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1 Ybor City Oral History Project Oral History Program Florida Studies Center University of South Florida, Tampa Library Digital Object Identifier: Y10 00063 Interviewee: Eugenio Rodriguez (ER) Interviewe er: Gary Mormino (GM) Gayla Jamison (GJ) Interview d ate: July 6, 1984 Interview location: Ybor City, Florida Transcribed by: Unknown Transcription date: Unknown Interview Changes by: Mary Beth Isaacson Interview Changes date: April 9, 2009 Final Edit by: Arlen Bensen Final Edit date: April 28, 2009 G ary M ormino : Today is the sixth of July, 1984, and I'm talking to Mr. Francisco Rodriguez at his home in West Tampa, Mr. Rodriguez Eugenio Rodriguez : Francisco was my father. GM: Okay. Your name is I 'm sorry ER: My name is Eugene. GM: Eugene. Okay. Mr Rodriguez, could you tell me something about your grandparents? ER : My what? GM: Your grandparents? ER: My grandparents. Well, the one that I really knew well was my mother's mother. She died when she was ninety six years old. GM: Oh, my. ER: She was from the Canary Islands. GM: Uh huh. She was I sle o ER: But my grandfather on my mother's side died when she was a kid. Well, on my father's side, my grandmother of course I was there when I was seventeen and I met her, but I didn't meet my grandfather because he had already died.
2 GM: Um hm. Right. ER: He was seventy years old and my grandmother from Spain, she died of (inaudible) and this one that was my mother's mother, she died at ninety six. GM: What kind of work did they do in Spain? What occupation? ER: The fields. GM: They were farmers? ER: Farmers. They live in the well, they have a prett y big farm because of work. See, w hen it comes to knowing all the dates and places up there in the mountains, you calcu late you know, how much you're going to get when the old man dies. Well, my father got a thousand dollars and there were nine kids. They w ere pretty healthy. They have several fields, about thirteen or fourteen head of cattle. B ut my grandmother left that little village I believe since she married my grandfather and the same happened with my uncle. The only one that left the area were t wo other brothers, you know, and three of them, but the rest of them, they were born and died in the same little village GM: W hat wa s the name of that village? ER: Las Villas. GM: Las Villas. Okay, and w as that in Asturias or Ga licia? ER: Was a real small village. What? GM: A sturias or Ga licia ? ER: As turia s no. A sturias. G M: Asturias ER: Ga licia is fa r ther west, you know, because Asturia s you know and Ga licia is another province You know, we have forty nine provinces in Spain. GM: A nd they al l speak ER: They speak a different dialect. Course the main language is Spanish, but they talk their own d ialect and the Asturia no is the more intelligent, you see, cause the Gallegos they h ave the (inaudible). I couldn't understand a word. GM: U h huh.
3 ER: A nd the Catalonians and Bisca ys In the southern part of Spain is where they s p e ak b etter language, you know. In Valencia and Sevill e they have more, better Spanish. Of course in the school they speak Spanish i n all the schools but everybody, they speak their own dialect in the little towns. Sometimes from one province to another y ou don't know what they are talking about. The Ca t alonians, they have a kind of dialect t hat is hard to understand and the Galicians are t he same. Or Gallegos they call the m. Th ey are really, you know GM: T e ll me something about Las Villas, what kind of to w n it was. Was it a village or a town or how many people lived there? ER: I don't believe there were four hundred people, and the (inaudible) of being a (inaudi ble) t he people leave off t heir work. Once in a while they may sell a young cow or somethin g y ou know for the clothes but outside in those days, they l ive out of the work, working in the field you know. Raising c orn and wheat and all the things that are, and wool. It was a very simple life. Of course I remember that well although it was a long time ago, when I came from there ; that was in 1916 I came in 1917. That's quite a fe w years ago. GM: Well, we'll talk about that in just a seco nd. In Las Villas, w ere there any churches? ER: Churches? Yeah, there was the main church because there were three small towns, one on each side GM: What were the names of the towns? ER: Oh, one of the towns was Noceda. GM: No ? ER: N o c e d a. GM: Noceda, okay. ER: Noceda. And the other one, Tolinas GM: Tolinas. ER: Tolinas. (inaudible) Tolinas. That was well, those two small towns they used to come to us because that's where there was a church. PS: W ha t was the name of the church? ER: I don't know. You know, every of those little towns in Asturias, they have wha t is called a patron. We ll, in the little town next to to the east, that is Noceda it was St.
4 Anthony and the place where I was it was Corpus C hristi. In Las Villas it was Corpus Christi. Corpus Christi they have a feast for about a week you know. All those little towns, when the patron come, they have a feast for at least a week. GM: Right, right. ER: I enjoy pretty well until th ey told me t hat I had to work. I didn't like the idea of wor k ing in the fields over there. GM : How old were you when they told you that? ER: In t he summer in the winter time it's all right because you start about eight o'cl oc k in t he morning and later after three in the aftern oo n it's almost dark. But in the summertime (inaudible) ten o'cl oc k is, and in the morning, three o'clock it's already daylight. You know, you co me to look at geography Spain is parallel with the state of New York. But I think it's a little farther north than New York so n aturally, the summers are very lo ng and the winters are very short. And GM: Where was ER: and just working the field, I GM: Was Las Villas in the mountains? ER: What's that? GM: Was Las Villas i n the mountains? E R. They had very nice stretches of wood earth and GM: Blue earth? ER: They had the best wheat in the world in there. The wheat, they raised the wheat and they raised the corn. They farmed the potatoes and the greens, you know. We had a little garden there that is always we planted with vegetables, see, and had the potatoes and the collard greens and belie v e me, that is what we ate. There was not much meat. GM: How about sidra ? Sidra ? ER: C mo ? GM : The cider, the apple wine, the apple cider? ER: Oh, well, every one of them is v ery (inaudible) they h ave several apple trees and believe me they make a qui t e a few gallo ns of bottles of cider and not sweet, our cider. You can (inaudible) Yeah. Believe me, I used to go at night and h ave two or three bottles
5 of that cider and it was just very strong because they don't (inaudible). Just as soon as it is made, they let it ferment and when a certain time of the year comes in the fall, then it has fermented enough. And then they start to drink play cards at night and dri nk Drink beer. GM : What about the g a it a the bagpipes? ER: Oh, the gaita W ell, the gaita is the main instrument when they dance the jota or the (inaudible), whatever they call it, and use tambourines, you know. Usually t he girls play the tambourine and sing and dance and dancing in a square And the main dances were what they called the jotas Or there's another one that goes round and you know, everybody goes round. And then that one, they call him GM: Zarzuel a ? ER: No, no, no, no. I just mentioned the name right now and then I forgot it. Well, I hope that it (inaudibible) a nd the girls are the music. They sing and they play the tambourine G M : The tambourine ? ER: Yes, and they dance. And they hav e a very go od time. GM: What about the history of the village in terms of Spanish history? Wh at about the Moors and Asturias? ER: Oh, well, let me tell you. I think they did much damage with Franco t han they did before that. And then you know, the Moors, you get so far as Asturia s You know, Asturia s is a very, very mountainous country. You hardly find a level space and you go u p or do w n unless in the mountains there are valleys, where they have the gras s for the stock. Where they graze and then in the sum m ertime, you kn ow they cut the grass and they clear the reed s and that's where that's the way of living. In other words, you take my grandmother. I think that when she got in that house and you know the houses there, they are like fortresses. The walls are about that thick. GM: What are they made of? ER: Oh, th e bricks they are made about that big and I think a cannon can hardly blow do w n one of those old houses but of course, I am talking about seventy years ago or more. In a way, you know if I came back her e to Tampa right away I went to Chicago I am never wanting to (inaudible) a bout going back there and then my father married another woman and we didn't like the idea because we were (inaudible). GM: Why? E R: No matter how nice the other woman may be, but there is always the stepmother
6 idea. Once I was not here when she ca m e back cause they went back to Spain in 1920 was already fifty two or fifty three, and then he met this other woman and he married her and he have four little kids with her. When he die, the youngest one was twenty fo ur and already have children. GM: Um hm. Right. ER: He live a long life. GM : When did how old were you when you first heard of Cuba or Tampa? Was there a long history in your village of people ER: When I came over here, I was they brought me when I was six months old. GM: Six months old. ER: In 1900. GM: You came to Cuba or Tam p a? ER: Tampa. GM: From Las Villas. ER: Yes, and my father married in Havana, Cuba, see? And he was here in Tampa the first time in 1893 or something like that GM: Uh huh. And his name was Francisco ? ER: And you know it meant you almost had to go to Port Tampa, get the boat and go there, the same as if you went to another part of town. And naturally and when he got marrie d, it was the Spanish American W ar in those days. See, ninety seven [18 97 ] he got married, ninety eight  was the war, and I was born in ninety nine  And GM: You were born in 1899 ? ER: Eighteen ninety nine October. G M : Where? ER: What? G M : Where were you born? ER: I was born in Havana, Cuba but they brought me here when I was six months old. I have a picture that was taken on Franklin Street when the sidewalks were made of board s.
7 My fa ther could have bought a half a dozen lots on Franklin Street for fifty dollars, but he didn't have intelligence enough to, or you know Not exactly ; they were not thinking, you know, about money. But if they would have thought about money, they would have owned half of Franklin Street. Fifty dollars for the lot. GM: What'd your father do i n Tampa? As far as well, let's get first, what did your father do in Havana? ER: My father went to Havana in 1889. He left Spain when he was twenty years old. And he came to Havana in 1889. And then as I said, you know, he came here in 1901 b y t ugboat. And we live here ever since. Outside from me going to Chicago but the rest of the family, they live here most of their lives. GM: Now, how do you know so much about Las Villas? ER: Eh? GM: How do you know about Las Villas? ER: Garcia? GM: No, Las Villas in Asturias. ER: What do I know about it? GM: Yeah, I mean, but how ? D id you l iv e there as a young boy? ER: I live there in my grandmother's house. GM: Okay, but you were born in Havana. ER: I was born in Havana. See, my f a the r got married in Havana and my mother was born there. But my grandmother was born in the Canary Islands. GM: Right, right, right. But when did you live in Spain? ER: In Spain? GM: Yeah. ER: When did I live in wait. Now, I went to Spain in 1915, and we live there for t wo years in that little town. In t ha t little town as I said, if there were thirty houses there were too many. The re was about four hundred people GM: Ok ay, I've got my chronology. Was your father a cigar maker?
8 ER: O h, yeah. GM: How did he learn the trade? ER: That was the main way of makin g your living right here in this town up to about 1920. Right here in West Tampa alone the re was about ten or twelve cigar factories. Some of them used to employ oh, five hundred people. Everything was hand made. And in Ybor City, the same. There was hardly no other kind of trade in this town. They used to call it the cigar city. Tampa was calle d the cigar city because it was known all over for that. G M : Didn't he make cigars in Havana? ER: No. G: No. What did he do in Havana? ER: No. When I went to Spai n I was about fifteen. I was learning the trade an d my father, I got a kind of a (inaudib le) He got a notion to send me to the mo un tains so I went to Havana because there I had my grandmother and my grandmother's two sister and they (inaudible). G M : I n Havana. ER: They'd have a dry good s store. Another one, they had what they called a bazaar Another one have a (inaudible). Spanish, how you ca ll that, what the Spanish small, small bank of Spain in Havana. And they were all three well off. M y father used to go there almost every year, becau se in those days you only ha v e to go to Port Tampa, get in the boat, go over the re, come back next day or next w eek. There was no red tape of going or coming out of these t owns. Now you have to have passports, and well, I don't kn ow I don't know about now because I have been living s teady here since 1917 Who can tell that easy because I go by the year. Eighty four , I'm eighty four; eighty five , I'm eighty five, o nly a couple of months early Y ou know I was born in October you se e. Gayla J amison : O c t ober what? ER: Sixteenth GJ : Sixteenth My son was born on October sixteenth ER: Really? GJ : Yes. Johnny yes GM: What kind of work did your father do? Cigar maker?
9 ER: That's all. GM: How did he learn the trade? ER: He learn it in Havana. GM: How? ER : Well, how, in the cigar factory. And you know, in those days, you have to the apprenticeship was three years and they didn't used to pay you a cent. They only give you room and board. In Havana. W ell, that's where he learned the trad e. As I said and then you take for i nst ance in 1900 cigar factories tried to come to Tampa. And for, oh, for about twenty years, he was known all over the United States Tampa make cigars world famous c ause in those days it was all handmade. It was no m achine, no nothing. GM : Um hm. And what type of work did he do with cigars? ER : Well, as you know, when you do it by hand, you do all the whole thing you do it by hand. GM: He never became a sele ctor ? ER: There is no machine there is no molds, there is nothing. Now, of course they don' t; there is no handmade now. Everything is made by machine. GM: Did he ever become a selector or a buncher? ER: Well, yes. He proceeded to take the packers They are the ones that find the cigars and select it, you know, by color a nd by braids and then, that is (inaudible) and then th e selectors select. This outside wrapper is done by a selector. But now everything is done mechanically you see. And cigars, you have to learn to take piece by piece and mold it in your h and until it was kind of don't think that it took it took pretty long to learn the trade. For tha t very reason they used to three years right here. T he manufacturers were Spanish and they were the cheapest business men there is. They never give out presents or nothing free. They were not that kind of people took over the trade and they were more generous. They used to do the New Year's or Christmas but the Spaniards, the only thing they used to do is f ire you maybe when you need it most. But th ey were re ally the y were ve r y bad employers, very bad. GM: Did your father belong to Centr o Asturiano de Havana? ER: Well, he belonged here into Centr o As t uriano because he belonged to the Centr o in H avana, cause you know those Centr o s in Havana, they a re very well you know, they are what you call mutual
10 GM: Mutual aid? ER: Mut ual societies. Just to he lp the ones who need it. Just ima gine for the dollar a month you used to get hospital and the doctor, everything. Even here forty years ago A dollar a nd a half a month, you used to get medical care, hospital if you were there two months or o ne day. And you need an operation, anything. Only for one dollar and a half a month. We ll, right now through the Centr o Espaol cause I belong to the Centr o Espaol I pay n ine dollars a month and I get sick and I go there and it don't cost me a cent. GM: Right, yeah. ER: And then of c ourse you know they are under M edicare, you see. And they are even better off than before because now they charge M edicare for my staying there, so GM: What do y ou remember about growing up in Tampa? W here did you live? ER: Well, the o nly thing I remember when I went to school and we would play ball all the time, when I c ould Y ou see, we go to school F irst I went to Spani sh school GM: Which one? ER: Oh, that don' t exist fo r the las t hundred years. (laughs) And you know, and then when we learned the S panis h t hat was about eight years old we were my father sent us to the convent To the Catho lic school. But there t he nuns try to get too finicky GM: What was that, the nuns what? ER: Too finicky. GM: Too finicky? ER: He took us from the convent and send to what w e used to call the free school. GM: The free school. The Ybor school ER: Used to call it in those days free school cause we didn't pay nothing and the conve n t my father used to pay fift y cents for each kids. And t hat was plenty in those days, in 1908 and 190 9. That was plenty GM: Where did you live in Ybor City? What was your address? Your first ho me? ER: T he first home was right in West Tampa. GM: West Tampa. So you came to West Tampa.
11 ER: When I what I remember only since I was three years old, something like that, that there was a big fire, and it burned half of it down from Howard [Avenue] up to the woods and then to the woods right around there. It was very unpopula t ed. They were building what they called Santa ella F actory. They were building the factory then. I remember it so well that if I close my eyes I could se e the smoke. And it was i n 1903 1 GM: Nineteen aught three, w ow. ER: Well, that's the reason one of my sisters died. Cause she was the baby ; my mother wa s b reast feeding her and maybe her milk went bad or something. Anyway, she got s ick and died. GJ : She was the twin? ER: No. No they ones that are twins are the two first one s And then I was the third and then w as this one my sister GJ : What was her name? ER: Elena. A nd the n this other baby that died. And my father got kind of sick and there were seven of us and he have that he didn't have it. His father had that house in Spa i n, y ou know, for the last two or three hundred years I imagine. And he w as the doc t or say, "W ell, Frank, I don't believe you'd live six months, and he got scared with seven in the fa mily, cause th ere was my mother, m y grandmother and four kids and himself, so they took us to Spain in 1904 or five . GJ : All of you? ER: All of us. Seven of us. And then it was there we got there in April and we came back in September He got well and he told his father that he was coming back to Tampa. And his father my grandfather he didn't want him to come because you know, my father didn't like the idea to raise those kids in that little town. Town was a village I guess there might have been thirty or forty houses, you know, and the n he was in 1905 ; that was a long time a go, and I remember it pretty well. I remember pretty well when I went because you know, your mind i s very present when you are young And you r emember things like they happened last week. Cause they stay in your mind like a photograph. GM: And when did you return to Tampa? D id you return to Cuba or Tampa? ER: No, no. We came back well, we arrived, you know, when you go from here to Spain, you go to Cuba, to Havan a to take the boat to get to Spain. When you come back, come back to Cuba and then you come back here. We went up there in 190 4 and w e came back here in 1906. 1 The fire actually took place on April 4, 1904.
12 GM: Um hm. To West Tampa? ER: Yeah, the whole family. We bough t a house right here on Ches t nut Street. We bought a house on Ches t nut S treet ; that was where my brother Joe was born. And Eloina Those two were born there and there's where my mother died. Side 1 ends; side 2 begins GM: When do you remember some of t he strikes? Do you remember the 1910 strike in West Tampa? La Huelga de ER: T he one that I remember well i s the 1910. Used to call it the seven month strike And then when I left here in 1919, t hen there w as another strike in the twenties [1920s] and th a t strike was ten months old. It was a question, and if it wasn't for those strikes, I think most of the industry would still be here. Cause you know, they could not make enough cigars. There was the strike breakers a nd you know in those days, to call a pe rson strike worker was the worst thing you can call, and you watch out for the recognition of the union. For now they have the union because the government let t hem have it, see Otherwise there would be no union, and if they won't have been those strikes, I think the industry would still be well established here. GM: What was West Tampa like during the 1910 strike? E R: (inaudible) were paid. I think the only the best paid was us u ally on Main Street. Then the other ones, they were not even paid. I remembe r a kid, eight, nine, ten years old, the cars used to pass in front of the house of the boy. It was Mormon they w ere Mormon s and they used to go to Blue Field w hen Blue Field was a big forest. T hey used to go ahead and shoot deers in there and they used to come an d pass the Sunday af ternoon with a deer on the side of the car and you know GM: During that 191 0 strike, two people were hanged during the strike. Do you r emember that? During a disturbance. ER: Yeah, that was [Angelo] Albano. GM: Albano and [Castenge] Ficarrotta ER: Ficarrotta yes. GM: Do you remember that? ER: Well, of course I remember that. They you know there was wha t the y called a citizen's com mittee. They used to go with (inaudible) separate cars they used to have. Each one of them have a big rifle in their hand to scare the p eo p les, and they said that they were the instigator of that strike, Ficarrotta and Albano They were two nice persons.
13 And they shoot them and then they hang the m the bodies. Of course, they shoot them and then t hey ha n g them. It appeared that they were ha ng ed, but t hey were really shot. GM: Did your father take p art in the strike? ER: No, my father wa s neutral. No, my father stayed home for seven months. (inau dible) in those days. And most of the grocery stores, they were owned you know by Cub ans o r nice families and they use d to give credit to the people all (inaudible) and there was no way of getting the m one y fro m the place. The only thing that I was lucky t ha t my father bought that house a l though in those days they had no use or reason for that o ne or that one. They used to p ay three dollars a we ek rent. In those days, 1910, my father already owned a house so we didn't have to pay n o rent. But we used to eat a lot of beans and then the beans were pretty cheap in those days. GM: When did you what was your first job? ER: My what? GM: Your first job. ER: My first job? The cigar factory. GM: How old were you? ER: Well, about thirteen. GM: Thirteen, uh huh. How'd you get a job? ER: Well, I got the job through my father knew a foreman and they give me the job. They didn't have to pay me anyho w. And we kids used to do all the cleaning after everyb ody went away. There were four, five hundred people working. We used to use the broom, cl e an the place for nothing and then when we start to make the cigars, it was possibl e that he used to pay us nothing. They didn't have t o pay the kids. GM: What factory did you appre n tice at? ER: I first went to Santa e lla. GM: Sant ae lla, just up the street, yeah. ER: You know that was one of t he biggest factories here once upon a time. T hat wa s one of the biggest factories. A nd then there was Garcia y Vega t here was about ten of them GM: Bustillo? What was your first paycheck? How much do you remember you mad e? ER: How much w hen they start to pa y me ? T hey used to pay m e four dollars for one
14 (inaudible). GM: Yeah, and how many could you make a week? ER: Well, I used to make about two dollars or something. GM: Uh huh, were you a cigar maker ER: Four dollars for a thousand, forty cents for a hundred. As I say, they were very cheap employers. GM: Were you a good cigar maker? ER: What? GM: Were you a fast cigar maker? Were you a fast cigar maker? ER: Fast? Well, when I wanted to, I used to work pretty fast. I would make around fifty dollars a week i n the twenties [1920s] I was bringing in good money in those days, a pretty good salary. Then I was in Chicago till 19 41. Nineteen nineteen  th e end of the last war I mean the first World War I I went there. You know, I like to be independent (inaudible) and live by myself. GM: Why Chicago? Wh y did you go to Chicago? ER: Well, it just happened that I knew my father knew a fello w, an Italian fellow that he used to live in C hicago. Then he came home to Tam pa to visit his family. But this Italian fellow used to live there with his wife and in those days, 1919 in April, ca m e one of these little strikes, cause th ere were many strikes in those days. Some of them used to last a month or so, others two months others one week. A nd this fellow said Listen, how you like to go to Chicago? Sure, I liked, but I didn't have the money. So I play b ol i t a you know what b ol i t a is and it happened that I got a number three and number thi rt een. And number three came out I have seventy five cents suddenly I got sixty seven dollars. If it wasn't for that, I would have nev e r c om e to Chicago. My father would have never given me the money to go there, and the n I was making around twenty dollars a week You know you save twe nt y, it doesn't look (inaudible) but you knew you have to (inaudible). In those days you c ould buy a good pound of file t you kn ow for twenty cents a pound. The Spanish stea k was fifteen cents, a pound of rice was five cent s, and a pound of beans was five cents o r four cents. Gee, I remember we used to make what they called the list every week and they used to bring two baskets full of g roceries for three or four dollars. N ow you go to the store with a twenty dollar bill and you hardly buy anything and you don't hardly have enough to pay. Things are terribly, terri bly high. People don't realize that because they (inaudible) in those days. Just (inaudible) a pound of good steak or
15 chops, fifteen cents a pound. GM: When you were working at the factory, do you remember los lectores ? Un lector The reader. GJ : The readers, the lector e s The readers. GM: Un lector ER: Un lector yes, yes. We had lectores We used to have lector e s in every factory here. And they used to read from half past ten no, from ten o'clock to three o'clock. First they give what you might call the world new s, and I remember reading the First World War in 1914, and (inaudible). GM: Uh huh. ER: I (inaudible). GM: What else would they read? ER: Anyway, you know. W hat was I saying? GM: About what he would read, the world news in the morning ER: Yeah, the world news. Then they use d to have a translator t hat used to translate from the En g l ish paper to Spanish. And that was about for forty five minutes, and th en in the afternoon, they have three turns of novels. You know, any kind of novel. You don't notice in (inaudible) hu ndred pe rcent of their novels w ere in Spanish. Well, got those and m ost every part ; they used to read Cervantes you know. Don Quixote GJ : Oh, really? ER: Yes. GM: What was your favorite? ER: Well, let me tell you. They were a good many many good Spanish authors in those days. There was one by the name of Ga l d s. GM: [Benito] P r ez Ga l d s. ER: That was very good writing. And of course, Cervantes was known, Don Quixote you know. I would have read man y more novels by him. And then they w ould translate for Fre nch writers. That was the main (inaudible), Les Misrables you know. Like Victor Hugo and [Guy de] Maupassant and this other one, T he Songs of the P eople Eugne Sue he was a very good writer. The Songs of the People they used to call th at, you
16 know, you have a novel that goes back to three thousand before Christ and GM: Did they also rea d radical literature? You know, [Mikhail] Bakunin and [Karl] Marx ? A l ot of people t h i nk the readers were socialists, anarchists. ER: Well, yo u k now, they were sometimes They were kind of socialistic, but that doesn't mean the reader have to read what the people like. And they used to read for a quarter a we ek, each. Well, if there were a hundred people in the shop, there were a hundred quarter s. Well, there was one that used to read in Santa e lla where there were seven hundred people ; that fellow used to make GM: What was his name? ER: (inaudible ) GM: Do you remember his name? ER: Escobar. GM: Esco l aro? ER: E s c o b a r. Escobar. GM: Do you remember O paric io? ER: Oparici o, sure I remember him. He was an amateur actor. He was a pretty and you know the best part of th o se lector e s when they read a novel and it was a w oman ta lkin g, an old man, they use d to imitate everyone. You take ( inaudible) it was a Spanish wri t er that the cigar makers used to like his way of writing H e came to Tampa in 190 4, and they were reading one of his novels in the factory, and he was surprise d h o w well that reader interpreted his writing. He was raised in Spain, but he was born in Cuba. They had I wish I, (inaudible) r ead any of them you know, and yo u will know his name. I forgot his name a t this moment. But he was really prol ific writer A nd th en there was a Spanish writer born in Asturia s, a nd most of the t hings he writes, y ou know, was about the little towns oh, and the way, real good, you kn ow the way they used to kneel and (inaudible) and everything. There was hardly a feast over there in Asturias that didn't end with sticks. It was how they won: hal f a dozen came out with a big head the next day, fighting. And t hat was all right, before they start to introduce the gun. And that was worse. Cause before they go, and there was a k nif e or the stick, but when the gun the gun was different. The gun was more dangerous. Yeah, I remember every feast always end in a fight. You know, wine, (inaudible) pour the wine, drink it, and they used to get pretty high. GM: Do you remember the opening in 1912 of Centro Esp a ol on Howard Avenue?
17 ER: Of course I reme mber it. GM: D i d you go to it? ER: Sure. And I went to dances in th ere. And I remember when the Cuesta school was op e n ed. That the first school, the biggest one that u sed to be in t hose days in W est Ta mp a. The school is what I mean. I reme mber Cuesta s choo l. I think they tore it do w n. GM: Yes. ER: T hey tore i t d own I don't see why cause it was not so old. GM: Wha t was the o p ening of ? ER : I don't know; i t was opened in 1912. GM: Wha t was the Centro E spa ol like here? On Howard Avenue? ER: T he Ce ntr o Es pa ol, they build that about the same time they build the one in Ybor City. GM: Right, 19 12. ER : And you ta k e t he Cen t ro As tu ri a n o in Ybor C it y, the o ld Ce nt ro Asturiano was burned, b urned down. That was in 1906 or seven  and they bu ild this one b uild in g t hey have now. That building i s there now. GM: Did you go to a lot of dances there? ER: Oh, I used to go to the dances there. Now I don't. Before I went to Spain, I didn't go much to them, because I was only a kid and then I learned to dance and used to go there A nd then every Sunday they used to have a stage show. Every Sunday. And my father used to take all four kids to the stage show. Well, we used to love and especially the comedians, you know. Well, the comed ians came out, you know, you're ten, eleven, twelve years old, and my father, j ust because they were what they call "social functions," you know and that didn't cost nothing. You just have to show your receipt. Then the theatre used to get full and the people used to like stage shows, but you know, in those days, the moving pictures were really not so hot and we'd rather go to the stage show than see a moving picture A nd then when the movies start t o come here, I remember we were ten, eleven years old M y father used to give a dime: a n ick e l for the show, a nickel for peanuts. And we kids used to go there at six o'clock and the pictures used to last maybe a half hour. We used to see the picture two or three times before they'd shoo us out. They'd tell us to get t he heck out of there. That was they didn't have moving pictures here in West Tampa Real men And then when West Tampa burned
18 down in 1917, star t ed hitting the corner of Howard and Main [Street] a fellow have a drugstore and next to the drugstore the re was a moving picture. Now there is none. But you know, now people have more money, they don't even pay to go to the movies You can stay home and watch television GM: Wha t about Buen a s Noches ? ER: What? GM: Buen a s Noches ER: Buen a s Noches ? G M: Uh huh. W hen you wer e a young boy, what was it like? E R: Buen a s Noches ? B uen a s noches means "good night." GM: What? ER: Buen a s n oches means good night. GM: No, the Christmas E ve I'm sorry, the Christmas Eve celebration ER: Oh, Christmas Eve? GM: W hat do you call tha t? ER: No, that is felices backwards. That is Merry Christmas. Felices backwards. And Ao Nuevo Merry Christmas and Feliz A o Nuevo is GM: What would your family do Christmas Eve for celebration? ER: That was the best night of the whole damn year. We stay for the midnight dinner, you see. And we kids would drop in the chair, on the chair asleep you know, but gee, we wait til l eleven o'clock and finally, then wait til l twelve and then start to put down the chickens and the lech n Do you know what the lechn is? GM: Pork, uh huh. ER: Yeah, suc kl ing pig. That was the main dish for the S p a nish and Cubans. Even now Noche Buena we didn't know what Christmas was. W e didn't celebrate Christmas. It was Noche Buena GM: Where would it be held? At your house? ER: Buen a s n oche s Noche Buen a
19 GM: Noche Buen a ER: But Noche Buen a is one thing and b uen a s n oches is another. Noche Buen a is the rig ht evening or the good evening or the good night. You know, on account of his birth, the birth of Christ or something. Or what I call it. GM: Was your family religious? ER: Well, not so much. Although we went to the convent and we take communion and all that k ind of monkey business, but after we grow up and in the factory especially, they di dn't believe in that monkey business. GM: Why? ER: Because not you take mile Zola you know he always wrote against religion. GM: Who is this? ER: m ile Zola. GM: Okay, Zola, okay. ER: mile Zola. And he was a very good writer, but you know, he was anti religious. You know, he have a novel by the name of Fecundity GM: What was the name of it? ER: Fecundity GM: Fecundity okay. ER: Well, the name of that is because there was a fellow tha t was a priest and when he realized what religion m e ant, he got out and got married. And he had I don't know, he had ten or twelve or fourteen kids. That's the reason the novel's name is Fecundity Or we used to read Tierra You know that's another novel. Earth is the name of it. Oh, he had m any good novels. I know more about French authors than I know about English. And I like to read ; you take many of those French authors were very good, very po pular in Spain. GM: What about the church in Ybor Cit y in W est Tampa. Did it have much influence? ER: They have I think a convent; the convent is right here somewhere like this. My (inaudible) is a convent and a church. You k n ow, I think of people here, they are not so religious Like me, I have never been in a c hurch since I left Spain. And then I go to hell because my grandmother pushed us She watch over us You know, I remember she say,
20 "H ow you people can get along if you don't pray?" and I said "W ell, G randmother, I know how to pray. You know I p ray. I don' t know how to pray in Spanish. I know how to pray in Eng li sh. Our Father, who art in heaven. A nd when I finis h, she said, I cannot understand how G od can understand that kind of lingo. (laughs) For her the only language God could understand wa s her la nguage, and Asturiano about that. (inaudible) GM : When you were growing up as a young m an, did you consider yourself Spanish or Cuban? ER: You know, let me tell you, w e ki d s used to g row up in the kind of atmosphere that w e didn't believe much in those things. We didn't believe in being Cuban or being Spanish. Although, you know, when Italiano we used to call "H ey, hey, you macaronis. Call each other names see, but when it comes to being subject towards any kind of nationality, w e never worried about it, because you know. GM: If someone had asked you ER: Someh o w you know even now, I don't give a damn about it bec ause I believe that the (inaudible) the miracle or a happening that just happened, that's all. Y ou are not for us, yo u are not (inaudible) to come or nothing. They just preach it, and that is a reason. A nd then we used to read a lot of these how you call open mi nded writers, see that didn't believe much in religion or tradition, cause for them had to be (inaudible) have the best way to making m ore money, see. And the more patriotic they are, sometime the more crooked they are. O ther w ise they would find no crooked patriots. Let me tell you, find a congressman, som ebody that is deep in politics (inaudible) the only reason. GM: W hen you were growing up, how did the different groups get along? First of all, what were the m aj or groups who were living in West Tampa when you were gr owing up? Ethnic gro up s. ER: The 1 i brar y GM: No, no wh o lived in West Tampa? Italians and Cubans and Spaniards? ER: Oh well, the majority of them, once upon a time, they were Cubans and Spaniards. The n when t hat thing happened in New Orleans that I don't know if you remembered it or not that t he Italian got too strong in there and they went ahead and they (inaudible) there and t h ey start to come to Tampa. Italians who were here in 1914, they use d t o c ome from Louisiana. GM: From where? ER: From Louisiana. GM: Louisiana.
21 ER: They used to call it Lousy a n na. Yeah. (laughs) GM: So there were a lot of Italians in West Tampa? ER: As I said, they used to come by bunches. When they went ahead and got rid of you know, like what happened in New York that they got so strong that they kill the chief of police and they (inaudible) plenty of them Well, the same thing happened in New Orleans. The chief of police (inaudible) got murdered because the Italians were pretty strong you know when it comes to GM: Yeah ER: You know. And they wen t ahead and they start to lynch a few of them and they start to come by the bunches. GM: How did the Cubans and Spaniards and Italians get along here? ER: Well, let me tell you take the Italians and you take the Spanish. They are more intelligent than th e Spaniards because there was hardly an Italian that came here that didn't know how to speak Spanish. Well, it's because the factories were owned by Spaniards and they'd learn their language quick and then it's easier for an Italian to learn Spanish just the same as it would be for the Spaniard to, but we were used to speak S panish just as good as Spanish. (inaudible) then you know in Spanish you tak e I was in Chicago for twenty two years and there is a hundred Spanish T hey have a place to meet and they don't speak any other language but Spanish. Spanish. That's the only thing they speak. You take all the nationalities like the Polish and the (inaudible) they come and right away they are anxious learned the language. But t he Spaniards, t here were Spani ards here for fo r ty years they (inaudible), and the only word my father knew was go to hell ," or something like that. GJ : Your father didn't speak English? ER: H u h? GJ : Your father didn't speak English? ER: No, not a word. GJ : Oh, my goodness. ER: When we kids started to go to school and learn English, we used to speak English at the table. . end of interview
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Eugenio Rodriguez oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Gary Mormino and Gayla Jamison.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (61 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (21 p.)
Ybor City oral history project
Interview conducted July 6, 1984.
This is an oral history interview with Eugenio Rodriguez, longtime resident of Ybor City. His parents, immigrants from Spain, came to Tampa when Rodriguez was a baby. Both Rodriguez and his father were cigar makers, working at several different factories. In this interview, he discusses the cigar trade, the custom of lectors (readers) in factories, and the mutual aid societies.
d b. 1899.
Ybor City (Tampa, Fla.)
Ybor City (Tampa, Fla.)
Social life and customs.
Mormino, Gary Ross,
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
Ybor City oral history project.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS