don-barcoWelcome to Cigar Musings, a collection of anecdotes and stories, both fictional and non-fictional, by myself and some of my friends who frequent King Corona on a regular basis. I will be posting these stories so stay tuned!

One of the things I love is a good story and over the years I’ve heard quite a few from the people I’ve been lucky enough to meet. Since most of the stories have been related to me in here in my cigar store, I thought it only appropriate that Cigar Musings be cigar related. That doesn’t mean one has to be a cigar smoker to tell their story, but it should have something to do with cigars. Not all of my friends are cigar smokers, but if they’re telling me a story in my cigar store, well, you get the picture…

My favorite cigar related story involves Jose Marti and Ybor City. For those of you not familiar with Ybor City, a short history lesson is in order.

In the late 1880’s the cigar industry was introduced to Tampa, Fl by one Vicente Martinez Ybor, a cigar manufacturer from Key West by way of Cuba, by way of Spain. He struck a land deal with the City of Tampa and that land eventually became Ybor City. He brought cigar makers from Cuba, Spain and later Italy and Ybor City became a very special place, a blending of different cultures which produced it’s own culture of Tampeno; things indigenous to Tampa, like the Cuban Sandwich and Spanish Bean Soup. The story of Ybor City is a special story and I will tell more of that story at a later date, but now back to Jose Marti.

Jose Marti has been called the “George Washington” of Cuba. He was a very gifted writer who, at an early age got into trouble with the Spanish, who ruled Cuba at that time, for his political views. He was jailed, and later exiled to Spain. In his life he was a poet, essayist, philosopher, as well as the voice of freedom for Spanish Americans. He later lived in New York and wrote for a newspaper there and traveled to South and Central America, writing extensively of freedom from dictatorships for Spanish Americans, and returned to New York.

Growing up in Tampa with so many Cubans, I came to realize that Jose Marti was very important to them. Years later I saw a documentary and was amazed to discover that Marti felt that the Tampa Cubans in particular were extremely important to him. Here’s why.

In Cuba in the latter part of the 19th century, the dissatisfaction with Spanish rule had grown to a boiling point and rebellion was inevitable. Marti was a lightning rod for the rebels and he was committed to the fight for Cuban independence.

Marti visited Ybor City on more than one occasion and was overwhelmed by the support and admiration of the Cuban cigar rollers who worked in Ybor City’s cigar factories. In 1893, Marti returned to raise support for the revolution and on the steps of the V.M. Ybor cigar factory he delivered a famous passion filled speech, that so roused the cigar rollers that they pledged a day’s pay each to the cause of the revolution. The next part of the story is what gripped me and made this my favorite “cigar story”.

The details of when the revolution was to begin were guarded closely, understandably so, as one could be executed if caught sympathizing with the rebels. A clandestine approach had to be employed to insure safety. According to local history, the message to start the revolution was rolled inside a cigar packed in a box of cigars that was made right here in Ybor City! Right here in Ybor City! This is an amazing piece of history that connects my hometown to the life of this incredible man and his loyal supporters!

Marti-photoIn my first years in the cigar industry we had a cigar store in the old V.M. Ybor factory. I can’t tell you the number of times I would take a lunch break in the courtyard and think to myself, “if these walls could only speak”. When I read of this marvelous story, it only increased my fascination of Marti and the early Cubans settlers in Ybor City. The walls didn’t speak, but their brave exploits did.
Sadly, Marti and many supporters from Ybor City would die in Cuba’s battle for independence, dying as heroes.

Today in Ybor City, just across the street from the old V.M. Ybor cigar factory, where his famous speech was delivered, is the site of the Jose Marti Park. In the middle of the park is a statue of the courageous Marti, his hand extended, beckoning the call of freedom.

I have greatly condensed Marti’s life, and this is merely a thumbnail sketch of Marti, but by no means should his body of work be diminished. I highly recommend further reading of Marti’s life and work.
There has been much written about him, but for me his own words speak the loudest. His demands for freedom and fairness are still words to be taken seriously and I highly recommend Jose Marti: Writings on the Americas.

That, my friends is one hell of a good “cigar musing”. I plan to offer more of these in the future, and hope you enjoy them as I do.
~Don Barco
Comments are welcome.