The Tampa Latin Student Experience: A Look at the History of My Community
By Alex Suarez
I am going on my fourth semester at Hillsborough Community College. My major is in Digital Television and Media Production. My main campus is the Ybor campus, and I live in Ybor City, which is known as the Latin Quarter of Tampa. I first found out about the Latin Times magazine at a job fair on campus. I have previously wrote for our College paper, the Hawkeye Newspaper, which is based out of Ybor and distributes to all our campuses. I also had a radio show on campus and volunteered at a local station as part of our radio course out of Ybor. My father is Peruvian, therefore I am Latin. I lived for two years in Peru during part of my adolescence, and picked up Spanish there. I also improved my Spanish living in Miami for a time, I went to school a year in Mass Communications/Journalism at Miami Dade College.
In 2006 I moved to Spain where I lived for three years. I studied other languages in Spain as well. I can now say am fully fluent in Spanish am proud of my roots and am very familiar with the history of Spain, Latin America, and the roles Latin people have had historically here in Ybor City in particular, especially the role Spanish people have played in Florida. A quarter of Floridians define themselves of Latin or Spanish descent. Florida itself once belonged to Spain. With the arrival of Ponce de Leon after his “Discovery” of Puerto Rico, in 1513, Spanish emigration to Florida commenced. Ironically Mr. Leon was looking for the fountain of youth, and today it seems that search has continued with many retired people moving to this part of the country. My grandparents still have property in this state. You do not have to be full-blooded Latino to be considered Latin. My mother is American and has Irish Catholic and Russian Jewish ancestry. When you look at my face you see the face of America. We are a nation mixed with many nationalities.
I found a previous article written for the Latin Times quite fascinating. The one about Sephardic Jews (Spanish Jews), this is a topic I have studied extensively, even reading literature on it in Spain, what many of us Latinos call the mother-country (Madre Patria). But let me go into the history of some of the most prominent Spanish and Cuban Americans of history who have influenced events her in Ybor City. Ybor, near downtown Tampa, is like a town within a city, often you will see chickens and roosters roaming around, there is even a mural of them and people respect them. Old clubs which have been around since the time of Vicente Ybor de Martinez, are still around. Like the Italian Club and Cuban Club. Mr.Ybor de Martinez founded Ybor City in 1885. He was from Valencia, Spain, a city I know well, on the Mediterranean. However, Mr. Ybor de Martinez emigrated to Cuba as a child and supported Cuban independence from Spain, and helped exiles in this effort like Jose Marti.
7th Avenue, or as we call it, La Setima, is a strip that is reminiscent of Miami or New Orleans, which can be found in Ybor. Along with the streetcar, Centro de Ybor, which is like a small mall that has shops, bars, and a movie theater, make up part of the beauty of this quarter of Tampa. Up and down the strip there are bars and clubs as well, where a lot of us students go and enjoy cheap and sometimes free, drinks, along with music, cigars, especially Latin music. Students and Ybor residents often get discounts for products from local businesses. What a lot of people do not know is that Ybor was once pretty much a Cuban town within Tampa, the remnants of that can still be seen in some small businesses and represented in some statues. Including a bust of Jose Marti, which is on our campus. It is also represented in us Latinos who remain in Ybor after all these years. According to Wikipedia “When Cuba seemed poised to erupt again in the early 1890s, Ybor City became a vital source of funds, equipment, and inspiration for the independence-seekers. “El dia pa la patria” (“one day for the homeland”) – donating one day’s pay per week to the Cuban cause became a patriotic duty for Tampa’s Cuban population, with some of their Italian, Jewish, and even Spanish neighbors chipping in.
Jose Marti, the “Apostle of Cuban Independence” visited Ybor City and West Tampa many times, delivering several passionate speeches to audiences of thousands. One 1893 speech from the steps of Ybor’s factory was reprinted in newspapers all over the US and Cuba and led directly to war. A few Tampa residents volunteered to fight alongside Marti in Cuba, and many lost their lives in 1895 during the same skirmish that killed their inspirational leader.”
It is interesting to note Mr. Ybor de Martinez died a year after Jose Marti. Mr. Marti in the past had been the victim of an assassination attempt by a Spanish agent, and finally died in the country of his birth, Cuba, on horseback shot by opposing forces. Even after the deaths of these great men the struggle for independence from Spain continued and the Cubans were finally able to gain their independence in 1898.
In the final analysis, to this day in West Tampa and Ybor a Latin community is here, and we should be proud our ancestors were part of such a noble cause. We should strive to be like them as we study and prepare ourselves for careers, hopefully in this rich and diverse community, where we can invest our efforts, to make the community progress. For even in the Latin culture itself there is diversity. Not just many Italians, Spaniards or Jews have traveled to Latin America and mixed with the indigenous people. Even the Irish, as my grandmother is full-blooded Irish. During the Potato Famine in Ireland, an exodus of Irish people emigrated to many parts of the world. In Latin America many traveled to Mexico and Argentina, where their culture remains. This hemisphere is one of multiculturalism. Let us embrace it and all its history. Let the stories of our ancestors never be forgotten.