Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

As Fausto motioned to Fernando to continue walking into this vast open space, the young Asturian began to dissect the various sounds and sights. The clickety-clack was the cutting of the tobacco leaves with the chavetas…those curious knives. The aroma of tobacco was blended with that of coffee being distributed to the workers by an older man wheeling large urns of the popular beverage, some with black coffee, others coffee with milk, through each row of work benches. The workers would drop a few coins in a box next to the coffee urn. Another man, apparently a supervisor, wandered through the rows of workers. Occasionally he would take a sample from the workers' stacks of completed cigars. Any cigar not meeting his tough standards would be rejected. Fausto explained the rollers were paid a certain amount for each completed cigar, in addition to a small base wage. Across the room Fernando noticed a wooden platform, elevated slightly higher than the workers. On this platform was a tall, wooden chair, upon which sat a gentleman whose voice permeated the entire space. As they drew closer, the voice was vaguely familiar to Fernando. He turned to Fausto.

"Señor Castañeda, que hace ese caballero?"

He asked Fausto what the gentleman was doing.

"Él es el lector de la fábrica. Mientras los trabadores trabajan, él lee todo el día. Así no se aburran tanto de hacer la misma cosa por nueve horas. Hemos notado que la producción sube con los lectores...parece que hay un ritmo calmante entre la voz del lector y el proceso de hacer los puros a mano."

Fausto explained that this man was the factory "reader". He would read to the workers while they worked so that they wouldn't get bored with the monotony of doing the same thing for nine hours a day. Production actually rose when the readers became common in the factories. It appears that there is a calming rhythm that develops between the reader's voice and the cigar rolling process. 

While living in Havana, Fernando had heard of the readers from some friends who were cigar makers but hadn't realized the extent to which they formed an integral part of the factory culture. Fausto went on to explain that these men were usually educated and fluent in several languages. Fernando learned that usually they would read several newspapers in the morning...some from Spain and Cuba, and in some factories an Italian one as well. Though the editions from Europe were usually a month or so old, the workers none the less appreciated any news from "home". In the afternoons, the readings would usually be novels or poetry drawn from the classics, authors such as Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, etc.

As the two men got closer to the reader, the voice became even more familiar. Fernando realized that the lector was the translator who had been so helpful to him when he arrived at Port Tampa.

"Señor Castañeda, yo conozco a este señor. Es el traductor que me ayudó tanto cuando llegué al puerto el viernes! Que casualidad. Él se llama Armando Nogueira Yglesias, verdad?"

Fernando explained to Fausto that he recognized this gentleman as the helpful translator at the port, and thought his name was Armando Nogueira Yglesias. The manager confirmed that he was and commented that Armando was one of the best and most popular readers in Tampa. Since most were multi-lingual, they also worked as translators. Having him at Sánchez and Haya was good for the factory as well as the workers. The rapid growth of the cigar industry in Tampa meant that there was competition amongst the factories to attract the best rollers, and many chose to work where the best readers were. Fausto explained that it was the workers themselves, and not the factories, who chose and paid the readers. Fernando was quite fascinated by all this.

Fausto told Fernando that the third level above them was the banding and packing areas. There, the "banders" would place the decorative foil bands on the cigars, and the "sorters" would place them in boxes, organizing by similar size and color. Because he was running a bit short on time, Mr Castañeda suggested that they should now go to his office and have a quiet talk. They took the rear staircase down to the main level.

As they entered the office, Mr. Castañeda gestured to Fernando to take a seat. He began by telling the young man that he could call him Fausto. This made Fernando relax even more. The manager went on to explain that there was an opening in the shipping and receiving department and felt that Fernando would do well there. He further explained that after a time, if his performance and attendance were good, they would consider assigning him to a master cigar roller as an apprentice, assuming he had an interest. Fernando told Fausto that this sounded very good to him.

"Voy a llamar a Julio, el capataz del departamento. Le había hablado de tí, y él quiere conocerte."

Fausto explained that he was calling Julio, the foreman of the department. He had already spoken to him about Fernando, and Julio was interested in meeting him.

Fernando was quite pleased with how things were developing for him. He felt confident that his decision to come to Tampa was a good one.

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This is a work of fiction. With the exception of references to known and publicly documented historical entities, the following apply:

Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. ©Tony Carreño 2020