It has been 40 years since Florida played host to your party’s convention. We are honored you have chosen Tampa for your August gathering. And we hope you’ll take time to experience our Latin Quarter, called Ybor City.
In the center of the historic district, you’ll find a bronze statue honoring the Northern Spaniards, Cubans, Sicilians, Germans and Romanian Jews who founded and helped build this community.
Ybor came alive in 1886, when Vicente Martínez-Ybor bought 40 acres northeast of Tampa to build cigar factories for himself and his associates. Businesses and farms that supported the cigar industry flourished with mutual aid societies, civic groups and organized labor.
On Seventh Avenue, the neighborhood’s main artery, you can still find some of the beautiful architecture, culinary tastings and culture that made this community so vibrant in its heyday.
As you walk down the avenue, look at the street signs between 14th and 18th streets, with the word “La Sétima” under Seventh Avenue. Unless you are from Spain, you probably know the Spanish word for seventh spelled as “séptima,” with a letter “p.”
There’s a story behind the signs, one you’ll hear if you visit the Ybor City Museum, take a walking tour or talk to an old-timer.
Ybor City is one of the only places in the United States where immigrants learned a non-native language first. Before learning English, the Italians, Germans and Jewish people from Romania who settled here first learned to speak Spanish. And they learned from Northern Spaniards, from Galicia and Asturias, who spell and pronounce seventh as “sétima,” no “p.”
To honor this unusual footnote in our history, a well-known Ybor native and historian asked members of the Tampa City Council 16 years ago to mark the distinction in the avenue’s street signs.
That man, Frank Trebín Lastra, now 89, wrote the book, Ybor City: The Making of a Landmark Town. It’s available at the Ybor City Museum bookstore. In it, you’ll learn Frank’s father hailed from Galicia, Spain.
You may wonder why I’m telling you about street signs. It turns out that some people who currently live in Ybor City don’t know the history.
They think the signs are slang and misspelled. They’re asking the city council to spend thousands of dollars to tear down Frank’s signs and replace them with “La Séptima.” Their big concern is that when you come to town, you might think we can’t spell.
Can you imagine? They want to replace authentic signs with misspelled ones to try to impress you. Now, that’s embarrassing.
Tampa’s City Council will decide the matter June 7th. Rather than remove the flavor of our heritage, council members would do better to take the money and feature “La Sétima” signs along the entire avenue.
It would be a kind nod to Frank Lastra, who is bedridden and unable to visit his beloved Ybor City, and a sign of Tampa’s pride in its unique Latin history.
Susan Clary Zayas de Thompson is a former reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and the Orlando Sentinel. Of proud Cuban heritage, her parents’ names can be found on the Ybor City Immigrant Statue in Centennial Park. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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