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Gonzalez, Frank A.
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Ana Varela-Lago.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (45 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (digital, PDF file)
Spanish Civil War oral history project
Supplemental material available in the USF Tampa Library Special Collections area.
Frank Gonzalez discusses how Tampa's Latin community reacted to the Spanish Civil War.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Interview conducted March 31, 1997.
Gonzalez, Frank A.
Ybor City (Tampa, Fla.)
y Civil War, 1936-1939.
Varela-Lago, Ana M.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
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 Spanish Civil War Oral History Project Oral History Program Florida Studies Center University of South Florida, Tampa Library Interviewee: Frank A. Gonz lez (FG) Interviewer: Ana M. Varela Lago (AVL) Interview date: March 31, 1997 Interview location : Centro Asturiano de Tampa Transcribed by: Unknown Transcription date: Unknown Interview changes by: Mary Beth Isaacson Interview changes date: November 19, 2008 Additional changes by : Arlen Bensen Additional changes date: December 15, 2008 Final edit by: Maria Kreiser Final edit date: January 30, 2009 A na M. V arela L ago : This is an interview with Mr. Frank Gonz lez. Frank, I would like to s tart by talking a little bit about your family. Could you te l l me why did they come to Tampa, what did the y do here? F rank A. G onz lez : My daddy, my father came from Key West because his family had moved to Key West, from Key West, after the Spanish, during the Sp anish American War; m y father AVL: What was your father's name? FG : Frank Armando Gonz lez. My grandfather was a m ajor, comandante I'd say translated to English, Spanish, armed forces, in Cuba. My father came to Key West from Cuba at the age of 40 days. He stayed in Key West until he was a young man, then he went into the cigar factory and he went to St. Augustine and worked there with the firm of Garcia y Vega, which is known in Tampa as Garcia y Vega. He was one of the few that moved in the late 1800s to Tampa from with the firm Garcia y Vega, and they settled in West Tampa. My mother came from C uba at the age of ten or twelve years old. AVL: What was her name? FG: Maria Teresa Gonz lez de Baez, and she never had a des ire to go back to Cuba or visit Cuba, as a matter because we try to take her at different times and she said "N o. My father, we ll he worked in the cigar industry until he had an accident, one Christmas Eve, with a space heater that consumed gasoline, had just come into the market and one of them not exploded but the flame engulfed him and burned him up, his arm and his back and s o he decided he figured after many months, over six months that he was in the hospital, he opened up a coffee mill, and he had a coffee mill for four or five years
2 and then he opened up a restaurant which we had until about 1938 or '39. I forgot the dates AVL: What was the na m e of the restaurant, do you remember? FG: La Diana. AVL: Where was it located? FG: I t was on 11 th Avenue and 15th Street. It was till I think it was '38, about '38 he decided to close and he went back to the cigar factory. AVL: What did he do in the cigar factory? FG: He was a roller. And he always made well in the cigar factory. AVL: So when did he go back to the cigar factory, was it in '38? FG: '38 or 39, yes. My brother had just graduated from Jesuit High School and, the n he went back into the factory. AVL: How a bout your mother, did she work? FG: Yes, she worked in the cigar factory. AVL: What did she do there, in the cigar factory? FG: She was a roller, too. AVL: A roller too. And they both worked in Garcia y Vega ? FG: Well, my mother used to work at Martinez Ybor. But then that factory closed, you know, and then she gave up cigars and then she went to work with my dad at Garcia y Vega. They worked there many years until I went into the service and my brother went into the service, my mother said, "W ell I was working forward to I don't need to go to work anymore." AVL: So they had just two children, you and your brother? FG: No, we had there were three brothers and one sister. AVL: Tell me a little bit your mem ories of your childhood growing up in West Tampa. FG: No, not in West Tampa, in Ybor City. AVL: Ybor City, sorry. What are some of the memories that come to mind when you
3 think about your childhood? FG: Well, to me it was we had a I'd say a happy child hood because my mother gave us and my dad gave us everything, I mean within their means. They sheltered us, and we had a good education, they saw to it that we stayed with the right crowds at all times. They were after us all the time. And, what else, I m ean, I just a I never could say anything wrong, you know, my mother was always helping the neighborhood even with the restaurant, when we had the restaurant we went to school and it was during, the height of the Depression and I used to bring every day two or three, poor kids. I used to tell her "Mom, they forgot their lunch." They never had any lunch. AVL: What do you remember of the Depression in Tampa? FG: The Depression was we had my dad had the restaurant and he made a contract with I don't know whe ther the City or the state, anyway, that he would give the lunch to the you know, serve lunch to the kids, the school kids. And he served, I don't know, it was two or three years or for x amount of money, you know, they gave him he would give them either a hot plate with milk and a fru it or they could get a quick lunch like a hamburg er and a c oke. Whatever, they had to be w hat was required by the state. I know we, my folks, helped a hell of a lot of people, finding them places to stay, helping pay for th eir rent. When my dad had the coffee mill he had places that he used to take coffee, deliver coffee, and then he would go out and, before we went to that house, that certain house, we would buy a quart of milk and a loaf of bread and then take it to the b ecause it was, probably this was the only the only dinner or food that they had in a couple days. In those days, it wasn't like now that you can go get food stamps, you didn't get there were soup kitchens all over the place, it was, I mean for a small tow n, for a small city, it was really really bad. AVL: Was the cigar industry particularly hard hit? FG: Oh! it was hit hard, yes. They closed a heck of a lot of factories and they AVL: So what did people do when they closed down the factories, I mean h ow did they manage, could they go to work other places? FG: Work out o n odd jobs or work some of them they didn't do a thing but just stand around. Okay, they used to come to the restaurant there and they'd just hang around, just trying to, you know, work here and t here. And then when WPA came in I forgot when I don't know, I think it was when the WPA that was a what was it, Worker Progressive Associa AVL: Administration? FG: Yes, administration
4 AVL: Work Progress Administration? FG: Yes. That's when the NRA came in too, I forget what year it was, '36 that's when the people started to and then when the war came in, what was it '39, I think it was '39 that the shipyard opened and it started picking up. And that was the end of we thought that, you know, as soon as they opened the shipyard and then they opened up the they start working o n the, I forgot what year they opened up the MacDill and Drew Field, I think that it was 39 that they started, and people were working all over the place. AVL: Tell me a bout the clubs, did your family belong to the clubs? FG: We belonged to the Centro Espa ol and the Cuban Club. AVL: Not to the Centro Asturiano? FG: Oh, my wife belonged to the Centro Asturiano. AVL: How did one choose where to belong, either the Cen tro Espa ol or Centro Asturiano? Were there different people going to the different clubs? FG: No, no, you hear these people that say L os gallegos they belong," that's a lot of baloney, that's just a the reason that this club was formed because it brok e away from the other club and because the other club did not want a hospitalization there, but we had the HMO which this club was the f i rst one that started. But there was the reason for the existence of this club, before that they had a smaller club lik e Fraternidad, they had El Porvenir, which was founded in Port Tampa in the late 1800s. But t hey were only, no help but just they would give you like a supplement. AVL: Was there any rivalry between the Centro Espa ol and the Centro Asturiano? FG: In a w ay there was a rivalry, but not, because they all worked together, they would work together in a all the clubs worked together in putting up the different kinds of facilities. But there was always a the idea "we are better than you," but when come one of t he holidays would come heck, the Centro Asturiano used to take care of L'Unione Italiana members, you know, in the hospital and so there was no real rivalry per se as I said, you know, they can't get along with each other, no. I remember when I was p reside nt here [the Centro Ast uriano], we all worked together on different proj ects. AVL: Okay, tell me a little bit about the war, the Spanish Civil War. What are the memories that come to your mind when you think about that war? FG: What I knew about the Span ish Civil War was what I saw in the news, and what I heard from the people. Now, at that time, you have to remember that there was no TV, where you could get them instantly, you got very little from the news from the in the like the past news, and the that they used to show, you know, and what you have from the what you have in the newspaper, and then a lot of the Latin newspapers that you got
5 were one way, just one side, they only gave you a AVL: What side was that that they gave you? FG: Well, over her e in Tampa, La Gaceta went with, con los leales So, I saw a lot of neighbors, that had been neighbors for ages, you know, fight among each other because of the because one guy they didn't respect, you know, they figured that you didn't donate, you were a fascist all over. They didn't care whether When there's a [?] but, if you didn't donate they have a clerk that I'll give yo u the story of Manuel Melendi. H e was a district manager for the Tampa Daily Times This group, they used to collect funds, asked him for a donation and he said that he would not give a monetary donation to for brother to fight against a brother but that he would send food or any other help that they need, but no money, so not only did they declare him a fascist they declared the Ta mpa Daily Times a fascist newspaper and they boycotted in West Tampa, well in a lot of communities, they boycotted the Times Mr. Melendi went to the editor or the publisher, if I recall his name was Smitty, Smith, anyway, he was the editor and he explaine d it to him what had happened and he the publisher said, W ell you go ahead and give the delivery boys what they were making. If they collect X amount of money and it's not up to par to what they were collecting you give it to them so they have until this is over." And finally, it was, but all the delivery boys were paid even though they had lost a heck of a lot of customers. AVL: I see. You mentioned before that La Gaceta was in favor of the Republic, how about the other newspapers? FG: Well, I don't recall of it, because Manteiga, he was always always making speeches and I'll bring it to the time when I was president here in this one, now I'm talking about the l ate '60s or the '70s, early '70s and I invited now this is at the time when the United St ates government had made peace with Japan, with Germany. We couldn't make peace with the Spanis h government, so I invited the c onsul out of Miami to come here to one of our facilities, so this guy that I pointed to you in the picture, he went to the to La Gaceta and explained to him that I had invited this man not knowing that I the Centro had a what do you call it, an agreement, you know, not to support the not to support the Spanish government in whatever endeavor that they had. But and they wrote, heck, a fu ll page which I'm going to bring it to you to see it, I showed it t o Willie not long ago. Now the s ame man, when his son became a Board of Director here in the Centro, in a hell of a lot of turmoi l, they brought from Spain the a mbassador and all. The y sent a picture of the k ing of Spain AVL: So that was after Franco had died?
6 FG: Yes, no, no, no. That's when Felipe was had been AVL: Right, so that's after Franco' s death, because there is the mo narchy now, because when Franco was alive there wasn' t a king. FG: No, that's right, that's right, yes, yes, yes. I forget, anyway, we had a general membership meeting and I went to this fellow, when we were standing in the half, the grand hall, and I said, I asked him I says I called him aside and I showed him the picture, and I say, "W ho is that man, whos e picture is that, I don't recognize him, he say, "O h, he's the king of Spain. Say, "Oh, he's the king of Spain." "W hat's his name ?" I said, he told me, king AVL: Juan Carlos FG: Juan Carlos, so I sa y "O h! that's the one that you were so you were against and you were raising all kind of hell. Now because your son is o n the Board of Directors, he's o n the I said, "H ow about all those agreements that they had with the Spanish government, they don't e xist anymore? AVL: So the Centro Asturiano actually had some kind of agreement or decision not to be in touch with any Franco representatives? FG: Right! they made AVL: Was that in the minutes and everything, I mean was that a decision agreed upon by the Board of Directors ? FG: Yes, si no, pero de esto I don't know if you can find the minutes, pero there were, all the clubs, you know, they sa y war and right away it is the s ame thing like they figured, you know, the families over there and the and the y figured that what they were doing was right. And then they have you have a good speaker or these people are called they call them agitators, you can call them the leaders of the pack and they [?] and they go and they, you know, [?] nobody would say I use d to play in the American Leagues when I was a kid, the American Leagues in the Post in Ybor City and when I was going to Catholic school they started, they started, you know, hell, they started calling me a fascist, I didn't even know the meaning of the w ord. AVL: Because you were going to Catholic school? FG: Yes. So I told them, I says, "L et me tell you something I wasn't born in another world, I says, I was born here, I'm raised here, all my family is, you know, we've been here for quite awhile and it you know, if it comes to that, I says, I can prove it to you how American I am by busting your behind, so AVL: So for people who were really religious or Catholic in Ybor City at that point, was that a hard period for them?
7 FG: No, you have to, it was hard for them, pero the church kept going, kept growing. They had these people had control over the cigar factories. AVL: The Frente Popular you are referring to? FG: Bueno a lot of them AVL: The leaders of the FG: Yes, and they would control it the way I tell you that they would spread the word around the factory, he's a fascist, he's this or he's that, you know, and so people would [?] and just not that they, wouldn't, you know, give him a job or anything but they were it was terrible the w ay they were. Well, I mean as far as that and then when it was all over the s ame people who were blaming the church and I saw it in the '40s already, they going back to the schools and back to the getting married in the church and going and you see it toda y, so and there's just a few that profited from it. AVL: How about your fa mily, did your family hav e family in Spain at that point, relatives? FG: No, no, not that I maybe we had AVL: But you weren't in contact with them in any way. FG: No, because w hen they left they left for some of them went to Venezuela and other, you know, the rest came here and then went to New York, they've just AVL: So what did they think about the war, you parents for instance, what did they think about the situation in Spa in? FG: Well my dad always told me, "Y ou are an American first, no matter what the hell they tell you, you are an American first. AVL: How about themselves, I mean, how did they ? FG: Well they, that's the way, that's the way it was. Like I told you, my mother never went back to she never visited Cuba again and my fath well my father died here, just everyone, all of them died here. AVL: So they weren't interested in the situation in Spain at all? FG: Well my mother, like any mother, she never lik ed the war, and we knew a lot of the guys that were from Ybor City who went to
8 AVL: Oh, you did? FG: you know, to fight in the war but but then in '35 or '36, I d say by '39 they were started they started here like they had what do you call it around 39 or'40 they started I forgot when the draft started, that they started calling some of the boys, you know, to and most of the guys that I knew were going to the CC Camp and my mother didn't like th e CC Camp because you wore an A rmy uniform. See, durin g the Depression the A rmy not the A rmy well it was under A rmy control but they would send, CC Camp was a conservation Civilian Conservation Corp. that they went out and built bridges or built o n the national forest or whatever, and they used to give youn g people so they could have some money to send back to the family. My mother didn't never wanted my brother to go over there because she saw the uniform. I wanted to go one year, I wanted to go while in high sc hool, I wanted to go to the A rmy had an like a reserve officer training corps, but it's not a it's a summer camp and you go there like a military. You spend there maybe two or three weeks a month and you stay there, under them in a military [?]. Then, I went into the Service in '40? H ell, I forgot what the hell year, '42, December '4 2, I went into the service, and I went to the s ervice with my buddy and my mother didn't want me to hang around with him. He does his work too damned fast. He was faster than I was. I spent three years in the service an d out in Las Marianas, in Guam, at one time they were Spanish possessions and there were still some Spanish priests that I that were there, Spanish priests and nuns. AVL: You mentioned before that your family knew many of the people who went to Spain to f ight as volunteers. Who were those people, do you remember their names or their families or how they left or ? FG: Well, one of them was a cigar maker, I remember him, he was a cigar maker, and le llamaban El Miliciano. AVL: Oh, Frank Vazquez. Was that his name? FG: No, uno que le cortaron una oreja AVL: I think that was his name. FG: He used to hang around the I could see, you know, the way he used to walk and and the way he was he got shot up pretty bad over there. Then there was two others but I don't remember their names. The coffee shop that was right there by the little restaurant was right there by La Cirila, the cigar factory where, owned by Jose Arango, and there was they had a nickname, because all the cigar factories had the nickname, li ke La Cucaracha, that was the name of the but outside of that, I mean, it was more the feelings, you know, between I remember a friend of mine that well he w as a member, he served with me o n the Board of Directors, that his sister and his mother were goin g to
9 church and they when they used to pass by this restaurant they used to, you know, ah van las Fascistas and he told his brother, Al, and he followed them, and the next time they had it out but it was just what do you call it as far as what was going o n over there it was just what we read in the paper. AVL: How about the American papers, the Tribune and the Times were they also one sided or ? FG: No, no, no. AVL: Do you think they were fair in their reporting or ? FG: Well, I don't remember, I m ean, it's you know what I remember I think they was we got both ends of the AVL: Do you remember any of the Republican speakers who came to talk here? FG: No, no, they had some here, they had some at the Centro Obrero, but ahh AVL: So, your family didn't really get involved with the activities ? FG: No, no. My mother donated, we donated food, and we donated you know they used to have the different donations and then they had at one time they were picking up bandages, all kinds of bandages and fo r medical, but as far as she going out and No, she wouldn't do that. AVL: So people from the Frente Popular would come to your house, they would get things? Now, how about the people who supported General Franco, were they organized in any way to get thin gs for the other side, or ? FG: Well, that I don't remember any group like that. AVL: Or throughout, you know, through the Catholic Church, were there any groups ? FG: No, I don't remember, in school I don't remember that they donated Hell! there was n othing to be donated in Ybor City prior, because people were down and out. You're talking about the height of the Depression AVL: But the people who would say, well, I don't want to send money, you know, to this side but I'll send money to the other side I mean, how did they manage to do that? FG: Oh, I don't know. AVL: You know, there weren't enough people kind of to put this thing together? FG: No, not that I ever know.
10 AVL: And how about the other communities here in Tampa, the Italians and the C ubans, what do you remember of them, were they ? FG: I can't AVL: Were there conflicts between the Spaniards and the others regarding the war in Spain, or ? FG: No, no. I don't remember a ny of that because, hell, I was I used to go to all the bueno lo s picnics que tenian los italianos that they had picnics and they had facilities, we used to go over there, I don't remember AVL: But the fact, for instance, that FG: Heck, everybody lived together! How the heck can you have they were yo ur neighbors t hey all played o n the sa me ball team, they went to the s ame school, they went to the it's not that they lived in a commune or a group by themselves or no, just a AVL: So there were good relations? FG: Yes, yes! there've always been good relations here. You might find a couple of hot heads all the time in any group that you look, but, no. I always consider the source and just What else we got? AVL: Let me see. Tell me, I mean, why now looking back to those years, why do you think that people in Tampa rea cted so much in support of the Republic, when you think about that, why did they do that so overwhelmingly? FG: Well, I ca n't tell you that. First of all, a heck of a lot of the war was fought in the Asturian section so that's, I mean, that's and maybe t hat they wante d when they choked down the R epublic that's when they when they were fighting for, but why, I don't know. AVL: Do you think the fact that people had families there still might have influenced that? What do you think about the war now, again in hindsight? FG: The war in Spain? AVL: Um hm wha t are your opinions about that? Sixty years? FG: Yes, af ter t he facts, moving like a quarter back. Oh, I just, it's just like any war, it don't ac complish a dam n thing! Like when we went to we went to t he I went into the s ervice, from day one, they were showing us pictures of and statues of Japanese and German and s aid, this is your enemy, this is where you've got to hit you know, vital
11 points, you know You're killi ng for them and they have that o n you 2 4 hours a day, you know, kill or be killed, kill or be killed. No sooner is the war over they say this is your friend, we have to stop the And just as we would have done, they get the propaganda going, going, going and and in Spain and then they had to, th ey had to k which they didn't do, from what I have read they didn't do much. They just had one group and people got tired of it and tried to get them out. So, they brought them back, but they didn't bring them back with the same power that they had. AVL: When Franco died, you mentioned that earlier, was there any reaction here in Tampa when Franco died? FG: No, that's, I mean, I don't recall anybody because the same people that were fighting, now that they see Spain with all the openness and all of that, they say, what we need in Spain is another Franco so you, you put that in your pipe and smoke it now. AVL: So, you think later o n they came to see Franco as not such a bad thing? FG: Like they say, I used to go to Spain and I used to walk the street, and I used to do this and that, and now I go to Spain and it's worse than here. AVL: Do you have any opinion o n him, do you think, you know, in the 40 years he was in power he was good or he was bad ? FG: Well, I'll tell you what, he had a hell of a time, f rom what I have read, he had a hell of a time trying to keep the country together for the simple reason that all the monies had been sent to Russia and Mex ico, and Spain was bankrupt. So, what little he had he struggled and they I know they relied o n him, but he pull it through. And now the same people that didn't want him over there say, that's what we need, we need a stronger hand. AVL: Okay, Frank, before we stop the i nterview I would like to ask you, is there anything else you would like to add or som e aspect that we haven't discussed that you think should be included in the tape, anything we might have forgotten to mention? Any final thoughts that you would like to ? FG: Well, I know now, but the people who you talked to are dead now, but there were a lot of people that profited, like all wars, that profited from the Spanish Civil War here in Tampa. AVL: In what ways, what did they do? FG: Well, monetary and the groups like I tell you I said before this guy Guillermo Alvarez, he had a cabinet shop AVL: A what shop? FG: Cabinet. And this guy, he used to go to collect every week, he used to go to collect
12 from the cigar factory and give them he had his receipts booklet and he would give a receipt to what they donated, so, every Friday, he would, afte r work, this guy would come in, after he made his collection, would come into this shop, and stay there, sometimes 45 minutes or an hour, in the restroom, so finally Guillermo said, that guy must be sick or something, I wonder, let me go see what He said I'm going to check one day, this is going o n for months. So, he looks over the top and what this guy was doing, he was rewriting all the receipts. AVL: Why is that? FG : And, you know, putting in less, and more in his pocket, so he went to the Centro Ob rero where they used to have the meetings, you know the general membership meeting there, and he asked that his name was Guillermo Alvarez and he wanted to know he asked them if they kept records of a ll the donors and they said, yes, we have all the receip ts and we keep everything in order. He says, "A l l right, my name is so and so, I'm at such and such an address and I want to know how much I have given to date. And he said, they asked him, why? he says "B ecause I got my receipts here and I want to know how much I have given because they squashed that. AVL: Was that very common, you think, a lot of people doing that? FG: Yes, yes. And there was like I told you in this that came out in the Tribune in the late '40s or early '50 s, this story where the co llections that they were making here, how much w as cut off here in Tampa, how mu ch was in Philadelphia and how much in New York that they were and if you checked in the files you might be able to get that story. AVL: Anything else you would like to add? FG: What's that? AVL: Anything else you would like to add before we conclude the interview, any other ? FG: No, no. AVL: Anything else that comes to mind? FG: The only thing that comes to mind is that that baby dresses and all that that were made by t his woman to donate it so they could raffle it off or sell it and raise some money, because she didn't have any money and she made it and this woman, well known woman, I don't wan t to mention her name, she took it and with the idea that they were going to raise money with it. Well, when her daughter or her niece gave birth that was there and the woman wh o made it saw it. Oh, they were I could tell you more stories but I don't wanna because the people who told me the stories were you know, one of them is st ill alive, but that's the name I gave you, you can
13 AVL: Any more stories regarding ? FG: No, offhand, I don't remember any stories. I mean I don't recall anything, all I recall is just the division that existed, members against members, I mean, neighbo rs against neighbors. I don't know I guess all the wars are like that, it happens with all the wars. AVL: Were there conflic ts also within the clubs maybe, between members who supported one sid e or the other? FG: No. Bueno if there was a conflict they wouldn't say because they would be kicked out of the club, you know, just as and yet some of the clubs wouldn't allow politics or religi ous, you know, to be discussed o n it, or for the simple reasons that they didn't want AVL: Anything else Frank? FG: No, that's it. AVL: Okay, this concludes the interview with Mr. Frank Gonz lez. Thank you very much for participating in this project Frank. End of interview