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Interviewee: Helen Valdes
Interviewer: Susan Greenbaum
Date: August 9, 1984
G: Mrs. Helen Valdes, let me start with when you were a child, were you born in
V: Born in Tampa, in Ybor City.
G: Do you remember the address you were living at, or your family was living at the
time you were there?
V: I was born on Twelfth Street between Eighth and Seventh Avenue. It was a two
G: Was it just your family who lived there?
V: My family.
G: How many brothers and sisters?
V: I have three sisters and two brothers, one just died.
G: Are they older than you or younger?
V: Well, I am the fourth.
V: And my younger brother is the fifth.
G: Were your parents born in Cuba?
V: My mother is from Key West, my dad is from Cuba.
G: Did they meet in Tampa or Ybor City?
V: They met in Tampa and Will was born in Tampa.
G: Did you ever live anyplace else?
G: So, you have always been in Tampa?
V: I have always been in Tampa.
G: Do you know why your father came to Tampa from Cuba?
V: I think it is the same reason as the rest of them, cigar making.
G: About what period would he have arrived in Tampa?
V: That I could not tell you.
G: But, he was a cigar maker?
V: He was a cigar maker.
G: And he was a Pedroso?
G: Are you related or a decent from Tallina and Ruperto Pedroso?
V: So they have told me, not that I know for a fact. They have told me that we are
but I could not tell you that for a fact.
G: Did your family ever speak of them when you were a child?
V: They did but they she is down Thirteenth Street between Eighth and Seventh
right there where the Martin is now. So, I was a child and that I cannot tell you
too much about.
G: What year were you born?
G: They were born by then.
V: Oh, yes, they were born by then.
G: Do you know what happened to them? To the Pedrosos, do you know where
they finally stayed until they died?
V: She died in Cuba. You know they have told me she died in Cuba she was
G: Did they go back to Cuba right after independence, do you know?
V: I could not tell you that. I do not know when they went back but they went back
and she died there.
G: Did your father talk about the independence period? He would have been
younger than that, is that correct? Somewhat younger than that.
V: Yes. I really could not tell you that.
G: But that is not something that used to be talked about a lot.
V: Yes. When our parents were talking we could not be around. It is not like today.
G: So, you did not get in on that kind of stuff.
V: So I can not tell you about the grown-ups because when grown-ups would talk
we would disappear. We stayed, that I remember, I do not know where my
mother lived from where I was born but I know we came back to Twelfth Street
and Eighth Avenue right on the corner of Eighth Avenue, it was 1201 Eighth
G: You remember the address?
V: Yes, because when we left there I think I was about nine years old.
G: In that neighborhood who else lived there? What other families lived there?
V: Lomposos lived in that neighborhood. It was mixed, Americans and Spanish.
G: American black?
V: Black and white.
G: And white Cubans or Italians?
V: Yes, I could say the Spanish ladies that I remember. I remember she had been
there ever since I remember.
G: So it was not segregated in Ybor City?
V: No, not everywhere because I was raised between whites, you know Latin.
G: So, how were relations in the neighborhood at that time? Did you play with the
other kids in the neighborhood? There was never any friction about ethnic issues
V: No. Like my mother would go to work and my next door neighbor was watching
and she would say well, Mrs. I am going to work my children are in the
house and she would take care of us just like we were her kids, and visa versa if
she would go to work it was the same thing. We had nice relations.
G: When do you remember first going to Marti-Maceo? Do you have any conscious
V: Well, I can remember, I know I have been going since I was a baby I think but I
remember that I was going in when I was real young, I mean a child.
G: What went on there at that time?
V: Oh, we had dances and theater and people performing.
G: What kind of plays did you have?
V: They had some kinds of plays you know, like a theater.
G: In the records that are in the library there is at least one play that someone has
written for production at Marti-Maceo, do you know about people writing plays to
then be produced in the club?
V: If I know anything about it they already have it. I do not know who wrote them. I
bet I played in the theater.
G: You were an actress in the plays?
V: Yes, myself and a bunch of other girls and boys. I think I still have one of the
programs. If I could find it I could show it to you.
G: You played Isabelle. Who organized the plays?
V: Who organized them, let me see if there is a name in here that you could see,
this lady here Acosta, she stayed in New York now.
G: But she was here then?
G: So, was she an active woman in the club?
V: Oh, yes.
G: Who were some of the other women who were active in the club when you were
V: What was her last name, she was from west Tampa and her name is Alina, Miss
G: Did the women have a fairly prominent role in the club or were kind of
subordinated to the men? Did you have influence over what went on in the club
or did the men kind of run things?
V: No, the men used to run it. It is not like today, all the men ran the club.
G: So the women?
V: Just started not long ago. Like we had a women's committee but the men ran
the club all of the time.
G: So, what kinds of things could the women's committee do on their own?
V: Well, there are other nice dances, and plays, and all of that.
G: The woman, they did not go to the club every day like the men did?
V: No, no no.
G: Did your father go to the club every day?
V: My father?
V: He stayed at the club. Because he used to play dominos all that in there.
G: When you were young did you take advantage of the books and things like that
that were in the club, did you use those?
G: Do you know where they came from there was an awful lot of that was in the
V: Now that I can go and sit there they are not there.
G: What about the classes that they had at Marti-Maceo? They had language
classes I think?
V: They had like a little school for kids and I used to go there.
G: Who organized that and what was the reason for it?
V: Because we did not have any school to go to. We were not able to go to proper
school, or anything like that.
G: How come, was it too far?
V: Too far.
G: Did your parents object to you going to public school because there were
V: I will not say that because they never expressed that.
G: Did they think badly of public schools because of segregation?
V: No, especially the girls. They did not let the girls go to school.
G: School was not that important.
V: It was not important for them to send them to the schools. They were very strict,
they were very strict, they would not let us go to public school, unless it would
have to be private school. And no one could afford a private school.
G: The catholic school, did that cost money to go to the catholic school?
V: Well, it was money but it was not like today. But then you know like my mother,
we were five, she could not afford it so she sent us to this Marti-Maceo and got
some kind of teacher.
G: Now, did she teach basic subjects?
V: No, just the regular things. Nothing like today.
G: Did your mother work when you were a child?
V: Yes, she had to.
G: What did she do?
V: Private home.
G: She was a domestic.
G: Whose houses did she work in, did she work in Ybor City or did she work in the
American part of town?
V: No, on this part of town, where the white people used to stay.
G: What were some of her experiences, she must have gotten to know a lot of
different families in Ybor City that way, did she ever bring any of the stories home
about what people were doing or any of that kind of stuff?
V: No, she never did. Not to us anyway. She used to go and clean up and cook for
them and take care of the kids something like that, nothing to say about them.
G: Your father was a cigar maker always?
G: Which factories did he work in do you remember?
V: That one over on Thirteenth Street they used to call, what was the name, right
there where Ybor Square is now.
G: So, there were some cigar factories that hired blacks and others that did not.
V: No, they all worked in the old cigar factory except this one, they did not have any
G: Why was that?
V: I do not know, but that is the only one that did not have blacks.
G: Your father, did he stay in the cigar factory until he retired or did he quit?
V: No, he never did retire because he died.
G: What did you do when you first?
V: You mean after I was gone?
V: I used to do domestic work.
G: So, you did that also.
G: Did you do that before you were married?
V: Before I was married.
G: When did you get married?
V: I got married in 1942.
G: How did you meet your husband?
V: Right here in town.
G: Did you meet him at the Marti-Maceo?
V: No, no, no, no, in the street.
G: Did he have to go through elaborate measures to get your father to let him see
you or was there any of that kind of stuff?
V: No, the way I did it they never knew I left with my boyfriend.
G: So, you got around that. So he would have.
V: They would have had some objections.
?: Perhaps she can tell you a little bit about her older sister if you are really
interested in how they courted during those years, perhaps she can tell you more
about how her older sister and how her husband courted her and how they
married and that and maybe that would give you an idea. That would be
interesting enough. I think that would be interesting because it is a different type
of history that what she has. Tell her about when __ started courting and what
happened, how did that allow in the family.
V: Well, it was not allowed. He had a hard time trying to come in. Yes, he had a
hard time trying to come in but then anyway he courted my sister, and moved her
along before they married.
G: And the had to be chaperoned?
V: Oh, yes. When they would go anywhere the whole gang used to go. If
nobody could go, they could not go, dancing, movies, anywhere they went
they had to be chaperoned.
G: And your husband is Cuban?
G: Was he from Cuba or had he been born in Tampa?
V: He was born here. He was born here and went to Cuba after he was five years
old, came back when he was thirty-five.
G: Have you ever been to Cuba?
G: How often?
V: I went there twice. I went in 1953 and 1958.
G: So you went right before the end of the Batista Regime.
V: Not before, yes, you know because it was gone in 1959.
G: What were things like then? Could you tell that the government was shaky at
V: Oh, yes they already had all of those, what you call them graffiti.
V: All over the street.
G: So, what took you to Cuba at that time?
V: My family.
G: You had family that was there.
V: My aunt.
G: Do you still have family that is there?
V: I have cousins and nephews.
G: Do you ever communicate with them?
V: With a nephew.
G: What kinds of things does he tell you?
V: Oh, he does not say much.
G: You can not really get much.
V: He will say everything is all right, we are doing fine. Cuba is a beautiful place or
was. I have no idea how it is now.
G: Did your father go back to Cuba when you were young?
V: Well, once and that was right after marrying her and then he went back.
G: Did you know people that went back and forth fairly often at least like during the
early, in the 1920s.
V: A lot of them used to go back and forth all of the time. Even on the weekends. I
got a friend right now that used to go on weekends.
G: How is that possible? Is it real cheap to go or?
V: I am talking about now, on a plane.
G: So more recently.
V: And not on a boat, never went on the boat.
G: What do you remember about the times during the depression when people
started moving away?
V: It was hard for everybody.
G: About when did that start? Can you recall?
G: Was it the depression that caused it or the machines in the factory that caused it
or a combination?
V: I think it was the factories that moved away from here too, that caused people to
go to New York.
G: Why did they go to New York do you know?
V: They said factory was moving to Philadelphia and New York.
G: So, they followed it.
V: They followed the factory.
G: Did people already know people in New York at that time?
V: They just went.
G: Got themselves settled and somebody else went.
V: That is right.
G: I have been told that there were people who got big cars like big Cadillacs and
Packards that could hold a lot of people. Do you remember that?
V: Yes, I do.
G: Do you remember anybody who was doing that individually, or individuals who...?
V: It was not individuals but they were white men.
G: So, this was white men and they did it for all of the Cubans.
V: Black, white anybody who wanted to go.
G: Were the Italians and the Spaniards also leaving?
G: So, it was pretty much of a big exit out of Ybor City. Now, you stayed, why did
V: My mother stayed.
G: It was for your mother.
V: My mother did not move, we did not move. And I am glad I stayed.
G: What was it like when so many people had moved away? Was it hard to
continue to have activities at the club?
V: Well, yes, it slowed out, it slowed out a lot, you know the majority of them left and
that is what made Marti-Maceo go down because alot of them left.
G: What kinds of things happened that you remember as indications that
Marti-Maceo was going down? Were there financial problems?
V: Financial problems. And one thing, and then like they had dances and things like
that, a lot of people were not there.
G: So, you could not raise it. Was there pressure at that time to open up the club
more to black Americans? To kind of make up for the loss of the people that had
V: I could not tell you that was run by the men like I told you and the older men, they
had their own ideas so I do not know whether, what they were thinking.
G: Do you remember the Pan-American Club? Mrs. and Mr. ?
V: Oh, she had one, yes, yes I remember.
G: As I understand part of the purpose of that was to get black Americans, young
people, but you were not part of that?
V: No, I was not part of that.
G: What did you know about the people within west Tampa? Was that a different
community over there.
V: A different community.
G: The black Cubans, Cubans from west Tampa, they were part of Marti-Maceo?
V: Yes, they were part of Marti-Maceo.
G: Did they see themselves as different or was it just because they happened to live
over in west Tampa.
V: I do not know what their idea was but I believe that they thought they were
G: Something else that I have been told was that a lot of the people who lived in
west Tampa were all related to each other. Is that correct?
V: I would say that, but I am not sure.
G: Did you ever go over there, did people from Ybor City go to west Tampa?
V: Yes, they used to visit.
G: Did people move back and forth or did they?
V: No, the ones that stayed in Ybor City would always stay in Ybor City.
G: So, those people who worked in the factories in west Tampa lived in west Tampa
and stayed there.
V: No, some of the Ybor City people used to work in west Tampa.
G: So it was not the people that came back and forth.
G: Did people stay in one factory pretty much all the time or did they move around?
V: I do not know, like my family they stay in one all the time, till they start shutting
down factories and they had to move to another.
G: Another thing that I have heard is that Italian women were being hired and black
men were being let go during the 1920s. Was there friction between black
Cubans and Italians over that, that competition for jobs?
V: I do not know much about that just to tell you that I have heard the same thing.
G: How were relations with the Italians in terms of, they owned the grocery stores
and businesses. Were they good people to do business with?
V: Very nice. Very nice. I could say about us, you know, I do not know what
happened with others but I can tell you about us because we always, like I told
you we were raised in the white neighborhood.
G: So you were used to all being together.
G: What about relations with white Cubans? Was there ever any anger over, the
split between the two clubs or the segregation that affected the blacks and not
V: Well, we never would go to the white clubs, we never went. Like they had big
things, you know, we invited the board of the Marti-Maceo and they used to go
five or six of them but when the music was over or whatever they had they would
G: There were not hard feelings about that though?
G: Just part of the way.
V: The way things was going on.
G: How was segregation in Ybor City compared with other parts of Tampa? Was
it easier, less restrictive in Ybor City?
V: I think it was less restrictive in Ybor City.
G: I mean I know that neighborhoods were not segregated, restaurants and those
V: They were, restaurants were segregated. Like me, I would go to buy a sandwich,
I would have to stand through the window and ask for a sandwich or whatever I
wanted from them. They would sell me anything but I could not go in.
G: Were you ever dealt with differently because you were a Spanish speaking black
person as opposed to an American black person?
V: Yes, we were treated different.
G: How so, who treated you differently?
V: The white people, because we were black.
G: And it was better.
V: Better than they used to treat black Americans.
G: Why do you think so, it is kind of funny that a foreigner would be treated better.
V: Because they would save themselves, did not want to be over with these other
G: How were the relations between black Cubans and black Americans?
V: The men used to have good relations. But the women were
G: Did you know black American women?
V: Oh, yes.
G: Why were relations not good between the women?
V: I could not tell you much about that, that was old. It was not during my time, but I
knew that is what they say.
G: Was there any competition over men?
G: Black Americans, women being interested in black Cubans men?
G: What were attitudes in families concerning marriages between Cubans and
V: I do not think is was anything, they just did not understand the language, like my
mother. My mother did not speak any English at all.
G: I see.
V: And I think that is what everybody was overly concerned about, but not because
of America or different, they just did not understand it. Like today we all have
them in another family. You know, like the American women more interested in
the Spanish black man.
G: Why do you think that was, something different?
V: I think there was more open, moneywise.
G: But cigar workers earned more money [laughing].
?: I mean it is difficult to make a comparison because they never were exposed and
it is difficult for her to say how can you compare the differences when they were
never actually with American black women to even get into how they felt about
them as much, because they never were exposed, it was too strict. They were
always at home, they were not allowed to do anything.
G: In your generation have you ever had discussions with people about the
differences between Cubans and Americans?
?: Of, course, of course.
G: What kinds of things did you say?
?: I was more exposed. They saw Cubans as being different simply because the
culture is so much different. We are reared differently than American blacks and
they saw us very different as perhaps almost equal to whites. There was
animosity there for a long time. In our generation you were able to discuss those
kinds of things simply because we were thrown in right with them, at least I was
because I went to private school then I went to public school so therefore I know
that they did not have that kind of exposure that we had. So, that was basically,
what I could gather was that they just did not and still do not very much
understand the culture, the because it is very different, simply because we have
certain mores that we go by, the courting thing and what you do at a certain age
and you are not allowed to this and pretty much Cuban families raised their kids
that way or used to, I do not know about now.
G: Did that cause you feelings of rebelliousness?
?: You can believe that, yes.
G: How did you deal with that?
?: I fought a lot. I wanted to make them understand that I was not as different as
the perceived me to be and that kind of worked out. I guess it all depends on
G: Today, do you feel yourself to be Cuban, or how strong is your sense of identity
as a Cuban?
?: It depends on the circumstance of the situation in which I am in. It is really
convenient to be black Cuban now in a lot of instances. I identify mostly with
being Cuban simply because my family are basically more Cuban than anything
else, when I am home I speak Spanish and that is all I do and I eat the food, but
when I am away I do not, so I have to identify with that pretty strongly. And it is
convenient at times. It is convenient for me job-wise. I am in school right now, as
far as grants and all those things concerned, it is an opportunity that I never had.
G: Check two boxes.
?: I check two boxes because I am in a dilemma I do not know which one to check
anymore. You know, and so but I identify strongly with it when I am home and
when I am away it is easy for people to confuse me a lot of times and it is nice to
know that I do have that background.
G: Did you go to anything at Marti-Maceo?
?: I have always gone since I was a child, it was compulsory.
G: When people started coming back from New York, when was that? How recently
has that been?
V: Six or seven years ago.
G: Did that happen all of a sudden.
V: All of a sudden, one came in you know, they claim now that they left on account
of the segregation that we had here, but I know different. I say I know different
because we were all in the same shoes, we were poor and it was hard to get
whatever we wanted, you know. And that is why they left but now they say it was
because of segregation but we were born here and we were born in it so, if I got
used to it I guess everybody else could too. Well, let's leave it like that.
G: Did you ever go to New York to visit people?
V: Yes, I never like it.
G: What did you not like about it?
V: Everyone is close up like that. That is the first thing that I noticed you had to be
closed in. In those days, today you can not open the door and I did not like it then
and I was young and I could have stayed there, but I did not like it.
G: The people in New York did they maintain contact with each other when you
went to New York and visited people did you find out about this one and that
V: Yes, I asked how is so and so and somebody would take me to their house
something like that, yes. And I got family in New York too.
G: Did they live fairly close together?
V: No, far away, to me far away because a block in New York is about a hundred
?: They also have a club where they meet.
V: Oh, there is a club there. They mention that a lot here, but like I say they did not
leave here because of segregation because they were born and they left. But
now when they came back, like say, a couple came and visited Tampa and they
said "oh, Tampa," talking about Tampa. Tampa is different now, you can go
everywhere, all the white people and oh, I do not believe it, oh, Tampa is great so
then they started coming back to Tampa. So, it made me feel like they really left
because there was segregation.
G: After the war, well, even further than that when urban renewal came into Ybor
City, do you remember that? Were you living here then?
V: No, the urban renewal made me move.
G: The urban renewal made you move?
G: Where were you living at that time?
V: Tenth Avenue and Nineteenth Street.
G: How much of that area did they take?
V: All of it.
G: What year was that do you remember?
V: 1965, that is when I left.
G: Where did people go? In your neighborhood how many of the people that were?
V: Well, like me I came down here. And stayed with stayed. The rest of the Cafeas
came around this way. A friend of mine Valdez, she did not come too far, she
went back that way. And I got some other people that went back to Second
Avenue and Twenty Third Street.
G: So, people tried to stay in Ybor City?
V: Yes, tried to stay in Ybor City. When I came this way I thought I was coming to
the end of the world.
G: What was the effect of it on neighborly relations and relations with people in the
club in the community? Was that a time of turmoil?
V: No, no because that is when Marti-Maceo was down when that happened. It was
G: Now, how many members or how many active members were there at that time?
V: I do not know anything about it. These people that I am talking about back in my
neighborhood, like I said they were white and black in that neighborhood too. I
was staying at the corner, next to me was the Stalleones's house, they were
white, Italian. In fact, on my side of the street where I stayed they all were white
G: And this was in 1965?
V: Now, across the street it was different, let me see, how many blacks were there,
three, across the street for me and the rest were white.
G: Do you remember when they tore the building down?
G: No, the Marti-Maceo building?
V: The year?
G: No, just...
V: If I remember? Sure.
G: Did you go to the building that day, I know there were some people who did?
V: No, I did not.
G: What were your feelings about that?
V: All bad because we should have kept that.
G: How did it all sort of come about? Was there very much time to think about it?
V: Oh, no, they gave you a lot of time to think about it. They gave me a lot of time
to think about my house, I know they gave them a lot more time.
G: Do you remember any of the discussions that went on?
V: They never discussed it that I knew of, you know, openly. Really when I knew
anything they had sold it.
G: And it was destroyed then. Was the new building enquired pretty much right
away or was there a gap in the club after the old building was taken down and
the new one started up again?
G: During that time did the club have dances or any activities?
V: No, it was not active.
G: It just kind of stayed, they paid the....
V: Yes, the men used to go and they played dominos and things like that, but it was
not active like today, it was not.
G: I have heard that there were poor people who used to go there every day just to
keep it up.
V: Sit there, that is right.
G: Did people get pessimistic at that time, and feel that it was just going to
disappear? Do you remember?
V: Oh, a lot of people I know that did, it could not be helped.
G: Did it stay that way until people came back from New York? Or were there other
things that started to build back up?
V: No, no, no. We had an attitude before the people came from New York and
they had some new __ and then I do not know, they got tired or something, I
do not know what they did and they turned it back to the old people, so the old
people could not do too much. __ came and asked him to be president and
then we started going again and finally got them out and all that.
G: How is it now? Is it pretty active in comparison?
V: Yes, it is pretty active, in comparison it is. It could be more.
G: Are there people who used to belong that do not belong now that you know of?
V: No, no, they all belong. The ones that do not belong anymore are dead.
G: I see.
V: No, they all belong and we have new members.
G: Are there still people coming back from New York?
V: Oh, yes every time I hear, so and so is coming back, so and so is coming back, I
think this week somebody else is coming back to stay.
G: What about some of the newer people from Cuba? Are there people who are
post fifty-nine, Cubans in the club, people who came after Castro into Tampa?
V: I do not think.
G: Why do you suppose that is? Do you know whether the new Cubans include
V: Because I do not think we have them here, I think they are all in Miami.
G: I know that is one of the biggest. You do not have any relatives in Miami?
V: No, I do not.
G: Do you know any black Cubans in Miami? One of the things that I wondered
about is what is a black Cuban community in Miami like.
?: I would love to know.
G: I mean it has always surprised me especially with the conflict with the blacks and
Cubans that nobody has ever really mentioned that there are black Cubans that
might have some kind of unique perspective on this. I mean this is a very
different kind of situation in Miami. Were all of the black Cubans Catholic?
V: That I know of, yes.
G: There were not any Protestants sects that came in and evangelized?
V: Not that I know.
G: Was that also a major difference between you and black Americans? Religion?
V: Yes, I always think that as a Catholic that that is the religion. One of the things I
do not mess with is religion. What I believe is mine and what you believe is
G: Did you ever go to church with black Americans? Did you have any experiences
involved in black churches?
V: Oh, yes. I had gone to funerals that is about it. You know, like I know American
people, coal workers and things like that, they have an event that is held at
another denomination, I go to that.
G: What were your impressions of church among black Americans? Did that seem
V: Oh, very, very. Louder and longer. All day long.
G: What about black American music? Did you like that? Was that popular among
Cubans when you were young?
G: So, it was just Latin music.
V: Well, we like it on the sly you know, but we did not go to American dances,
unless it was a school dance, that I would have some friends and I would go to
the dance with them. And that had to be in the Cuban club.
G: So, there were very few occasions where you even had contact with black
Americans when you were growing up?
V: The most contact I had was when I went to Catholic school.
G: There were black Americans on the campus.
V: Yes. And then I had more contact when I went to work at the hospital and I was
the only Cuban.
G: You probably would not remember this very well, do you remember the strike in
1921? Was your father involved in that? You were only a child but you may
have heard about it talked about later.
V: I know about a lot of strikes, I heard about it later like from the cigar factory, but
the facts about it I do not know.
G: Was your father a union member?
V: I guess he was involved in it, but I did not pay any attention I guess. They did not
discuss those things. That is why we do not know a lot of things because we
never discussed that.
G: Was that because you were a child or because you were a girl child or because
V: I guess it was because of both, they did not want us to know much. And if you
acted like you knew much you were called fast.
G: Did your parents ever expect to go back to Cuba to live or did they consider
V: I never heard them mention that.
G: In other words they had made the transition. Were they patriotic Cubans?
V: Oh, yes.
G: Was there an interest in Cuban politics?
V: No, they never talked about politics.
G: Did you meet Cubans in the club who had come into Tampa? Now, I know the
Cuban bands used to play in the club, were there other times when Cubans
would come from Cuba into the club and you would get a chance to meet them?
V: Yes. In fact, that is how we used to meet, in the club.
G: What were their impressions of Tampa?
V: Oh, they liked it. The boats used to come in you know. Oh, they were crazy
about Tampa and the families from Tampa, they used to just, you know ask them
things. They was better than the one that came now, the one that came in the
G: Which one was that?
V: The Matialipoes.
G: Have you had much contact with them?
V: A few.
G: Are any of them blacks?
V: Oh, yes. Right now, two boys across the street are black.
G: Would they be welcome at Marti-Maceo?
V: Oh, they have been there.
G: Oh, they have been there.
V: They are welcome if they respect the place.
G: So, there is not any prejudice against them because of all of the publicity?
V: As long as they respect the place it does not matter who it is.
G: What do think is going to happen to Marti-Maceo in the coming years? Do you
think it will continue to exist for a long time?
V: I believe as long as the Marti is standing.
G: Why is it so important? What does it mean to people?
V: To me, what it means is that all my generation came from there. From my
grandparents to my parents, you know, my oldest ones. And practically like I
said, I was raised in there. To me it is just like another home.
G: The people that you see at Marti-Maceo, do you see them other times?
V: Occasionally, yes.
G: The only one I have ever seen in the Afro-Cuban community in Tampa is right
there, so I have this idea that that is where it is.
V: We communicate. Sometimes we visit each other. Like I say that I will have my
friends to dinner and I invite them to my house, you know like that.
G: Are many of your relatives members of Marti-Maceo, or many of the members of
Marti-Maceo your relatives?
V: Now I got three, my two sisters and my brother. My nephew and my niece and
they do not stay here, they stay in South Carolina, she is here for the summer.
We are a big family but we are not here.
G: You are spread out. What other places is your family at?
V: New York.
G: Any other cities.
V: Well, like New York and the people that I told you in South Carolina.
G: The funerals, there used to be a custom where the funeral processions would
come by the Marti-Maceo and there would be some kind of, either a ceremony or
something. Can you describe that for me?
V: Well, the only thing that I knew about the funeral would be that they would lower
the flag and then the procession would come through and they would stop about
a minute in front of the hall.
G: So, then did the people from the hall go on to the funeral from there?
V: No, no, they would be in the procession.
G: Was there anything distinctive about funeral customs among Afro-Cubans,
anything different that Afro-Cubans did at funerals than White-Cubans did at
funerals or anything like that.
V: I do not know how the whites would do the their funerals, that I could not tell you.
G: You did not go to their funerals?
V: No, but black-Cubans, we used to bring the body to the house, keep it for
twenty-four hours and after twenty-four hours, about three or four o'clock that
evening, the procession leaves the house. But, that is not like that today, they go
to the funeral home.
G: Is their anything similar about the weddings. Were the weddings, the receptions
usually at the Cuban home?
V: No, of course, now when people have weddings at the club. When they used to
marry, unless they married at a church, the reception would be at the house.
And if they were not going to marry at a church, they were married in a house,
the reception would be in the house, at the girl's mother's house.
G: Were there any customs that you had in your family that were Afro-Cuban
customs that were practices that had African origins that you were aware of,
anything like that?
V: The only religion that we had that I was raised in was Catholic..
G: How about other, not necessarily religious customs, but like putting dishwater
bags on the door on New Years.
V: The only thing that they did on New Years was at twelve o'clock was fill a bucket
of water and throw it in the street.
G: What was that for?
V: Do not ask me, I do not know, but I did not see why we used to do that. And that
is when they used to blow the whistles and things like that.
?: Getting back to the funeral parlor, I think it is interesting about the wakes, then,
as opposed to how they are now. The wakes themselves, and she was telling
me the other day that the wakes back then used to be that the very close family
used to come and stay with the family. And they were the only ones who would
eat and when you talk about eating, you are talking about coffee and maybe a
little cheese and crackers and they would stay with the family awake for the
entire twenty-four hours. As opposed to now, maybe twenty years that custom
has changed tremendously, we are almost like black Americans, all of the food is
brought in by friends and relatives and we have big banquets and funerals and
wakes. But, then she was telling me how different it was. There was absolutely
no eating or anything, just coffee to keep you awake apparently and cheese and
G: Is that where the term wake comes from?
G: Oh, the medical benefits from the club, how important were those?
V: They were very important because I remember the thirty-five cents a week that
you paid, you had doctor, medicine, hospital and they always gave you so much
for a penny.
G: Did that keep you healthier than black Americans, I mean the fact that you could
get health care when you needed it on that basis. Did you consider yourself to
have better health care than black Americans because of that arrangement?
V: I never thought about that.
G: Because that is a major problem in earlier times.
V: It was.
?: No, they did not have it, they did not have anything.
V: Well come to think about it, yea...
?: We had access to more than just Marti-Maceo.
V: We had this society from clinics, that black Americans did.
G: Were black Americans ever interested in joining Marti-Marceo to take advantage
of those benefits? Do you you remember that?
V: Marti-Maceo was just for Cubans.
G: Was there ever any discussion that you remember about opening it up to black
V: Now, is the only time that I had a discussion.
G: Even though the membership was getting real small...
V: Never heard about it. If I would have been an American I would not have joined
G: Why is that?
V: Because if they did not want me before why do they want me now. More benefits
somewhere else now than there was, you know.
G: What was the reaction of black Cubans to the civil rights movement? Do you
remember that at all in terms of people talking about it?
V: Did you know that, we did not feel like I told you before that we were strange,
integrated more than segregated. So, the Spanish people really did not think of
that. Because right now I do not go to places that I did not used to go or I could
G: Martin Luther King was he considered to be a heroic figure in the black Cuban
times or was he not?
V: No, we liked him for what he was doing because he was helping everybody.
Because we were going to get the benefit of that too. So, I guess we all liked him.
G: Did the civil rights victories cause any change in attitudes between black Cubans
and black Americans, did that make relations easier?
V: We were given more relations before that, you know.
G: When did that start? When there was more communication?
V: Oh, because we had to send our kids to school, I say our kids like I had a bunch
of them [laughs]. We had to send them to school so we had to get related with
the other mothers and things like that and then we moved to the project and you
know how it goes like that. And we got closer. They were fine people just like
anybody else, it was just the idea that well we were raised through it.
G: When all of the black Cubans or most of the black Cubans worked in the cigar
industry and very few black Americans that would be a reason that there would
not be any contact, but when they stopped working in the factories and started
working in other kinds of jobs where they had more contact with black
Americans. Did that have any effect, do you know?
V: I know what you are talking about, but like I said I did not work in the factory so I
do not know how they used to get along the factories. But, I know my daddy had
a lot of American people as friends.
G: Were you discouraged from learning English or from speaking English in your
house? Was that an issue?
V: Oh, yes. When I went to school for the first time about a week or so I was more
American than George Washington and my mother did not understand anything,
she died not understanding. And me and my brother were talking and she said
no, you talk that out there but here you talk Spanish. So, we had to talk Spanish
in the house all the time.
G: Was that because she wanted you to keep speaking the language that she could
understand or because she did not want you to become American?
V: Because she did not understand what we were saying. That is what is was. She
did not understand what we were saying. In fact, that time that she said that me
and my brother were saying something that we were not supposed to be saying.
G: Is there anything else that you can remember that you would like to tell me about
that I have not asked you about?
V: Has anybody told you about the street cars?
V: The street cars, we did not have but four chairs to sit on. Four chairs, way in the
back and the man, the conductor had a little sticker that would say colored and
you had to be in the back or you could not sit down. You would stand up or use
those four chairs.
G: What if there were twelve black people on did they all have to crowd into that
V: In that section.
G: Was that in Ybor City as well as?
V: That is right, when the street car would get to the end of the line the conductor
would roll that little thing back.
G: When did that change?
V: Well it changed when integration came.
G: So, it was fairly recently.
V: Of course, in the bus we had a little more seatment, because when the bus was
already running we had more seatment.
G: Were there sit-ins and other demonstrations before de-segregation happened in
G: Right, were there lunch counter sit-ins and other kinds of civil rights actions here
that you remember before the 1960s?
V: No, I do not think so. Just demonstrations that they had, like sitting at counters
and going to certain places, but it was not very easy, you know.
?: Blacks knew where they were supposed to be in society.
V: The only demonstrations they had was when that policeman killed that black boy
and acted out, but I did not feel that was a demonstration for integration but just
they were mad because the cop killed that boy.
G: Those are all the questions that I have. Again what we are trying to do, what I
am trying to do is to get enough general impressions and rememberances so that
we can write up a history of Marti-Maceo. Are there ways in which you think that
should be done or people and events that you think should definitely be included
in such an account that we have not mentioned here today. What are some of
your feelings about the history of Marti-Maceo should be presented.
V: I think they are doing pretty good now. I think the people that they got on there
are doing well. The only thing that I think is that they should teach younger
people, you know, for tomorrow. Because like when Juan and me were there
there was life.
G: Some way to get younger people.
V: Yes, I do believe in that. To be teaching the younger generation how to run the
G: What kinds of things do you think might attract younger people into the club? Are
there younger people to be attracted into the club?
V: The thing about it, the younger generation now, they do not like to be around us
older people. No, it is true. Because they say it. No, I do not want to go there
there is so many old people. But when we used to go we used to go with the old
people, they were the ones who used to take us. We were not allowed to go
anywhere else to go. So, now that is the hard part of that. We can not get the
young generation to come in because they can go whenever they want to.
G: Do you think that they have the same kind of appreciation as far as what the club
V: I do not think so.
G: Do you think that if there was more information available to them about what the
club has done all these years that that would give them a better feeling for it?
V: I believe so. And they have to come from their parents.
G: What about an emphasis on the revolutionary background of Marti-Maceo and all
of that history as part of the club? Is that something that you consider to be an
important part of the club?
V: I think that was what the founders believed.
G: Do you know why it was called Marti-Maceo? Have you ever heard an
explanation of why that particular?
V: No, I have never heard an explanation about it.
G: Do you know why Marti-Maceo was created as a separate club? Do you know
whether there was an incident with the Cuban Club that caused it to start? Did
anybody ever talk about those issues?
V: I have some ideas of what they said but I can not remember now. Because I
think a long time ago my momma told me about another club, I guess it was
before Marti-Maceo, but I am trying to think about it but it will not come to me.
Because if I start saying something that I do not really know, I do not like that.
But I know, there was another club before that and I think it had a name, but I am
not sure of it, but the name was Luceo-Cuan.
G: One of the things that I have not been able to find any definite information on,
and it is really too early for anybody to remember the Cuban Club was founded in
1899 and the next year was when the first group got together for Marti-Maceo,
the actual founding was a few years later but the original meetings were right
there almost immediately after the white Cuban Club was formed. There is
nothing in the minutes of that first meeting to indicate whether there had been
black members of the Cuban Club and because of Jim Crow they had to drop out
of the club or if they had never had black members or exactly what the conditions
were. But it always seemed to me at any rate that calling it Marti-Maceo was not
without meaning as far as all of that was concerned because Marti-Maceo was
white Maceo was black and Marti and Maceo were both very strong advocates of
racial equality and that it was a very strong reminder of the revolution that both
white and black Cubans had taken part in and it seemed like a kind of symoblic
meaning. Every time they said that name they would realize that they were
somehow betraying the principles of the revolution, but nobody ever, this is just
?: That is not in history anywhere that you have researched?
G: No, nowhere.
?: Isn't that strange.
G: Is seems almost conspicuously left out.
G: Now there might be something in records but they have not been very
willing to share that with us. But in terms of having a good place to start it is a
real gap because there is not that much definite that I know to say about it except
kind of hearsay.
?: Of course, if we had talked about this maybe twenty-five, thirty years ago we
would have been able to remember some of this.
G: Right. It is very unfortunate because an awful lot of people have died not that
long ago. Mr. Rodriguez died not too long ago.
V: Oh, yes.
?: What is the format that you all are going to use for these things is my curiosity?
G: I am not really sure at this point how.
?: Like how do women see themselves as compared to when they see themselves
now toward men, what was the animosity because I get into a lot, because in my
generation you got a lot into skin color, how did that play a major role in this that
and the other. She would come out with a lot of things and I kept telling her why
do not we jot down some of these things, these things are very interesting.
There is definitely a difference between geographical areas, West Tampa to Ybor
City or feelings that they may have had, even customs may have been somewhat
different than Ybor City, I can not remember all of it. We had a long talk, do you
remember how we talked about attitudes of men toward women, how the children
were reared in the house. Those are the kinds of things that I was interested in
and I was just wondering have you not suggested to them to jot down whatever
information they may have had of customs.
G: I have not been doing that but it is a good idea and if you think of anything I
would really like you to share it with me. It is hard for me to think of everything I
want to ask and it is hard for you to think of everything that you might want to tell
me this one time. But I want to make the thing be is the way you see it, the way
the people who lived it see it because I do not have anything that I have
written to it except my tape recorder. And it is very difficult for someone in that
kind of position to know what is important and what is not. Most people
repeatedly tell me, these are the things that are. What I am going to do before
anything is printed is to come back to all the people that I talk to and let you read
G: And where you see errors or where you see things that you do not agree with or
where you see things that you think should not be there to let me know and I will
make those kinds of changes so that when it comes out people will accept it as
being accurate and I think that that way we can make sure that it does not have a
lot of mistakes. But that is what I have done before and it is really it is the only
way to get it right and so I am going to do that again. If there are any
remembrances that come to you or any pieces of information that you find, you
know, printed material or anything that you think might add to this or if you think
of any people that I should talk to, please let me know. Because this is going to
take awhile to do. I thought I would get much further this summer than I have. I
have already completed seven interviews. We have gone through the records in
the club, and have them organized and identified and there is so much stuff. But,
it is really interesting.
[End of the interview.]
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