How We Got Where We Are
In December, 1891, barely five years after several enterprising men of Spanish descent took a giant leap of faith and established an industry from scratch in the forlorn, isolated village of Tampa, a number of fellow Spanish immigrants formed a social and mutual aid association that was the forbearer of a great tradition. The motivation for its creation was to provide a means for the growing immigrant community, enticed by an emergent new cigar industry, to maintain their cultural identity and to provide a sense of belonging in a place where the local population, small as it was, nevertheless looked warily at the newcomers and where there was an absence of institutions to provide assistance for everyday needs. Adding to the cultural chasm were the challenges of geography, climate and the ever present specter of the dreaded yellow fever and other diseases. To all of this we note the tension that existed between the Spanish and Cuban immigrant populations, the latter wholly sympathetic to the struggle for Cuban independence from Spain, the former resistant to it, at least in the early days of their co-existence in Tampa.
Yet despite these challenges, or because of them, the Centro Español grew and prospered along with Ybor City, West Tampa, and the rest of our city. Where in 1885 there were no people or cigar factories or cigar workers, within a few decades there were dozens of factories making hundreds of millions of hand-rolled cigars by tens of thousands of immigrants, and thousands of Club members. For many years, our Club provided for the educational, social, entertainment, health, and burial needs of its members and in the process built two magnificent club houses, a stateof- the-art hospital, a medical clinic, and two cemeteries. From the beginning, we welcomed all by adopting a policy that stipulated that the only requirement for membership was that all applicants be either Spanish by birth and patriotic inclination or that they be loyal to Spain and to its prestige in America.
The growth and prosperity of the Centro lasted for well over five decades and our achievements contributed significantly to the transformation of the little village of the late 19th century that was Tampa to the modern and vibrant city that it is today. However, our Club, like others that came after, was a victim of its own success and the forces of history over which it had no control. The litany of travails is long: the drop in demand for premium cigars brought about by World War I and later the Great Depression, the consolidation of cigar manufacturing, mechanization, the popularity of cigarettes, the flight to the suburbs after World War II, and the Cuban cigar embargo. Additionally, we must add this: by the end of World War II, the aspirations of the first generations of immigrants had been realized. Their descendants, who were more numerous and more prosperous by then, no longer worked in one industry, no longer lived in one neighborhood, and had many opportunities to become educated, socialize, recreate, and receive health care. Today, the time for building edifices and institutions is long past and the question becomes “Why persist in maintaining the Club’s existence?”
The Rationale for Carrying On
One of the reasons to carry on is that our appreciation for the sacrifices of our founders and those that came after demands that embrace their legacy and that we continue to celebrate the accomplishments of the Club’s members as we acknowledge our continuing affection for the country from which they came. Another is that we must honor the Club’s last remaining responsibility, which is to provide a final resting place for its members. And finally, we submit that the most compelling reason to persist is that we are now in a better position to achieve these aims than we have been for a very long time. The recent sale of the Club’s property in West Tampa has provided funds not previously available; this presents an opportunity that we must not squander. How should we go about taking advantage of this opportunity?
For our Club to sustain itself and prosper, we need to provide tangible reasons for individuals to become and/or remain members.
This is what we plan to do.
The Creation and Maintenance of this Website
All one has to do to grasp the breadth of the Club’s accomplishments and its importance to the Spanish community in Tampa is to spend a little time looking through the 50th Anniversary commemorative. The story is rich. What was accomplished in such a short time is remarkable. But where is the whole of the story at present? Where is our shared history? Where can members and the descendants of founding members, as well as historians, journalists, and others interested in our legacy go to learn more about it? Some of the story is in the Special Collections section of the University of South Florida Library; some at the Tampa Bay History Center; some in long forgotten articles written by historians and journalists; and some of it is in the homes and attics of members, prospective members, and friends of the Club. There is an urgent need to create a primary repository to house the story of our Club.
Consequently, we will aggregate these resources into a digital repository in the form of this website. This will become the modern version of the grand edifices that the Club constructed in the past. It will be a place where anyone can explore the Club’s rich history, where members can contribute individual histories, where scholarly articles can be explored, where information about membership and upcoming events can be found, and where links to other places of interest, whether they be libraries or the government of Spain, will be but a click away.
As noted, the protection and maintenance of the Club’s cemeteries represents the last formal obligation to the membership. For many years this has been a losing proposition as declining membership and resources have clashed with continuing and increasing costs. To address this, the Club will use a portion of the proceeds of the recent property sale to establish an endowment to perpetually maintain the Club’s cemeteries. The initial goal will be to fund the endowment at $1 million and then, depending on the success of fundraising efforts and on-going consideration of evolving needs, the goal may be modified. Additionally, the Club will develop a master plan for its cemetery on 21st Avenue in order to better protect and beautify this historic asset and to complement similar efforts made by L’Unione Italiana in its adjoining cemetery and will correct several site related deficiencies at the Memorial Cemetery near Lake Avenue. Finally, the Club will explore cooperative cost saving strategies with the other Latin social clubs in Tampa that maintain cemeteries.
Events and Cultural Exchange
The basic human desire to socialize with others of similar background, traditions, and needs was a powerful motivation for the creation of the Centro Español in 1891. Although the assimilation of the Club’s descendents into the life and institutions of greater Tampa has diminished the imperative of self-preservation, the benefits of gathering to share in each other’s company and celebrate our heritage remain. To this end, the Club is committed to holding several member events every year and is pleased to announce that among them will be an annual Founder’s Day celebration. This celebration will be held in the fall and will coincide near or on the date when the Club was incorporated in December. The celebration will include an address that will be named after our first president, Don Ignacio Haya, and will be given by a noted historian or distinguished citizen or guest.
The Club will also undertake other activities that will promote cultural interaction. First, the Club will encourage the continuing study of the Spanish immigrant story in Tampa through sponsored research at the university level. Second, the Club will strengthen its ties to the local community by contributing funds for scholarships for talented and promising students of Spanish descent. Third, the Club will seek to establish and maintain a mutually beneficial relationship with the Spanish Embassy to the United States. The history of the two Spanish social clubs in Tampa is unique to the Spanish immigrant story in this country; it is a story that should be embraced and celebrated by both nations. By doing so, we may be able to increase the Club’s profile at the highest level of the Spanish Embassy thereby garnering increased interest in our activities and appreciation for the effort that we have decided to undertake. Last, but certainly not least, the Club will reach out to the great universities of our region and to the Tampa Bay History Center and Ybor City State Museum to take advantage of their resources, collections, and knowledge.
Financial and other considerations
The Club is committed to growing, sustaining, and energizing its membership. This will not only strengthen the Club’s financial condition, but will also enhance the personal interactions that occur naturally from an expanded membership roster. We will grow and sustain our membership in several ways. First, we will improve the means by which the Club communicates with its members by employing the various electronic and social media tools that are currently available. In this way, we will more effectively and consistently let our members know about events and other news. Second, we will introduce a tiered membership structure with each category having an appropriate annual dues amount. Thus, members and prospective members can choose the category that best fits their personal situation. Third, our President will formally acknowledge every new member of our Club by issuing a letter of welcome and in a similar fashion, will thank renewing members.
The Club is committed to conducting its business in a manner that is financially stable, sustainable, and transparent. To supplement income that is derived from membership dues, the Club will undertake fundraising activities, including the pursuit of matching and other types of grants, to support the following initiatives: 1) to establish an endowment for the perpetual care of its two cemeteries; 2) to establish and maintain a web site; 3) to undertake improvements at the two cemeteries consistent with the anticipated future master plan; 4) to contribute to sponsoring research concerning the Spanish immigrant history in Tampa; 5) to fund one or more academic scholarships for students of Spanish descent who have distinguished themselves in their early academic careers; and 6) to engage in other pursuits as may be identified in the future by the Board of Directors.
In December, 1941, on the cusp of a terrible world war, the Centro Español de Tampa celebrated its first fifty years of existence with the publication of a commemorative book. Its principal author, Victoriano Manteiga, esteemed member of the Club and publisher of Ybor City’s famed La Gaceta, wrote in its preface that each member “will receive a copy and surely will keep it safe to give to his sons as a precious remembrance of the first fifty years of a society created by Spaniards and maintained with their money, intelligence and energy and that of their descendents and sincere friends.” We, the descendants and friends of the founders, do still treasure that commemorative book and more importantly, the Club’s legacy – let us do our part to protect and sustain it.