Essays on Cuban History: Historiography and Research

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

Chapter 6
Ybor City Remembered

"I arrived in Tampa in August 1912," the old Cuban mused. "A strike among cigar workers in Havana forced me to leave Cuba in search of work elsewhere." José de la Cruz paused to reflect pensively on these long dormant memories of his youth. Another puff of his long dark cigar seemed to stir further thought. "I came to Tampa in search of work," he continued. "I arrived in Ybor City in the middle of a torrential rain storm. The streets were paved with mud--not gold," he commented wryly. "All I remember was the mud, the heat, and the mosquitos. And that night, my first night in Tampa, I vowed I would return to Cuba within the year."

José de la Cruz never returned.

Only his longevity offered Don José this unexpected if modest access to posterity. We sat together sipping café con leche, the tape recorder indiscriminately absorbing all sounds about us. Only later, when listening alone to the recording, did I become aware of the long silences that allowed distant street sounds to claim undisputed possession of the tape. Strange. Those pauses were not apparent at the time. During our conversation my thoughts were arrested by Don José's features. Thin sculptured lines formed right angles with the deep furrows on his forehead. Sagging folds stretched some of the finer lines, creating the deceptive impression of facial pockets of youth. Palpable evidence, I thought, of his claim to be "around eighty-three."

I was in awe in the presence of my host, conscious of being in the

-79-

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