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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 00064 Interviewee: Wilfredo Rodriguez (WR) Interviewer: Gary Mormino (GM) Ga y la Jamison (GJ) Interview date: May 23, 1984 Interview location: Ybor City, Florida Transcribed by: Unknown Transcription date: Unknown Interview Changes by: Mary Beth Isaacson Interview Changes date: April 13, 2009 G ary M ormino : My name is Gary Mormino, and today is May 23, 1984. Ga y la Jamison and I have the pleasure of talking to Mr. Wilfredo Rodriguez. Mr. Ro d rig ue z, can you tell me something about your family b ackground? Who your father and grandfather were. WR: Well, I have to give names. G M: Oh, certainly, uh huh. WR: The name of my father was Francisco. Do you know how to spell it? GM: S WR: F r a n c i s c o. GM: Right. WR: Francisco Rodriguez. My mother's name was Maria Luisa Rodriguez. My father was a reader in the cigar factory. GM: He was a lector uh huh. WR: Yeah, and we came to this country when I was a year young. GM: Uh huh, and what year were you born then? WR: I was born in Havana, Cuba. GM: Uh huh, in what year? WR: You must ask me a question that's more easy for me to answer your question.
2 GM: Okay, what year were you born? WR: In Havana, Cuba. GM: Yes, okay. Ga y la Jamison : En que a o? WR: Yeah, yeah. G J : En que ao? WR: In 1901. GM: In 1901, uh huh. WR: July 5th, 1901. One day after the fourth of July GM: Okay, tell me something you remember about Havana. What district you lived in, in Havana. Your neighborhood, growing up in Cuba. WR: In Cuba well, I can't remember very much. I was too young, you see. GM: Yes. What factory did your f ather work in in Havana, do you remember? W R: In Havana? One was the name by Henry Clay. GM: Henry Clay F actory. WR: Cigar factory, that was one. The other one was Partag s. P a r t a g a s. Partag s Cigar F actory, and the other one was Romeo and Julie ta. Romeo and Julieta GM: Uh huh. Yes. Very good. What street ? WR: That I couldn't remember. GM: Was your father a cigar maker then or was he a lector there ? WR: No, no. He wasn't a cigar maker. He was he worked reader in the cigar factory. GM: How did he become a reader? WR: How he become a reader? GM: Um hm
3 WR: Well, when he started out in the old country GM: Yes. WR: Yeah. He went to the cigar factory, and you know how they used to be? GM: No. WR: Fellow r eads something from the pape r or story or something, and if the cigar maker like the way he read it, they make a votation and he was elected the cigar reader. The cigar factory reader. GM: He must have had an education. WR: Well, of course; he had to know how to read, how to write. GM: You know how far he went in school? WR: My father? GM: Uh huh. WR: I don't know. GM: Yeah, right. Did you ever, as a young boy, go and hear him read? WR: Who? GM: When you were a young boy growing up, did you go watch your father read and listen to him? WR: No, I never did f or he taught me how to do that at home. You know? I mean how to read in the cigar factory because I went to school here. GM: Okay, okay. Wa s he involved in the revolution? WR: No, no, no. GM: The ten years war or the WR: No, nothing of that kind. GM: How a bout Jos Mart and Antonio Maceo ? Did he know them, or work with them? WR: Well, he know like many other Cubans, knew them by name more than by picture or person. No relationship between them.
4 GM: Right. Why did he leave Cuba and come to Tampa? WR: Well, there was a big strike of cigar maker in Cuba and somebody from here write to him why he didn't come to Tampa. There was a good place here where he can develop his ability a s a reader you know? So he di d that. He came out first, and then a few months later, we came. My mother and my brother and myself. GM: Do you remember the voyage on the steamship? WR: Yeah. GM: And what was it like? WR: Steamship O livet te GM: Olivet te Oh, yes. Very famous. What was it like leaving Cuba? Do you remember the voyage anything about it? WR: About my wife? GM: About the voyage, the trip by ship. The Olivet te WR: Yes, s he came with me. I came with her. GM: Yes, right, right. What were your what'd you think o f Tampa when you first saw it? Ybor City? WR: Well, wasn't very [it was in] very poor condition in those days, you know? But I think kid, I can't tell you much about that, you know. Well, I was reared in here and seems developing different way over the year. I went to school. GM: What school? WR: I went to the public school first. GM: The public school, the free school WR: And then I went to the Sacred Heart [Academy]. GM: Sacred Heart, yes. WR: When Sacred Heart was located on First Avenue and T wiggs [Street] close to the cathedral. GM: Yeah. How much schooling did you get? When did you quit school? What age?
5 WR: Well, you know, Sacred Heart stage, that was the last time I went to school. I stayed about two years. GM: And when did you get your first job? How old were you? WR: My first job, I was well about let's see I was about sixteen or seventeen years old, with the Western Union delivering telegrams. GM: Oh, really? WR: That was my first job. And after that I became a reader, too. Cigar factory reader, and that's what I did for years, and when the reader there was a big strike here, and the cigar manufacturer refused to have any more readers on the factories, so then I went to New York. I stay in New York f or a few years. GM: Let s go back just a little bit. How did you get a job as a reader? Did you first make cigars or rol l cigars? WR: No no. As I told you before. You went to this factory, if not only me ; if you're a reader make a GM: An audition? WR: An audition, that's right, that 's the right way. An audition at the cigar factory and the cigar maker make a votation and choose the reader they want. GM: Do you remember what you read to audition, what story? WR: Oh, no. I can't remember that. (la ughs) GM: What factory was it? WR: T h e one where what's that ? factory in West Tampa by the n ame of Bustillo GM: Bustillo, uh huh. WR: Bustillo Cigar Company. G J : When your father was teaching you how to be a lector what did he tell you? How did he t each you? What kinds of things did he teach you? WR: Well, he writ e before a piece of paper or book or something and I try to imitate him while he do it. You see? Like the way he told me and not because I say t o myself when I was pretty fair.
6 G J : Did you when you were reading a novela did you WR: Novela peri dicos G M : Peri dicos WR: Peri dicos G M : Re v ist a s WR: Local paper in those days; we h ad a paper here by the name of La T raduccin I t make a traduccin from the English GM: Translations. WR: p ape r, American paper to the Spanish language, you see? G J : When you were reading the nove las did you change your voice to become different characters? WR: Oh, yeah, we had to do that. Of course, anybody can do that, see? Or we wer e suppose d to i f there was a lady speaking, we were suppose d to speak like a lady or an old man or children, a baby or a kid. GM: Your father was a pretty famous lector wasn't he? WR: Yeah, he was. GM: Wasn't he called El Mexicano ? WR: El Mexicano Exactly. How do you know that? GM: I think we talked once before. I don't know if you remember, but I've heard about y our father also. He was WR: My father was my older brother, he was as good as my father, and I was not so good that they (inaudible) what I did. G J : Was it hard to WR: The last factory I read was in C arrera y Wodiska GM: What year was that? WR: When they making the strike and the manufacturer refused to have any more readers.
7 G J : What happened? Did the manufacturer come and tell you not to read any more? WR: No no, no, no. G J : What happened? WR: When they make an arrangement with the people that we present the cigar maker, they put a (inaudible) All right, I said what you want from him? More, more money to labor? "N o we don't want any more readers in the factory ," and the cigar maker accepted. G J : He accepted? WR: He accepted. G J : Oh. They didn't go on strike? WR: Because the strike the last strike last abo ut a month. It's a big time when people were separated to go to work. G J : Well, how did you know that you weren't s uppose d to read anymore? Who came and told you that you weren't suppose d to read anymore? WR: Nothing. G J : Nobody came to tell you? WR: N o. There weren t going to have any more reading, no lectores in the factory. No one at all. Because you know, the cigar maker has a union, you see, and the cigar factory owner has a union too. So the union of the factory, they don't want any more readers in the factory. GM: Some people have said that the lectores were radic als, that they WR: No. No, no, no. That was not right. GM: No? WR: That was not What happened was this: the cigar maker had what we called a president GM: A presidente um hm. WR: That president chose the material we w ere suppose d to read to the cigar maker. So we were not responsible. We had to do what he say.
8 GM : Right. Right. What kind of literature did the workers like? What were their favorites? WR: Well, they have the f irst opinions you know the re was too many cigar maker. O ne like the novel, novela Another one like the news and another one like what they call a label literature. GM: Literature, uh huh. Give me some examples. What were some favorite books and authors? WR: Let's see if I remember (pause) I don't remember the name GM: Let me just throw out some and you can respond. Benito Prez Galds ? WR: Well, some was some paper from out of town. I know that. GM: Uh huh. Right. W R : Like I would read N ew York or in Chicago one of those places GM: Yeah. How about Benito P re z Gald s? WR: That was a nove la GM: Novel a uh huh. Did they like him? WR: Yeah, they loved it GM: How about Cer vantes? Miguel de Cervantes? WR: Oh, my father (inaudible) read from Don Quixote GM: That was h is specialty, huh? WR : He was famous for that. GM: Uh huh. Yeah. How about K ropotkin? WR: Who is that? GM: Peter K ropotkin. Russian anarchist. WR: I don't know. GM: Mi khail Bakunin ?
9 WR: I don't remember reading anything of that kind. GJ: Zola? GM: Okay. Victor Hugo ? Hugo? WR: Oh, Victor Hugo. Yeah. GM: Yes. WR: Victor Hugo Pedro Mata t hat was another one and [Eduardo] Zamacois was another one. Well, they w as nothing that j ust novels, like of any kind. GM: What was the was there one particular novel that was the most liked? WR: Among cigar makers? GM: Um hm. WR: Don Quixote G M : Don Quixote uh huh. GJ: How many times do you remember how many times you read Don Quixote to the workers? WR: I neve r read it. GJ: You never read it? GM: No, no. You're kidding. WR: I never re a d it because when I was a reader, there was years and years that you are used to hear the Quixote and they changed to another thing. GJ: They were tired of it by then. GM: What year now we haven't pinned this down what year did you become a lector ? How old were you when you became a lector ? WR: When I became what? GM: A reader. WR: Nineteen twenty eight
10 GM: Nineteen How old were you in WR: No, no. Yes, 1928. Because I was married on 1930. G M: So the tail end, right WR: Nineteen twenty eight GM: Was Se or Apa ri c io reading then? WR: Yeah. I remember GM: What do you remember about him, Manuel A p a ri c io? WR: A p a ri c io was a good reader. There was a few of them were pretty good. GM: Victoriano Mante i ga? WR: Well, before he had L a G a c eta when he was young man, he was a re a der too. Was pretty good too. GM: O nofrio Palermo? WR: Which one? GM: O nofrio Palermo? WR: I didn't knew that one. GM: How about [Cesar Marc o s] Medina? WR: No, I didn't knew that one either. GM: Uh huh. Right. We never have explained. How di d you father get the nickname El Mexicano ? WR: Well, it happened this way. My father wa s born at the end of the Cuban i sland, Santi ago de Cuba, you see. That's w h ere my father was born. And in those days, the transportation from Santiago de Cuba to Havana was very hard. There was not many peopl e from Santiago de Cuba that came to Havana. And Santiago de Cuba has a way to talk that is pretty like the Mexicans, you see? Now he was like me, brunet, a dark brunet, and they called him Mexicano Mexican. Because they said they wanted Mexicans. He was born in Santiago de Cuba. GM: Did they call you that, too?
11 WR: (inaudible) Santiago de Cub a is a province ; he was born in Manzani llo. Th at was a town in Santiago de Cuba. GM: How do you spell that? WR: M a n z a n i l l o. GM: Okay, right, right. What did his father do there your grandfather in Man zan illo? WR: You mean by my mother or by my father? GM: Both, both. WR: Well, about my grandfather by my father, I never knew him. I don't know. But about my mother, he was a bookkeeper. GM: Bookkeeper, uh huh, yes. Right. Right. WR: I believe, I don t I'm pretty sure I believe that my grandfather by my father's father that he die in the revolution against Spain. Now what I remember GM: Ah, yes. WR: What I knew then, even I don't remember his name. GM: Uh huh. Right. Right. What do you have any memory of the great strikes, l a h uelga de d iez m e s e s ? WR: Well, that was the one I told you when I went to New York. GM: Tell us about it. C an you elaborate? WR: No, I don't know much about that strike. I mean I don't know why they say I make what they're asking for ; al l I know they were a sking for a high on the salaries and that's all I remember. GM: This was 1920? WR: Nineteen twenty GM: La huelga de meses die z ? GJ: Diez m eses GM: Diez meses
12 WR: No the one that last ten months Y eah, yeah, that w as it, because th ere was just two big strike s here. Once was when I was a kid ; that last seven months. GM: What did you do as a child? Do you remember the strike in the streets? In 19 this was the one in 1910. WR: What they do? GM: What happened during that strike? WR: Well, all I know is you can make it the work, to work (inaudible) to work. Oh, there was nothing, no revolution, no nothing, fighting nor nothing like that on the street. GM: Do you remember w hen it was used to be called c o cinas e conomicas the soup kitchens? WR: I hear about that but I never know much about that. I hear about that c ocina e conomica yeah. GM: Um hm. Right. Why did you go to New Y ork during that other strike? WR: Well, because my brother my two brothers was living in New York and all I know i s ho w to read. I couldn't do that here, and then I went to New York. GM: In the factory? To work in the factories there? WR: No, no. I work in different jobs. GM: Um hm. Right. WR: I was elevator operator over there. GM: A what? WR: Elevator operator. I work in a radio factory. GM: Oh, radio factory, uh huh. Right, right. WR: And I work in hotels and I work in different jobs. GM: Did you ever go back WR: And then I work on a national biscuit. GM: National b iscuit, huh.
13 WR: That was my first job in New York. GM: Did you ever return to Cuba? WR: No. GM: Never went back to Cuba? WR: I remember when I was a kid, with my mother I stayed over there about six months and then come back again. GM: Um hm. Right. WR: But I was a kid. GM: How many br others and sisters did you have? WR: Two brothers. No sisters. GM: Uh huh. Did they ever come to Tampa? WR: Yeah, they were here with us. GM: And then you a ll left. What did they do in Tampa, what kind of work? WR: One of my brother s was a reader and the other one was a cigar maker. GM: Then you left for New York during the 1920 strike. Did they return? WR: Yeah, they returned. GM: Um hm. Yeah, and then they WR: In fact they died here in Tampa. GM: Um hm. Right. They continue d to work in the cigar industry? WR: Huh? GM: They continued to work in the cigar industry? WR: Yeah, yeah, they did after the strike was over. GM: Right, right. How about did you belong to El Circulo Cubano?
14 WR: Yes, yes I do o nly in a way. I pay so m uch a month and then I have a right to see a doctor. Because they have three different scale, you know? That's one. The other one is higher. And the other one no, there's only two. GM: Um hm. WR: One pays more or less to see the doctor only and the othe r one that you have all the rights that a member has at the Cuban Club GM: What do you remember about going to the Cuban Club? WR: Let me turn th e light on. That's much better. (long pause) You see? That's only to see (inaudible). GM: Uh h u h. Yes. Do you remember dances there? Did you go to many dances as a young man ? No va a v erbe n as? WR: Not many, no. GM: No, no. How did you meet your wife? WR: My wife? GM: Uh huh. WR: Elena Yes, I remember that. Elena? Memory. GM: Uh huh. WR: You know, I forgot to tell you that before. I was a cab driver here in Tampa for eleven years. GM: After you were a reader? WR: Yeah, after the year s t hat reading finished, was all over. I was a cab driver, (laughs) and I pick her up downtown and took to the ceme te ry because her first husband die, you know. And she went to the cemete ry to take some flowers and I waited. And I liked my passenger so much I said I was going to find out where she lives. GM: Was she Cuban? WR: Eh? GM: Was she Cuban? WR: No, she was born in Tampa.
15 GM: Uh huh. WR: Yeah. Oh, by the way, I am a citizen. I became a citizen in 1938. So when I drove her home, you know, I see where she lived and I start to and I was free through during the day to come back and get spurned, passed by un til we get acquainted, you see. And then we married G J : Oh, what year was that? WR: Let's see Nineteen sixty two Met in sixty two  G J : How did you meet your first wife? WR: My first wife died in 1959, and I got married in 1962. G J : How did you meet your first wife? Do you remember that? WR: How what? G J : How did you meet your first wife? WR: Oh, yeah. I meet her in the neighborhood ; she used to live close to where we were living, you see. GM: And where was that? Where did you live in Ybo r City? WR: Right here on Thirteenth Avenue. M; Thirteenth Avenue, uh huh. Okay. And was she Cuban? Or Spanish? WR: No, no. She was born in Tampa. GM: Uh huh, what, what okay. What wa s her name? WR: Edelmir a. GM: Edelmira ? WR: E d e l m i r a, and the same last name that I got Rodriguez. GM: Rodriguez, uh huh. WR: We were both Rodriguez. That was a common thing, you know. Her sister was Rodriguez and she married a man named Rodriguez.
16 G J : There were a lot of WR: So there were four Rodriguez in the family. GM: How many children did you have? WR: I had three. GM: Uh huh. WR: My daughter and my son that's living here in Tampa, and my first daughter there is that one, that picture you see over there. She died in Miami. G J : Um hm. Yes. When did you move out of Ybor City? WR : I move out of Ybor City? No, I always be living in Ybor City. G J : Oh, I see. So you weren't moved away by urban renewal w hen they tore down all the houses? WR: Yeah, I was living i n Ybor City. We were living in (inaudible). GM: When you were a lector before you would go to work in the morning, would you go to a special restaurant e or cafe? WR: No, no, no, no. GM: No? WR: We used to do that. We used to have a very light breakfast, you see? We had a very light breakfast, and then we would in the morning read La Traduccin Then when we finished reading La Traduccin we go back home, and then we have a light lunch, Very light lunch, and then we go back to reading again the rest of the day until three o'clock. GM: How much did you make a week? WR: Well, it was different. Don't always make the same salary because, you know there was depending on how many cigar makers wer e working. GM: Yeah. What's the most you made? WR: Forty dollars. GM: Forty dollars. That was pretty good money, wasn't it? WR: Well, yeah; in those days you could get along pretty good.
17 GJ : Who is the woman in the picture on the wall? WR: No. GJ : Is that your relative? WR: No, that no. GJ : Who is that? WR: Oh, you mean this one here? GJ : Yes. WR: Oh, that's my wife's mother. I thought you were referring to that one. GJ : Oh, no. No, the photograph. GM: Mr. Rodriguez, are you the last lector still alive, as far as you know? WR: In Tampa? GM: Yeah. Well, anywhere. WR: Let me think it over. G M : Okay. WR: (long pause) That's right, I am the last one. Because there was my brother a nd me. My brother die, so I was the last one. GM: Did you kn ow Mr. Dominguez who lived here? WR: Oh, yeah. GM: He was a reader also wasn't he? WR: Yeah. Yeah he was. GM: Honorato Dominguez. WR: Honorato Dominguez. GM: Uh huh. Yes.
18 WR: Father and son both were readers. GM: Oh, also ? Uh huh Yea h Well, we appreciate you talking with us. Thank you very much for taking time out. WR: Well, sorry I couldn't do much better, you know. GM: No, no, very interesting. Thank you. WR: In beginning with I talk English very, very to say, not too often, you know. Not because I don't want to, but because other people that live around the neighborhood GJ : Everyone speaks Spanish. GM: How do you like this, by the way? Hacienda Ybor. WR: Oh, I like that very much. I wish it be Ybor is not what it used to be. That's a f act. Ybor was a pre tty nice town in every way. Now (inaudible) nice town that when I was a young man about seventeen or eighteen years, young man I was a young man I used to live with my father and mother and brothers on Fourth Avenue between Nineteen th [Street] and Twentieth Street and in summertime it was the time was so hot, we used to live with the windows and the door open to let some air, you know. You can't do that anymor e. Look what we got in these windows. So that's happened. There has been a bi g, big change in the w ay w e knew it. Ybo r City used to be (inaudible) what it is right now. But I love Ybor City just the same. GM: Thank you. end of interview
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Wilfredo 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 (27 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (18 p.)
Ybor City oral history project
Interview conducted May 23, 1984.
This is an oral history interview with Wilfredo Rodriguez, longtime resident of Ybor City. Rodriguez was born in Cuba and came to Tampa in 1902. His father, Francisco Rodriguez, was a lector (reader) known as "El Mexicano" in cigar factories in Cuba and Tampa. Rodriguez, who was himself a lector, describes their role in the factory, the process by which one became a lector, and the materials read.
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