Thursday, June 04, 2009
Cuban Soil: Visit the Isla de Cuba... in Tampa
The softly clacking Ybor trolley, brightly painted yellow gold, its brass and woodwork gleaming, looks factory fresh as it glides slowly to a stop at the corner. It seems as if its from another time and era. The motorman helps passengers on and off and briefly waits at the intersection before making the right on the tracks and moving east on 8th Avenue. I watch through the tall iron fence, strongly attracted to its arresting color and strong ties to Tampa’s and Ybor City’s past. I was standing in a very unusual park, a tiny plot of land. Very unusual if one knows a bit of their world and American history. Historians and different departments of local county government have searched records more than once to verify its origins, its unique history and its current ownership. It measures just 0.14 of an acre. Rupert and Paulina Pedroso, an Afro-Cuban family, lived during the 1890s in a house on this corner of 13th Street and 8th Avenue, at 1303 East 8th Avenue. The house faced an imposing cigar factory built in 1885 by Vincente M. Ybor – the man whose vision built the city and began its world famous cigar manufacturing industry. The quiet park, which faces that same factory building today, features the flags of both Cuba and the United States, a life-size statue of Cuban patriot and hero Jose Marti and this interesting wall map of the Isla de Cuba with each province of the island outlined. It’s a fascinating place and so unexpected. Jose Marti came to Tampa in 1891. With fiery speeches to the Cuban community, it’s said that his staunch support of his homeland’s independence from Spain helped start the revolution. His speech on the steps of Ybor’s factory to the cigar workers helped raise money and gained strong support for the cause. Marti died before Cuban Independence was won from Spain, but is credited with beginning the movement for freedom.
So why is this small piece of land important and so unusual? Title to the park is in the name of the Cuban government. It's the island laid out before your eyes. Stones sit in six plots of dirt on either side of the walkway and each plot represents soil taken from the six original Cuban provinces. But, you ask, how did this come to be? When Marti came to Tampa he would often stay in the Pedroso’s home; Ruperto was a cigar roller in the factory. Marti died in battle against Spanish troops on May 19, 1895 and the house and property were sold when the Pedrosos moved back to Cuba in 1910. Now the story grows more amazing. In 1951, a Cuban couple gave the property to the Cuban government to be used as a memorial to the great freedom-fighter, Jose Marti. In 1956, ownership was transferred to the Republic of Cuba. President Fulgencio Batista accepted the property and the American consul certified the real estate transaction. The final deed was recorded in Hillsborough County, FL in 1957 and remains unchanged. It’s a part of Cuba and has been for over half a century. You must visit to experience its solemn presence on American soil and the reverence shown by those who honor their homeland and worship the memory of Marti.