Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

Ignacio explained to Fernando that according to the business card, Licata's Fruits and Vegetables was located about three miles to the east of them. This was a perfect distance for a brisk late-morning walk. It was a semi-rural area that locals referred to as "Gary". Beginning approximately six blocks east of Ybor City proper and continuing well to the east, Gary was becoming known as an area in which many Sicilian families had settled. Many of these families had established small truck farms that grew a variety of fruits and vegetables. While the harvest was used primarily to sustain the owners themselves, a portion was sold to friends and neighbors. The Sicilians and Italians had quickly earned the reputation for growing excellent produce. As they prospered, many were transitioning from working in cigar factories to opening small grocery stores that specialized in fresh produce. In addition, there were many African American families as well as Anglos, and a few Spaniards and Cubans. 

The two Spaniards walked down to La Séptima and headed eastward on foot. After several blocks, there seemed to be an abrupt end to the urban infrastructure one could find in Tampa. Wooden sidewalks gave way to sandy footpaths, in places quite overgrown with weeds. Occasionally, Fernando noticed tiny wooden houses which sat precariously on concrete blocks. He could see African American families gathered around outdoor fire pits in which scraps of wood were burning. The day was rather cool, and he imagined this was their only source of heat. Gaitero was taken aback by the primitive conditions he saw.

"Zapato, yo pensaba que no había pobreza como esta aquí en Los Estados Unidos. Yo vi esto en las afueras de La Habana, pero me quedo sorprendido encontrarlo aquí."

Fernando told Ignacio that he thought poverty like this was unknown in the United States. He had seen these living conditions on the outskirts of Havana but was rather surprised to find them here.

"Gaitero, me gusta mucho vivir en Tampa pero creo que hay, por lo menos, tres Estados Unidos. Uno para ellos cuyos familias llevan mucho tiempo aquí, y las raíces son de Inglaterra y otro países del norte de Europa. Después otro para gente como nosotros...inmigrantes del sur o este de Europa. Al final, las migas que quedan son para gente que no son blanca, como estos pobres. En mi opinión, la realidad es que sería igual, o peor, en cualquier otro país. Aunque Los Estados Unidos no es el sueño mágico que muchas personas imagen, es el sitio preferible para buscar una vida mejor."

Ignacio explained to Fernando that in his opinion there are essentially at least three United States. One is for those whose families have been here for many generations, and whose roots are from England or other northern European countries. Then one for folks like themselves…. immigrants from southern or eastern Europe. Finally, the remaining "crumbs" are for those who are non-white, like the unfortunate people they are looking at right now. He concluded by saying that while the United States is not the "magic dream" that many perceive it to be, it is still the best place in which to seek a better life. Rather cynically, he believed that it would be the same, or worse, in any other country.

While Fernando was taken aback with this dose of reality from his best friend, he concluded that Ignacio was probably right. This venture into the darker side of the human condition made his quest to somehow get closer to Giuseppina Licata seem trivial. 

After a few minutes of walking in silence, Ignacio stopped and retrieved the business card that Fernando had entrusted to him. Looking around him, he gestured that they should turn to the left. As they headed north on a small dirt road, it appeared that the houses were becoming a bit larger and more modern. Many were surrounded by sizable tracts of land, perhaps two acres or so. On some plots there were several dairy cows. The crops, mostly green vegetables, were neatly arranged in long rows. Fernando noticed occasional stands of curious cactus-like plants bearing medium-sized fruit. The fruit was red, with prickly spines protruding from it. He had never seen such unusual looking plants. Just as Fernando was about to ask Ignacio about these strange fruits, they stopped in front of a small farmhouse. An older gentleman was sitting in a chair alongside a wooden stand loaded with fruits and vegetables for sale. Ignacio confessed that he was lost and needed to ask directions.

"Señor, por favor, hablas español?"

Ignacio asked the farmer if he spoke Spanish. His response was a hand gesture asking Ignacio to wait. The older man walked into a small barn-like structure, returning with a much younger man. 

"Hola. Soy el hijo del señor. Hablo español un poco."

The younger man explained that he was the son of the older man, and he did speak a bit of Spanish. His accent clearly revealed him to be Sicilian.

Ignacio asked him directions to the Licata farm. The son explained that they needed to retrace their steps a short distance and take a left turn at a small creek surrounded by massive oak trees. Ignacio recalled seeing such a place and thanked him for his help. As they were about to leave, Fernando asked the young Sicilian about the spiky red fruits.

"Esas se llaman ficos d'India....en español, higos de India. Nosotros sicilianos también los llamamos ficorini, o higos pequeños. Espera un momento!"

Fernando was told that they were called "Indian figs", and that Sicilians also referred to them as "little figs." He asked the Spaniards to wait for a moment. He quickly returned with a paper bag with four or five Indian figs. As he handed them to Fernando, he explained that they were delicious and extremely nutritious, though quite difficult to eat due to the sharp spines and the numerous seed pods within. He suggested rolling them in wadded up newspapers to remove the spines.

Fernando and Ignacio thanked the two men for their help and generosity. After a few minutes they saw on their left a cluster of massive, moss-draped oak trees. A small creek, almost dry, ran through and beyond the stand of trees. A sign indicated that the Licata farm was down the dirt road that paralleled the creek. Somehow, they had missed the sign earlier. They turned left, heading further east. Just beyond the sign, they noticed vast stretches of row upon row of vegetables. Neatly arranged fences clearly defined the property. Quite a distance down the road they came to a dead end. Just beyond a large open gate was a warehouse-like structure. Beyond that was a three-story wooden house. The house was extremely large, with wrap-around porches surrounding the first two floors. A manicured lawn was dotted with massive oak trees. Fernando had never seen anything like this before.

--

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