Interview with Joe Valenti, March 27, 1980

Material Information

Interview with Joe Valenti, March 27, 1980
Valenti, Joe ( Interviewee )
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Hillsborough County Oral History Collection ( local )
Spatial Coverage:
Hillsborough County (Fla.) -- History.


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Source Institution:
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
Holding Location:
This interview is part of the 'Hillsborough' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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Ybor 22A

Sub: Joe Valenti

Int: Gary Mormino

Fruit Warehouse

2800 E. Hillsborough Ave., Tampa


Born 1908


Page -1-

G:.......... pleasure talking with Mr. Joe Valenti at the produce market on Hillsborough

Ave. Mr. Valenti, what are.... I'd be interested in your family's background.

You uh, you mentioned on the phone the other day that your born


J: That's what mama told us.

G: That's what you told us. What did your father do over there?

J: Heee eee...... I really can't recollect what he was doing but he was... he

was well educated.....

G: In what

J: Person.

G: Yeah.

J: Had a good handwriting. See cause I didn't know too much about my daddy cause

uh, he died when I was about nine years old.

G: Mm hm, right.

J: So all I can remember about him is the mule, the white mule and the wagon that

he used to takeAin.

G: Yeah. Yeah, we'll talk about that in just a second. How about your mother?

Your mother also a ?

Ybor 22A -2-


G: Right. What about her family? What was her maiden name?

J: Uh, Testilano.

G: Testilano. n.relation to the Testilano Pizzo family?

J: I believe cause my brother -Sax&IE brought me ..... a little resume that uh

my daddy I believe it's Valenti Pizzo, p-i-z-z-o.

G: Mm hm. Right.

J: Which I got it in my desk.

G: Yeah.

J; That he was trying to look for the roots.

G: Mm, uh huh. Right.

J: And he brought it in here the last... this week. Yeah.

G: Yeah, he said maybe I could take a look at it later. And uh, what did uh...

What did your mother's family do over there? What did the ?

J: Starved to death.

G: (chuckle) GC T :

J: That's the only mem... memory that my mother always. ..-,.used to tell us that

she had a ste mother and they used to bake/bread once a week and they used to

tie their bread up to the ceiling$ and the grandmother says don't touch one

slice of it and if there was one slice gone she knew it. But there were really

G: Why were they tied to the ceiling?

J: Oh I'd say..... I'd say about fifteen feet or.....

G: I mean but why? Is there any particular reason why you would tie a piece

of bread?

Ybor 22A -3-

J: A / cause they were so poor.

G: Poor. O.K. Alright.

J: They were so poor and everybody ateat the same time up there.

G: O.K. Right.

J: If they had anything to eat.

G: Do you know what her father did over there?

J: No.

G: Did he come over to America?
J: No. Uh, just uh, I believe/Ar mother and three... two other sisters came

to America and uh, I don't know whether my father married \Italy or married

in the United States.

G: 'Mm, hm. Right. Well why did they come to Tampa?

J: Looking for work and my dad... my father vent to Italy... went to Italy and

back two or three times but he had stonph painsAtheyfigured by coming to the

United States and he settled in New York, the first time he came he settled

in New York City. And uh, when he settled in New York City he went to work.

I didn't recall where he went to work but this is the story that I hear. That

he went to the doctor, he was still having stomach pains, and the doctor told

him, he said "Well you come from Sicily. Maybe... Why don't you go to Florida

where they have the same climate that they have in Sicily, so. maybe that'll

straighten you a". So he came to Tampa. WSud you know-!t- them days why

they all migrated wherever their..... they knew somebody. And he came to Tampa

cause he knew.... maybe my uncle was here. And the stomach pains still continued

so he went back to Italy...... and continued back in Italy, came back here.

G: Did he ever find out what it was?

Ybor 22A -4-

J: Appendicitis.

G: You're kidding.

J: And it bursted ion him and it formed gangrene but it was too late to save his

life. That..... Them days they didn't know what appendicitis was.

G: Yeah.

J: And uh........ they..... Cause I used to remember the doctor that ..... treated

my daddy. -B. used to put hot water bottles to... in his feet and hot water

bags on the side where it hurted him. Where he.... He... He helped burst

the appendix.

G: Yeah, yeah.

J: Dr. AdamOwas the first one that discovered it, I believe it was from World

War I when he was uh, he'd come out of the army and he was a doctor and uh,

they told the family that he needed to be rushed to the hospital right away

for an operation. And uh, he went to the Gordan GC\ I Hospital and

uh, they called the family and he didn't make it through the night.

G: Hm. Wow.

J: The gangrene set in him.

G: Oh. Tragic thing 6 What did he do in Tampa? What kind of work

did he do?

J: He was a fruit peddler.

G: Fruit peddler. O.K. Interesting question, I've always wondered O.K. studying

the Italian immigrants. Why do you have so many Italians in the fruit produce

business and not Poles or uh, Cubans. Everywhere ya...... Every city

you go now. You go to St. Louis you go to Tampa, the Valentis,

the Gorochis, the Grechos. Why?

Ybor 22A -5-

J: I really couldn't answer that correctly. I guess maybe cause one thing about

being in the produce business, you always got money. It doesn't belong to

ya but you can get credit. And uh, I guess now like my father, he was well

educated. Only think I could tell by the handwriting that he had. But why

he got into that fruit business, I don't know.

G: Mm hm.

J: But most of em I remember during his days that they were all the... the ... the...

them, Carlisis, the Lilos, the Shiros,/the are O / ll the Italian

fellows, they were all in the.... in the fruit business.

G: Mm hm.

J: They all had their horse wagon.

G: Right.

J: The Lazaro had two.... two team. It was a little just like having a Cadillac

and a Ford and uh, they were all successful at it.

G: How do you...... Tell me about your father's business.. How'd he get started

and then uh what you remember about going with him as a young boy?

J: He.... he got started with a .... with a basket uh, on his arm and just uh,

selling uh, oh fruits.

G: That's the first thing he did in Tampa? He didn't work as a cigar worker

or anything like that first?

J: Nope. Nope.

G: No? O.K. Tell me about going out with him, what it was like as a young kid.

/J: Well as a young kid only thing I can remember is uh, that the first time that

I call it going out of town away from the house and the street corner was

going to.... we used to call it Palmetto Beach which the little hall, little

park is still there. But they used to all the Latin quarters ya know they

Ybor 22A -6-

J: used to throw a picnic every..... every summer and everybody used to get

together there and all I can rememberthe whole family being nice dressed

to go to the Palmetto Beach. I thought I was going to Canada.

G: Yeah.

J: But from then on uh, he used to take me ocassionally with him on Saturdays

with le fruit wagon. He had a white mule and uh, .......

G: What would he yell as you went along?

J: He wouldn't yell, he just had his regular...... He had a bell and his regular

tray and then hefstop and he rang the bell and uh.......

G: Wo~dcM 't yei--I o, aC yi ono

J: No, no, no. And uh, the housewife used to come out and uh, take her picking

of the apples or peaches or potatoes.

G: Did he have to a lot with the Italian women, Cuban women?

J: No, they.... they were more/ friendly. There's some of em that

pays cash, some of em put it down on the books.

G: Right. Where would he get his fruit and vegetables?

J: Well he used to go at that time they had uh, a market uh, where Joe Garcia filling

station is, they used to have a street market there. There used to be an old

uh, stable where this Garcia filling station is and they used to have Mr.

Webb a.... a grocery man that sells feed and uh, and they used to congregate.

The farmers used to congregate within that stable and uh, on the side of the

streets there which uh, people were complaining at that time that uh, they were

making too much noise during the early hours of the day and wanted him moved

out there.

G: (chuckle)

J: But I remember going with my father uh, during that time.

G: Hm mm. Did any of the people have trucks then or was it all horse and wagon

Ybor 22A -7-

G: and _- _

J: Oh)m horse and wagon, 1h, to my memory the only ..... maybe ocassional auto-

cars. Cause you had..... During that time the only... the only street tha,

was halfway paved was uh..... I believe East Broadway. They called ...... They

used to call em 7th Avenue and then at that time it was .... it wasn't paved.

G: Mm hm, right. Did you make a pretty good living selling fruits and vegetables


J: At... at that time he used to feed the family.

G: Yeah.

J: But we used to.... The family used to eat off of the rejects on the wagon.

In other words, if there was a potato that Ua housewife rejected in the

basket that had a little spot on it, my mother used to take that spot out

and uh, we had all we wanted to eat off of the rejects.

G: Yeah, right. Well you were born in what 1902 then?

J: Nineteen-o-eight.

G: Nineteen-o-eight. O.K. Uh, what was Ybor City ...... Ybor City?

J: Ybor City at the time that I remember it just like I tell ya that they didn't

have any..... they had street car tracks on Main Street that had uh oh these

gutters for the water to go through but it was all uh, without streets.

G: Mm hm.

J: Without uh, paving.

G: Yeah, right. What kind of place was it grow up as a young boy?

J: Well......

G: What were your first memories about it?

J: My first memory, it was a tough place to grow up.

G: In what way?

J: You had.... Well it was a hard living. There was no jobs and uh you had to

Ybor 22A -8-

J: go and ...... and hustle for a nickle which I used to go to school and

right after..... See I quit school at the fourth grade. After my

father passed away we had to go to work.

G: Right.

J: And at that time that I was going to school I was working for a dollar

to a dollar and a half a week.

G: Doing what?

J: Cleaning bathrooms for and Company. So at that time they

were at the Keyhole furniture place. They were right on 7th Avenue. And

uh, I used to look forward to making that dollar, dollar and a half. If

he felt good he'd give me a dollar and a half. If he didn't feel good he'd

give me.... (chuckle) he'd give me a dollar.

G: What would you do with the money?

J: Uh, went right straight home and gave it to my mother.

G: Mm hm.

J: And maybe she ....... Ice cream man would come by and she'd give me a penny

to buy a cone of ice cream.

G: Mm hm, right. What else do you remember about Ybor City or your youth?

J: Well uh.....

G: Where were you living down in Ybor City? What avenue?

J: I was living on uh, 14th Avenue and 24th Street. No paved streets.

G: That's probably about where the interstate is today?
R; ihheighi, o::c.y,
J: Right on top of the..... Right in the bottom of the interstate.-here the

exit.... where the exit is on 22nd Street going west.

G: Right.

J: Right on that spot where it says exit, that's where I was born.

Ybor 22A -9-

G: Who were your neighbors?

J: Had very very good neighbors.

G: Yeah.

J: We had uh the Grechos which are the Kash-n-Karry Grechos.

G: Oh yeah?

J: They had the Bachantis which is Frank Bachanti and used to be in the

ice business. And on uh, on my eastside we had black neighbors.

G: Cubans or American Blacks?

J: American Blacks.

G: Mm hm.

J: And they were the finest neighbors that we ever had. And uh.....

G: lrE. were there many Blacks in Ybor City at the time?
J: Well to the east there was... it was all occupied by Blacks up-gr.....

J: No, no. That was right in the heart of the white residential and they

had a...a black person who's called Mr. Riley. But.he used to own

a grocery store. And Mrs. Riley used to live in the corner of 14th and

24th Street./I !hen we had uh, my uncle, he used to be at the catty-

corner from my street. Had two uncles., Then/had in

the back. And uh, ........ seems as I.......

G: How'd they.... You were talking about the Grechos. How'd they.... How'd

Kash-n-Karry get started?

J: Kash-n-Karry got started with uh, the.... a grocery store right across

the..... right across this market here where the..... right here.

G: Farmers Union Market. Where was that located?

J: On uh...... on 7th Avenue and uh what is it, 30th?

Ybor 22A -10-

G: Down on East Broadway? Yeah, O.K.

J: Yeah, it's on East Broadway.

G: They moved it.

J: This was the Farmers Union Market. It moved from uh, from that Garcia

service station to this place right here and out to.... I believe it's

40th Street.

G: Mm hm.

J: At the 40th Street market they had nothing but little ole posts, I'd say

a four by four, with electric lights.- And people used to back up in

there and just sell their produce. And then from there it went to the
3cV-iny rScpo\y
Famers Union where organized that Farmer's Union


G: Why... why did they move the Farmers Union Market? undr

there, right?

J: Well ya know I... I I told ya, everybody was out weather beaten,

if it rained you didn't have a shelter or nothing to get under.

G: Right.

J: And then Johnny, he built this market here where you could back up ......

G: Is that here right now in Hillsborough?

J: No.

G: No?

J: That uh, that was on 40th Street.

G: And 7th Avenue.

J: Yeah, that's right next to where Detchido, Tony Detchido lives. They used

Ybor 22A -11-

J: to have that market right there. Which this here is uh, Tony Detchido's

house, the peak of it right here.

G: Mm hm. When did they build this market here on 40..... on uh, Hillsborough


J: On Hillsborough? I believe it was 1930..... 34.

G: Did you come out here then?, In '34?

J: I stayed there till the end.

G: When was that?

J: I was loyal to 3CA0- tp_y and everybody said move, move.

G: Yeah.

J: So I wouldn't move on account of ____; at that time was the

son-in-law of Mr. Gerossi.

G: When was the end? What year was that?

J: I believe they moved in 1930....... They opened this market in '34. They

moved in '34.

G: Yeah. What was Hillsborough Avenue like in '34 when you moved out here?

J: Thirty-four they had bunch of palmettos, it was woods and uh, single lane

highway and uh, streetcar used to stop right there where Laura Copeland's

store is. The Belmond Heights streetcar used to come right up there.

G: Yeah.

J: And it made it handyfor a market in case you didn't have any transportation.

G: Sure, right, right. Let me ask you while you're talking about Ybor City,

uh, how did the uh, different ethnic groups get ..... get along? Like, how

did you get along with the Cubans and Spaniards?

J: Got along fine.

Ybor 22A -12-

G: Yeah.

J: I always.... I never had any trouble getting along with people.

G: Yeah.

J: I always uh, got along good with em.

G: Right. As a young kid you could've dated a Cuban girl without any


J: Uhhhh, I don't think I was looking for em.

G: (chuckle)

J: (chuckle) My day...... There's a day..... In my days, they always said

if ya date em, well ya gotta be engaged.

G: Right, right. Mm hm.

J: So usually you go to the other side of town to look for em.

G: Who'd you i-nd ve-9r-ther?

J: I married uh, a nice young lady from uh, they call it

which is uh, they didn't want to call it the part of west Tampa. But it's

uh, towards the north, northwest part of west Tampa.

G: What was her name? Maiden name?

J: Cazares.

G: Cazares. Greek or uh?

J: No, it's Spanish.

G: Spanish, uh huh.

J: She's half Spanish and half Italian. The mother is uh, was Italian

Her maiden name was

G: Any relation to Rick Cazares?

Ybor 22A -13-

J: He's my nephew.

G: Is that right?

J: Through my wife.

G: Yeah. Alright. Where...... Uh, you said you went to school till fourth

grade? Now did you have to get a special permit to drop out of school?

No one asked.......

J: When you're hungry you don't get permits.

G: You don't wanna worry about it. (chuckle)

J: Nobody worries about permits. (laughs) No.

G: Right.

J: That was ...... I believe it was in 1919.

G: Mm hm. Right. What about church4 in Ybor City? Remember any churches

in Ybor City?

J: The only church that I remember was the one on uh....... 8th Avenue

and 23rd Street.

G: Mm hm. Right. Well sir, I'd like to thank you very much for uh

talking. It's uh been most enjoyable. Been most enjoyable.

J: But uh....... it's been a..... it's been a rugged life.

G: Yeah. Would you do it again? I'm curious. If you had your options

open over, would you go into the vegetable business again?

J: I don't think so.

G: Long hours. And what time....... Like in 19..... Let's say when you

were 25 years old in the business, what time would you get up in the


J: Two-o-clock in the morning.

G: What time did you leave?

J: Nine, ten, eleven-o-clock at night.

Ybor 22A -14-

G: What time do you get up now?

J: I get up at five but time I get to the place it's 7:00 in the morning

and uh, tkat just _______here with my son.

G: Do you find that a uh..... it's hard to recruit young people in the

produce business these days?

J: Very hard. It's very hard and uh, we ....... we looking for some young

blood right now.

G: Yeah, yeah.

J: But uh, they don't like the hours.

G: Sure.

J: And neither do I like the hours.

G: Right. Well again......

J: But somebody's gotta feed the.... the public.

G: Right. Let me ask you this question uh, do you ever get...... In other

cities I know, the uh, produce people often had trouble, with the mohbf

trying to muscle you. Did you ever have that trouble in Tampa?

J: Never.

G: Black -,.'c like that?

J: Nope. Aint nothing they gonna muscle in this business here cause nobody

wants it.

G: (chuckle)

J: Cause it... it's too hard work.

G: Right. Yeah. Well Mr. Valenti, I again thank-you, O.K.? I appreciate it.

J: O.K.

(tape cuts off for a moment)

Ybor 22A -15-

G: ..... Valenti is going to now give us his uh famous recipe.

J: The way I fix the you scrape it first.

G: O.K.

J: Then you go in and chop it according to4pieces that you like.

G: Mm hm.

J: Put em in the pot, you wash em and put it in the pot. Chop up some onion,

one or two onions. Uh one Florida garlic. Get ya three nice ripe tomatoes

and chop em up. You can put uh enough uh olive oil. Just through the

side off, just throw the cover off.

G: Yeah.

J: And just let it..... let it boil with the natural juices and you'll have

that you can't take out of your mouth.

G: Thank-you. Thank-you.

(End of interview)