organization?
A: Oh, yes together. You could not be a strike-breaker. If you were a strike-
breaker, you had to leave town. I do not care if you were black or what. When
they went on strike or any labor movement, they were stuck together.
G: Did they bring in strike breakers? Did they bring in black Americans as strike
breakers or white Americans?
A: No, you would find once in a while a strike-breaker but you were singled out, you
had to be dumb. My father told me, when you are a man, don't you ever break a
strike. If you have to starve to death, you starve to death but don't you ever
break a strike. I will never forget that. He used to tell me all the time. He said if
you are going to be a man, you are going to find problems when you are a
working man. Don't ever go against the working man. He said the working man
is always right. He would tell me don't ever break a strike.
G: When so many black Cubans began to leave Tampa because of the Depression,
what happened to Marti Maseo? It must have been a real difficult time in terms
of the membership fees.
A: It came down. Just a handful was left. Very few were left because every body
G: How was that managed? How did people keep it together?
A: We used to make special donations and you would say well, the club is in debt
so I pledge $2 or $3, back in them days it was five a month, but you did not have
to pay the $2 or $3 at one time, you could give 25 cents a week, 50 cents a
month. It was the special fund to pay for.
G: What was the sense of the importance of ? Was there any point where
people just thought of letting go?
A: Yes, just like we have it now. If you lose that, you feel like you lost your home.
That was home for them. So we tried to keep it up, just like we are trying to keep
this one now because right now if we lose Marti Maseo, where are we going. I
cannot go to a Cuban club, I cannot go to an Italian club, I cannot go to the
Centro Asturiano, they will not accept me. That is my home, I have got to keep it.
I love that place. That old, ragged building, I love that place because that is the
only social place we have to represent us. If we lose that, we do not have
G: Tell me what you remember about losing the other building?
A: I remember.
G: Do you remember what year it was?
A: It was in the 1960s. It was over in Ybor City and they bought that building and
we had some more property for $45,000. That is what they gave us, we had to
take that money. We had houses across the street that we used to rent and they
used to help us with the club and the building was there. It was facing 6th
Avenue. it was the building on the corner, a two-story building and next door we
had a patio where we used to give dances and it was nice. A patio like the white
Cuban club and they gave us $45,000.
G: How did they handle that? Did they just come in and say this is what is going to
happen and this is what we are going to give you and there is no negotiating?
A: That is it. No negotiations because you might get less. What they told you was
take it or leave it. If you did not take it, they condemned the building. They could
come in and say this is wrong with this and this. So we decided to. There was
nothing we could do.
G: I heard that the Cuban government had helped earlier to help to make some
repairs to the building? How was that arranged? Do you know?
A: It was arranged through a visit. A Cuban gunboat came to Tampa with a lot of
Cuban victims there, __ to Batista.
G: The building was turned down in the 1960s and this happened in when?
A: Before then.
G: In Batista's regime?
A: Yes. They used to give the Cuban club money all of the time so this man, we
have got the picture of him in the Cuban office, I cannot think of his name, but he
came down on this trip and he said that I think it was on the anniversary of the
city of Tampa that the Cubans sent a gunboat over here with the Cuban people.
So this man, we talked to him, and he said that he was going to talk to the
government of Batista so they would give us a grant of some money to help us
out and he did. They sent it right there. I was the secretary and in the minutes it
is there when we received the money and the amount of money we received and
all of that.
G: I have not found that yet.
A: It was back in the 1950s and they sent us the money and we did some work on
building and all of that
G: Lat me follow two lines, one, your relations with Cuba and the club must have
been fairly close all along? There was money sent for hurricane victims I know.
A: In 1944, we sent money for the hurricane. They had a big hurricane in Cuba and
we sent money over there and I was in Cuban then but the club sent money over
and as a matter of fact, the bylaws then said that if that club ever terminated, the
assets and everything would go to the Cuban government. That was in the
bylaws then but it is different now.
G: So you were that close?
A: Yes, that close.
G: Was there an organization in Cuba that was either related to Marti Maseo or like
A: Like Marti Maseo. The name of it was La Union Fraternal. It was something like
the club we have here now of Marti Maseo.
G: Did you belong to that during the time you were in Cuba?
A: No, I did not.
G: Are there clubs in New York like Marti Maseo?
A: Yes, there was one. I do not know whether it still exists or not. As a matter of
fact, some of the members that left here, went to New York, they were in that
club and now they are back over in here now.
G: In Marti Maseo?
A: In Marti Maseo.
G: So it is possible to go to New York and to become part of the club and sort of
immediately get to know everybody who is there or resume contact with people
you might know?
A: That is right.
G: Then if you come back here the same?
A: The same way. They have this big thing coming up now called El Mamonsillo,
that is given by the Cuban club over there.
T: It is given outside, outdoors.
G: What is the occasion?
T: They all get together and see many people you do not see the whole year, they
are all there.
G: So it is all the Cubans in New York? It is like a festival?
T: They had a Cuban parade last Sunday in New York City.
G: Are there a lot of the Cubans of the older generation and Cubans whose parents
came in the early part of the century and new Cubans, how are relations between
T: They are alright.
G: They all participate in the same festivals?
T: They all live in the same neighborhoods. They get along well.
G: Do you live near other Cubans in New York?
T: No, I do not live near them.
G: Do you keep in contact?
T: Most of the Cubans live in New Jersey and that is across the river. They have a
party in New York in Broadway and a lot of Cubans are there in that section. I
live in the Bronx and they do not have many. There is a big community there in
Broadway and a lot of businesses are owned by Cubans.
A: Mostly the Cubans that live here and went over there, that is where they are
living. Off of Broadway and all of that but now they have come back over here.
No more New York. They got old now.
G: How many people have come back lately? Not exact numbers, but has it been a
A: Oh, yes they are coming back and the reason is age, they are tired now. I guess
they want to come down here and rest and get some of the good sunshine we
got here. I did not see the sun for four days last week, it rained.
T: It rained for four days.
A: Almost to the Canadian border it gets cold.
G: It is hard to get used to. I went to Chicago I remember and I had not been out of
Florida in a long time and I think I like Florida better.
A: Going back to Marti Maseo, it was a shame because they did not bother no other
G: Is there anybody who spoke on your behalf? Were there any politicians or any
local people with influence who were willing to help you?
G: It was just you, yourselves trying to do it.
A: That is it.
G: When you found a new building, how did that work?
A: When they gave us the deadline to move out from the group we looked for a
place. We found some of the members that were against continuing the club,
That is what you called them, We went around the city and we
could not find a place. So we looked and we looked and we always wanted to be
in Ybor City. Still Ybor City was our home do finally this place where we are at
now __ He used to have a clothing store and he was using this as a
warehouse and they used to make clothes here. So, I think he did and the wife
had this building and she sold it to us for, I think, it was $15,000. So we go it and
we started fixing the building and that is how our club began. That building
where we are at now is historical too. Maybe many years from now it might be
something, but today it is part of history but we do not like it. Do you know what
A: I will tell you what. Castro in his campaign to overthrown Batista and among the
cities he visited, he visited Tampa.
G: Castro visited?
A: Oh, yes.
G; I did not realize that.
A: Yes, he visited Tampa. When he visited Tampa we still had our club, Marti
Maseo, the old building was still there so he went looking for a place to talk
against Batista. By the bylaws of the club, we recognized he government of
Cuba, whatever government it was. It was the legal government so we had to
recognize them by the bylaws and Castro was the rebel. He wanted to overthrow
us so we could not let him use the club to talk against the government. So Juan
Casella, he was the president told him no, we cannot do that. He said, you
mean to tell me that a government like that and this and that and you are not
going to let me talk and he told him no, we are not going to let you.
G: Did Juan Casella talk directly to Castro?
A: Yes, there is a wonderful history. So Castro went to different clubs, the Cuban
club, they told him the same thing. So this building where we are at now, there
was a union there. I think the steel workers union. So he talked with the
president from the steel workers union to let him talk in that building and the man
told him yes, you are in a union, go ahead you could talk. So Castro spoke at
the building where we go now.
A: Yes, he spoke there and then he wanted a Cuban flag so he went to try to borrow
a Cuban flag from the Cuban hall and this man, Casella, told him again, no, he
said we do not want nothing to do with you. So, he could not get our flag. I do
not know where he got one, but he did get it from the club, he got it from the
Cuban club. He spoke over there.
G: Was there sympathy for Castro during that period?
A: No, nobody paid him no attention.
G: Is it a big cause that Batista was supporter of the club? What sense did people
have about the way things were in Cuba?
A: They realize that he was a dictator but they did not go for Castro. He had his
ideas and his ways and he was a rebel, he had always been a rebel but he did
not have all of that support. Very few people were supporting him during that
time. I guess they were waiting for somebody else. A more Democratic way.
Even though then you did not know that his tendencies were Communist. We
knew that he wanted to overthrow the government.
G: But he was considered to be sort of dangerous?
A: In a way because advocating the overthrow of the Cuban government and that
was against the bylaws. So he had a run-in with this man and he went to his
house and and told him Cuba is this and that so they got in a big argument
in the man's house. It was his house, Juan Casella. He was a Puerto Rican but
he kept our club and he was president for many years. We loved him and by the
laws, he should not have been our president because he was not Cuban.
Castro, he spoke there. So when you go in the Cuban hall you can say Castro
spoke in here.
G: I never realized it had such history.
A: That is history. You know who can tell you good, Mr. Greenyan. Do you know
G: I have met him. I do not really know him, but I met him.
A: He can give you good information about when Castro was here. I have
something here I want to show you, I have got a brick from the building and I got
it and I keep it as a remembrance.
T: Before the United States Before it started, nobody thought he was going
to be Communist. They jus thought he wanted to take over to better the
conditions of Cuba but he came out with his ideas. He came out here for help
but the United States did not have it and that is when he came to Russia. He
had in all of that he was going to be a Communist.
G: Were you born in Cuba or were you born here?
T: No, I was born here in West Tampa.
A: This is the only thing left from Marti Maseo.
T: Your cousin has one too, right?
A: Yes, I got two. I got this one and I got the one I gave to my cousin. That is the
only thing left besides the memory and the record from Marti Maseo, but from the
actual building that is it.
G: That is amazing. Were there any things that came out of the hall that may still be
around and people have collections. I hear stories but they are very vague about
things that got lost during that period.
A: A lot of things got lost. There is a lady that died last year and she was a very
active member and she was an artist in the club and she was a person that used
to collect things like memorabilia. She died last year and I was talking to her
daughter-in-law about two months ago and she said that she had a box of when
the old lady died and she put everything in bags and I told her I was coming back
and I asked her if she would let me look if I found anything and she told me sure.
So I have that appointment with her. OS I am going to check it out and anything
that I see like pictures. I tell you she was a very active person and her parents
were. Anything I see, I am going to get it because I met this man in the store
right before then and he told me that when she was sick he went to see her and
she went blind and she told him I got a box and I want you to go in the box and
take anything you want, so he told me that he found bombs. This has no
relation with Marti Maseo but it goes to show you what the black community did.
They found some bombs from the revolution so he got them and he asked if I
had use for them and he said I want to keep this because that would be
something historical. It is not grossly related to Marti Maseo because it was for
another cause but still he came to the club because the man was a member of
G: There might be some interesting things.
A: I think so. I think there will be other things there related to Marti Maseo because
this guy, he is white so I think he probably overlooked a lot of things that could
have been in there that he did not know what it was. So I have got to go back
and I promise you that if there is anything of value I will get it and donate it.
G: I would really like to see it.
A: Do you think the university would have any use for that brick?
G: I think we should take a slide of because I think that at the very least. I hate to
take it because it is a physical object but I think a slide of it would be very nice.
A: Well, it is authentic. It is not a brick from the street.
G: I am sure it is.
A: That is the only thing left from Marti Maseo. I mean the building itself, that is it
because I went there with my father and I picked up this brick and I thought
where am I going to keep this. We had this man from the club that has been a
club member for many years, Leo Samendez, he cried when the wrecking ball
came. He kneeled down on the sidewalk and started praying and crying as they
tore it down. We loved that place. It was the only thing we had, that is all we
T: what was the purpose of tearing it down?
A: Urban renewal.
T: Did they build anything in that spot?
A: Yes, they have got those projects over there now. In the 1960s or 1970s, it used
to be a block down. DO you know where the brewery used to be, that building
G: I think so.
A: That used to be 6th Avenue and we used to be two blocks to the west of that
T: What happened to the houses that Marti Maseo had?
A: They bought then too. They bought then out. $45,000 for the whole thing,
everything. We had to sell. If we did not sell they were going to tear it down
G: Did you feel at that time, that your club was being singled out? Was there a
sense of that at all?
A: Oh, yes.
G: Was it that overt. Did they make it plain that they were?
A: No, they did not make it verbally plain but legally they forced us to sell out. I
think there is a name for that law that they have got to sell.
G: Yes, imminent domain.
A: Something like that. So we had to sell.
T: When you deal with the government there is nothing you could do about that.
G: They would just come in and knock you down anyway. What do you think is
going to happen with the club now? What do you see as not now so much, but
as the future?
[End of side A2]
A: Because they had a great love for the __ They are too patriotic. I believe in
patriotism but sometimes you have got to think about the facts of life. Do you like
to live in some other place? You say, this is the best country in the world. I have
got to live here even if you do not like it. The Cuban is hard, they believe in that
and they are going to live there and they are going to try to make it and this and
that and the other but you cannot do it. You have got to come back here,
G: There was, in Cuba, in the early teens, a lot of racial repression on the part of the
A: In Cuba, yes.
G: Was that something that, and again this is before your time by quite a bit, but
was there any memory of the effects of that on people who came here from Cuba
during that time or who had gone back for reasons during that time and the
awareness of that?
A: Yes, we were aware of that. My parents talked about it and they used to call it a
racial war. They killed a lot of black Cubans over there right after the revolution
so many of them left and came here. They came to Tampa and others survived
that massacre because that is what it was. They were killing them like dogs and
they survived but it was really bad. You see, the discrimination in Cuba was not
like it was over here because economically, the black Cubans in Cuba were
discriminated and if you discriminate a person economically, you discriminate
them socially and in any other kind of way because you do not have any money.
What good will it do me if you tell me I could come in here and I do not have no
money to come here. So in Cuba, the white Cuban took over everything. In this
country you had work for black people. You would say that is a black man's job
but you make a living. It might not be like a white man, but you are making a
living but over there the white Cuban took over everything, there was no such
thing as a black man's job. They would have it all among themselves. So they
get educated and you had Cuban doctors and this and this and that and the
other, but always they was under the very little that the white man give him, that
is what he had even though he was educated. You had to be eminent so you
could get any kind of recognition. So there was a discrimination as far as
economics. They could not stop you from going to the corner there and there
was restaurants and places in Cuba where the black man could not go in even
though he was a Cuban.
G: So there was some segregation?
A: There was. They had some restaurants there in Cuba that you could not go to.
Right before Castro, you had this restaurant Floridita and a lot of other
restaurants there that you could not go in because you were black. In a country
that the constitution said that you could not be discriminated against and that you
might have a cousin who is white and you are black, it is really all mixed.
G: In Cuba and in Tampa among Cubans, were there differences between black
and white Cubans based on different beliefs and customs and a sense of
separate historical identity similar to like black culture in America and different
A: No, there was no discrimination in that time.
G: Not so much discrimination but just a recognition of differences, like different
A: I think that is what you mean. There is the Patenanigos.
G: That is part of it but a very little part of it. More in terms of old stories grandma
would tell or sayings that people would have or things that would happen at
marriages, rituals. Instead of throwing rice, maybe you did something else, that
sort of thing?
A: No, it was all the same.
G: It was all the same. So there was a real sense that white Cubans and black
Cubans were the same people. The same national people, ethnic people but
there was this background of racial discrimination that was based on slavery?
A: Yes, it was all the same. They had the same customs and everything.
G: Ate the same food.
A: Ate the same food and everything was done the same. I knew my great-
grandmother, I did not know my grandma but I remember my great-grandmother,
she was a slave.
G: She was a slave and you spoke to her?
A: Yes, I got to talk with her and she was a slave and she had been a slave and she
used to tell me that she had been a slave but she could read and write. She was
proud of that because she lived in the house and in the house they taught her
how to read and write. She knew how to eat good too. The best of everything.
She would talk about the other slaves. She used to tell me about the other
slaves, that they did not have the opportunities that she had because she was
raised in the house. She was tall and black. She used to wear white all the time
and she used to talk to me a lot. She liked good things and she always looked
good. She said she had been a slave and she knew what good was.
G: She could see the contrast. Did she ever talk about the independence period?
IS that something that she spoke of?
A: Yes, of how they had to travel at night and hide and the Spaniards fighting out
there in the countryside. She hid with her mamma, hiding through the woods.
G: Did she say anything about Maseo?
A: No she did not ever talk about him but she did talk about the ships. They used to
have to hide because the Spaniards used to come and kill you and then the
rebels, Maseo and them used to come in and tell the men that they had to come
and fight. They would make them fight, join them. They are slaves, you are a
slave, join them. Go fight the Spaniards. They had to fight and they would come
in here and there was a house that this white man used to own him and owned
many slaves and when the rebels came they were thieves. So they would tell
him when the rebels get there you have got to join us. I remember, her name
was Maria Lao. Over here in Ybor City she became a midwife among the Italian
G: This is your great-grandmother?
A: My great-grandmother.
G: So she was in Ybor City also?
A: Yes, she moved here. I do not know when did she come. She was my great-
grandmother on my mother's side. In other words she was my grandmother's
G: She must have been very old?
A: Yes, when she died she was ninety-seven years old that we remember, because
she did not want to tell her age but adding and adding, they figured she was
ninety-seven years old. She was active, she used to get around. Here in Ybor
City she was a midwife. She learned that in Cuba during her slavery but she
practiced here among the Italians. She was well-known among the Italian
people. They used to call her Maria Lao. So all these Italian women when they
came down here, they would get pregnant and they would call Maria Lao. At that
time you could not use just a hospital sos he would practice here and help them
have a baby. I guess many of the parents of the big Italian people were brought
to this world by my great-grandmother. She used to have money all the time but
you cannot blame her. They used to cheat her and all that. When she died she
used to have money and she would give it to the people to save it for her, the
Italian people and when she died, she had no record of none and the money was
G: So they were like bankers for her?
A: For her. She did not trust her family. Instead of coming to her grand daughter,
which was my mamma and give it to her, she would give it these Italian people. I
used to go with her to the store, to the __ over there and she used to give the
people her money. I remember seeing her giving the money but I did not have
any paper or anything. I was small. I was old enough to understand what was
going on. They used to tell her, Maria anytime you want something from the
store, you come and get it. SO she would go and buy over there because she
did not pay them but they would keep her money. She was getting cheated. She
died and the money was gone. My grandfather on my mother's side, he used to
have property on 9th Avenue and 18th Street, that is where my mamma was
born. The House was still there. Then he got himself tangled up with another
woman and he left and went to Cuba. You see, everything ends in Cuba. With
this woman, he went to Cuba and left my grandma with seven kids. The oldest
was my mamma. She was twelve years old and he sent a wagon with a sack of
rice or a sack of beans everything big. A wagon full of food and he left. SO they
did not have any money and they had to pay rent so my mamma tells me that
she went to the cigar factory and I will show you what the relationship was then
of what we have been talking about, and she went to the cigar factory to ask for
work and the foreman was Hispanic and he told her, you are too young, you are
twelve years old. She said, yes but my papa left and I have got some more
brothers that are smaller. HE said you are too small what can you do? So she
said please give me some work and he told her come on in. I am going to put
you with the grown women and you are going to have to strip tobacco and he
gave her a
G: At twelve?
A: At twelve years old. SO there you can see that the good of the heart of the Latin
people back then. He felt sorry for her and gave her the job and then the word
got around of what had happened to the family that the papa had left them and
they had nobody else in the house to support them.
G: Who else helped out? Was Marti Maseo in existence and did that help?
A: That helped and then they made collections for her and for the family because
everybody was going against him because he left the family and he should not
have done that. He was wrong. When my father went with my mamma, that I
told you she was sick and she went to Cuba, she saw him with a woman married.
G: Her father?
A: Her father. He kneeled down in front of her and asked for her forgiveness for
what he had done. He saw her. I remember him because then in 1926, my
father took me to Cuba. I was about six or seven years old and he took me to his
house and I remember he used to have a big mustache but I do not remember
my grandma because she died when I was about two years old. I do not
G: How many brothers and sisters do you have?
A: I am the only child.
G: You are the only one. Your mother was ill.
A: Yes, and I am the only one.
G: But you have lots of family in Tampa?
A: Yes, I had a lot of family in Tampa but now my cousins and all are married and
all live in New York but blood relatives I do not have many except my daughter
and my grand daughter, that is really what I have got.
G: Do they live in Tampa?
A: Yes. Lajuaquina, we are not blood related, but I consider her my family too
because she was married to my uncle for many years but really blood related, I
do not have any. I will tell you, it was a wonderful life and there has been so
many changes but I go back to them and I think I can consider myself happy to
live in that time.
T: We did not have it so bad. The Americans Negro had it worse than us. We were
able to live in the same neighborhood with white people and the blacks lived by
the railroad tracks on the other side. Tampa is the only place in Florida that they
mixed white and black Cubans together. Out of Tampa, forget it.
G: What is it like in Miami between black and white Cubans?
A: Now, bad.
G: I would guess because there is such tension between black and Cubans in
A: The white Cuban is greedy.
T: In Miami you get Cubans that came over lately and they ar the ones who are
making all the trouble because most Cubans have been there for years. They
have their won business and they get along with everybody but these Marielitos
as we call them, they make everything worse over there.
A: Even the exciters from Cuba lately during the revolution this man took over, the
black has not exited as much as the white.
G: He has not left as much as the white?
A: No, because Castro gave them something that they did not have before. WE go
back to what I was telling you a while ago about the condition of the
discrimination that they had economically in Cuba. The black Cuban is getting
something in Cuba today that they did not have with the other government. They
have got more freedom. They have got more position that they did not have with
the other government so you do not find as many left as the whites because he
gave them something they did not have before.
G: When you were there and visiting your relatives, what were their feelings about
the government now and whether they would rather be here or there?
A: They like it in a way but in another way they do not like what is going on because
they are tired to say how much longer there is a lot of things they do not have.
They do not have nothing. If they could have what they have got now plus what
this man has promised them that they were going to get as far as eating and
clothing, they would be the happiest people in the world but you cannot have
everything. I have got two cousins. One lived for a while here in the United
States and were married to his brother so she knows what it is like to live here.
She is not a Communist because she knows that there is something better in this
world for her sister but her sister, she is a die-hard Communist. I would not dare
talk to her, not me because she is a die-hard. She believes in it because she has
never been out of the country and she feels that is the best thing in the world,
what they have got over there. She has got a good job with the government and
gets dressed with a green uniform. My mother-in-law and all of that, they do not
like it, they are against it. It is a hard life, very hard.
G: There are not things to buy?
A: There is nothing to buy and nothing to go around. Whenever you find something,
you have got to pay a high price for it. They got the old black market and what
he did is he let the farmers now sell, but they could sell at the price they want.
He has no control of it. So if you want to buy chicken, you have got to pay the
price. It is not cheap either. Even the government, the chicken is rationed.
When you go and buy it by the book, with the ration book, it will cost you $10 for
an itty bitty chicken like that comes from Hungary or whatever. A little thing. It
looks like they got They do not have big chickens like they got in here.
$10 and that is when you go buy it with the ration book that the government tells
you. You have got chicken now, you can go buy it. there is no kind of business
at all. It is bad. The government runs everything. How can you live? She called
up this morning, Mamma did. Catalina Mamma.
T: How is she doing?
A: She wants to come over.
T: She got the papers yet?
A: Not yet. I told her I was going to send her the money.
G: Who is this?
A: That is my mother-in-law. This is my second wife. The wife I was telling you
about we were married, she died. That is my daughter's mother, she died in
1970. Then I remarried. She had been here before and now she wants to come
G: She wants to stay?
A: Yes, if she comes here she has got everything. She takes a lot of things back
home, clothes and things. So I think it is better for her to come than for my wife
to go. It would cost us more and then she cannot take over what the mamma
G: So she will come over for a while and she will get some things and go back?
A: And go back. At the same time she builds her up, she gets thrown again.
G: Do a lot of people have visits back and forth? I know it is much more difficult now
than it used to be but are there still people who make visits?
A: Not as many.
T: When this country first said that they could go visit their family, everybody wanted
to go but now they are charging too munch money. To fly from Miami to Havana
it is over $1,000, that is ridiculous.
A: When you get there you want to die. They tell you that the Cuban money is
worth more than the American money. For every American dollar, he gives you
88 cents. He wants dollars.
G: It is amazing.
T: It has been so long. How many years has he been there?
G: He was so young and such a kind of comic book type and now.
A: I was watching on May 1, watching him on T.V. He moves slow now.
G: Were you there on May 1?
A: I was in Cuba.
G: So you saw?
A: I wanted to see it.
T: They did not have such a big thing.
A: He did not make no speech, no nothing. I watched him on T.V. and he did not
talk. Some other man over there from the Cuban government, he did the talking.
G: He usually talks for four or five hours.
T: Oh, yes he can talk.
A: He would be so far away from the parade that he uses binoculars to watch the
parade, him and the other guy with him. They looked down at the people
T: Because he is afraid. He is afraid that they kill him.
A: They had a group from the confederation of workers. They have got a chorus of
500 voices and all the time that the people are walking they are singing some
kind of chant all of the time. They stop for two or three minutes and then they go
back again. You see the people marching and this chant comes. It is a kind of
march. It is something to see because you are not used to that. Then they have
the military all dressed like the Russians and march like the Russians. Then they
got that __ They have got this thing hanging on the side and a belt around
here and a machine gun. You __ because you are not used to it. In this
country you do not hardly ever see a soldier. You do not. In Tampa we have
got this base over here and we do not hardly ever see a soldier or anything like
that and when you do see them march it is regular guys marching but over there,
it is women and everything.
T: That is the way a Communist country has to be. That is the only defense they
A: In the Communist camp they live good. Where the Russians live, they live good,
they do not mingle with the Cuban people. They have got their own everything in
there. The Cuban government feeds them and everything over there. The best.
G: Are people generally aware of preferential treatment.
A: They know but they do not say nothing because they are afraid to talk and over
there they have a big camp with the women and the children.
T: One day they told me that Castro was going to speak the next day. Everybody in
that country has to go like it or not. You had to go because if you do not go, you
are in trouble.
A: They take your ration.
T: They take your ration book and you will not be able to eat so that is why you see
so many people when he does his speeches. A lot of people do not want to be
there but they have to be there. __ of the Cubans telling me and my brother
the things that had happened that you had to go work volunteer whether you like
it or not you had to go. If you do not go, they take you out and if you are in the
streets during the week, they ask you what are you doing? Are you sick are you
on vacation? Otherwise you have to be working. Now you tell me if that is what
they call a free economy. What kind of freedom is that? I do not see no
freedom. You force people to do things, that is not freedom. Those politics that
___ this goes over there, the guys that are running for president
A: Going back to Ybor City. We did not have no black doctors. All the doctors we
had were white.
T: was black.
A: No, but he was not Latin.
T: No, not Latin.
A: But they were good to us. Dr. Gonzalez, was better that Trelles because Trelles
had his clinic. The building is still there. You had to come around the back. He
had a little stock room in back of the building and he used that for the black
G: This was Trelles?
A: That was Trelles. Gonzalez was a good man.
T: Let me tell you a story of what happened to my uncle. I was born and raised in
West Tampa and this fellow he had a little __ and my uncle, he was raised in
Key West, Florida but the guy was white but they were raised as __ so he did
not believe in discrimination. So what happened is he used to bury colored
people, all the Spanish people.
G: This was in West Tampa?
G: What was his name, do you remember?
T: Boza Funeral Home. It is still there. He died and his nephew got them running
it. To get back to the story, colored people __ because he would not bury not
bury no white people.
G: So he was taking business from them?
T: So they added a law that they could not bury no more black people. So when my
uncle died he said I want to bury him, I do not care and he went and buried him.
See, with the colored people there and the white people there was an avenue in
between so you know that the white people live in that side wanted to get my
uncle out of there because they did not want no black people there.
G: Really, out of the ground.
T: That is right. He buried him in the white section and they made him take it out.
They told him to take it out. They did not want that black man in there.
T: The man was dead and he had to bury him across the street where the colored
people were. That is how racist these people are.
G: That is amazing. On the one hand it is the black funeral parlor that is pressing
for segregation and the white residents who do not want to be with them.
T: That is the way it was.
G: Were the graveyards for black Cubans, was that a separate graveyard or was it
part of the black cemetery?
T: The black was across the street and over there was the white cemetery and here
was the black cemetery. But him and me were so close to my uncle. They were
raised together. He loved my uncle like he was his brother so he buried him over
there. He had a house near the graveyard and he buried him right by his house.
So these white people they went to court and they made a big stink about it and
they made him dig him out and bury him across the street.
G: Do you remember what year that was?
T: That would have been 1938 or 1939. In that time.
G: That is a very interesting story. What was West Tampa like? What was the
community like? Was it a close neighborhood?
T: Yes, we all got along fine. Everybody gets along fine.
G: I have been told that in West Tampa a lot of people who lived there were related
to each other. Is that accurate?
T: Oh, sure. Like we had a family and we all lived in the same block.
G: Your family?
T: Yes, there were twelve or thirteen of us. We all lived in the same place.
Remember? Arch Street.
G: Which part of Arch Street was that.
T: Arch between Albany and Howard. All that section. We were born and raised in
A: You go visit one and you have to go visit all the others.
T: We were very close then.
G: Was the Rosa Valdez Center, was that anything that you used? The Rosa
Valdez Settlement, it is up on not Columbus.
A: What is the name of it?
G: The Rosa Valdez Settlement. It is up there in West Tampa. In like St. Conrad's
or St. John's. Somewhere in the Northern section.
T: It might be new because I have been out of here so many years.
G: No, it was old but I am not sure it has been in continuous operation.
T: What is it?
G: It was a settlement house where they had recreation and classes and day care.
T: Well, they did have it but we could not participate. So I would not know.
G: Was there a church in West Tampa that was the black Cubans went to?
T: You mean a club or something?
G: No, a church.
T: No, only the black American used to go to church. We did not bother going to
church except I never recall going to church. But my father did not believe in
G: Was that really common among Cubans in Tampa? Lack of interest in church
based on anger at the revolution?
A: Yes it was. They respected it but they were against it. I would not say against it,
but they did not participate in it. I do not remember ever seeing my father go to
T: Me neither and my father said he did not believe in church.
A: Because of the readings they used to get at the cigar factory.
G: That was anti-church?
A: Yes a lot of those writings.
T: My father always said this. He did not believe in church because he said this,
how do they command to tell me what is right from wrong. No one has told us,
do right or do no wrong. He said that is the best religion.
A: They said that even if they did not go they were more religious than the
White and blacks, they did not go to church.
G: Did the priests try to get people involved?
A: Yes, the priests and the sisters. They would come to your house and you miss
one Sunday going to mass and they would come by wanting to know what
happened and talk to your parents too to try to get them to go.
T: The thing is, to me, and I was the youngest. I used to say to myself, if the church
is the house of God, how could it divided. I cannot go to my church because I
am black. I always had that in my mind.
A: That is something else. Like I told you before, in the school we had was
Catholic, St. Benedict, and I could go there. The church I was baptized at and
then when I was confirmed I mean my first Communion at the same church but it
was separate. The white children when they go to Communion, they would go
first and then we would go afterwards. Up in the corner there were benches there
for us and all of the rest of us, so we went. Whenever the church had
communion, always the white would go first and w would go after.
G: They alienated more black Cubans from church than even other Cubans?
A; I guess. I guess my parents did and like the rest of them I imagine, as a child I
used to notice that the black, you did not pay no attention, you disliked it. But
you did not take it as hard as maybe my parents would have. Because I would
have felt bad now if I see that my daughter or my grand daughter gets
discriminated. So I guess they must have felt the same way but you had to live
with that. If I wanted to go to the Catholic school, I had to go through that so I will
not have to go to the public schools where they did not want me to be with the
other black Americans. So in order to keep me in the Catholic school, I had to go
through all of that.
T: I want to tell you something else, the Cubans would discriminated the colored
Americans. Our mother did not want us to associate with them.
A: I was telling her that.
T: They would send us to private houses to learn how to read Spanish.
G: So that you would keep that distance?
T: Right. It was very __ because still we had in mind to go back to Cuba but they
could not do it because my father came here when he was fourteen years old as
a cigar maker. He met my mother. My mother was born and raised in Key West,
Florida. Her mother was Cuban and he father was from Spain, Spanish. So we
were all born and raised here.
A: You see the mixture of the race? Your grandfather was white?
T: Yes, my grandfather was. So I used to tell my mother why can't we go to play
with them? But they did not want us. They did not want anybody in the family to
marry American colored, only the Spanish people. Like Italians too. You cannot
judge everybody by one person. These Cubans came here from why
should they blame all the Cubans? You cannot because you have nice, descent
Cubans that have been here for years and have their own businesses in the
community. Now why do you judge everybody the same? I do not think it is
right. That is the way it works. Another thing I wanted to tell you about is church
business. When I married my cousin, we used to live on Eleventh Avenue. there
was three houses left on the block. They had the school, they had the church,
the convent and where the priests lived. So they had four houses left. So they
came to us and said we had to move out because they are going to build a park
there, a playground. My daughter was born in the house. I took my daughter to
New York when she was six months old. She is forty-three years old today. Do
you know that lot is still empty? I am telling you the truth. it is still empty. They
have not built nothing there and they made us move.
G: Just because you were there?
T: That is right. They did not want to have nobody in that block.
A: It was not because of color or anything.
G: It is just that they wanted the block.
T: I am going to tell you a story of what happened to me. I used to work in a
restaurant. The owner was from Spain. He had a slot machine in the back which
was against the law.
[End of side B3]
T: I said I am not going to raise my daughter here because all of the colored girls do
here is be a maid or be washing clothes and ironing clothes for the white people.
My sister did it. She used to clean houses. I said I am not going to raise my
daughter here so that is why I left here. Today, my daughter she works for
Metropolitan Life Insurance. She is on the computer, she does all the claims. It is
a nice job, she makes good money. Which I knew that she would never get a job
here like that. I mean today, yes, but not during that time.
G: When you left you realized that it was economic?
T: That is right. The first was my oldest brother, he left first and he told me to come
over and then my sister and then my mother and then my father, we all left.
G: You all went in sequence?
A: One behind the other.
T: My mother and my father, they are buried in new York. They dies in New York.
A: How did you go to New York the first time?
T: I went by bus.
A: Oh, you went by bus? I was telling Ms.Greenbaum that people used to live in
T: Yes, they used to live in trucks, in cars, in everything.
A: They used to charge you $10 in the big cars.
T: I remember they used to come and pick up in big old Cadillacs. I went by bus.
G: So you would get a great big car that would hold a lot of people and just go back
and forth. When that was going on were there going-away parties, was there a
lot of nostalgia or were they just gone?
A: They were gone.
T: They would just pick up and pack and go.
G: Did you have a feeling that the community was sort of dissolving?
A: Yes, we had that feeling but there was nothing you could do. You just wished
them well that is all. Wait for me.
T: A lot of them are coming back now. Even my oldest sister is going to come back
to visit. I have a brother here. He never left here.
G: What was the difference between him and you? Why did he stay and you left?
T: He does not like New York. When the war was over, he came over to visit my
mother and then he came back to Tampa. When my mother died, he came.
That was about ten years ago.
A: Allada? He was the first black policeman in Tampa.
A: Oscar Allada, he was the first black policeman in Tampa.
G: So he had a position also?
T: But when he became a police, he could only arrest the colored people. He could
not arrest no white people.
G: How about Spanish people? Cuban people?
T: No, only colored. He used to work in Central Avenue which was a colored
neighborhood. From there he could not leave there. He could not go downtown.
But now it is different. But he works for the force for thirty-three years. He never
missed a day. He missed one day in thirty-three years.
A: He was nice. He was bad, but he was nice. The cigar maker used to get paid on
Saturday, so that was a big day for the community. All the grocery stores
opened late on Seventh Avenue, the neighborhood stores because people had
money. There was a circulation. The gambling house. Did I ever tell you about
the gambling that was then?
A: They had Papa wheels. You bet your numbers and played.
G: How did bolita work was that a lottery?
A: It was like a lottery and it was run on a daily basis. it was imported from Cuba.
That is another importation from Cuba and it had different main houses and at
night they take a bag and stick 100 bolas in there and the peddlers would be all
over town selling tickets and the night would come when they would throw the big
bag around and then they would tell you catch the ball and when they throw the
bag, boom, you catch the ball and you hold it and then they come with the
scissors and they cut it and that was it.
T: You could play five cents, a nickel.
A: We used to get $8 for a dime.
T: That was a lot of money, too, during that time. Because I remember when I got
married I used to make $4 a week and I paid for a whole house. For a whole
house I paid $3 a week. $3 for a five or six room house.
A: Could you imagine if you hit $8. $8 back then, like you said was a lot of money
and you could go buy shoes and buy this and buy the other, buy a little bit more
food because you were rich.
G: And it all stayed in Ybor City.
A: It all stayed in Ybor City. So besides the tobacco industry in Ybor City, the next
industry was Bolita. So many people made a living off of Bolita.
G: Selling the numbers?
A: Selling the numbers and the guy working in the cafe where they had the big
gambling houses and it was money in circulation. Bolita is more money on the
streets. They would bring the big lottery tickets from Cuba. Cuba used to have a
lottery every week. They would sell lottery tickets and people would win the first
prize. Thousands and thousands of dollars. So it was another industry. In these
gambling houses the floor was made out of wood and I used to sell the saw dust.
I had a little business of my own. I had a wagon, a four-wheel wagon, and I had
a dog, a big old black and white colored, we used to call him Mussolini. I used to
go the lumber yards and get the saw dust and take it home and put it in big bags
and string them and then I had my customers from these gambling houses and I
used to go sell it to them. They used to put that on the floor to give a pine smell.
I used to sell it for a dime and I had a regular business. I used to come by and
T: In New York they still use it. They had some kind of smell like pine. They put
like __ They spread it.
A: Well this one was from regular wood.
G: How did you get that idea?
A: Improvise. They needed saw dust and there used to be lumber yards all over
here in Ybor City. There used to be a lumber yard right here in back of the Italian
Club. It was about three blocks long.
T: Was that where I used to go and pick up to make the kite, you know the high
kites? I used to go there and pick up a lot of it and we used to make them and
sell them for 75 cents the kites. You had to hustle.
A: You never heard about the lumber yard here in Ybor City. there was a lumber
yard that used to run from the back of the Italian Club on Eighteenth Street
between the railroad tracks and the Italian Club, where the parking is for the bank
now. From there it used to run about two or three blocks. All that used to be a
lumber yard and the whistle blew at 12:00. A big lumber yard. T.W. Ransom, a
lot of people used to work for him. It was part of Ybor City too and then the train
station used to be there.
G: It is hard to imagine. Like I said, I can drive through there now and especially
now that I know more about it and I can visualize what it looked like a little bit but
the things that you are describing, I mean it is hard to conjure up. I remember
when the subway in New York was a nickel.
T: That is right and the newspaper was two cents.
G: Right at the end of it. New York is crazy.
T: Which I do not like. Anyway with my car I do not like to ride the subway it
is full of so many people.
A: Where Park is now used to be an orange grove.
G: Right there was an orange grove?
A: A big orange grove. We had a hurricane here on October 25, 1921, how do I
remember? How can I be so exact with the date? Because that is the day I was
G: There was double the excitement in your household.
A: That was the end of the orange grove. That was one of the biggest hurricanes
that ever hit Tampa and that is the day I was born. Then as I got older, there
was still a few trees left there facing Columbus Drive.
G: That is hard to imagine.
T: I remember two or three hurricanes we had in Florida. The houses made out of
wood, and the trees in the backyard and the fences in the backyard, it was
A: I was born in the house and a tree fell and they had to move my mom while she
was in labor to the back because the tree fell on the house.
T: You had to be very careful when you were out on the streets with a hurricane.
A: Then my mamma used to tell me about the fire. You have not come across the
fire they had in Ybor City?
T: That was the big one.
A: I do not remember the years. I do not even know if I was born but I do remember
my mamma telling me.
T: It was a big fire. It lasted for days and days and days.
A: The roof was made out of shingles and you can imagine in the summertime how
dry they get so what happened is they had this fire in Ybor City and it destroyed
almost all of Ybor City and the sparks were flying and you could have a fire here
and maybe the house next door was not burning but the sparks would be flying
and fall on the other and that one would catch on fire. It destroyed almost all of
Ybor City. It lasted for days. The fire department did not have the instruments
like they do. It just kept burning and burning.
G: I should look that up in the newspapers.
A: Maybe I could think of the year.
T: You know who could tell you. Laureano could tell you.
A: I do not think he was here then. Laureano came here in 1923. That was another
old man. I am not an old man. He is an old man.
T: Of the old Cuban people, there is only two left. Him and Frank Jimenez.
A: No, Garcia.
T: Garcia is not that old.
A: Garcia is eighty something years old.
T: Yes, but Laureano and Jimenez are older than Garcia because I was talking to
them yesterday about it and he told me.
A: You saw Laureano yesterday?
T: Yes, we were standing outside of the house there and I stopped and we were
talking about the same thing. He says that him and Frank Jimenez. I told him
about Garcia and he said Garcia is not older than us. All the old people came
from Cuba are gone now.
G: I would really like to talk with him.
T: How old Laureano is?
A: I do not know. He old.
T: And you know the guy that died. All them old people are gone.
G: It has gotten far enough beyond the time when it was in its hey-day that is what
has happened is that an awful lot of people are just dying.
T: My papa died when he was seventy-nine. My mother was People used to
live long. That was a different life too you know. I remember when I was a
youngster, you could buy Moonshine for a quarter. A white guy would sell to me
and I used to go over to the house and take the pints of Moonshine and bring
them upstairs to them in his house and he used to sell it by the glass. But once in
a while, the __ would come in and grab everything. You had to take it in the
sink and pour water. As long as they did not get no liquor it is all right. But once
they would get you, they would take you to jail. I used to go to the house and
take it out from the ground and take it upstairs because we used to bury it.
[End of the interview.]
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