Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

Ignacio's comments concerning the imposing building on the corner of 7th Ave and 16th St peaked Fernando's curiosity. As they approached the entrance, the new arrival noticed the strong aroma of cigar smoke wafting through the doors and windows. This was accompanied by a familiar and distinctive sound...the "clickety-clack" and occasional loud bang of dominos being shuffled and slammed onto wooden tables. The game, a Spanish and Cuban tradition, had clearly found its way to Ybor City. Gaitero's feelings of uncertainty and alienation were quickly disappearing. Ignacio gestured to his two companions to enter.

A familiar scene was before Fernando. The room was crowded and smoky. Only men were present. Adding to the cacophony was the also-familiar sound of practically everyone speaking loudly and simultaneously. Politics, religion, work...all topics were fair game. There seemed to be an implied dress code, as few were not wearing their "boina"...the black berets so very popular in Spain. His thoughts drifted to how Spanish cultural pride perhaps clouded reality. He grew up believing that the Spaniards had introduced the beret and the omelette to the French, and the bagpipes to the Scottish! His whimsical mental wandering was interrupted by Ignacio.

"Gaitero, bienvenido al Centro Español de Tampa. Te sentirás como en casa aquí, seguro!"

Ignacio explained that they were in the Spanish Center of Tampa, and he was surely to feel at home here. Practically every Spanish male, including himself, was a member. He went on to explain that it had been founded nine years ago, originally as an exclusive gentlemen's club for wealthy cigar manufacturers. Since Spanish immigration to Tampa was rapidly increasing, membership had been opened to all males who were born in peninsular Spain. "Criollos" or Creoles, those born outside of Spain, but of Spanish parentage, were not eligible for membership. Fernando had belonged to a smaller club for Spaniards in Havana and was surprised at the exclusivity of this one. At the same time, he was comforted by the familiarity of the surroundings.

Belarmino, silently observing, put his arms around Zapato and Gaitero.

"Tengo que irme, porque mi prima Paulina me espera en casa. Ojalá que nos encontremos otra vez pronto."

Belarmino politely excused himself, indicating his cousin Paulina, with whom he lived, was waiting for him. As the trio left the building, they hugged and shook hands. Cafe con Leche proceeded down 7th Ave in one direction, the two Spaniards in the other. Ignacio explained that the Cuban's cousin, Paulina Pedroso, was probably the best-known labor activist in Tampa, and had worked closely with José Martí. The latter was considered the "George Washington of Cuba", the leader of the Cuban revolution against Spain. A writer and a true intellectual, he had spent much time in Tampa raising funds for the effort. Sadly, he did not live long enough to see his island nation free itself from Spanish rule. 

"Pero exactamente donde vamos, Zapato?"

Fernando had asked his friend where, exactly, were they headed? Once again, Ignacio reassured him that all was under control. Always trusting of his close friend, Gaitero simply smiled.

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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