Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

Fernando was relishing the refreshingly cool, almost cold, breeze...the first he had experienced since leaving Spain four years ago. He had been aware that Tampa had noticeably cooler winters than Havana, and he welcomed the change from the almost unrelenting heat of Cuba. He turned to Ignacio.

"Quiero esperar a Belarmino. Me siento muy mal por él."

He told Ignacio that he wanted to wait for Belarmino and that he felt badly for him. Ignacio agreed, but assured him that all was well....or as good as it could be, for him. He explained that Belarmino was well-known in the immigrant community as a smart, confident, activist for workers' rights. He knew his way around the system and could take care of himself.

"Hola, caballeros!"

Belarmino was approaching the Spaniards with a booming "Hello, gentlemen". He accompanied them as Ignacio pointed away from the train station and they began walking. Fernando followed, unaware of where they were going. Ignacio had assured him that all was under control and he had planned for his arrival in Tampa.

Fernando noticed wooden street signs marked in Spanish. He was relieved and surprised, having thought everything would be in English.

"6a Avda/Calle 16".

The Ybor City train station was on the corner of 6th Avenue and 16th Street. Glancing down 16th street, Fernando could see row after row of curious looking wooden houses, fairly narrow but rather long. They were lined up like dominos...their roof lines almost touching. He had never seen anything like these. They were almost identical looking, with gingerbread trim along the small front porches. He stopped and directed the attention of his companions toward the structures.

"Por favor. Explícame algo de esas casas."

Fernando had asked Belarmino and Ignacio if they could tell him more about the houses.

"Esas se llaman "casas de escopetas" porque dicen que puedes disparar una escopeta desde la puerta principal y no golpear ninguna pared. Las pelotillas saldrían por la puerta trasera."

Ignacio had explained that these were called "shotgun houses", because supposedly one could fire a shotgun through the front door and not damage any walls. The pellets would exit through the back door! The front and rear doors were aligned along the left side of the house, all rooms to the right. He elaborated that this had evolved because many of the home builders were Sicilian and they had copied the style that was very prominent in New Orleans. Ignacio, always curious, was told by a Sicilian carpenter he knew that this style of house had been brought to New Orleans from West Africa via Haiti, with which old New Orleans had many connections. Many immigrant families were able to afford living in them because the prominent cigar manufacturers had the houses mass-produced and offered them at reasonable rents or purchase prices. This was intended to motivate the workers to stay in Tampa. Ignacio reminded Fernando that it was the arrival of the Cuban cigar manufacturing business that essentially created the boom town in which they were standing. The success of this industry, and that of Tampa, depended on a stable and prosperous work force.

While Fernando had been impressed with the physical appearance and interesting history of these homes, he was even more impressed with the concept of affordable, private housing. Perhaps the "American Dream" was truly a possibility.

The men had walked one block north. At the corner of 7th Ave. and 16th St., Ignacio signaled them to stop. In front of them was a large wooden building. Zapato grabbed Gaitero's arm and pointed to it.

"Amigo, esto será tu segunda casa...por supuesto...el foco de tu vida aquí en Tampa."

Ignacio informed Fernando that this building was certain to become his second home....the focus of his life here in Tampa. Fernando's curiosity peaked. What was this large, wooden building that lay before him, and why was it to be so important to him?


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