I grabbed a rung as I slowly climbed the ladder to my chair on the tribunal. With a heavy heart, I pondered how I was going to tell the workers what I knew. As they sat in the gallery quietly waiting for me to begin reading, I heard the sharp sound of their chavetas cutting cigars. Taking a deep breath, my lungs filled with the aroma of the tobacco that always permeated the air.
Gavino Gutiérrez used his imagination and business acumen to open the door for the vibrant cigar industry that turned Tampa into the Cigar Capital of the World. Perhaps this is how a conversation between Gavino Gutiérrez and his friend Bernardino Gargol may have transpired back in 1884.
The airboat from St. Petersburg to Tampa is still considered the first passenger line in the world. The money from the auction on the first day was placed in a fund to purchase harbor lights for St. Petersburg. The second passenger that day paid $175.00 for the privilege of being the second passenger on the first day.
This story is dedicated to Matthew Wayne Morgan. As we got further and further away, it (the Earth) diminished in size. Finally, it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man. – James B. Irwin, Apollo 15
Sunday, May 7, 2006, Tampa’s legendary cigar industry fell silent for just a moment as a sign of respect for the death of one of its last chinchaleros–Vincent Ruilova, age 92. He was better known as Majomia, a Spanish nickname given to him by his friends meaning impatient or restless, which described him perfectly.
“Janie, come on, get up!” she said shaking me roughly out of a lazy Saturday morning reverie. Blinking sleepy eyes, I groaned in short-lived protest and then rolled out of bed. The gruff intruder on this humid summer morning was not my mother, or one of my siblings. It was the local park director, Mochine Fernandez (pronounced “Mo-cheen”), rousing me and my two sisters to play a softball game.
Imagínate, the Age of Anxiety Cubano style: baby boomer, postwar, Cold War, Joseph McCarthy, Ricky and Lucy, Elvis, and Marilyn Monroe. Y también: 26 de Julio, rokyrol, Fidelista! Batistiano! Socialista! Anarchista! Comunista!
Before molds and machines, cigars were made entirely by the “Spanish Hand” method. The only tools a cigar maker needed to perform his trade were a table, a hardwood board and a sharp chaveta.
I am embarrassed to admit that I knew almost nothing about West Tampa’s rich history until the beginning of 2004. It was then, March 1st, that Judge E. J. Salcines (Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeal) drove me into the historic community, West Tampa, for a personal tour. I was privileged to begin a remarkable journey, simultaneously both backward in time and forward in vision.
Luisita Pacheco is the wife of Ferdie Pacheco, a talented painter and author of numerous books, who was once the Fight Doctor for Muhammad Ali. I wanted to know more about this captivating woman whom I met in a small art studio in Ybor City to talk about La Gitana!