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Medina, Cesar Marcos.
Cesar Marcos Medina oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Gary Mormino and Gayla Jamison.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (86 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (36 p.)
Ybor City oral history project
Interview conducted May 22, 1984.
This is an oral history interview with Cesar Marcos Medina, longtime resident of Ybor City. His father was a cigar maker in Cuba, and became a lector (reader) at the V.M. Ybor factory after moving to Tampa. Medina was the owner of Wholesome Bakery in Ybor City, which was also known as Two Brothers Bakery and Bamby Bakery. In this interview, he describes the cigar factories and the culture and politics of Ybor City.
Medina, Cesar Marcos.
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
COPYRIGHT NOTICE This Oral History is copyrighted by the University of South Florida Libraries Oral History Program on behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of South Florida. Copyright, 2009, University of South Florida. All rights, reserved This oral history may be used for research, instruction, and private study under the provisions of the Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of the United States Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section 107), which allows limited use of copyrig hted materials under certain conditions. Fair Use limits the amount of material that may be used. For all other permissions and requests, contact the UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA LIBRARIES ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at the University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fo wler Avenue, LIB 122, Tampa, FL 33620.
1 Ybor City Oral History Project Oral History Program Florida Studies Center University of South Florida, Tampa Library Digital Object Identifier: Y10 00065 Interviewee: Cesar Marco s Medina (CM) Interviewer: Gary M ormino (GM) Ga y la Jamison (GJ) Interview date: May 22, 1984 Interview location: Ybor City Florida Transcribed by: Unknown Transcription date: Unknown Interview Changes by: Mary Beth Isaacson Interview Changes date: April 20 2009 Final Edit by: Arlen Bensen Final Edit date: May 11, 2009 G ary M ormino : Was your father a lector in Havana? C esar M arcos Medina : No. GM: No. Okay. He was a cigar maker. Give me some idea what he did in Havana. CM: In Havana he was a cigar maker. G M: A roller, a buncher, a ? C M : N o, no. Of course in those days, cigar makers made everything. They were handmade. That was before the e vent of the so called machinery in the cigar busines s. Everything was done by hand. Like they say, from the bottom up A nd of course he was also manager later on o f a very large cigar factory here when I was up in my teens. G M: What factory did he work in in Havana? CM: In Havana? G M: Uh huh. CM: T hat I couldn't tell you. I don't know. Here of course, he worked at Martinez Ybor an d Stachenberg, where he eventually became one of the managers. And of course, he was a reader principally at Martinez Ybor, which is now Ybor Square. Are you familiar with Tampa? GM: Coma chenta CM: Habla espaol?
2 G ayla J amison : Muy poquito. Estoy estudindolo. G M: What about your mother? CM: M y mother, her name was Angela and she was not she was a housewife. G M: Her maiden name? CM: Very strong woman. Angela Castill o She learned how to type the touch system at eighty six and she was blind. G M: Yeah. CM: Lots of determination. G M: What about your grandparents? Do you remember your grandparents in Cuba? CM: Gran d parents, I never knew because I was very young. And they lived outside of Havana, i n San Antonio de l os Ba os. San Antonio de los Ba os, which is about fifty miles away from Havana. G M: What did they do, do you know? Any idea what CM: Mostly farming, I imagine. G M: Campesinos campesinos You remember Havana at all as a young boy? CM: Oh, yes. Yes. And not as a young man. I learned Havana because after my family came here and my father died when I was very young around sixteen then my mother became very il l. S he went to Havana for an operation and it developed that she had to stay there I used to g o to Havana every year for many years, so I became very and I had a lot of relatives there, and I traveled in Cuba and saw some of the different areas of the island. Beautiful country. Very nice. G M: Do you ever visit your homestead? Where you were born, the neighborhood? CM: Yes, yes. G M: What was that like? CM: Well, of course it is like the old cities of Europe, very narrow streets of brick stone homes with a big patio like we see at Columbia [Restaurant], you know, in the cent e r very formal living there, especially among the middle classes, you know. The families a re very close ; the children are very close to their parents and grandparents. I had a visitor an attorney from the United States. I had done business with him and I to ok him over there
3 and we spent some time A nd I said, "W hat is the thing that impressed you most about Cuba? He says, "Y ou may not believe it, but I have been amazed at how close the families are here. I said, "H ow close the mothers and their children and their grandpar ents are with the grandchildren?" He says, "W e've lost that in the United States. Different cultural background. GJ: And what year was this that he visited you in Cuba? CM: In I remember distinctly because I had just bought his bakery. In 1946. GJ: (inaudible) CM: Th at was when I operated Wholesom e B akeries here in Tampa and of course I had j ust moved that was just the time I had moved to Wholesome Bakeries that he had the second largest bakery in Tampa at that time whi ch we bought. G M: Yeah, we'll get into that. Was your father involved with the revolution in the 1890 s? CM: No. No. GM: No? D id he ever talk about his attitude toward Jos Mart or [Antonio] Maceo? CM: Well, Jos the Cubans, t hey were great admirers of [him] they were opposed to the Spanish domination of the See, my father had been here I hadn't told you that, but my father had been here in the Unite d States back in the early 1890s at Thomasvil le; at that time Thomasville was also a cigar cent er, belie ve it or not. G M: T homasville, Georgia ? Really? CM: Thomasville, Georgia. He was very young. G M: Could you elaborate on that, how he was recruited and his experiences and CM: Well, of course these men that lived in Havana, they were always looking for places where life would be better and where there would be more freedom. The reason of course why the United States got to be what it is is that the people of Europe were seeking freedom and ability to develop an opportunity, and of course we have a cou ntry that has no equal in the world in that respect. People don't w e sometimes don't appreciate it, but a young person can be most anything he wants here if he makes up his mind. Got to work.
4 G M: Which patrn moved his factory to Thomasville, Georgia ; do you remember? CM: To Georgia? G M: No okay. How long was h e in Georgia? CM: Oh, two or three years I imagine. G M: How about was he ever in Key West? CM: No. G M: Or Tampa before he immigrated? CM: No. No, caus e he would go through Tampa. Tampa was t he cent er where you went from here to Thomasville. G M: Did he ever tell you what he was doing when Cuba won its independence? Wh at his attitude was toward independence? CM: Oh, he was in favor of independence. We were in Cuba at the time that the America n forces were there. That is I was a baby, but in 1899 is when the Americans actually took over. That's how I happened to be born under the American flag even though I was not an American citizen which I found out soon when I got to be twenty one J ust because you are born under t he American flag, you are not necessarily an American citizen. Especially if you are born under the American f lag when they are occupying a foreign country. You are still a native of that country. So I had to wait five years to become an American citizen. G M: What made your father move to Tampa, immigrate to Tampa? And your parents CM: Envy, and the opportunity that Tampa offer ed and the fact that Tampa at that time was already becoming a big cigar cen ter and that there were more opportunities here, better living conditions. GM: Were conditions getting worse in Cuba under the American flag? CM: No, I wouldn't say that. But I think that the cigar industry here offer ed more opportunity. The wages were high er. G M: Right. And when did he move immigrate ? CM: In 1903. G M: In 1903, uh huh. Did he come by himself or with family?
5 CM: No, he we three. My mother, my father and myself. My brother had not been born yet. He was born here. G M: Do you remember movin g as a young boy? CM: No, no. G M: So you arrived in Tampa in 1903 then, and you moved to Ybor City. CM: Tampa was a bout that big. G M: And where was your fi r st residence in Tampa? CM: R ight there in Ybor City around Ninth Avenue between Fourteenth [ Street] and Fifteenth Street. G M: Um hm. Right. What are your very first memories of Ybor City? CM: Well, lots of old buildings, wooden sidewalks, wooden block streets that they used to use instead of bricks ; they would have the streets were paved with wooden blocks V ery small h omes, hundreds of them. People mostly everybody working at cigar factories. Already many women getting involved in that. Young children going to work when they were very young : thirteen, twelve, fourteen. Going to the factories. Fortunately I never had to do that, but it was quite common. G J : How did your father become a lector ? D id he ever talk about that? CM: Well, my father of course always liked to read and he had a ve ry strong voice and quite a strong personality and he you know to be a lector in those days, not only did you have to read, but you had to kind of improvise the voices of the different parts of the novels, you know i f it's a woman, a man, a weak man, an old man S o you had to be more or less like an actor, similar to an actor and he was very good at that. Of course if you read in that factory, you had to be good because that was one of the largest in the city and you had to have it like I was talking t o this young man. T hey had no sound system. You had to have a voice that could carry to the extreme end, see, because if they didn't hear you, they wouldn't pay you. GJ: (laughs) Sounds fair. G M: Merit, merit pay. That's what it is. CM: Right, and of co urse the cigar maker s themselves paid. The lector was not an employee of the factory. The lector was an employee of the workers there. They could throw him out and they would have to tell him what they wante d him to read in the literature. T hey would send a bunch of suggestions and then they would run an election and you say, "W ell, I wanted him to read Edison's b iography, or "I want to read The
6 Life of Napoleon or whatever. A nd they used to read some very deep material, so they were very well informed. So then they would meet in these coffee shops at night and they would argue about everything under the sun. Then they got to be so smart that the cigar manufacturer s got concerned and they said "N o more reading. These people are getting too s mart and they a re getting ready to have a union and they are going to make trouble for us. No more readers. That's how the reading stopped. G J : Well, what did your father think about that, having to give up his job? CM: Well, of course, that's when he became involved as manager to one of these factories. G M: He went in to management. CM: Yes. G M: Let's how many years did he work in Tampa before he became a lector ? You said his first job was at the Martinez Ybor factory. CM: Not too many. No, because like I tell you, we came here in 1903, and as I was telling you before, when I lived in that immediate neighborhood, I must have been about ten or eleven, so he must have been here six or seven years then. He was already reading at that time, so he read f or quite a while And of course when the reading stopped, then he went into management, which made it G M: Right. What were his favorite stories and favorite novelas ? Things like that. CM: Novelas ? Of course most novels that were read basically were by Spanish authors. And some French w as translated and of course a lot of some of it was historical in background. A nd this was an advantage to me as a child because when I was very small, instead of telling me about fairy tales, when I want to go to sleep, see, he would always tell me relate historical background of Rome and Greece and Napoleon. So I learned a lot of the foreign history of the world from my father in bed when I was trying to go sleep, see. Which was an unusual thing. G J : Did he ever read newspapers? CM: Oh, yes. At that time they used to read La Traduccin which was a summary of all the local newspapers and New York Times and Chicago Tribune and what have you. There used to be a man here that in the evening he would compile that and type it and m i meograph it and it would have summaries of the Tampa Tribune so and so in Spain, so and so in Paris, so they were very well informed. Much better informed than I am because I haven't got that much time to read that many newspapers. (laughs)
7 G J : Well, most of the people that he read to, could they read and write? CM: Oh, yes. A great many of them did. Of course, some of them didn't. GJ : So for some people, this was their only source of CM: Absolutely. It was just like going to school. GM : Um hm. What about some of the other newspapers of the era? La Gaceta ? CM: La Gaceta By the way, I save you a copy because there's an article there by a young man who was formerly a Tampa boy who achieved a lot of recognition nationally, Baltasar Baltasar was his father. [Ferdie] Pacheco 1 I don't know if you have heard of him? GM: Right. (inaudible) CM: He had a n article GM: Cafe Solo. CM: Huh? GM: Cafe Solo. CM: Cafe Solo? Did you r ead that? G M: Yeah, very encouraging. CM: I thought that was cute. G M: Very nice. I appreciated it. CM: I knew his father and I knew him. G M: What are your memories of your father at night, what was a typical evening ? Give me an idea of you coming home from school and just tell me your family memo ries. CM: Typical evening of the average man in Ybor City was that soon as he had dinner, he want ed go to the coffee shop and hav e coffee and talk to his friends or go and meet with somebody. My father generally would take me, as I got a little bit older, with him. And his main interest was medicine, so his contact was mainly with doctors, and we would go to a drugstore that was called Franco on Seve n th Avenue where a lot of doctors would meet there and just chat and discuss a lot of things. Conversation was a big thing in those days. People talked a lot. They didn't have television, they didn't have radio, s o your way 1 Dr. Ferdie Pacheco is a writer and artist who was also Muhammad Ali's personal physician.
8 of communi cation was conversation A nd we'd go there and I got to meet a lot of the doctors. And that's how my interest developed in medicine, see, which of course later on is how I've been in the hospital business for many years, which I've enjoyed. G M: Right. A nd did your father associate with fellow lector es in the evening? CM: Oh, yes. Some. G M: Where would they generally hang out in the evenings? CM: Well, I don't know where they hang out well, they used to hang out all the time ; that was in the morning b etween eight thirty and nine because they generally would start reading around ten and they would get there together you know and they would have coffee and discuss things in general. GM : Kind of describe that must have been interesting seeing like how many would be there at one time? CM: Oh, fifteen or twenty or more. GM: Really? Is that right? CM: Because every factory worker, I tell you, had his own lector G M: A lot of talent. CM: Yeah. GM: (inaudible) CM: And most of them one of course [Manuel] Aparicio h e became an actor in New York. And his background as a lector helped him achieve that. He was very good. G M: I talked to his daughter. [Mary Aparicio] Fontanilla is her name. CM: Yeah, F ont a n i ll a G M: He must have been an extraordin ary man. CM: Oh, he was. G M: What do you remember about him? CM: Well, I remember him as a big, strong man, very outgoing, with a very strong voice and a very pleasant personality. Very outgoing.
9 G M: Right. How about Seor Rodriguez el Mexicano ? CM: El Mexicano He was a different type. He was a man a little bit more quiet and reserved, not very outgoing individual, typical in his appearance, typically Mexican. GM: He was Mexican? CM: Yeah. I could tell a little story. It's a little bit off color. G M: Sure, why not. CM: Talking about Mexicans, one of the ones that was a very leading party of that group was a Mexican lector And of course, I was a very young person and I was working as a waiter during the summers at thi s, and when they would meet he' d come in in the morning you know and he was very reserved. He said, "Y oung man, I don't know what's happening today. Every time I put on these glasses, all the people that I see here are a bunch of so and so's. He said i t so quiet and he meant it. I thought that was really cute. I always have remembered that. G M: His son became a CM: I do that every once in a while. I say, you know, I think I (laugh s ) You know, some things, when you are young they stick in your mind. Sixty years later you still remember. G M: His son also became a lector Wilfredo Rodriguez. Am I right that he is CM: Oh, he's very familiar with some of the G M: Is he the last lector still alive? Wilfredo Rodriguez? CM: I don't know. He was much (inaudible) much younge r than his father G M: Right, and he was just someone that CM: But he was not as well regarded as the father, who had quite a reputation. G M: What about let's talk about some others. How about Manteiga, the elder Manteiga? GJ: Victoriano. GM: Vict oriano. CM: One of the most respected men of his time. A tremendous individual. Very personable. Good looking, tall, always dressed just so and in those days, sport wear was
10 unknown. You had to have your coat and your tie, no matter how hot it was GJ: White shirt. CM: And that's the way he course he was a terrific speaker and he could he was very active in many fields, politically, particularly. Now his son the one that Roland, and Roland has done well, because in order to survive with a newspaper like that here, that's a battle. Of course, I think the thing that keeps him going is this gossip column. G M: Yes, right. He's a CM: You familiar with that column? G J : Oh yes, yes, I am. CM: I always read that the first thing. G M: Los lectores have an image now in hindsight, in retrospect. Many people tell me that they were all reds. CM: Who? GM: Well, gossip s let's say. Okay, that the CM: Chism e chisme they call them. GM: Chism e ? CM: Chism e chism e in Spanish is gossip. Chism e That's li ke you might say a slang expression. Chism e G M: How would you rea ct to that ? W hat were your father's politics? CM: Politics? G M: Um hm. CM: Well, I would say he's basically a D emocrat, voted D emocratic. G M: Now? CM: Yeah. Course he died you know when I was quite young. I was almost not quite seventeen. He died very young thirty nine. G M: In 1917, you say?
11 GJ: No, he was seventeen. CM: I was seventeen. Yeah. He talk about my father was what they used to call a quack doctor. And this is kind o f interesting, too, because in the development of medicine th at I've seen since I got involved so much in it, is that there wa s a philosophy back in the 1890 s in Germany which was th is question of Khne, K u h n e. Dr. [Wilhelm] K hne, who developed the p hilosophy what we call today rehabilitation with water and exercise and food and so forth and so on. More or less in the field of prevention A nd my father hardly ever took me to the doctor. He'd always prescribe he was a student of that, so I was G M: He did something right. CM: So I was not too long ago I was given the responsibilit y of equipping the rehabilitation centre for the Centr o Asturiano, and it so happens that a Tampa boy by the name of Rodriguez is the second man in command at NYU [New York University] rehabilitation which is the world's finest S o I went up there and I was getting ready to pick up gear, select the equipment. And he said, "What do you think of all of this ?" I s aid, "W ell, you want me to tell you the truth ?" He said "S ure. I says "Y ou know my father used to do all that that you're doing here with a bunch of galvanized tubs and broken down chairs and buckets and they said he was crazy. GJ: (laughs) CM: B ut now, the medical profession has come to realize that he wasn't crazy, that they just had failed to understand the t remendous power that water and exercise and all of that has a bearing on good health. And I was very lucky. Like I said, my father did not leave me any money, but he inculc ated that philosophy and he could be a vegetarian. GM: Really? CM: And here I'm eighty six and I'm still going pretty strong. G J : Are you still a vegetarian? CM: Well, I eat a lot of vegetables and a lot of fruit. And I, of course being that I've had heart condition, I stay away from meats as much as possible. I watch my food. I've always watched my food. My tendency has al ways been to be fat. And that's one thing that and the Cuban philosophy they used to feed these babies, including me, condensed milk, which is very h igh in sugar A nd once you get a child, when he's very young indoctrinated, it's very difficult for him to overcome that. Muchas azcar
12 G M: You must remember some of the great strikes in Ybor City. You would have been old enough to remember the 1910 strike. What goes throug h your mind when I mention that? CM: That was a rough strike. You know they hung two fellows in West Tampa. And the citizen s committee so called citizen s committee came to Ybor City and they would just beat thes e people up. And they would have to scramble and hide because they wanted them to go to work. Course that was the beginning of the union. I was a little bit communistic at that time because I was already beginning to be able to read and make my own opin ions and of course my father being in management, that was kind of bad b ecause I felt that the unions had a place in view of the fact that they, like I saw in those days that the owners were abusing the workers. G J : In what way did you think that they we re abusing the workers? CM: Well, they were working them very hard. They were paying them very little. They would have tremendous power ; if anybody did anything they would ostracize them. He couldn't work in the community you know. Oh, they but then, lik e in everything then my first job was working in the cigar fact ory here. I hated the cigar factories, but I had to have a job and I worked in the office T he time came when the owner could not go to the second floor to inspect the workers, cause the unio ns would prohibit t he owner to go up the step to th e galera It got to be we go from, you know, when you push somebody and then of course the resentment is built there bitterness, you know then they're going to show, and it took a long time before a better understanding among the labor gr oup came about. Younger people came in, the old ones faded out of the picture and there was a better understanding. I was only in that factory oh, about two years. G M: How old were you when you CM: I was less than sixteen. I was fifteen when I went. I had to lie about that cause they wouldn't employ any less than sixteen. So when my sixteenth birthday came in, and I told the man, and he said, "B ut you told me you were sixteen. I had forgotten it I said, "W ell, I needed that [job] Did you see my pants? All the holes that I had in my pants ?" I just had to have a job. (laughs) GM: What did your father say when you told him you were going to get a job as a cigar maker? CM: Not cigar s. I was going to work in the office. GM: Oh. CM: Oh, he loved that. He would liked for me to go into the cigar business, but I G M: What was your father's opinion during this 1910 strike? Did he ever express any
13 of CM: He left. A lot of the people that could left Tampa. And many of them this is you He went to work in Key West during that strike. Many people left. Went to Philadelphia, Chicago G M: And your mother? CM: Those that could and were able to get jobs up there. G M: Your mother stayed here? CM: Yes, because that thing lasted for ten months, and this citizens committee would go around and overturn the pots you know, the soup pots. It was rough. GJ : What were the soup pots? Could you CM: The soup pot is at the being that a lot of people didn't have any food, they wou ld have these common places where they cooked soup and so forth and they would pass it out to the people that would come in like on welfare A nd these members of the committee would come in and just overturn that, cause they wanted them to in other words, if they were hungry, they would have to go to work. GJ: No one to starve for someone else. CM: Well, of course, you are familiar wit h the strikes during those days. I n many cases, in many p arts of the country they would call out the militia. GJ: So is that what happened? They called out the militia? CM: Not here. GJ: Not here. CM: No, they had what they called comtenos ciudadanos citizens c ommittee the so called elite of the community, see. GJ: Now were these mostly CM: Mostly connected with the Chamber of Commerce and so forth and so on. Businessmen. GJ: So these were not Latin people? CM: Oh, no. No, no.
14 GM : D.B. McKay 2 later said he served on that committee. Do you think that's true? C M : I don't know. He used to b e my neighbor. I used to live right across the street from him and of course he became eventually the editor of the Tampa Daily Times and he used to catch the street car. In those days everybody in Ybor City traveled by streetcar. There were no automobil es. G M: Do you remember when your father returned at the end of the str ike? W hat was Ybor City like when the strike was over in 1910, 1911 ? Do you remember your father returnin g? CM: Yes. He went to work right away. G M: Uh huh. In management or CM: No, no. I think he went to work in the cigar factory and then he eventually he went into management. GM: What abo ut the 1920 strike? CM: Nineteen twenty strike. That was a short strike. I was already working at the bank. I didn't have too much to do wit h that. GM : How about the 1931 strike, the last great strike over the CM: Oh, those strikes were small strikes. The real big strike the one that really created the big sensation here was the ten month strike and a lot of violence took place and a lot o f people were hurt. G M: Many, many people, if you read the newspapers at the time the Tribune blamed the lectores for these strikes. That the lectores were radicals, they were fomenting revolution from the (inaudible) W hat do you think? CM: Well, you se e, th is business of being radical is the moment that people become educated O ne of the things about education of course my son used to go to the University of Chicago, and he used to worry about some of these things you begin to question, see. If you're ignorant and they tell you this is good, and you know no different, you accept it, but if you've been in a place that is nicer than this, you say, "W ait a minute. I don't buy that. And then if you know in the working field that in other places people are being treated better and there are other advantages and so forth and so on, socially, then you begin to say "H ey, why can't I have some of that? You know, we go in to a list of everybody in the United States I used to be in the psychiatric field and like the medical doctor used to tell me, "E very kid that walks through that door, he says he is entitled and of course I have to tell him that when he 2 Mayor of Tampa 1928 1931.
15 walks throug h this door, he's not entitled to anything except to that which he showe d me he deserve s." Don't you see? A nd of course, the lectores were reading all of this Rousseau, French philosophy, and who was the founder of which brought about the revolution in France and they said, "Boy, but we are just being abused ," and they began to question that So, now, that's what you call fomenting communism. G M: I think it was kind of interesting Y ou mentioned most people would regard Cesar Medina today as a prominent banker, financier, et c etera that you once had communistic tendencies. Do you want to el aborate on that? CM: Communistic tendency and that fit, a nd that I would have felt that if you were oppressed I think that oppression is wrong. Ever since I was young and I am of that opinion today that you cannot push people around cause they are human beings, see. And of course I had a business like you say. To me, that's the best thing that I ever have given to my employees. We demand performance, but everybody was treated like a human being and he was rewarded according to the way if he deserved h e was recognized. And we had a very my competitors had the money, I had the people. M y people were loyal and fighters. They would fight like nobody's business, and I'd rather have people that would fight than money. I can get what I want with that. And I did. That's why, when I was a kid and I used to read about all these injustices and all you come out here and you beat people up in the street just because they don't want to work, I call it my privilege whether I want to work or not. Nobody has got to force me to work. I don't want to work, and I want to stop, that's my business. G M: Do you think Latins were in the old days, growing up, do you think they were mis treated in Tampa ? Italians, Cubans, Spaniards? C M: Absolutely Yes. To grow up in Tampa d uring those days and having a Latin name was a tough undertaking because you know, we had signs here in this city that said "N o Cubans or dogs allowed. A Latin couldn't cross Twenty S econd Street, that way, going to G ary 3 c ause he would be beaten up. And that's the way it was. Of course, that was the reason that my father when I was a very young child, taught me how to box, because he said "I n this environment that you live, you have to be able to take care of yourself p hysically I don't want to ever hear that you've slapped anybody. W hen you hit somebody, you knock them on the ground so they won't bother you anymore. And you know, fortunately, I've only had one fight in my life, cause everybody knew that I box every da y and that if they pick ed a fight, t here's going to be trouble S o it was a good source of prevention b eing prepared. GJ: It worked in your case, didn't it? CM: Yeah, I think it did. It works in every case. Being prepared is 3 Gary was a town east of Ybor City, which was incorporated in 1915. In 1919, the state legislature dissolved the town, and in 1923 it became part of Tampa.
16 GJ: Was your father a memb er of the Circul o Cu bano? CM: I'm still a member of the Circulo GJ: Still a member? CM: Um hm. G M: What do you rem ember about it as a young man, young boy going over there? CM: Oh, I at one time I was a member of the board, when I was very young. It was a very interesting social place. Have you been in there? They had one of the nicest ballrooms in the city at that time and they had a good theatre and they had a good cantina and of course I've always loved to dance, so I used to go there on Sunday and dance with all the girls. GJ: The tea dance s? You'd go to the mati nee? CM: Uh? GJ: You went to the matinee? CM: I did. And of course in those days, to take out a girl was a kind of a problem. There were no automobiles and generally you'd have to take the mother with you. Yeah, you'd have to take the chaperone or there wasn't no soap. G M: Would the mother walk behind you? CM: No, no. She would walk on the side or maybe the aunt or the sister. It was a pain, b ecause you couldn't hardly move. (laughs) They were watching everything you did. GJ: How did you meet you r wife? Did you meet her at a da n c e ? CM: At a dance, yeah, that's right. At the Italian club where I seldom went. It's a funny thing. My wife was a secret ary and G M: At L'Unione? CM: L'Unione Italiano. I used to work at the Bank of Ybor City. Are you familiar with Seventeenth Street ? N ow I have an office there because I'm involved in redevelopment. So after sixty seven years, I went back to the same of fice I used to have. Can you imagine that? I was amazed. G M: What was your wife's maiden name?
17 CM: Alonzo. Generosa Alonzo. GM: Uh huh. And she was a secretary there. Why did you go to the Italian C lub that particula r evening? CM: Beca use her mother w as Italian. An i talian a And her father was a sturiano Spanish. It was a there was a lot of these mixtures between Spanish and Italian and Cuban and Italian. GM: Mixed marriages. CM: The Italian girls and of course the Italian fathers resented that cause they did not want these girls marrying outside of their own race, you know. Yeah, some of them took it very bitterly. G M: Wh en you first met your wife's father, what did he think of you? C M :. Oh, well, he being that I had a job in the bank, he th ought I was all right but then, at that time after that I went into the baking business, right after that. Two Brothers. GM: Let's kind of go back just a s econd. Describe the evening at the Italian Club a typica l eve ning when you were dating. CM: Well, mostly most of these dances would start around nine, from nine to one and t he girl s would go there with their chaperones and the boys would go generally by themselves, unless they dated a girl and they had to go with a chaperone too. I did not. She went with a chaperone and I went by myself, G M : And you could as a Cuban, you could go to the Italian Club without any problems? CM: Provided you had somebody you knew ; not everybody. You had to be a member. You had to be a member or invited by a member because they would not let you in unless you have what they call a recebo which was a and my wife used to go by the bank everyday and I never saw her never knew who she was until I went in there. You know the expression of love, how it works out, I don' t even know. You meet somebody there you go. G M: Right. And what was your how long was your courtship? C M : About thirteen months. Everything wa s thirteen. Thirteen months, and we married o n the thirteenth and the Italians were also very reluctant about marrying on the t hirteenth. You know, they say that's a bad day. But of course it happened t o fall wherever it wa s convenient to me. GJ: What month was it that you got married?
18 CM: December. GJ: December the thirteenth. Right before Christmas time. CM: December 13, 1926 G M: Did you have to ask the GJ: So you've been married sixty years. Quite an accomplishment. CM: Long time. Have three children. GJ: Congratulations M: How did the groups get along in Ybor City? The Ital ians, the Cubans, the Spaniards? CM: Unfortunately not good. There was always this feeling that every group wanted to be on its own little segment, see, and that was particularly true even unfortunately among the Spaniards who had the G allegos Centro Espa ol, Centro Asturia no. Both of them are from the northern part of Spain, but they each feel you know Spain you 're probably familiar is not a country as such. It was about twelve different kingdoms, independent kingdoms that became united in 1492 just about the time that Columbus discovered America. That's when Spain became so each of these kingdoms, even today, has their own like we used to have here which is the Yankees and the So utherners, you know Ov er there, I wor k ed in Spain for a large American company. I was doing an economic study there and when I used to go to these different areas of Spain I was headquarter ed in Madrid. Boy, some of these places didn't have any use for anybody from Madrid cause that's the political cent er, and they say they are a bunch of lazy good for nothing politicians, see. G M: What's the basic difference between a Gallego and Asturians? CM: In what sense? G M: Well, you know, from your reflection and observing these groups in Ybor City. Are there any differe nces? Or how did they perceive their differences? CM: I would say the Gallego was the one that was more proud, that the fact that he was better than anybody else. And the Asturian o s as far as the Gallegos were concerned, the Asturian o s were jus t black. O f course, the Asturian o s also were very tough. They were the only part that the Moors could never conquer. Asturia s was never conquered by t he Moors. The Moo rs came in and they advanced north, you know.
19 A nd of course, the Gallegos have a great deal in common with the Portugue se. T he language o f Portugal, and the dialect of the Gallego is very similar. They can understand each other. So there 's more similarity between the P ortuguese and the Gallegos than the Gallego s and the people of southern Spain. The people of southern Spain for example in Sevilla and Andalusia where the Moors were there for a long time, they are more or less like the Cuban s. Their philosophy of life, yo u know, having a good time and easy going and so forth. T he Gallegos are just hard wo rkers. My partner, that guy has G M: Seor Di a z? CM: That's the smartest Gallego that came from Spain. GJ: So the caldo gallego that soup came from the CM: Gallego is said in a very in a kind of he's a Gallego he i s nobody. Stupid. But this Gallego has very little schooling but he had a mind. Keen mind. Analytical mind. G M: They were regarded as Spaniards in general as kind of the elite workers in Ybor City. Do you agree with that? CM: They what? G M: In terms of they were the elite workers in the cigar industry. Is that right? CM: Well, now they yes, in this sense, that the Gallegos see, being that the factories were owned by Spaniards, the better jobs again, we talk about this discriminatory business the better jobs were given to the Spaniards, and the Cubans and the Italians n ever got any of the better jobs. S o the Gallegos and the Asturian o s as you said, were the selectors and they we re the cigar packers who were E ven in the working philosophy, you know, y ou had different categories. T hat category was considered to be in the upper group. G M: What group occupied CM: No Cubans hardly ever became a cigar packer. They couldn't. G M: Who occupied the lowest stratum of the cigar industry? CM: Cu bans and Ital ians. G M: What characterized the Italians in Ybor City? CM: Italians in Ybor City, they were in my opinion, they were har d w orkers, very thrifty, very concerned about the future. Like I said, they were very concerned about their children, education, even if they didn't know how to read and write. Most of them didn't know how to read and write. The less educated of all the peopl e here at the beginning was
20 the Italian. Very few knew how to read and write, but they were concerned about their children and that's why you would see the Italians in Tampa accomplish what they have. They are attorneys, they are doctors, they are judges and what have you becaus e their fathers always insisted that those kids go to school and get an education and I admire them for that A nd of course, they were concerned about their future and they would buy one little house and then they'd buy a nother house and another so first thing you know, every little Italian had three or four houses. In those days you could buy a house for five or six hundred dollars. My job was to inspect cause I used to work at the bank and I had to inspect the houses T hey w ere hard workers. They loved to eat spaghetti. G M: What was the stereotype as a young man, about dating Italian girls and their fathers? What was the stereotype of the fathers? CM: Well, of course, like I said, the fathers objected very strenuously. And for a long tim e the only way that you could take one of these girls, you'd have to run away with her. GJ: You'd have to elope? CM: That's right. You had to elope. And I threatened to do that with my wife because her grandmother wanted me to have a big church wedding bec ause when they did have a wedding you know, there's two things in the Italian life that is very important. Getting married in a big wedding and having a big funeral with a big orchestra go ing down the street. Of course, my job was to go to all the funerals because my boss wouldn't go to a funeral for love or money. And of course you go to a funeral at two o'clock and you wouldn't get home until seven at night Y ou had to go and walk the co ffin in front of the Italian Club. You had to go to the cemet e ry. They had a lot of speeches. Then you had to go home and shake hands with ever ybody again before you you're familiar with that? So, that was my job. G M: How about the Cubans? It's difficult to stereotype y our own group, but how would yo u have characterized the Cubans of your era? CM: Hotheaded. G M: Hotheaded, uh huh. Successful or not? CM: Successful? G M: As a group? CM: Why, yeah, we're successful, but they were never oriented economica lly like the Italians cause they always thought they were going to go back to Cuba soon. So their idea was not Tampa as a permanent thing but Tampa only as a stepping stone to eventually going back to Cuba when they became able financially to undertake t hat.
21 GJ: How many people actually went back to Cuba? CM: Very few, very few. And of course you know it's very disappointing I've talk ed to many people who are Spaniards W hen you leave a country as a young person and thirty or forty years elapse and you go back to that country to where you were born, you find out that you've been accustomed to so many things that they don't even know anything about That is very frustrating and disappointing. What you thought as a dream is a nightmare. G M: How about in terms of morals, the dating et c etera? How would you characterize the Cubans compared to the other groups? CM: You know, this question of morality is something that has changed so much in the last fifty or sixty years. In those days of course, the girls probably were more moral becau se they just had to be. They couldn't get away from the eyes of their mother s from here to there so of course nothing could happen. And of course with us that have gone through raising children and grandchildren and I always Y ou know, for my wife who is partly Spanish and Italian, some of these changes that women have gone through, this young lady, you see a girl today, as I see it, feels that she can do anything that her brother can do, and that if it's all right for her brother to do it, there isn't a thing wrong for her to do it. A nd of course, before the only thing that prevented them from doing that was the fact pregnancy would occur B ut now since that has been controlled, there's a different change whether it's go od or bad. I think we went way down and now we're beginning to come up again. That marriage is beginning to be recognized as probably one of the good institutions that we have to live with, see. But t his business of just having a guy tonight and then ano ther one next week leads to nothing because when you get old, what the devil happens to you? You see, we all wear out A nd a woman as long as she's pretty and young fine, but then, one day she's f orty and there are a lot of eighteen year old girls runni ng around, see, and forty is no longer in demand. Am I right? GJ: I don't know. I'm almost forty, Mr. Medina. I don't know if I want to comment on that. CM: Believe me, y ou don't look like it. GJ: Well thanks, but sometimes I feel like it. CM: You look like you're in your late twenties. GJ: Well, thank you. You're very kind. G M: Mr. Medina, there was a fourth group in Ybor City that not many people have
22 studied. The Afro Cubans, the black Cubans. What are your memories of that group as a young boy and man? CM: They were not a very strong group. G M: In what sense? C M : They weren't socially oriented in the work. The y were too few. That is, the Afro group of the Latin extraction. Now, I'm not talking about the black s Now you say black, that's a different story. But they were never any factor. Now they had their own little social gatherings and I think they had at one time a club, and they still Ma r t Ma ceo 4 Ma r t Ma c eo It still exis t s cause they came to see me the other day at the Ybor Ci ty re development, that they wanted some kind of a recognition. I said "W ell, wh y don't you come to the meeting? State your case. G M: Where did black Cubans live in Ybor City? CM: Pretty well scattered. G M: Um hm. Segregated? CM: They were not segreg at ed. No. G M: How do you think they were treated? CM: More or less like the blacks. Very badly. You know, until integration came about. B lack s if a man was a black, was walking on a sidewalk and I was walking, he had to get off th e street, see. G M: A black Cuban? CM: Any black, any kind of black. G M: In Ybor City, on Seventh Avenue, a black Cuban ? CM: Not so much in Ybor City. GJ: How was it different in Ybor City than it would be in say the rest of Tampa? CM: Well, of course, the Ybor City elem ent, the Spaniards and the Cubans, were not as discriminatory as the Americans e spec ially what we call the typical S outherner. Are you a S outherner? GJ: I am. 4 Sociedad la Union Mart Maceo.
23 CM: Where are you from? GJ: I'm from I was raised in South Carolina. So I understand what you 're talking about. CM: And of course you know, the Cubans were treated badly by the Spaniards here, but the colored were treated see, they used to take them out and hang 'em at the drop of a handkerchief. I remember that very and it only took some very st rong sheriffs in Tampa to say you can't take that guy until he's judged by the court as to whether he's guilty or innocent, and many of them would go out there and go to jail and open the door and hang him to the first tree. G M: But you were saying a whil e ago that there was conflict within Ybor City. C ould you give us some instances or your own personal experiences ? CM: Not conflict as such. I mean the lack of com munication or willingness to mix and go for a common goal, see? Now for example, if the Spa niards had had a common goal, they wouldn't have had all the problems they are having today in the health care field. See, they have two small hospitals that are not doing anything instead of one. See? They would have had only one. By the way, you notice t hat the Spanish club has been sold. Centro Espa ol. Now they are talking about building one. That's foolish. The Centro Asturiano is practically e mpty, see? They could use that. G M: So there was more of a rivalry rath er than conflict, you would say? CM: Not conflict. A lack of acceptance of the ideas of each other. I want to do it my way. G M: Um hm. Right. GJ: Do you think ultimately Ybor City could have been a stronger community if there hadn't been this rivalry? CM: Oh, absolutely. Sure. Absolutely. The Spaniards would have been a very strong force here because for a long time they controlled the industries. GJ: What about the since you were so interested and your father was so interested in the medical aspects, did he ever talk about the doctors who were on salary with the clinics and the mutual benefit clubs? CM: Of course, as you know, when we say Medicare in this country, Medicare basically originated in these Latin American countries. And in Europe with socialized medicine has been in existen ce for example, I was in Denmark. In Denmark for a hundred and sixty three years, they have had sociali zed medicine as we have it here. A nd of course the Latin groups all had the so called sociedades that provided care, hospitalization because one of th e things that we are talking about cultural background these people were very proud. They did not want anybody to give them anything. So if they had a child that was sick, they wanted to be able to take it to a hospital where they felt they
24 were paying. If his wife wa s sick, the same thing was true. B ut in order to do that, they formed these so called prepaid groups, which now we know today, like the Kaiser group in California. And we have them here; you've probably seen this advertisement that's in the p aper now, the (inaudible) group. That they're going to take care of everybody if you turn your Medicare card over to them, which is a prepaid program that originated here in Ybor City from the beginning. That's the first thing. Centro Asturiano, Centro Esp a ol go back to 1890 and 1895, 1902, the Cuban Club, the Italian Club. GJ: Well, now the doctors who worked on salary for this, for the clinics and the hospitals, wasn't there some sort of discrimination by the American Medical Association about these do c to rs? CM: Absolutely correct. Not only discrimination. They could not belong to the Hillsboro ugh Medical Society, and if any doctor in that organization was found to be practi c ing what they call contract medicine even today, you know, that's looked upon b y the medical profession. None of that. Not as bad as so many of the doctors who worked, like Dr. [G.H.] Altr ee in Tampa who was connected with the Central Asturiano, and Dr. [M.R.] Winton who was connected with the Centro Espa ol, they were ostracized. GJ: Are they still living? CM: No they've passed Dr. Winton was G M: One of the giants of the mutual aid was Jose Avellanal 5 Did you know him well? CM: Oh, yes. You know his son just passed away recently. G M: Right. I'm talking about the father CM: I was very close to him because at that time I was working at the bank and he was one of my good customers and I got to know him. And being that I've always been I've liked, been involved with doctors. He and I became very friendly. He was not only a good doctor, he was a rare species. He was a very good businessman. Doctors as a rule are not good businessmen. But he was. G M: What about his son? CM: Huh? GM: His son. CM: Of course his son was completely I remember when he when I was going to 5 Dr. Jos Ramn Avellanal. He also co founded La Gaceta and owned a cigar company.
25 school and that was during World War I, that he shot this little German boy in the eye with a little air rifle. He was the only son. It was a terrible thing for that family because his father was such a wonderful individual. Side 1 ends; side 2 begins GJ : Do you have any reminiscences about the Gonzales Toyes Clinic? CM : T he Gonzales in addition to the clinics that the clubs had, like the Centro Espa ol and the Centro Asturiano their own hospitals t he Gonzales Clinic was one of the number of clinics that were independent that supplie d the membership by prepayment m edical services and they had their own clinic there. They did a very good job for many years, but of course it became obsolete because hospitals became very modern, very expensive and the facilities there were out of date, and the people who had been instrumental in building it passed away. A nd Mrs. Gonzales, who is now Mrs. Benez, was not G J : Um hm. CM: Do you know her? G J : Well, I'm going to talk with her on Thur sday. CM: Ah, well, y ou talk to her. Mrs. Benez between us, she's a very fine person. She's formerly a nurse, but she didn't have the management technique or background to operate an operation of that kind. Operating a hospital is one of the most difficult. I've been involved in that for many years O ne of the most difficult businesses you have to contend with twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. And unfortunately, when the pr oduct is people, and when they make a mistake the people die. And that could be very serious GM: I'm interested in discussing Ybor City within the framework of traditional American history, World War I in Ybor City. What are your reminiscences? CM: Well, I think that World War I was a very tragic thing because it took a lot of the young peopl e from here T he only reason I didn't go is because I had lost my father and if you had a family, you were exempt and so called ship workers and essent i a l industries. A nd then at that time, one of the things that caused a tremendous impact here was the flu epidemic. GM: Right, influenza CM: Thousands of people died, particularly young people. Talking about the Cuban Club, the ballroom of the Cuban Club was being used as an emergency hospital. They had hundreds of people there laying on the floor. They would die like that. (snaps his fingers three times) And they couldn't do anything for them. I was working at the bank, and you know, fortunately the man that operated that bank. had been a former eye and ear
26 and nose specialist and he required that all of us, every two hours, we would go to the bathroom and inhale water with salt A nd none of the employees of that bank contracted flu, and al l around us, people were dying O f course we were exposed like he said talking to the customers you know, all da y long. You know, people would cough and moan, but we were very fortunate. GM: What about Armistice Day in Ybor City? CM: Oh, fantastic. (laughs) It was wild. Wild. GM: Where'd you go that evening? CM: Oh, right up and down Seventh Avenue. See in those days people used to walk a lot They used to have these concerts on Saturday night. That's how you'd meet the girls you know. All the girls would walk up in this direction and the boys would walk up in this direction, and they would ha i l each other and stop and talk and GM: The aft ermath of the war also brought P rohibition, the Volstead Act. CM: That was the worst thing that ever happened in my opinion in this country for the disrespect of law. GM: Ybor City was dry I take it. CM: When I was a child, you know, anytime anybody said that you violated a federal law, people just dreaded being accused o f anything like that, but when P rohibition came and everybody used to drink on the side and had a bootlegger, violating the law became a lot of joke s, y ou see, and of course it spread on. The disrespect for law in this country which has been growing as you know and that's why the crime rate has gone I believe the beginning of that was the Volstead Act. You cannot prohibit people to do things that th ey feel that they are entitled to. Especially when it's prevailing all over th e world. GM: Ybor City was pretty wide open I understand. C M: Yes. GM: Uh huh. C M: I can remember. (laughs) GM: Personal anecdotes? CM: Well, of course, the red light dist rict was across the street from Seventh Avenue. GM: Uh huh, right. Was this the El Dorado and the Imperial?
27 CM: Oh, we all went to the Imperial, we always went to GM: Comment o n that a little bit. CM: We talk about all the girls dancing nude now see, they were doing that a long time ago. There was no difference. GM: Right And Fort Brooke was pretty wide open too I guess. CM: That was a red light district like you see in Europe. You been to Europe? GM: Um hm. CM: Y ou've been to Amsterdam? GM: No. CM: Don't know Amsterdam, you know, you been in not Madrid, but every other city in Spain. Course that's accepted, and I don't know whether it's good or bad. I was in Panama and they have a red light district, and I was questioning that and they said, "Mr. Medina, if we didn't have this red light district, our wives in this city would be in danger, because all these sailors that come through here, they're jus t wild and we've found that this is something that we have to accept as such. GM: Just out of curiosity rather than prurient interest but were most of the prostitutes L atin women or women from outside? C M: No, they were Latin women, but the Latin women were the minority for that reason that the moral situation. They were mostly Anglo S axon an d GM: Mulattos? C M : Huh? GM: Mulattos in Fort Brooke ? C M: Yes. There were a lot of whites too. GM: Right, okay, yeah. C M: Course I was very young. This terminated just about the time that GM: Right. What about the in terms of bootlegging, was one ethnic group more involved than any other? C M: I would say that the Italians were about probably the strongest in that group. You
28 heard the Capone, but background in Chicago had filtered down. GM: Um hm. They had yeah. In terms of retailing, would they also retail? Or how would bootleg whiskey be retailed in Ybor City? C M: Mostly by individuals from do or to door, and of course in the restaurants they served it in little demitasse cups, you know. You'd see people drinking demitasse, you'd think they were drinking coffee and they were drinking whisky, and of course the law was condoning. You see, you cannot have a violation, you cannot have prostitution. You cannot have drinking, you cannot have gambling wide open unless the law is approving it either un dercover or openly. GM: It was quite obvious the police were being paid off, right? C M: Why of course. GM: What about b olita ? C M : Bolita that's gambling. G J : Um hm. Um hm. C M: Yeah, that used to be a big industry here. You know, it's practically disappeared. It's a funny thing about that, how things change. When I was young, that bo lita and even when I was in the baking business, the day that the bolita would be played, we would hardly sell any bread in th e lower income neighborhoods. G J : You mean everybody's playing their numbers ? CM: They would rather have the twenty cents to buy a number than to buy a loaf of bread. It's amazing. You could just tell it just like that. That's why I'm against gambling for the lower income groups because it's very destructive. G J : Did you ever see the bolita being played, grabbing the bag and CM: Oh, yeah, yeah, and we'd duplicate that at the Rotary C lub. Every year we'd have a benefit for the cancer child center her e and some of the old timers they know how to do it, you know and they pass the bag and then they cut the little ball. G J : When i s that done? CM: Hm m ? G J : When is that done? CM: Generally around spring. They charge a hundred dollars for a ticket because mostly
29 goes to the university, the cancer center over at the university 6 the children. Mrs. Judiths are you familiar with her? GM: No. C M : Yeah, she's very dedicated ; she's done a fantastic job for the children. GM: What do you think happened with bolit a ? Bol i ta suddenly in the late f orties [1940s] and fiftie s [1950s] became particularly the forties [1940s] became out of hand. You know, Charlie W all and Sca g lione and these guys. What do you think happened to boli ta ? Why did i t become so destructive in terms of gang wars? CM: W ell, of course that is because it was a great it was a very profitable thing and of course, bo l i ta was manipulated too, they say as I mentioned, if a number came out that the arrangement, the n umber to come out ahe ad of time by inserting certain balls in there that could be detected and of course, if you did that, your pay off was very small and your profits were enormous. It's sort of like in liquor, in bootlegging; some of the liquor t hat was sold was just terrib le. It'd kill you, and, of course it was being sold as genuine scotch and so forth and so on. Anything that is under the table lends itself to a lot of m anipulation. G J : Well now did a lot of the families make their own wine and so forth at home? CM: Ye s, in the earlier days, and this is particularly true more of the not of the Spaniards or the Cubans. The ones that were the wine makers were always the Italians who had a background and they would bring it. They used to make pretty good wine. Some of them still make it. Very few. Very few I've had some. Course the wines that I like are dry win e s. And they generally do not produce dry wines. G J : No, the homemade are usually kind of sweet. GM: In terms of the political dev elopment of Ybor City, why were Latins so late at getting involved in politics do you think? It's n ot really til l [Nick] Nuccio and well, in the county commission in the thirties [1930s] then, but even Nuccio and [Dick] Greco in the fifties [1950s] and sixties [1960s]. CM: Well, first to begin with, of course, it took the second generation to get involved in that. But you know the thing that is amazing and I've discussed that with a lot of my Anglo Saxon friends is that they complained very bitterly sometimes about the fact that the L atins have been mayors and have been commissioners and so forth and I says "Y ou know to me it's unbelievable that you, the majority of the people in this community, permit this condition to exist, and you're so critical when it's w ithin your power to ru n for these offices. " Oh, wel l, but you know, I've got a job." 6 Moffitt Cancer Center at the University of South Florida.
30 I say, "W ell, of course ; if you don't want to sacrifice yourself to reduce your income by becoming involved in politics, you have to accept that these fel lows are willing to do that." Nuc ci o and Greco and Rodriguez and you name them, see, who have been politically pretty active in this community. GM: How about N ick Nu cc i o? How would you ? CM: He was an honest politician. I knew him. He and I used to work across the street from each other. He married Mr. L icata 's daughter. If he had been a different kind of a politician, he'd be a millionaire. As it is, the poor man is living in a very small h ome and barely getting by, you s ee? Cause he was in power for a long time. GM: What did Latins thin k of him? CM: Oh, they liked him. Well, you know. Of course, he was a professional politician. I knew him very, very well. Very intimately, as a matter of fact. And he would start running he would get elected today, and tomorrow morning, he would start ru nning already for the next one. And I used to tell him, I said, "B ut how do you do it? He said, "W ell, you know I got to get prepared. GM: Was he good for Tampa? CM: I think he was good for Tampa yes. GM: Dick Greco? CM: Dick Greco was a smart in dividual. GM: How was he different from Nuccio? CM: Of course he was much better educated and of course Tampa was a much bigger city and was growing already. [Bob] Martinez, I think, has done an outstanding job. There's another Latin boy which I thought at the beginning I had a question mark because he'd been such a strong union individual in the teachers gro ups, you know. GM: I once accused him of being (inaudible) of the unions. CM: B ut he showed his determination that h e's not going to be swayed by any particular group. Tampa's grown of course. GM: What about the old county commissioner system when Nu c cio came to rise? How did Ybor City benefit from that? I mean, do you remember any stories when you were a young man then of Nu c cio dispensing favors?
31 CM: Well, that's right, bu ilding parks and sidewalks and small thing s like that, and of course naturally he would be looking aft er Latin interests as much as possible. That's h uman nature. GM: How about Cesar Medina? We're finally gett ing around to you. Gi ve us an employment history of C esar Medina. CM: That's a long history. I started working in the cigar factory as assistant bookkeeper for Salvistina Vega. I worked there for about three years and then after that, I went to work with the Bank of Ybor City in the bookkeeping department. Eventually I became the head of the foreign department of that bank, which was one of the largest depart ments in the city at that time. After that, in 1924, I u sed to keep books beside working at the b ank for several businesses around Ybor City and one of them was a bakery where my uncle was involved. He had a son. The son died. He wanted to get out of the busines s, so I bought a half interest in t hat bakery, which was very small. GM: What was the nam e of the bakery? C M: Two Brothers. GM: Two Brothers. Uh h uh. CM: At that time, if they had had a psychiatric hospital they would have locked me up. Cause everybody thought I had a very good job at the bank, and was making in those days what was considered a lot of money, and this was a very small bakery, but I could see the potential. GM : Give me an idea of a bakery business in Ybor City J u st kind of a pause for a second. W hat was a typical bake ry like Two Brothers like what year was this? CM: Two Brothers Bakery was a ver y small bakery. They would sell maybe about a thousand dollars worth of cakes and pies and cookies and so forth and Cuban bread, mainly. And this Gal lego was one of the partie s that was in partnership with my uncle and there were twenty six or twenty seven of these little bakeries making Cuban bread and when the war not war, when Roosevelt came to power NRA do you remember the NRA days? I was the head of the Latin group and I had a terrible time trying to keep them in line, and I got so disgusted that one day I said, "I am not making any more Cuban bread." GM: What do you mean, keeping who in line? The u ni ons ? Or C M : Yeah, in other wor d s, they couldn't not the unions t he owners. They were fighting among themselves and cutting prices and they would even they put a couple of bombs in some of the ovens And I was being the secretary I was taken downtown for interrogation and all that kind of thing. It was a mess. I said "N o more Cuban bread for me.
32 And they said, "Y ou can't do that. I said, "Well, may be. I'm going to make American bread. He says, "B ut you're a Cuban and a Spaniard, and all the Cubans all the American bread is made by the Americans. " Yeah, I said, well, this Cuban is going to make American bread ." S o we decided to go into the American bread business. And of course they did they threw everything at us, but they never could beat us, and we survived and we became the largest bakery in this ci ty eventually. GM: Just pause for a second. To a listener in the future, a hundred years from now, not knowing what Cuban bread is, how would you describe Cuban bread? C M: Cuban bread is a derivative of the so called French bread, but it's different. Cu ban bread is different A nd of course, we were very successful in making Cuban bread and also American bread because we always had departed from what is being done. We always believe d in somethin g new. S o we introduced a process of making Cuban bread patte rned after American bread, which was using a large amount of yeast which was very expensive and the Cuban bakeries wouldn't go for that A nd also controlling fermentation with ice, which was unknown in those days, and of course, ou r bread was completely d ifferent. I'd say there's never been any more Cuban bread made in Tampa like that, and there never will be unless they're willing to go back to that process A nd then we used brick ovens. None of this modern fast business, see, so the flavor was distinctive A nd of course it sold and of course we had a tremendous business. G J : Did you put the palm leaves on the bread? CM: And then of course, when we made American bread, we made it a bread talking about South Carolina that was very well liked in North and South Carolina in those days and it was unknown in Florida and that's what they called dough brick. Very close it looked like cake W e used to make that in a pullman loaf, which was very difficult to bake and very expensive, and our competitor s just didn t want to go into that S o the women liked it and we got the business. G J : Could you say why the palm leaves were used on the Cuban loaves ? C M : How is that? G J : Could you describe the process of putting the palm leaves on the Cuban bread? C M: The palm leaf the i ndividual had to go out in the middle of the woods and cut palmetto leaves, and many times they would be bitten by rattlesnakes which would be curled around those I t was very dangerous A nd then those palm leaves were brought
33 into the bakery and they were s oak ed in water and then when the loaf was like t his, then they turn it and they put the palm leaf [on it]. A nd the thing that the palm leaf did b eing that it had moisture w hen that loaf was introduced into the oven, the moistur e would explode and that would make the loaf of bread open, see. Like that's what they called table bread. There was table bread and sandwich bread. The sandwich bread, the palm leaf wasn't used but very little so that it would be round and softer becaus e otherwise you couldn't eat the sandwiches. They were too hard. And Cuban bread has no keeping qualities. Four or five hours after it's baked, gone. G J : Oh, so you have to buy it every day. CM: Twice a day. We used to deliver bread twice a day to the ho me. We used to put it on the nail on the wall, unwrapped. GJ: Just whack it up there. GM: Who were your great rivals? Was it Ferlita Bakery C M : Pardell, Ferlita, Mor. G J : M or? C M: Mor His father was Segunda Centrale See the union one time had a strike among the bakers and they lost out, so then the union people formed their own bakery. GM: What did your friends must have given you a lot of static about starting American bread, huh? CM: Oh, they none of them GM: But you had the last laugh. CM: They not only gave us static they didn't like the competition and a lot of things that were bad. I had the St. Petersburg Times running ads from my competitors telli ng people not to buy to be sure where they bought their bread that some of this bread was ma d e i n Ybor City which was very unsanitary. Ybor City was suppose d to be a dump A nd my boys used to bring it in and they'd say, "L ook. What are you going to do? I said I haven't got any money for that. Y ou know what I'm going to do with it? I'm going to put it in the you know what you do tomorrow? You go over there and you find out where this guy has got the best customers and you work on them and take that customer away from him, because there's one thing that they und erstand : the pocketbook. W hat we want is a business. We don't want any fight. And we had boys that were fighters from the word go. I enjoyed that. G J : You like a good fight.
34 CM: I do. GM: When did you change the name to Wholesome Bakeries? CM: In 1941, durin g the Second World War. GM: Prior to that, what was the name of your CM: Bamb y. GM: B a m b i ? C M: B a m b y Best American Made Bread Yet. That orig i nated up in your part of the world, in Atlanta. GJ: Oh, it did. M y goodness. I never knew. CM: I t was a franchise name. GM: What happened to many of the well, two questions. What happened to many of your competitors and what likely would have happened to you had you remained in the Cuban bread business? CM: Oh, I would have disappeared I would have disappeared. As a matter of fact, when I went into the American bread business in the thirties [1930s] there were eight or ten bakeries on the west coast of Florida that were very strong. When we merged with Continental Baking Company in 1 961, there were only two bakeries of any size left on the west coast and the bakeries this is something t hat is going to be happening in the hospital busines s That's why I'm retir ing T he small bakeries did not have the expertise in management available to them and they disappeared. See, Wholesome was a national name. We had eighty nine plants in the United States. I could buy flour and make a profit without even baking it faster than my competitors because I'd buy a barge load of flour and I w as the only one that could bring a barge load down the Mississippi S o when you become that big, the little fellows just can't compete. In the hospital business in the next ten years, the small hospital will disappear because the investor owned hospital in this country has taken over. Hospital Corporation of America American Medical International, Humana, so forth. In Tampa right now, look at the number of hospitals that we have are investor owned. Ten years ago, they weren't here. Centro Asturiano is g oing down. Centro Espa ol is going down. Tampa General is practically broke. GM: Was there an event or a period where even second, third generation Latins began
35 eating white bread rather than Cuban bread ? CM: We were responsible for teaching the Latin to eat American bread because none of the stores in Ybor City carried American bread We used to sell bread for a nickel so that the kids would get accustomed to it, and then the kids didn't want to take Cuban bread to school anymore because the other kids would laugh at them, see? G J : Oh. CM: So that's how we gradually educated ; it was a matter of educating a population GM: Was this t hirties [1930s] and forties [1940s]? C M : t o eating American bread. G J : When did you move out of Ybor City? CM: My home? G J : Um hm. CM: Well, I lived in East Seminole Heights for a long about twenty years ago. I moved to the island that's Davis Island. And then I moved to the Harbor House on the Bays hore [Boulevard], and that's where I live now. I live in Howe Apartm ents. Like I used to tell a doctor friend of mine, my walking partner I've always walked I said, "W hat a wonderful country this is. Can you imagine two kids from Ybor City, you a nd I, whose fathers had nothing his father was a barber and my father was a lector I said, "N ow Lenny, on the Bay s hore in Tampa's most aristocratic neighborhood, where in the world could that ever happen except in the United States ?" So we hear people criticizing B o y this is the greatest I've been in fifty five different co untries because I used to wor k beside some of my interest has been in international work with the Chamber of Commerce and I used to be representing the United States in the United in the Chamber of Commerce of America S o I've been and all these countries are beautiful, but boy, like living in the United States, no way. G M: Seems an eloquent note to close on. Do you have any final questions? I've kept you a long time. CM: I've told you a lot of stories. GJ : You sure have, and you told them very well to o. GM: We are most appreciative. Thank you very much. C M: It was my pleasure.
36 end of interview