Interview with Mary Fontanills, 1983-07-26

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Interview with Mary Fontanills, 1983-07-26
Fontanills, Mary ( 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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Resource Identifier:
YBOR 035 Mary Fontanills 7-26-1983 ( SPOHP IDENTIFIER )


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Interviewer: Gary Mormino
Interviewee: Mary Fontanills
Location: Tampa, FL
Date: July 26, 1983

M: qppFontanills

F: Fontanills

M: Fontanills

F: It is a French name.

M: Right) _-ir- O.K. Miss Fontanills, tell me something about your family's back-

ground, perhaps starting on your mother's side and then talk about your father. Uh--

>yf your recollection?

F: Well my father and mother both came from Spain.

M: From Spain, at-hih

F: Yew.
M: You know where in Spain?

F: Ye m, my mother is from Madrid and my father is from 6 0).


F: ,

M: And that is -- is that in or ?

F: No,

M: Q^Y^

F: It is a different ...

M: O.K. Alright, well

F: And my father's people were very wealthy. ,:.:; : :L .

M: ^ !Um-htff 2

F: My mother's people were very poor.

MJUoum. 4

F: So when they came to Tampa... -

M: LetO*'- let get a little more background. -A+-ah- You iudee-end your mother's

people were very poor. Were they farmers?

F: No.


M: What exactly did they do there?

F: No, my ih'-y m i mother whi TTi"'"-my grandmother married a Frenchman which

was very rich.

M .--Jam-hum. /

F: But his family opposed the marriage because they were French and te' did not want

him to marry a Spanish woman.

M: --um-hum.

F: So, when he died they tried to take his children away from her --it was two girls

and a boy. So, the woman ran off because his I mean at that time money was

everything--the law was nothing. She ran off and hid andfworked at anything she

could work at to, you know, to bring up the children. So, that's why my mother was

very poor. But her mother, which is my grandmother, kept up the relationship with

her family...

M.- u-mlin. /f

F: You know-but secretly.

M: Yead

F: Until the French parents of her husband stopped looking for her. Then-yeo-know,

...and that is how they grew up--ye- rktnwr i-.-, may...

M: Um--"rr l. '

F: M-gen-, my mother never had much because she-uh mother had to raise her--there

was no father.

M: How did her family come to the United States? Or did they go to Cuba first?

F: Oh, no-no-no--they came straighten right to the United States.

M: Do you know what year?

F: I really do not know what year. Let me gee now. I can almost figure it out because

I have a brother that is sixty-seven ...

"M:. h--n J\

F: And she got married right after about two years after she came to Tampa.

M: 'riflf-um.


F: So she was attractive. So sixty-nine from eighty-three ...

M: Around 1914.

F: You figure what year she got to Tampa.

M: .1hA-nr: O.K. Alright, why did she come to the United States?

M: Why Tampa?

F: W\ibecause iat s she had family here already---rey were here in Tampa and they

said it was a better life...

^.t-fam-hnm. /\

F: she figured, yoM-k*nw. after all tteh er. not -like I said they were not

well off

F: j r ig this would be it. So she came over and lived--in those days if you

were poor, you came from another country, you livedlin the same house.

F: And that is where she went, she went with her cousins home and that is where she

lived and "h nhk mws -she worked in the cigar factory to support herself and

she was what they call the which is taking that little middle, you know

from the leaf of the tobacco...

M: The stem, er?

F: The little stem. That is what she did. And,-Ai she worked there until she met

her husband which is not our father. She married this young man anduh4, they

had a child which is my brother. And,--h-' when the boy was one year old the young

man died. So she still had tofsupport herself.

M: Th-uh.h--

F: At the time, my father, my real father, was a single man.

M: This was ___r__ ?

F: ,UUhhr. This is Manuel


F: He had come to the United States because he was an only child. And they were well


M: Well/wait now. What did his family do in Spain?

F: His father was a Chief C__ for the king of Spain.

M: Yeaf, um-tium

F: So in those days that was the big thing.

M: Why--WA would he immigrate when ..?

F: For the simple'that his father was a very strict man and tried to stop him from
i -r
doing whatever he wanted to do. My father was highly intelligent. Too inteli-

:egent. his own good. So)at the age of fifteen, he left home.

M: To Cuba or the United States?

F: No, straight to Tampa.

M: And why did he come to Tampa?

F: Because he found out that in Tampa he could make a better living than anyplace else.

There was a community of Latin people. They did not know a word of English so they

figured that is the place to come to. So when they got here...

M: What year would you 7_ that they came here? Do you have any idea?

F: He came here at least three or four years before my mother came here.

M: And upon arriving here...

F: On arriving? He was just a kid.

F: But like I said he had such a high id.eal. But of course his friends here wanted to

get him a job. My father was never a laborer. He never worked with his hands his
ViJ. P, Afy-/-13^'
whole life. He wF--use his brain only. when he got here they took his to

the factory to try to get him a job as a cigar maker. He looked and said, 'Nope,

that is not for me.' Just a kid. He looked up there in that crows-nest, that is

where the men used to sit to read, he looked up there and said, 'That is what I want
to do. What happened was thelaughed and said, 'Hey,play a joke on the kid.'
to do.' What happened was theylaughed and said, 'Hey, tplay a joke on the kid.'


F: ... So they said, 'Listen, after lunch, when the regular reader gets off for lunch,

we will let you go up there and read and see how the people like it.' So what did

they do? They gave him the hardest tongue-twister they could find and just handed

it to him.

M: -BmVuM .

F: Were they shocked when he read it so well --his delivery was so great--to make a

long story short, he got the job that afternoon.

M: Hum. /7

F: le diplaeed and was just a young boy. Since thaL UcB&..

M: Do you remember what factory it was?

F: No, but som1thing5that you might ask me that I might remember...

M;-_ ? 7. 1) D(A

F: 4 -brother Henry would remember--and es oC now. But you can call me and I1

get all this for you.

M: Sure, O.K. Finish the story though.

F: But the --he went--in other words, he was in such great demand...

1^--m-fanf/-. -T

F: ...because they coulnt)believe--. See, my father had the ability that of course

you He had the ability to read a novela. He could read it

and if you did not look, he could change his voice from an old man to a young man, &-

to a boy, to a girl. You would think you were hearing a whole bunch of people. You

never knew it was a,4org man doing this. His ability was so great that he was in

such great demand that he could demand anything he wanted to. I do not fare what Pe

did. He was looked upon at the time when there was a Latin community. Tha-t-i it

everybody was Latin. He was looked upon as the greatest man in Ybor City. Hf-werid

ar-eau--I know, because as my-gi4--as a girl I remember that. I do not know if

you know about the hospital

M: Um-Hum.


F: Well, the minute you hit town everybody joined one or the other society. That way

you had medicine...

M: Um-humv Sure.

F: ...medical, everything. I remember as a child when my mother would get very

ill and my father word send me to the vanetica to pick up the medicine. It was

a huge room and everybody would be talking. Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta. And they would call

whenever the medicine was ready for whoever had put the perscription down. They

would say, .' And people would keep on 'ta-ta-ta-ta-ta'--and would

pick up his medicine. And then they would say I iO and people would still keep

on talking. But when they said Manuel you could hear a pin drop. I would

feel like a big movie actress as I walked from my seat to the dispensery to get the

medicine. Everybody would look at me like, 'God, that is his daughter.' I mean

he was just that type of man. He had that ability to act, say jokes...

M: --i-humt

F: I saw him getting 1t say --g maybe an addition of maybe fifty of sixty long

numbers like thousands of dollars--and he would go up and down with his finger like

this and give you the answer. I do not care what question you ask him--history,

geography, whatever.

M: Where had he acquired this education?

F: Spain. And ( tell you what part happened in Spain. He was ,nt young when he came.

And his father was strict and stingy. And my father was not doing that good in

school because he did not care. So his father tried to make him do it. He asked

him one day, 65, 'If you make the best grade in school (in those days, there was not

the first grade or second grade--everybody was in school). If you can make the best

grade in school I will buy you a bicycle.' He astonished the professors by doing

what nobody else had done. By going from nothing to the top of the class. The

professors told my grandfather what a terrific thing this boy did-- whtltrdh--how

--how intelligent he was--they did not know it. My grandfather refused to buy him


F: ...the bicycle.

M: Your father or grandfather? Oh, O.K., your grandfather but his father. Oh.

F: My grandfather would not, -he -wld -nt---in other words, he was tight with his

money. So I guess that is'one of the reasons that he left, too. 1--ieetrrT-T1is

gantRattF--I mean his own father would never do anything for him. He was highly

educated. In fact, he was so educated he educated himself. I never remember my l1

once evercoming home and just doing nothing. h-weetd.lways-_-- he always had a

library at home. He taught himself seven languages himself. He spoke them

fluently--just reading--he taught himself how to read, how to write. He would

correct me in the English language and I was going to school already. He was a very,

very intelligent person--but he also had the ability to act. Anybody in his era that

knew him would tell you that his acting was excellent. If you did not know he was

acting you would think it was him himself-- whatever he was being.

M: --UJm-hfi.

F: His Spainish, in fact, he had to be so good in Spanish in all his different

languages that he knew because he worked for the United Nations. .

F: He was an interpreter. He made movies in Mexico, Cuba...

M: This was after the last great strike of the(iC6 ?

F: Yes, oh yes.

M: O.K.

F: Once the (C .

M: Le' let's, O.K.

F: That was out.

M: YeaS well...

F: And he had to find a new way to make a living.

M: What-- do you remember what factories worked other than ...

F: A say...

M: Uhi did he roam around the .'FqCfriC0 ? i C o "u

jjb /

F: Yes)he did because every time they would offer him more money--t) go to the one

that paid him more money. And he was always in demand.

M: Ye-e Did he ever tell you about the auditions he would have or by that stage

did he have to audition?

F: There was no auditions for him. He was the top. It is just like getting Lawence

Olivier to audition. He was always the best so why audition?

M: What were his favorite readings?

F: ]-it- he read a lot of __ In other words, anything that was entertain ng,

M: Did he ever mention Servante ,
F-: Oh, yea-- the three --whatever, what do you call that? Oh, he would read

every book that was in Spanish. It does not matter what it was. That was what he


M: % ,phtm, right. Did he have one favorite?

F: No, but his favorite role on the stage was __ (which is a grandfather). And my

brother has a picture of him as an actor. He was a very young man when he did this.

At the time all the newspapers, you know the Latin newspapers, had pictures of him and

writing and what he did and all that.

M: Right.

F: You see he was on the stage while he was reading in the factory. See, there was no

T.V., there was no radio. What they had for entertainment was1theater. So every

night they would have rehearsals.

M: \ the clubs?

F: At the clubs. Especially of interest to the young. We he did was--he was the leading

man and the director. And my mother was only a player. But that was enter-

taining for her, too. And that is where she met my father. She was already a widow

when she met him--and the child--and had never been married and frankly lS thought he

wouldn'tbecause-- He was also a very handsome man.

M: UExtremely ha.

F: Extremely handsome.


F: ... Very intelligent. He had everything--at the time--lt put this way...

M: --t'ffrt.

F: The, h the pay at the time--let us say you make ten, fifteen dollars a week, you

were doing well)

M: U-iPuTrm-

F: My father used to get seventy-five dollars a week. As far as he was concerned, he

was rich.

M: How would he collect his money?

F: Cash.


F: The-ah, the ones that paid him were the people that worked the tih cigar-


F: They would give so much a week to have this because this would be the only entertain-

ment they had.

M: Sure, um-hum.

F: And the more money they gave the surer --the fact that he got all thiqmoney--he

would stay at that factory-if he can get enough money--7f another factory would

collect more money he would go to the other one. So everybody was willing to pay more

to get the better reader.

M: Polially, how would you describe him?
whoIe ICb
F: That is the fee sad.ix about him. He was not for one side or the other. Let us

say there was a war going on in Cuba--not only that-- he was not well loved because he

spoke his mind. And a lot of people resented that. They could not stand anyqWe who

would do that. So I do not know what the term is but they claimed he was collaborating

with the other side--whatever. And iLa.l disgusts me.

M: The, nti

F: No, not the strike, no. And, tg, what was the war going on in Cuba? I '-hink..


F: ...smne,.son.e war, whatever. But, uta they accused him of being on tie wrong side.

M: So, utr1-yfu, you had been born? Or what?

F: Oh, yeaS. And that really got him because he was not p." T motivated in any way.

I mean...

M: ( L'CL "politics on the left or on the right, radical or conservative?

F: He was right in the center, I mean-. Politics did not interest him 3 one way or the


M; Hum, O.K.

F: He was a democrat, but he was not, you know, that much, I mean...

M:a-Rtglt. r1

M: ...he was a democrat. That was it. \l Q4 -

M: What about his role during the strike? As you know peepfe-sey-te had seviSfi eS

- -VY - history. lr, did he ever talk about the strikes?

F: He never got involved in it. He said he would be out of it. His position was different

than the people working in the factory and he would not get involved one way or the other.

He figured it was their problem--the ll1settle it--he just sat it out. But being that

he had more money than they did, he could afford to survive. So he -d4d not take sides

one way or the other.

M: The readers were often accused of reading radical literature that the workers requested.

Do you want to talk about that?

F: No, my father made it a policy, no, he made it a policy to read the newspaper. Whatever

was in the newspaper he would read it. Never, never his opinion of what was right or

wrong. He would read the news from it --see, as a lot of people did not know how to

read. He would read the newspaper and let them make up their mind which ever way they

wanted. He would read the whole pagektop to bottom and give them all the news on everys-

thing. And they made up their mind whatever way they thought about it and he never

gave his opinion how he taght about any subject. He never got involved in politics

that was not his thing. So, that is what madehim mad when they said he started...


F: ...taking sides which he did not. He could have as a reader. He would have had a lot

of impact. But he did not.

M: ft-d-"h, what did he do during strikes? Some of these strikes last for eight or nine


F: Like I said if he had enough money, which he did, he did not need to do anything.

Not only that, his credit was so great--because they knew as soon as it was, you know,

because they dcsjAcs? strike--they knew as soon as it was settled he would be the

first one to go to work. So it does not matter. I mean, he could get all the gro-

ceries he wanted, whatever he wanted, tok. He did not have to pay the rent, what-

ever. He knew as soon as he started working he' pay them back.

M:l- -ttfzFm /P -

F: S, ther- -wc w=--- iever--I do not ever remember going hungry once in my lifetime ever.

My father always provided. Always. He was always a good provider. So...

M: Do you want to talk about trying to be bribed by the owners?

F: I do not think that was fair. I do not think that was fair. He was a very strong-

willed person.

M: Um-hum.

F: I do not think anybody would ever try to bribe him in any way. No way. He would---

in fact, when he \,Oat up against the name of the factory,

When he worked for the factory which was at the time the biggest factory here in Tampa,

and the man was the strongest man in Ybor City because he owned the factory. My

father had a rule. While he read nobody could speak. I mean nobody. So one time he
was reading and the owner came in with people from out of the state that wanted

to buy of the cigars. And the owner was speaking, you know, not loudly but speaking

about this and that. My father stopped reading and looked at him. He did not say

anything, he just looked at him. The owner kept quiet. After a while he whitspeed

and he read again. And the man also spoke again. My father stopped again

and looked at him again like saying, 'You are speaking toe-led' This was the boss.


M: Um-iham.

F: Finally, the third time'the man spoke my father put down the novella and said in

Spanish, 'El que manda, manda.' He who rules, rules. And he walked out. The man

had to come to the house and beg him to come back and he never did it again.

M: Hum.

F: Who else could do that in those days of, you know, depression?

M'-- lm-hum.

M: Goes to show he was..

M: Yes.

F: RE--had L-t b-rcy--In fact, anybody that knew anything about the reading--even Mr.

He was the best reader that they ever had because-- In fact, whev-bh.,

,pe-krteQw he was the first man to have a Spanish spoken. Whenever the readers were


M: Let us talk about -I -waeat-t*- that strike in 1931...

F: Ur7-hum.

M: Did--h--What,.what happened? Why were the readers eliminated?

F: IEMSte-I am not too sure of that but I think that the owners thought that the

readers were getting too much power. I think that is what they felt. The people

wanted them back, but the owners were against it. I think that is what the whole thing

was about.

M: Do you remember your fathers reaction?

F: Oh, he knew that one way or the other he would he would make it. One way or the other.

In fact, the minute that the strike --that the thing was- y,- Tnow--eliminated, he

worked-I do not think you have even heard of this radio station, WMBR? First radio

station in Tampa.



M: He had a Spanish Q uOn there.

F: Oh really. Uh-huh.


F: He was the first one to have a Spanish program. And you know how he got paid?

M: How?

F: People would subscribe to the radio. Think about it. I would go with my mother on

Saturday and people would pay fifty.cents to a dollar a week to keep that program

going. 'Cause they would not pay him for the program. In other words, and through

ads that he would advertise and this mongy--that is how we survived. And he--and

then from there--then he got a regular job at WDAE. He worked as

for many years. And that is what he did.

M: Um-hum. And that is why he did the Spanish program? -WM'f--ji1 "gBadihe-i

F: The Spanish program.

M: What kind of things id he do on the radio?

F: On the radio he did the same thing he did as a reader. He read. iHe-wa-so--his

ideal was so high. He would pick up the Tribune in the morning, put it under his

arm, go to the radio station, pick up the Tribune, and start reading in Spanish. I

mean, he could translate instantly. He would read the news right off the cover.

Then he would read the novelas. He only had a half-hour program. And when he read

them he would always leave themanging just like they do with Dallas and all that.

And even my own mother could not get him to reveal what would happen next. They would

have to wait until the next day. He had a half-hour program five days a week. And

ther-fiS E q -he worked on that for many years. Then comes the Depression. Things

Gr YOl --and ia WPA came in but as I said, my father was never a laborer.

M: UM-hum.

F: It had to be something intellectual or he would not handle it. My father could not

even put a picture hanging up on the wall. He-h-ar-he did not know how to hold

a hammer. But anyway, when the WPA came in they had these-0h theaters...

M: ../ theaters, yeas

F: And he was the director..

M: Of the Ybor City...

F: The actor ...



F: He was the one that hired and fired. He was the one--and he had this--this kept a lot

of families going for many years.

M: tmt-hnm.

F: Because they had t4-hi this theater. In fact, I wish my brother would kept the

(0 'ur It had, you know,..

M: Program--

F: plays, programs---stuff like that.

M: Does he still have them--do you think?

F: I do not know but I am going to try to get it all for you.

M: Um--good.

F: And give it to you. But that is how we survived.

M: What do you remember as a young ?irl walking with your father? How would you describe

his demeanor and name?

F: Wow...uh

M: For instance, dress-How would he dress?

F: Oh, no. He was a casual dresser.

M: Now I have been told, for instance,_3f, Detorio Montega, never was seen without a


F: Montega was my father's best friend.

M: Is that right? ih-tTfh.

F: That was his best friend. Tfey-wre--in fact, every time my grandfather would come

from New York he and Montega would get together for lunch all the time.

M: Really? Uh-huh.

F: Now that was his best friend.

M: Wait now. Give me an idea --where would they lunch and what would they talk about?

And things like that.

F: Oh, they would lunch at Cg', at the Columbia, yea-knw, any Spanish restaurant.

Oh, they would talk about the old days. That-tht-t&la. was their thing. I mean, that


F: ... J.---My father would relive his youth all over again becauseJMontega and him

were friends ever since they were young boys that came over.

M: 4JwIhat. Yep. Your father ever write for his newspaper?

F: Oh, my father had a newspaper.

M: He did. Was there a ...?

F: Called "El Mundo."

M: El Mundo.

F: He had a newspaper. My brother, and Henry, and I would read it.

M: Really?

F: Yes.

M: How would you describe the paper? Was it weekly, daily?

F: -Uv no. At was f-, daily.

M; Politically, 1..

F: Just the news from the Tribune for the Spanish reading people.

M: What did he do differently then 'el traducion'? I thought that it was 'El traducion's

function just to translate.

F: No, I do not think--I am not sure but I do not think 'el traducion' existed then.

I do not think...

M: May have been... ___s_ l i 'TLJtI-;.

F: All I know is...

M: El Mundo...

F: El Mundo--because I remember that we had a special room in the house where my father

would sit his writing. SP T k) ClT .

M: Did anyone ever keep the back issues somewhere? Any copies of them?

F: I just wish--If I wHqyssVe known all this would happeieventually, my God, I would

have had..D^pF )iffWet---

M: Yeai uh, we were talking about your father's demeanor you said he was casual...

F: Very casual.

M: In one sense. O.K. When you would walk down 7th Avenue, tell me what it was like.


M: ...And_

F: Well he was dressed, you know, he would always wear a tie.

M-U- Um^Hi- 4.

F: Not neccesarily a coat.

F: Usually a white shirt and a tie. And,- h, very casual. He was not a a dandy. Always
i^-r^-^ P^ -' ,1;^''.' ^_^-
neat, you know,i-.g!tS '- -- I meanhe was always dressed up--He was a

very clean person --always neat. He had to have at least two white shirts a day. In

those days, you know, it is a lot of work. My poor mother had to wash and iron a lot

to get that. But he always dressed very well.

M: -TuT=. How was he receivedByjbsT-A,-...

F: Like he was Jesus Christ. People would be in awe or him. They could not just come up

and--the only ones that would not be that way would be like Montega, Raul V L ,

and, you know, his cronies. The people...

M: Um-hum, like ?

F: Also

M: Remember Mexicano?

F: MexicanoAnd uh...

M: Rodriquez, rh-nTui.

F: All of them. They were all good buddies.

M: Um-hwtum, ye. L

F: t -l-rMdiegs. Those people were different. But for the average person--it was

just like if Burt Reynolds went into a crowd right now. Hey, everybody would 'my God,

j,$ is Burt Reynolds.' The same thing. He had that power about him, and being that he

could speak-Let us put it this way, he could speak about the head of the for

about an hour and never repeat himself. He had that ability--that gift He

was very--his ac-eur--In fact, he was disappointed in the four of us because none of us

are dumb--but compared to him we dc not have because there was not any thing he did

not know. You could ask him the date of any war and he would tell you. He would tell


F: who the general--I mean, he would read constantly. He felt learning was very

important. He would read constantly. He knew everything about geography, history,

every country, their, their habits, everything. He was a very intelligent man. So

we had to live with somebody and we could--none of us could get--I was the ri--

the closest as far as the ability. I could read and write perfectly. I am very

fluent. I do not speak the regular Latin, I speak -_ --. And people that

know Spanish detect it immediately when I speak. I am very good at tongue-twisters

like he was. In fact, my father --when I was about eight or nine--asked all of us

if we would give a tongue-twister. The first one who could say it he would give a

quarter. All I did was listen to it one time and I said, 'I got it.' L qjl\

N C__________________ _ce\\o_ Cs

It is such a tongue-twister which I have not said this in years. But none of my

brothers have ever been able to say it. But it is very hard and he was so surprised.

Thefie would give me another one, and another one, and I would go to it and I was

such a young girl.

M: 'Vt =tirm.

F: Because, you see, when I was born he really thought that I would be his dream.

I never talked baby-talk. At the age of three I coud read.Spanish. I always spoke,

'el yyM'Vi0l ______f de la mesa.' I would always pronounce every-

thing so perfectly. He was thrilled to death. But after a while, you know, you mix

with the other kids and what happens? You do not keep it up you speak like they do.

M: Umwmrr. What dV you speak at home, Spanish or English?

F: Both.

M: What was his attitude towards family English?

F: My father absolutely wanted to learn English. Every day I had to read to him in English

and he had to read back to me because he wanted to get the right pronunciation. But,

he did not allow the conversation of English in the house because my mother did not

understand English. So we had to speak Spanish in the house. Outside we could speak

both languages. But inside, respect for my mother, we could only speak Spanish.


F: ...Only when we were learning. That is different. We were doing our homework which

he demanded very much. Or I would try to teach my mother English. She could never

cope with it. She would only learn so many words and that was it. My father picked

it up immediately. The only thing--he had a strong accent.

M: Did he ever tell you about the Italians in the factory Yif 7) IcGri Spanish?

F: Oh, they did not have to learn Spanish. For some reason)which I have never been able to

figure out, the Italian people automatically speak Italian and Spanish. Automatically.

That is something they can do without any effort. You will never find an Italian that

can not speak Spanish.

M: Jrtg -.

F: But a Spanish person trying to speak Italian--/Well, my father could speak Italian.

F: How he did it I do not know becauseAl know a lot of Italian people and they speak :

Spanish fluently. Then you get a Spanish person --do not speak to them in Italian--

they do not know what you are talking about. I do not know why. I do not know what

the transition is.

M: OVm-hm, yea), um-ht

F: But that is the way it is. fI_

M; UM-jaaw. ti suk qe-1e continue your father's career -'ater trey'cr h--you want

to elaborate anymore about the Federal Theater? A Spanish Theater? Do you

remember going there as a child to the plays?

F: I.was=-T ..we--I always liked to go.

M: You did?

F: Oh, yes.

M: -thaqtb tsomof the...

F: I used to sing opera.

M: I understand they did, uh, Sinclair Lewis' "It Can't HappenhHere" in Spanish. Do you

remember that?


F: Plus theydid "El Mundo en la a'o ",which my father wrote.

M: "The World in Your Hand#?"

F: "The World in Your Hand ."

M: --in Your HandA, u .

F: My father wrote it, acted it--- There were just--there were little, d,

of Spain, and Italy, and.s.r, China, and Germany. And he write--this is what is very

astounding--/very night he would change the jokes because he was very good at saying

jokes. In other words, it was a very humorous play. It was all about the world in

your hands. In other words, there were little cities and everyone that would come

out world say jokes j_ this and that--but in the--from that particular country.

)I.;-- Um-hum'.-

F: And he had the ability to sit up at night write the new version for whatever jokes he

way saying. That means you could go to the play every night and it would be a different

one every night. And that thing ran for about three weeks straight. From Monday to

Monday, week--- And usually now those were only one day a week. That is Sunday night.

And when he wrote thattthat lasted for three weeks straight. EveryP dy- In fact, they

had to throw---n-t=--thr-w--turn people away because there was place for them. That is

how good he was at what he did. AndS.t, he went to Mexico, and i---htWc--not only

did he act in movies, lnamany-movies he would dub the words in. And he was so good

that you could not tell. Yo'GiiT;2-if ght now you see dubbing right now, you could

catch a lot of-- or you would know that it is not-- But he was so good at it you could

not catch f6i k ctas him. He was a perfectionist.

M: Now, did he have to leave Ybor City-- was not enough work here? Or?

F: There was no work here. There was no work here. So he went to New York City. He

worked with Jackie Gleason. He worked there and he worked on ...

M: Did he work on stage there?

F: ....on stage. He worked on the stage.



F: And he worked at the United Nations. He taught Spanish, in fact, that is where he met

his wife.

M: ?

F: Yes. My mother had died and that is where he went -- to New York City.

M: So she is not a native to Ybor City then, huh?

F: Who Olga? Oh, no. She is from New York City. In fact, she was Italian.

M: Um-hum.

F: And she wanted ---She is so--She also has a very high I.Q.

M: What year were they married?

F: Let me try to figure that out.

M:S I take it your mother died and he married again e?

F: My mother died in 1941.

M: So um, O.K. Uh, I was uh...

F: 1941. And uh, I believe he got married in 1946. And at the time he mat her--Actually

she was only seven years older than I am.

M: You were born what year?

F: 1920. So he married a woman very much younger that him. She could have been my sister.

But dg--her I.Q. was so high. Yo now, she was the first woman Assistant Editor for

Newsweek magazine. And if you ever read one of her letters it was just like reading a

beautiful book. He letters were beautiful. Always were. And tB, when she met him

she went to the Spanish class he was conducting because she wanted to speak Spanish

perfectly. In fact, I will give you her aress because she will be interested. She is

very interested in--she is writing a book on her own about e -v o


F: She is going all over. She is getting all kind of information. She is going to write--

she is going to write a book on ( o_ o. Which of course with her background she

can really do a beautiful job. So anytime there is something here...

M: Did she spend much time in Tampa?

F: What?


M: Did she spend much time in Tampa?

F: Oh, yea6. With my father would come over, you know, every year they would come over

to visit--she would come over. But let us face it, her I.Q. was so high that --oh,

yeaS she could socialize and laugh and joke and all that but she would not be stimu-

lated. She would be stimulated with the people with brains. Like up North, these

people thatdwrite books. You know? And bh, her English was perfect. Her Spanish

was perfect. Her Italian was perfect. She is a very intelligent woman.

M: Wha-what year did your father die?

F: 1975.

M: 1975? How old was he at that time? Do you know?

F: Eighty-nine.

M: Eight-nine? O.K. So he waslin 1886 I guess. Wh-tr

F: His father lived to a ripe old age and yo know we thought he would live to be a

Hundred and twenty.

M; TUm"hum--.r-huh. He died in New York City?

F: Yes.

M: Uh-h1t. O.K. Now what about yourself? UhyTI=dU =i-w a-what are some of your first

memories of Ybor City and growing up? Wh-where did you live in Ybor City?

F: Well, we-firs-th--I remember we lived on 3rd Avenue and my father and mother had

a phobia. In those dayskou went to the school nearest your home. My mother and

father did not want us to have an Oc,'' And there was mi S r ,

school near where we lived. My poor brother had to take me on the handlebars of his

bicycle all the way to Henderson School where there were no Latin kids so that I

that-I would have to speak perfect English and he did) too. We had to. She went to

all that trouble. Do you know how far away it was from Thrid Avenue all the way

here to Henderson School? That is where we all went to school. So finally_

wanted us to continue that they moved to Palm Avenue. And that is where we

lived until my mother died. On Palm Avenue, so we could all go to Henderson School.


M: L t me crCb hag 1ri T w-What are your first memories of Ybor City growing up as a


F: I do not know what you mean by memories. That was my life, L-4ne-...

M: Your first recollections. V i Vt iLC4h

F: Just my friends and to me that was my whole world around there. I mean- >ven though

there was a lot of Latin people in west Tampa we never went to west Tampa. An4d-hat-,

waS---"Our life was Ybor City. Ths=-the theaterT-In other words, that was our whole

life. The family group,the picnics for the --from the--for the club, 4i the theater,

the school, I mean everything was geared around thehLatin people. Everything was

geared that way.

M: Do you consider yourself Spanish or American in your ...?

F: At first, believe it or not, I used to think in Spanish and translate it into English.

Now, I think in English and translate to Spanish because eventually all my friends--

Yju know how it is -you just get to the real world I guess--and all my friends spoke

English instead of Spanish.

M: Did you speak any English before you began school?

F: Oh, no I did not know a word of English. Not one word. I remember my first teacher

Miss '\ and what they had was a class where they put us with about maybe three or

four Latin kids.

M: This is at Henderson?

F: Uhum, and what they had was like a little nursery school. They had can goods, tables

and chairs. And they would tell us,'iable, table, chair, can, teacher, desk.' They

would call out the words and you know how kids are --they pick things upffast.

M: So you were seperatedifrom your classmates?

F: We were seperated- 'n other words we thought we were put in the first grade where in

this particular grade where they would teach us the language but we learned so fast.

Within four months we already in the first grade. And we passed with the rest of the

kids. We picked it up that fast./ Ill) tell you-- it is funny--you should remember your

first grade teacher, you know, she makes such an impression.


M: Yea ft h-Ir h.

F: And I graduated froimenderson ...

M: What h--Regarding your early school experience, how did your classmates treat you,

being that you were Spanish?

F: I do not recall, aTny-f...

M: 'DfyouT Tel--I mean, did you feel different?

F: No. I do not know, ag--Being that my father had always made us feel that we were

special. We were very special. We were not just anybody. He always felt like

well--you know---we are the king. So when I went to school I think I felt like

'Gee, they are lucky they have'me around.' And I have always been a leader. e-I have

never been a follower. I do not know how to follow. I -was lead. So I wnB )

immediately was the leader in the class. I mean, that was something that came to me

automatically. T1'-VT..

M: You were never harassed being, S,1 Latin?

F: Never, I was always very fluent. I was always a leader. I was always very tough.

M: Did you continue in the CCI < school system?

F: Oh, yes.

M: You went your entire school r' ..- '

F: Oh, yeg. Oh, everything was--I went to Henderson, went to Washington Jr. High, and

I went to Hillsborough High School and from there--Se, my father was a very strict

man he told me if I wanted to go to college, which I did,--7/ I wanted to go to

college I wanted to be a teacher. He would pay my way if ____ U_ v i\ '"

But if the school started at 9:00 in the morning I left the house at 8:30. And if

classes ended at 3:00 in the afternoon I would be home at 3:30. I could not attend,

any function what so ever. Not basketball, not football, nothing. In fact, when

I graduated from Hillsborough High School I did not even know where the basketball

court was at. I was never allowed to participate in anything. He was so strict he

did not allow us to do anything but school and home. So when he told me that I

could not have anymore fun--I mean, I said, 'Why go to college? I'7 just get


F: ...married and get the heck out of here.' And that is why I got married. Yet,

my two brothers and my sister are all school teachers. They made it. They went to


M: Did you date during high school? What was your father's attitude towards dating?

F: Oh, I was not allowed to date. I dated, but not that he knew of. My mother used

to cover up for me. Made believe she was going to take me to the movies and then

she let me sit with a boyfriend.

-4whei-m-. Your mother did not chaperone you?

F: She had to.

M: What did she do?

F: That was the only way I could leave the house--with my mother. In fact, my husband)

\dn\1 wasatre-of' y--h4e-wefs my boyfriends And uh, mly husband' could not understand it

because he had been raised differently. Myr-fthl- ul, h- my husband at the time-

my boyfriend, he did not know one word of Spanish, not one single word. And I told

him eventually if you plan to come to talk to my father about marrying me, he would

not allow you to speak English. You have to learn Spanish or you can not come to the

house. Do you know that I taught him Spanish and he learned it? And t+rat-is--he

learned, how to speak Spanish just as well as anybody else. But I could not date

him. I had to go with my mother to the movies,-tuv. At the dances, my mother had

to sit and chaperone. -wes- I never went to a football game or anything y) n .F

Always the movies or sit on the porch or go to a dance J my mother there. I mean,

we did not have that freedom they have today. We just did not.

M: What was your father's attitude towards the chruch?

F: Well, my mother was a very religious woman and he never stopped her from going. She

could go as often as she did. She went every Sunday. rWere allowed to go to church

as much as we wanted to. H.e- r --lapeAd--hle 'as-nt----he believed in God but he

was not the type to go to church. _, I mean. Yet, he never stopped

us. We were all baptized.

M: Was he critical t the church?


F: Never.
M: I mean,.io,

F: No, hI he said, 'To each his own.' He told my mother, 'You feel like going to

church, you go.'

M L._Ul=4uh. /u

F: If we wanted to go to a Baptist Church, even though we were Catholic, we could go.

Jewish church--he did not care. So long as you believe in God that is all you need.

Does not matter what denomination.

M: Wk-wh-'-what was the role of the Catholic chuch when you were growing up in Ybor City?

How would you characterize it?

F: Everybody v O)vi ( Cco, c

M: But were they religious?

F: Very religious. The average person was very religious. Oh, yeas, that was it.

See, we all baptized.

M: ,-YA4F How about the division in Ybor City when you were growing up? You know

there were really four distinct groups--Spaniards, Italians, white Cubans, and

black Cubans. UIS let us talk about the black Cubans, I mean were you even aware of


F: The black Cubans -.. -no--they did not mix. Imean it is just like it was then.

The black and the white did not mix and the black was not allowed anywhere into

the Spanish community.

M: Um-hum, um-hum, yeah...

F: TIhey OTuI Tot-- But fe--tihe, the white Cubans, the Spanish, and the Italian---

they got along.

M: They got along, buFTuh

F: Thly,-tfriy but the Italian people,-j, were more4,i, helpful to each other. They

would help each other in business, in the life, whatever. They were very frugal.
They were very smart. They all adto own their own home own land. The Spanish
They were very smart. They all !aarto own their own home, own land. The Spanish r *


F: ...did not. They paid I' rent, had a good time. The heck with it. And they would

even be jealous of oie another. Not the Italian people. They would help each other.

That was--that was completely different.

M: How about the Cubans and the Spaniards? How did they get along?

F: They get along fine. They get along fine.

M: Did you ever go to the Cuban Club for instance?

F: Oh, yes. 01\ V k'{ fn fact, wheo-h--btroght-rOfrm-uh-,-when he went to Cuba

one time--he,_ m:, brought these4Ei% people from Cuba and one of the girls would come

Ahnd -g they had a little girl named--I forget her name

but they used to call her the 'Cuban Shirley Temple'. They brought her over. He ui^l

bring a lot of big stars. They were supposeJto be .t.akTg Cuba at the time and-t fhe

would have these'playskat the Cuban Club. And let me tell you, that place was always

full. That place was always full. See, that is the kind of entertainment they had at 1

time. There was nothing else.

M: Gi';-'m-T"", "et us take u --You were fifteen years old, let us say it is ]935 and

/ q twelve years old, what would you do on a typical Saturday night?

F: On Saturday night everybody went to Ybor City. Excuse me. -Hi1o?

M: 7th Avenue Saturday night.

F: Saturday night everybody,-l mean, every Latin person, Spanish to Italian You

would go to 7th Avenue and you would walk up and down, shop, whatever you wanted to

buy. You would sit in the car, look--Everybody knew everybody. Tba.ea.s--you would

never meet a stranger. Everybody knew everybody. And that was a big thing on Saturday

nights. Walking up and down-he; u ri-there was about a three block radius.on

7th Avenue, W ^ Cti 15th to 17th or 18th. We just walked around,' Hello,

hello, how are you?' Talked, we socialized. That was the big thing on Saturday

nights. That was the big thing.

M: U-h, h, any coffee shops, a?

F: Yesi, they had the _was open at the time. You know you could sit down, have

coffee there and ---actually it was more for, ye4nsow, the younger peoplethat is---


F: --where we met. That is where we talked. That was...

M: When t the evening end ?

F: The evening end when your mother said, (itslate and le -sgo home.' There-was

neer- --in those days, you never talked back...or anything.

M: Wa-w.^-would your father be with you or would you be 0t0- ?

F: No, my father would be in the casino playing dominoes. He loved to play dominoes.

No, he did not come. That was his thing, playing dominoes.

M: ui'd-tt -in terms of socializing, .too--were there any religious festivals? For

instance, the--t*e--duh-- <- Spanish, e-a si



F: Well, if there were, I mean, we never attended one.

M: Right.

F: Ours was more family oriented) -heater, picnics,Cul P I thurch--My mother was

the one that was very religious. So that there was never ___ one way or the


M: How about the Depression? What, -lir ye know, wT t recollections do you have?

F: I remember that. I could not believe that some of my friends were starving--they

were hungry. I do not see why. I could not understand it because my father was such

a good provider, always had food for us. We would eat steaks, chicken, all kind of

food. We always had shoes, clothes, and--during the Depression. And my friends would

tell me they did not have btw money, even for lunch money. They js- t had to bring

thte---some of them-Aariir bring a piece of bread for lunch. And we always had

terrific food. Tht-l aT TT-e- I mean, I did not know what depression was. I did

not know what it was. Now I realize it. But at the time I thought that, you know.

And when my mother found out about everybody in the neighborhood, they were not well

off, she would always send of groceries to them and ^this 4r4 that. I thought it

was odd that they did not have food or money. e4-ean7.


M: What about 'bolita?"

F: Oh, that was common. Oh, that was something that everybody--my father thought

that was a foolish game. He did not believe in chances, he did not care for that.

And my mother would only play if she had a dream of some sort. Dream this and

that and sherplay. But it was not_--4r something that they did regularly or

anything. It was just something special, but everybody took the ipli_______

Everybody played bolita. ITfVasJ-tu^tth- In fact, some of the biggest stores in

Ybor City-- yo idpick a number, let us say number seven, and yot(d'pay a dollar

a week for twenty-five weeks.
twenty-five dollars worth of merchandise you could buy. 3CJ

:4 C---Let us say during the third week your number would come

out in tte-4ee4dr, you did not have to pay anymore. You could get twenty-five

dollars worth of clothing.

F: So it was just a common everyday thing. I mean bolita was--the man would come at

the door says, 'You want to play anything today?' I mean, nobody thought nothing of

it. N .qaays-r a I do notithink it is in existence today I do -t know". It

used to be common though.

M: Yea4, yqei. What effect do you think Pearl Harbor had on Ybor City?

F: Well, i.AxlI will tell you what effect it had on me. My son was born seven days

from the date. He was born November the 30th.

F: Seven days later--December the 7th.

M: Where were you and your father when Pearl Harbor was bombed?

F: MY father was in New York.

M: O.K.

F: I was with my mother-in-law because I had just had the baby. I was in those days,

you know, stay in bed seven days. I was in bed with the baby when I heard about


F: ...Pearl Harbor. So th at-+ iTr-th yt ngyu-nQw.3,--bur-ieing my son was small

I had did not have to worry about him going to war. Andvtr, my husband, he was

at the age where he could have gone, but believe it or not, we registered, he

registered I mean, for the war before we were married. And for some reason they

lost his number. And we went back twice to find out what his number was and they

would lose it every time. So I guess it was God's will that he did not serve.

But then, when he finally, you know, they would ask him,'Are you' 4-

or 1-A?' And he says, 'I do not know.' They do not call me. They do not tell me

my number. And I do not care how much he reports it. They still did not do any-

thing about it. So he never had to go to war. So he was lucky in a way. By the
Clao 0/
time that he worked in the shipyard that is when you had to be 1-A, whatever. That

is what he told them, he showed them his card that he was registered three

times. They just do not give me anything. So then--fhey-d1si by that time then

hadgene -t. war-!-^0' _so- 4. ',

M: Where were you living during ..t W v

F: In the projects right here. Anwd- _r -ight there on 26th Avenue and 17th street.

We lived there for ten years.

M: Yeas looking back at the demise of Ybor City what are your comments ?

F: ) terrible. It is terrible. ThPy ,Wp-suc-ahy -they were just happy

people--they were just happy--thaa-was--Ido not remember any fighting, any

kniving, and gunnings, any guns. Everything was fun. Parties, get-togethers,

you could walk anywhere you want to. Bjt W_--teer-h ld-to L -We never locked our

doors. I mean, nobody would come in and steal, nobody would hit you. And everybody

would get together on the porch and laugh and joke and go to movies, go to dances

go to parties, go to picnics. It was just a fun, fun life. It really was. It was

beautiful. It really was.

M: Whoo you thi is to blame in retrospect?


F: I really do not know. All I know is that it is gone. I do not know who I would

blame. All I know is that it was one of the most beautiful parts of my life. That

thxbe intimacy, that friendship, that togetherness. You do not see that. Right

now you will tell your neighbors, 'Hello, goodbye.' It used to be that everybody

would get together. You never felt lonely. Never felt lonely.

M: One-eneTr topic we did not bring up earlier 6 I suppose it is related to this is

the role of the Latin politicians in Ybor City. What-dTo-yotu-;who do you think of

when you think of...

F: 6 ) (C b

M: Well, tell me about ___l____.0

F: He was a very good man. I care what they say--that man---they figured that

he was too old but he was not too old. I think that man had a lot of feelings for

everybody. You could call that man--that was one mayor that you could call about

anything. I do not care what your problem was --you would ask for him and he

would get on that phone and talk to you. And if he could help you he would tell

you, 'I certainly will do it.' And he would do it. He did not know you from Adam

but he would help you.

M: Your father ever have any..r, contact with..i.7

F: No, like I said he was never into politics, never had anything to do with politics

at all. Ever, never. Never cared about politics one way or the other.

M: He never had any personal ,'_*JT_ _- stories about helping people or County

Commissioner or mayor?

F: No, not really. He was never into politics-=yua--h--now I am getting into politics

because my son ran for County Commisioner. _His name does not

ring a bell, I nUh, who is he? You know, just a young kid. That poor thing, he a dreamer. He really thinks that by trying to do good, you are

going to get good. I said, 'Honey, you do not know much about politics.'

M: How about (c _____


F: Oh, I i\\. VLtiAery, very much. He is a very, very good person. He will

also listen to you if you had a problem. He did not just sweep it under the rug,

he would listen. And if he could do something-in fact, he came to my house one time

because I had a very minor problem. Minor. Came to my door to help me out. And

he fixed it.

M: As mayor? C

F: As mayor. He was mayor. Everybody it the neighborhood was a9hti Here comes the

mayor of the city of Tampa to help Mary.

M: Yes.

F: Jrst--I do not know. He was just a very good person. I'm telling you.

M: What about Bob Martinez?

F: I know him but I do not know him that well either. He seems to be alright but

I do not know him that well. You know, just what I hear about him. I do not

really know him to say J.ia one way or the other, you know. But the ones that I

really remember that helped me was Greco and _CL)_t Two times that I

needed help I called them and they responded immediately. I have never had to call

Martinez for anything. So, I really do not know if he would do it or ignore me.

I do not know. But he is a very nice person and hau, my husband knew him _l__t

My husband did know him. Because my husband was a deputy sheriff.

M: -Uh-rut,r yeA. &

F: And he was into, you know, Salcines and he knew all these people that I did not. So

he was more with the politicians than I did. And my former husband and he was such

a good guy that he would get along with anybody. I do not care it was.

M: Umium YeYe. I would like to thank you very much for taking time. You were most


F: I likeOit, I-me-ui like iL.../-