A brief history of Tampa

Tampa was a sleepy town of just a few thousand inhabitants in 1885, when the Spanish cigarmakers Vicente Martínez Ybor, Ignacio Haya and others decided to relocate their “clear Havana tobacco” cigar factories from Key West to Tampa. (They had relocated in 1869 from Havana to Key West to avoid high tariffs on cigars produced in Cuba and the violence of what would become known as the “Ten Years War.”) Thousands of workers poured into “Ybor City,” primarily from Spain (Asturias, in particular) and Cuba. By 1893, there were so many Cuban and Spanish cigar workers in Tampa that José Martí traveled there from New York to generate support and raise funds for the last push of Cuba’s war of independence from Spain (1895-98).

Immigration to Tampa from Spain, often via Cuba, continued unabated during the early decades of the 20th century. Thanks in large part to the presence of a considerable population of working-class Spanish immigrants, Tampa would become a hotbed of pro-Republican fundraising and mobilization during the Spanish Civil War. “No pasarán,” the rousing pasodoble that became the unofficial anthem of people facing fascism all over the United States, was composed by Leopoldo González, a Tampa-based cigar-factory “lector” or “reader” from Asturias.

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