4 Apr 2012
Gary Mormino and George Pozetta bring us The Immigrant World of Ybor City, one of the best books on Tampa history. And in reading about Tampa, once the cigar-rolling capital of the world, we’re served a little-known slice of cigar history too. Starting with the history of Tampa’s Ybor City, home to more than 250 cigar factories during its peak, the authors take us through a turbulent century of labor disputes, the arrival of Italian, Cuban, and Spanish immigrants, and the rise of one of the world’s great cigar towns.
This excellent read is made for consumers of American history. Highlighting the Spanish-American War and the arrival of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in Tampa, through the city’s immigrant culture we glimpse into a world of American nostalgia and understand why so many who arrived from foreign shores decided to stay. Cigar makers were paid well, and their families had access to libraries, theaters, baseball fields, and affordable healthcare. It was the American dream at its finest. And Mormino and Pozetta have captured it all. From the evolution of Tampa as an urban center to the economic adjustments of the Great Depression. From the establishment of an immigrant culture in to World War Two and beyond.
This book was extensively researched and includes dozens of photographs from the early era of cigar making, from a cigar worker’s neighborhood roots in Italy, to the factory floors of the 1910s. See immigrant women stripping stems from stacks and stacks of tobacco and watch skilled tobacco-selectors grade and pair aged tobacco leaves. Look into the Cuesta Rey factory in 1924 and watch an animated lector shout from an opened newspaper while hundreds of cigar workers listen quietly and roll their product.
What struck me, apart from the vividly detailed history, was the sense of closeness the authors provided. Though many of the anecdotes are from long before the writers were born, they address the day to day activities of the average cigar maker with the familiarity of a man just home from a day at the factory. Their depictions of the local culture—the street-corner orators, the dinging trolley cars, the street vendors—with an intimacy that makes you feel you are watching some tropical Cuban version of The Godfather Part II.
A window into another time, a time when Tampa was the cigar capital of the world. The Immigrant World of Ybor City makes great summer reading for the curious cigar historian.
photo credit: Amazon