The Golden Age
Ybor City grew and prospered during the first decades of the 20th Century. Thousands of residents built a community that combined Cuban, Spanish, Italian, and Jewish culture. “Ybor City is Tampa’s Spanish India,” observed a visitor to the area, “What a colorful, screaming, shrill, and turbulent world.”
An aspect of life were the mutual aid societies built and sustained mainly by ordinary citizens. These clubs were founded in Ybor's early days (the first was the Centro Español, established in 1891) and were run on dues collected from their members, usually 5% of a member's salary. In exchange, members and their whole family received services including free libraries, educational programs, sports teams, restaurants, numerous social functions like dances and picnics, and free medical services. Beyond the services, these clubs served as extended families and communal gathering places for generations of Ybor's citizens.
There were clubs for each ethnic division in the community – the Deutscher-Americaner Club (for German and eastern Europeans), L’Unione Italiana (for Italians), El Circulo Cubano (for light-skinned Cubans), La Union Marti-Maceo (for darker-skinned Cubans), El Centro Español (for Spaniards), and the largest, El Centro Asturiano, which accepted members from any ethnic group
Although there was little racism in Ybor City, Tampa's Jim Crow laws at the time forbade Afro-Cubans from belonging to the same social organization as their lighter-skinned countrymen. Sometimes, differences in skin color within the same family made joining the same Cuban club impossible. In general, the rivalries between all the clubs were friendly, and families were known to switch affiliations depending on which one offered preferred services and events.
Cigar production reached its peak in 1929, when 500,000,000 cigars were rolled in the factories of Ybor City. Not coincidentally, that was also the year that the Great Depression began.
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Anon, as patient as the female dove
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—William Shakespeare (15641616)