Essays on Cuban History: Historiography and Research

By Louis A. Pérez Jr. | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Reminiscences of a "Lector": Cuban Cigar Workers in Tampa

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, increased tobacco imports revived the historical-economic nexus between Cuba and Florida. In Key West, Tampa, Ocala, and Jacksonville, cigar factories opened to process Havana tobacco. Tens of thousands of Cubans arrived in Florida to work, and most of them established themselves permanently.

The labor milieu from which cigar workers emerged defined the essential quality of the Cuban community in Florida. A highly developed proletarian consciousness and a long tradition of trade union militancy accompanied the Cuban cigar workers to the United States.1 In Florida that tradition flourished. In, the 1890s, cigarmakers provided a crucial margin of support for Cuba's independence struggle.2 During the early decades of the twentieth century, Tampa workers embraced a variety of radical ideologies, including communism, anarchism, and syndicalism. The Cuban proletarian community existed precariously in an adversary relationship with its host society. Strikes, walkouts, lockouts, and violence characterized labor-management relations in Tampa's cigar industry.3

The reader (lector) in the cigar factories often served as a disseminator of the proletarian tradition. The idea of reading (lectura) to illiterates or to workers fully engaged in their activities had existed in the early nineteenth century, primarily among prisoners in Cuban jails. By midcentury, the lectura had begun to appear in the Cuban cigar factories.4 Under the auspices of the cigar workers, the lectura expanded its

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