Mary Fontanills oral history interview

Mary Fontanills oral history interview

Material Information

Mary Fontanills oral history interview
Series Title:
Ybor City oral history project
Fontanills, Mary, 1920-2010
Mormino, Gary Ross, 1947-
University of South Florida Libraries -- Florida Studies Center. -- Oral History Program
University of South Florida -- Tampa Library
Place of Publication:
Tampa, Fla
University of South Florida Tampa Library
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
1 sound file (59 min.) : digital, MPEG4 file + ;


Subjects / Keywords:
Cigar industry -- Florida -- Tampa ( lcsh )
Spanish Americans -- Florida -- Tampa ( lcsh )
History -- Ybor City (Tampa, Fla.) ( lcsh )
Social life and customs -- Ybor City (Tampa, Fla.) ( lcsh )
Oral history. ( local )
Online audio. ( local )
interview ( marcgt )
Oral history ( local )
Online audio ( local )


This is an oral history interview with Mary Fontanills, the daughter of Manuel Aparicio, one of the most famous lectors, or readers, in Ybor City's cigar factories. Aparicio came to Tampa when he was fifteen and quickly became a lector; the workers liked his ability to give each character a distinct voice. He was also involved with local theatre groups as an actor, director, and writer. After the factories banned lectors, Aparicio had a radio program and a newspaper, and eventually went to New York, where he worked as a translator for the United Nations. In this interview, Fontanills shares her memories of her father, discusses her own life in Ybor City, and comments on some of Tampa's Latin politicians.
Interview conducted July 26, 1983.
Statement of Responsibility:
interviewed by Gary Mormino.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of South Florida Library
Holding Location:
University of South Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
002233777 ( ALEPH )
656571002 ( OCLC )
Y10-00019 ( USFLDC DOI )
y10.19 ( USFLDC Handle )

USFLDC Membership

Added automatically
Ybor City Oral History Project

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Fontanills, Mary,
d 1920-2010.
Mary Fontanills oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Gary Mormino.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (59 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (25 p.)
Ybor City oral history project
Interview conducted July 26, 1983.
This is an oral history interview with Mary Fontanills, the daughter of Manuel Aparicio, one of the most famous lectors, or readers, in Ybor City's cigar factories. Aparicio came to Tampa when he was fifteen and quickly became a lector; the workers liked his ability to give each character a distinct voice. He was also involved with local theatre groups as an actor, director, and writer. After the factories banned lectors, Aparicio had a radio program and a newspaper, and eventually went to New York, where he worked as a translator for the United Nations. In this interview, Fontanills shares her memories of her father, discusses her own life in Ybor City, and comments on some of Tampa's Latin politicians.
Fontanills, Mary,
Aparicio, Manuel,
Cigar industry
z Florida
Spanish Americans
Ybor City (Tampa, Fla.)
x History.
Ybor City (Tampa, Fla.)
Social life and customs.
7 655
Oral history.
2 local
Online audio.
Mormino, Gary Ross,
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
Tampa Library.
Ybor City oral history project.
4 856

xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8
transcript timecoded false doi Y10-00019 skipped 15 dategenerated 2015-06-10 19:40:50
segment idx 0time text length 25 Gary Mormino: Fontanills.
128 Mary Fontanills: Fontanills.
2GM: Fontanills.
324 MF: It is a French name.
4173 GM: Right. Okay, Ms. Fontanills, tell me something about your family's background, perhaps starting on your mother's side and then talk about your father, your recollection?
552 MF: Well, my father and mother both came from Spain.
6GM: From Spain.
78 MF: Yes.
8GM: You know where in Spain?
965 MF: Yeah, my mother is from Madrid and my father is from Alagn.
1012 GM: Alagn.
11MF: Alagn.
1247 GM: And that is-is that in Asturias or Galicia?
13MF: No, it's a different-
1426 GM: Okay. All right, well-
15109 MF: And my father's people were very wealthy. My mother's people were very poor. So, when they came to Tampa-
16103 GM: Let's get a little more background. You say your mother's people were very poor. Were they farmers?
177 MF: No.
1835 GM: What exactly did they do there?
19645 MF: No, my mother's mother, which is my grandmother, married a Frenchman, which was very rich. But his family opposed the marriage because they were French and they didn't want him to marry a Spanish woman. So, when he died, they tried to take his children away from her-it was two girls and a boy. The woman ran off because in Spain I mean, at that time money was everything, the law was nothing. She ran off and hid and worked 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, you know, but secretly.
209 GM: Yeah.
21181 MF: Until the French parents of her husband stopped looking for her. And that's how they grew up. My mother never had much, because her mother had to raise her; there was no father.
2279 GM: How did her family come to the United States? Or did they go to Cuba first?
2377 MF: Oh, no. No, no, they came straight from Spain right to the United States.
24GM: Do you know what year?
25198 MF: I really do not know what year. Let me see now. I can almost figure it out, because I have a brother that is sixty-seven, and she got married right after about two years after she came to Tampa.
2610 GM: Mm-hm.
2774 MF: So, she was attractive. So sixty-nine [1969] from eighty-three [1983]-
2816 GM: Around 1914.
2942 MF: You figure what year she got to Tampa.
3070 GM: Okay. All right, why did she come to the United States? Why Tampa?
31597 MF: Well, because she had family here already that was here in Tampa and they said it was a better life. So, she figured-after all, like I said, they were not well off, so she figured this would be it. She came over and lived-in those days, if you were poor, you came from another country, you lived with your family in the same house. And that's where she went. She went with her cousin's home and that's where she lived, and she worked in the cigar factory to support herself. She was what they call the despalilladora, which is taking that little middle, you know, from the leaf of the tobacco.
32GM: The stemer?
33344 MF: The little stem. That is what she did. And she worked there until she met her husband-which is not our father. She married this young man and they had a child, which is my brother. And when the boy was one year old, the young man died. So, she still had to go out and support herself. At the time, my father-my real father-was a single man.
3429 GM: This was Manuel Aparicio?
35120 MF: Yes, this is Manuel Aparicio. He had come to the United States because he was an only child. And they were well off.
36GM: Well, wait now. What did his family do in Spain?
3784 MF: (inaudible) was unbelievable. His father was a chief chef for the king of Spain.
38GM: Yeah.
3946 MF: So, in those days, that was the big thing.
4033 GM: Why would he immigrate, then?
41231 MF: For the simple reason that his father was a very strict man and tried to stop him from doing whatever he wanted to do. My father was highly intelligent, too intelligent for his own good. So, at the age of fifteen, he left home.
42GM: To Cuba or the United States?
43MF: No, straight to Tampa.
44GM: And why did he come to Tampa?
45230 MF: Because he found out that in Tampa he could make a better living than anyplace else. There was a community of Latin people. They didn't know a word of English, so he figured that's the place to come to. So, when they got here-
4676 GM: What year would you recollect that they came here? Do you have any idea?
4773 MF: He came here at least three or four years before my mother came here.
4827 GM: And upon arriving here-
49527 MF: On arriving? He was just a kid. But like I said, he had such a high I.Q. 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 whole life. He would use his brain only. Anyway, when he got here, they took him 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 crow's-nest-that is where the men used to sit to read-he looked up there and said, "That is what I want
50to do."
51536 What happened was they laughed and said, "Hey, let's play a joke on the kid." 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 you." So what did they do? They gave him the hardest tongue twister they could find and just handed it to him. 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. He displaced [the other lector] and was just a young boy. Since that time-
5240 GM: Do you remember what factory it was?
5368 MF: No, but some things that you might ask me, I might not remember.
5413 GM: No? Okay.
55113 MF: My brother Henry would remember, and he's out of town now. But you can call me and I'll get all this for you.
5641 GM: Sure, okay. Finish the story, though.
57783 MF: But the factory-he went-in other words, he was in such great demand, because they couldn't believe. See, my father had the ability that of course you see (inaudible). 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 woman, to a boy, to a girl. You would think you were hearing a whole bunch of people. You never knew it was one man doing this. His ability was so great that he was in such great demand that he could demand anything he wanted to. I don't care what he did. He was looked upon at the time when there was a Latin community. As I said, everybody was Latin. He was looked upon as the greatest man in Ybor City. He would walk around-I know, because as a girl, I remember that.
58I don't know if you know about the hospital by Centro Espaol and Centro Asturiano?
59GM: Mm-hm.
60104 MF: Well, the minute you hit town, everybody joined one or the other society. That way you had medicine-
61GM: Sure.
621086 MF: -medical, everything. I remember as a child when my mother would get very ill and my father would 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 prescription down. They would say, "Jos Fernandez!" and people would keep on 'ta-ta-ta-ta-ta' and Jos Fernandez would pick up his medicine. And then they would say; "Manuel Rodriguez!" and people would still keep on talking. But when they said, "Manuel Aparicio," you could hear a pin drop. I would feel like a big movie actress as I walked from my seat to the dispensary 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. I saw him getting-let's say 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 don't care what question you ask him-history, geography, whatever.
63GM: Where had he acquired this education?
64727 MF: Spain. And I'll tell you what part happened in Spain. He was that young when he came. His father was strict and stingy, and my father was not doing that good in school because he didn't care. So his father tried to make him do it. He asked him one day, "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, how intelligent he was. They didn't know it. My grandfather refused to buy him the bicycle.
65GM: Your father or grandfather? Oh, okay, your grandfather, but his father. Oh.
661016 MF: My grandfather would not; in other words, he was tight with his money. So I guess that is one of the reasons that he left, too. 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 father once ever coming home and just doing nothing. 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. His Spanish-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. He was an interpreter. He made movies in Mexico, Cuba.
6766 GM: This was after the last great strike of the lectors, lectores?
6817 MF: Yes. Oh, yes.
69GM: Okay.
7022 MF: Once the lectores-
71GM: Let's-okay.
72MF: That was out.
73GM: Yeah, well-
7450 MF: And he had to find a new way to make a living.
7554 GM: Do you remember what factories worked, other than-
76MF: I'd say-
7737 GM: Did he roam around the factories?
78149 MF: Yes, he did, because every time they would offer him more money and he would go to the one that paid him more money. And he was always in demand.
79101 GM: Did he ever tell you about the auditions he would have, or by that stage did he have to audition?
80146 MF: There was no auditions for him. He was the top. It is just like getting Laurence Olivier to audition. He was always the best, so why audition?
8136 GM: What were his favorite readings?
82MF: He read a lot of novelas. In other words, anything that was entertaining.
8351 GM: Did he ever mention Cervantes? Don Victor Hugo?
84156 MF: Oh, yes, "The -whatever, what do you call that? Oh, he would read every book that was in Spanish. It doesn't matter what it was. That was what he loved.
85GM: Right. Did he have one favorite?
86296 MF: No, but his favorite role on the stage was El Abuelo, 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.
87GM: Right.
88207 MF: 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 was the theater. So, every night, they would have rehearsals.
89GM: These were at the clubs?
90670 MF: At the clubs. Especially at Centro Asturiano. What he did was he was the leading man and the director. My mother was only a bit player, but that was entertaining for her, too. And that's where she met my father. She was already a widow when she met him-and the child-and he had never been married and frankly everybody thought he wouldn't [marry her], because he was also a very handsome man, extremely handsome. Very intelligent. He had everything. At the time-let's put it this way. The pay at the time-let us say you make ten, fifteen dollars a week, you were doing well. My father used to get seventy-five dollars a week. As far as he was concerned, he was rich.
91GM: How would he collect his money?
92179 MF: Cash. The ones that paid him were the people that worked, the cigar makers. They would give so much a week to have this, because that would be the only entertainment they had.
93GM: Sure.
94274 MF: And the more money they gave the surer-the fact that he got all this money-he would stay at that factory if he can get enough money. If 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.
9544 GM: Politically, how would you describe him?
96397 MF: That's the whole sad part about him. He was not for one side or the other. Let's 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 anybody 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 oh, it disgusted me.
9730 GM: The strikes, you mean? Or-
98143 MF: No, not the strike, no. And what was the war going on in Cuba? I think-some war, whatever. But they accused him of being on the wrong side.
99GM: So, you had been born? Or what?
100107 MF: Oh, yeah. And that really, really got him, because he was not politically motivated in any way. I mean-
10185 GM: Would you call his politics on the left or on the right, radical or conservative?
10291 MF: He was right in the center, I mean. Politics did not interest him one way or the other.
103GM: Okay.
10498 MF: He was a Democrat, but he wasn't, you know, that much, I mean. He was a Democrat. That was it.
105136 GM: What about his role during the strike? As you know, Ybor City has had a turbulent labor history. Did he ever talk about the strikes?
106379 MF: 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, they'll settle it. He just sat it out. But being that he had more money than they did, he could afford to survive. So he would not take sides one way or the other.
107124 GM: The readers were often accused of reading radical literature that the workers requested. Do you want to talk about that?
108763 MF: No, my father 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 whichever way they wanted. He would read the whole page top to bottom and give them all the news on everything. And they made up their mind whatever way they thought about it, and he never gave his opinion how he felt about any subject. He never got involved in politics; that was not his thing. So, that is what made him mad when they said he started taking sides, which he didn't. He could have, as a reader. He would have had a lot of impact. But he did not.
109GM: What did he do during strikes? Some of these strikes lasted eight or nine months.
110608 MF: Like I said, if he had enough money, which he did, he didn't need to do anything. Not only that, his credit was so great-because they knew as soon as it was, you know, because they knew about the strike-they knew as soon as it was settled he would be the first one to go to work. So, it doesn't matter. I mean, he could get all the groceries he wanted, whatever he wanted to. He did not have to pay the rent, whatever. He knew as soon as he started working he'd pay them back. I don't ever remember going hungry once in my lifetime, ever. My father always provided, always. He was always a good provider.
11193 GM: Do you want to talk about trying to be bribed by the owners to read (inaudible) material?
112438 MF: I don't think that was fair. I do not think that was fair. He was a very strong-willed person. I don't think anybody would ever try to bribe him in any way. No way. He would-in fact, when he worked up against the name of the factory, I'll probably tell you eventually. 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.
113915 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 whispered this this-and-that and he read again. And the man also spoke again. My father stopped again and looked at him again like saying, "You are speaking too loud." This was the boss. Finally, the third time the man spoke, my father put down the novela and said in Spanish, "l 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. Who else could do that in those days of, you know, depression? Goes to show he was-
114GM: Yes.
115222 MF: In fact, anybody that knew anything about the reading-even Mr. (inaudible). He was the best reader that they ever had, because-in fact, he was the first man to have Spanish spoken. Whenever the readers were eliminated-
11690 GM: Let us talk about that strike in 1931. What happened? Why were the readers eliminated?
117248 MF: I'm not too sure of that, but I think that the owners felt 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's what the whole thing was about.
11843 GM: Do you remember your father's reaction?
119272 MF: 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, you know, eliminated, he worked-I don't think you have even heard of this radio station, WMBR? First radio station in Tampa.
120GM: WMBR.
12138 MF: He had a Spanish program on there.
122GM: Oh, really?
12381 MF: He was the first one to have a Spanish program. And you know how he got paid?
124GM: How?
125444 MF: People would subscribe to the radio. Think about it. I would go with my mother on Saturdays and people would pay fifty cents to a dollar a week to keep that program going, because they wouldn't pay him for the program. In other words, and through ads that he would advertise and this money-that's how we survived. And then from there, then he got a regular job at WDAE. He worked with Sol Fleischman for many years. And that is what he did.
126GM: And that is why he did the Spanish program?
127MF: The Spanish program.
128GM: What kind of things did he do on the radio?
129711 MF: On the radio, he did the same thing he did as a reader. He read. He was so-his ideal was so high. He would pick up the [Tampa] 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 them hanging, 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'd have to wait until the next day. He had a half-hour program five days a week, and that's how-he worked on that for many years.
130325 Then comes the Depression. Things are tough and WPA came in, but as I said, my father was never a laborer. It had to be something intellectual or he wouldn't handle it. My father couldn't even put a picture hanging up on the wall. He didn't know how to hold a hammer. But anyway, when the WPA came in they had these theaters.
13134 GM: Federal Theatre Project, yeah.
132MF: And he was the director-
13321 GM: Of the Ybor City-
134238 MF: -of the actors. 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, while they had this theater. In fact, I wish my brother would've kept the program. It had, you know-
135GM: Program-
136MF: -plays, programs, stuff like that.
137GM: Does he still have them, do you think?
138110 MF: I do not know, but I'm going to try to get it all for you and give it to you. But that is how we survived.
139GM: What do you remember as a young girl walking with your father? I mean, how would you describe his demeanor and name?
140MF: Wow. Uh-
141GM: For instance, dress. How would he dress?
142MF: Oh, no. He was a casual dresser.
143GM: Now, I have been told, for instance, Victoriano Manteiga never was seen without a suit.
144MF: Manteiga was my father's best friend.
14518 GM: Is that right?
146MF: That was his best friend. In fact, every time my grandfather would come from New York, he and Manteiga would get together for lunch all the time.
14711 GM: Really?
148MF: Now, that was his best friend.
149108 GM: Wait now. Give me an idea. Where would they lunch, and what would they talk about, and things like that?
150286 MF: Oh, they would lunch at Reladas, at the Columbia, any Spanish restaurant. Oh, they would talk about the old days. That was their thing. I mean, my father would relive his youth all over again because see, Manteiga and him were friends ever since they were young boys that came over.
15145 GM: Your father ever write for his newspaper?
152MF: Oh, my father had a newspaper.
153GM: He did. Was there a (inaudible)?
15420 MF: Called El Mundo.
155GM: El Mundo.
15667 MF: He had a newspaper. My brother, and Henry, and I would read it.
157GM: Really?
158MF: Yes.
15959 GM: How would you describe the paper? Was it weekly, daily?
160MF: No, it was daily.
161GM: Politically?
162MF: Just the news from the Tribune for the Spanish reading people.
163118 GM: What did he do differently then El Traduccin? I thought that it was El Traduccin's function just to translate.
164MF: No, I do not think-I am not sure, but I do not think El Traduccin existed then.
16548 GM: May have been out of existence or something.
166MF: All I know is-
167GM: El Mundo-
168MF: El Mundo-because I remember that we had a special room in the house where my father would sit and write.
16971 GM: Did anyone ever keep the back issues somewhere? Any copies of them?
170114 MF: I just wish-if I had known all this would have happened eventually, my God, I would have had more information.
171GM: Yeah, when we were talking about your father's demeanor, you said he was casual.
172MF: Very casual.
173GM: In one sense. Okay. When you would walk down Seventh Avenue, tell me what it was like. You know-reception.
174468 MF: Well, he was dressed-you know, he'd always wear a tie. Not necessarily a coat, usually a white shirt and a tie, very casual. He was not a dandy. Always neat, you know; in those days we didn't have dungarees. I mean, he 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.
175GM: How was he received?
176MF: Like if he was Jesus Christ. People would be in awe of him. They couldn't just come up, and the only ones that would not be that way would be like Manteiga, Raul Vega, and-you know, his cronies.
177GM: Like Horace?
178MF: Otro lectores.
179GM: Remember El Mexicano?
180MF: El Mexicano, and, uh-
18114 GM: Rodriguez.
182626 MF: All of them. They were all good buddies. 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, here is Burt Reynolds!" The same thing. He had that aura about him, and being that he could speak-let's put it this way, he could speak about the head of a pin for about an hour and never repeat himself. He had that ability, that gift of gab. He was very-his I.Q.-in fact, he was disappointed in the four of us, because none of us are dumb, but compared to him, we don't have anything, because there wasn't anything he didn't know.
183593 You could ask him the date of any war and he would tell you. He would tell you 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 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 Castilian. And people that know Spanish detect it immediately when I speak.
184947 I'm 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'd give a quarter. All I did was listen to it one time and I said, "I got it." (inaudible) It's such a tongue twister, which I haven't 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. Then he'd give me another one, and another one, and I would go to it and I was such a young girl. Because, you see, when I was born-poor thing-he really thought that I would be his dream. I never talked baby talk. At the age of three I could read Spanish. I always spoke, "El martillo, est arriba de la mesa." I would always pronounce everything so perfectly. He was thrilled to death. But after a while, you know, you mix with the other kids and what happens? You don't keep it up, you speak like they do.
185GM: What did you speak at home, Spanish or English?
186MF: Both.
18749 GM: What was his attitude towards family English?
188730 MF: 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. Only when we were learning; that's 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.
18983 GM: Did he ever tell you about the Italians in the factory trying to learn Spanish?
190665 MF: 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 cannot speak Spanish. But a Spanish person trying to speak Italian-well, my father could speak Italian. How he did it I do not know, because right now I know a lot of Italian people and they speak Spanish good. Then you get a Spanish person-don't 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, but that's the way it is.
191190 GM: Let's continue with your father's career after they'd-do you want to elaborate any more about the Federal Theatre? A Spanish theater? Do you remember going there as a child to the plays?
192MF: I always liked to go.
193GM: You did?
194MF: Oh, yes.
195GM: What were some of the-
196MF: I used to sing opera.
19797 GM: I understand they did Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here in Spanish. Do you remember that?
19861 MF: Plus they did El Mundo en la Mano, which my father wrote.
199GM: "The World in Your Hand"?
200MF: "The World in Your Hand."
201GM: In your hand, yes.
2021319 MF: My father wrote it, acted it. There were just-there were little vignettes of Spain, and Italy, and China and Germany. And he would write-this is what is very astounding-every 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 would say jokes and this and that-but from that particular country. And he had the ability to sit up at night, write the new version for whatever jokes he was 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 plays were only one day a week. That is Sunday night. And when he wrote that, that lasted for three weeks straight. In fact, they had to turn people away, because there was no place for them. That's how good he was at what he did. And he went to Mexico, and not only did he act in movies, [for] American movies he would dub the words in. And he was so good that you could not tell. If 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 him. He was a perfectionist.
20382 GM: Now, did he have to leave Ybor City-there simply was not enough work here? Or?
204MF: 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-
20531 GM: Did he work on stage there?
206MF: -on stage. He worked on the stage.
207GM: On stage? English or Spanish?
20899 MF: And he worked at the United Nations. He taught Spanish; in fact, that is where he met his wife.
209GM: Olga?
210MF: Yes. My mother had died, and that is where he went, to New York City.
211GM: So she is not a native to Ybor City then, huh?
212130 MF: Who, Olga? Oh, no. She is from New York City. In fact, she was Italian. And she wanted-she is so-she also has a very high I.Q.
21332 GM: What year were they married?
214MF: Let me try to figure that out.
21556 GM: So, I take it your mother died and he married again?
216MF: My mother died in 1941.
217GM: Okay.
218157 MF: Nineteen forty-one [1941]. And I believe he got married in forty-six [1946]. And at the time he met her-actually, she's only seven years older than I am.
219GM: You were born what year?
220612 MF: Nineteen twenty [1920]. So he married a woman very much younger that him. She could have been my sister. But her I.Q. was so high, she was so intelligent. You know, she was the first woman assistant editor for Newsweek magazine. And if you ever read one of her letters, it's just like reading a beautiful book. He letters were beautiful. Always were. And when she met him, she went to the Spanish class he was conducting because she wanted to speak Spanish perfectly. In fact, I'll give you her address, because she'll be interested. She is very interested in-she is writing a book on her own about lectores.
221GM: Is that right?
222215 MF: She is going all over. She is getting all kind of information. She is going to write a book on lectores, which of course with her background she can really do a beautiful job. So anytime there is something here-
223GM: Did she spend much time in Tampa?
224MF: What?
225GM: Did she spend much time in Tampa?
226492 MF: Oh, yeah. With my father, [he] would come over, you know, every year; they would come over to visit, she would come over. But let's face it, her I.Q. was so high that-oh, yeah, she could socialize and laugh and joke and all that, but she would not be stimulated. She would be stimulated with the people with brains. Like up north, these people that would write books, you know? And her English was perfect. Her Spanish was perfect. Her Italian was perfect. She's a very intelligent woman.
227GM: What year did your father die?
228MF: Nineteen seventy-five, 1975.
22975 GM: Nineteen seventy-five [1975]? How old was he at that time? Do you know?
230MF: Eighty-nine.
23155 GM: Eighty-nine? Okay, so he was born in 1886, I guess.
232106 MF: His father lived to a ripe old age, and you know, we thought he would live to be a hundred and twenty.
233GM: He died in New York City?
234MF: Yes.
235134 GM: Okay, now, what about yourself? What are some of your first memories of Ybor City and growing up? Where did you live in Ybor City?
236796 MF: Well, I remember we lived on Third Avenue, and my father and mother had a phobia. In those days, you went to the school nearest your home. My mother and father did not want us to have an accent, and there was Philip Shore 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 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 Third Avenue all the way here to Henderson School? That's where we all went to school. So finally being [that] she wanted us to continue that, they moved to Palm Avenue. And that's where we lived until my mother died. On Palm Avenue, so we could all go to Henderson School.
237GM: Let me change this over now.
238Tape 1 side 1 ends; tape 1 side 2 begins.
239GM: What are your first memories of Ybor City growing up as a child?
240MF: I don't know what you mean by memories. That was my life.
24153 GM: Your first recollections, earliest recollections.
242MF: Just my friends, and to me, that was my whole world around there. I mean, even though there was a lot of Latin people in West Tampa, we never went to West Tampa. That was-our life was Ybor City, the theater. In other words, that was our whole life. The family group, the picnics from the Colombia for the club, the theater, the school-I mean everything was geared around the center of the Latin people. Everything was geared that way.
243GM: Do you consider yourself Spanish or American in your growing up?
244287 MF: 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-you know how it is, you just get to the real world, I guess, and all my friends spoke English instead of Spanish.
245GM: Did you speak any English before you began school?
246197 MF: Oh, no. I did not know a word of English. Not one word. I remember my first teacher, Miss Boyington, and what they had was a class where they put us-it was about maybe three or four Latin kids.
247GM: This is at Henderson?
248259 MF: Uh-huh, and what they had was like a little grocery store. They had can goods, tables and chairs. And they would tell us, "Table, table, chair, can, teacher, desk." They would call out the words, and you know how kids are, they pick things up pretty fast.
249GM: So you were separated from your classmates?
250407 MF: We were separated-in other words, before 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 were in the first grade. And we passed with the rest of the kids. We picked it up that fast. I'll tell you-it is funny. You should remember your first grade teacher, you know, she makes such an impression.
251GM: Yeah.
252MF: And I graduated from Henderson-
253GM: Regarding your early school experience, how did your classmates treat you, being that you were Spanish?
25423 MF: I don't recall any-
255GM: I mean, did you feel different?
256495 MF: No. I do not know, 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 got me around." And I have always been a leader. I have never been a follower. I do not know how to follow. I would lead. So, I immediately was the leader in the class. I mean, that was something that came to me automatically.
257GM: You were never harassed, being Latin?
258MF: Never. I was always very fluent. I was always a leader. I was always very tough.
259GM: Did you continue in the Anglo school system?
260MF: Oh, yes.
261GM: You went your entire school carrier then outside of Ybor City?
2621058 MF: Oh, yes. Oh, everything was-I went to Henderson, went to Washington Junior High, and I went to Hillsborough High School. And from there-see, my father was a very strict man. He told me if I wanted to go to college-which I did. I wanted to go to college; I wanted to be a teacher. He would pay my way through University of Tampa. But if the school started at nine in the morning, I left the house at 8:30. And if classes ended at 3:00 in the afternoon, I'd be home at 3:30. I could not attend any function whatsoever. Not basketball, not football, nothing. In fact, when I graduated from Hillsborough High School, I didn't even know where the basketball court was at. I was never allowed to participate in anything. He was so strict he didn't allow us to do anything but school and home. So when he told me that I could not have any more fun-I mean, I said, "Why go to college? I'll just get married and get the heck out of here." And that's why I got married. Yet, my two brothers and my sister are all schoolteachers. They made it. They went to college.
263GM: Did you date during high school? What was your father's attitude towards dating?
264MF: 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.
265GM: Your mother did not chaperone you?
266MF: She had to.
267GM: What did she do?
268896 MF: That was the only way I could leave the house-with my mother. In fact, my husband, who was my boyfriend, could not understand it because he had been raised differently. My husband-at the time, my boyfriend-he didn't 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't come to the house." Do you know that I taught him Spanish and he learned it? And 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. At the dances, my mother had to sit and chaperone. I never went to a football game or anything with him, always the movies or sit on the porch or go to a dance with my mother there. I mean, we didn't have that freedom they have today. We just didn't.
269GM: What was your father's attitude towards the church?
270356 MF: 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. We were allowed to go to church as much as we wanted to. He never stopped he was not-he believed in God, but he was not the type to go to church. (inaudible), I mean. Yet, he never stopped us. We were all baptized.
271GM: Was he critical of the church?
272MF: Never.
273GM: I mean, (inaudible)?
274MF: No, he said, "To each his own." He told my mother, "You feel like going to church, you go." If we wanted to go to a Baptist church, even though she was Catholic, we could go. Jewish church-he did not care. So long as you believe in God, that is all you need. Doesn't matter what denomination.
275GM: What was the role of the Catholic Church when you were growing up in Ybor City? How would you characterize it?
276MF: Everybody mostly was Catholic.
277GM: But were they religious?
278116 MF: Very religious. The average person was very religious. Oh, yeah, that was it. See, we are all baptized Catholic.
279241 GM: 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. Let's talk about the black Cubans. I mean, were you even aware of their-
280183 MF: The black Cubans, no, they did not mix. I mean 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.
281GM: Yeah.
28287 MF: They could not. But the white Cubans, the Spanish, and the Italian, they got along.
28319 GM: They got along.
284430 MF: But the Italian people were more 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 tried to own their own home, own land. The Spanish people didn't. They paid rent, had a good time, the heck with it. And they would even be jealous of another. Not the Italian people. They would help each other. That was different, completely different.
285GM: How about the Cubans and the Spaniards? How did they get along?
286MF: They get along fine. They get along fine.
287GM: Did you ever go to the Cuban Club, for instance?
288574 MF: Oh, yes. My father-in fact, when he went to Cuba one time, he brought these people from Cuba, and one of the girls would come (inaudible). And 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 would bring a lot of big stars. They were supposed to be big in Cuba at the time, and he would have these plays that were at the Cuban Club. And let me tell you, that place was always full. That place was always full. See, that's the kind of entertainment they had at the time. There was nothing else.
289128 GM: You were fifteen years old-let's say it's 1935 and you were twelve years old. What would you do on a typical Saturday night?
290MF: On Saturday night, everybody went to Ybor City. (phone rings) Excuse me. Hello?
291GM: Seventh Avenue, Saturday night.
292615 MF: Saturday night, everybody-I mean, every Latin person, Spanish, Cuban, Italian. You would go to Seventh Avenue and you would walk up and down, shop, whatever you wanted to buy. You would sit in the car, look. Everybody knew everybody. There was-you would never meet a stranger. Everybody knew everybody. And that was a big thing on Saturday nights, walking up and down. There was about a three-block radius on Seventh Avenue, from Fifteenth to Seventeenth or Eighteenth. 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.
293GM: Any coffee shops?
294212 MF: Yes, they had the [Las] Novedades was open at the time. You know, you could sit down, have coffee there and-actually it was more for the younger people. That's where we met. That is where we talked. That was-
295GM: When would the evening end?
296145 MF: The evening ended when your mother said, "It's late and let's go home." There was never any-in those days, you never talked back or anything.
29757 GM: Would your father be with you, or would you be alone?
298144 MF: 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.
299129 GM: In terms of socializing, were there any religious festivals? For instance the patron saint a Spanish guy. Novodoia? Covodoia?
300MF: Covodoia.
301GM: Covodoia.
302MF: Well, if there were, I mean, we never attended one.
303GM: Right.
304188 MF: Ours was more family-oriented: theater, picnics, club nights, this and that. But church-my mother was the one that was very religious. So that there was never us; one way or the other.
305GM: How about the Depression? What recollections do you have?
306861 MF: I remember that. I couldn't believe that some of my friends were starving-they were hungry. I would say, "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 and clothes during the Depression. And my friends would tell me they did not have money, even for lunch money. They just had to bring-some of them would just bring a piece of bread for lunch. And we always had terrific food. 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, I couldn't-and when my mother found out about everybody in the neighborhood, they were not well off, she would always send off some groceries to them and this or that. I thought it was odd that they did not have food or money.
307GM: What about bolita?
3081137 MF: 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 she would play. But it was not something that they did regularly or anything. It was just something special. But everybody took the bolita. Everybody played bolita. In fact, some of the biggest stores in Ybor City-you'd pick a number, let's say number seven, and you'd pay a dollar a week for twenty-five weeks. At the end of twenty-five weeks, you had twenty-five dollars worth of merchandise you could buy. And between-before that twenty-five dollars paid out, let's say during the third week, your number would come out in the bolita, you didn't have to pay anymore. You could get twenty-five dollars worth of clothing. 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?" Nobody thought anything of it. Nowadays-I do not even think it is in existence today that I know of. It used to be common, though.
309GM: Yeah. What effect do you think Pearl Harbor had on Ybor City?
310155 MF: Well, I will tell you what affect it had on me. My son was born seven days from the date. He was born November 30 [1941]. Seven days later, December 7.
31164 GM: Where were you and your father when Pearl Harbor was bombed?
312MF: My father was in New York.
313GM: Okay.
3141171 MF: I was with my mother-in-law, because I had just had the baby. I was-in those days, you know, you stay in bed seven days. I was in bed with the baby when I heard about Pearl Harbor. So that's the only thing, you know; being my son was small, I did not have to worry about him going to war. And 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. We went back twice to find out what his number was, and they'd 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-F or 1-A?' And he says, "I don't know. They do not call me. They do not tell me my number. And I do not care how much he reports it." They wouldn't do anything about it. So he never had to go to war. So he was lucky in a way. By the time that he worked in the shipyard, that's 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. [He said,] "They just do not give me anything." By that time, the war was over.
315GM: Where were you living during the war?
316MF: In the projects right here. Right there on Twenty-Sixth Avenue and Seventeenth Street. We lived there for ten years. We lived there.
317GM: Looking back at the demise of Ybor City, what are your comments?
318545 MF: It's terrible. It is terrible. They were just happy-they were just happy-I do not remember any fighting, any kniving, and drunkenness, any guns. Everything was fun. Parties, get-togethers, you could walk anywhere you want to. But we never had to be-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.
319GM: Who's to blame, do you think, in retrospect?
320380 MF: 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 intimacy, that friendship, that togetherness, you don't 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.
321165 GM: One topic we did not bring up earlier-I suppose it is related to this-is the role of the Latin politicians in Ybor City. Who do you think of, when you think of-?
322MF: [Nick] Nuccio.
323GM: Well, tell me about Nick Nuccio.
324494 MF: He was a very good man. I don't care what they say. That man-they figured that he was too old, but he's 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 don't care what your problem was, you'd 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 didn't know you from Adam, but he would help.
325GM: Your father ever have any contact with him?
326MF: 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.
327GM: He never had any personal Nuccio stories about helping people for county commissioner or mayor?
328386 MF: No, not really. He was never into politics. Now, I'm getting into politics because my son ran for county commissioner. Of course, he lost. His name doesn't ring a bell. I mean, who is he? You know, just a young kid. That poor thing, he really-he's a dreamer. He really thinks that by trying to do good, you're going to get there. I said, "Honey, you don't know much about politics."
329GM: How about Dick Greco?
330339 MF: Oh, I liked him very much. Very, very much. He's a very, very good person. He will also listen to you if you had a problem. He didn't just sweep it under the rug, he'd 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.
331GM: As mayor?
332126 MF: As mayor. He was mayor. Everybody it the neighborhood was shocked. Here comes the mayor of the city of Tampa to help Mary.
333GM: Yes.
334MF: Just-and I don't know him. He was just a very good person, I'm telling you.
335GM: What about Bob Martinez?
336MF: I know him, but I don't know him that well, either. He seems to be all right, but I do not know him that well. You know, just what I hear about him. I don't really know him to say one way or the other, you know. But the ones that I really remember that helped me was Greco and Nuccio. Two times that I needed help, I called them and they responded immediately. I've never had to call Martinez for anything. So, I really do not know if he would do it or ignore me. I don't know. But he's a very nice person and he-my husband knew him well. My husband did know him, because my husband was a deputy sheriff.
337GM: Yeah.
338MF: And he was into, you know, Salcines, and he knew all these people that I didn't. So he was more with the politicians than I did, my father-husband, and he was such a good guy that he would get along with anybody. I do not care it was.
33989 GM: Yeah. I would like to thank you very much for taking time. You were most informative.
340MF: I liked it. I like it.
341End of interview
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