Jose Marti frequently stayed in Ybor City's Pedrosa house on the corner of 8th and 13th streets and delivered multiple speeches.
cuban ybor city
Ybor City

The story goes that when the first wave of Cubans crossed the sea from Cuba towards Tampa, they brought eggs with them because they couldn’t bear the thought of raising any chicken that wasn’t a Cuban chicken. 

Leave it to the Cubans to answer that age old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg. If you ask an Ybor City Cuban, she’ll tell you, the egg. 

Greetings from Ybor City, a historic district just a few miles northeast of downtown Tampa, Florida. The city was founded in 1886 by Vincente Martínez-Ybor, a wealthy Spanish Cuban who moved his lucrative cigar business from Havana to Key West, then finally, to Tampa. With the arrival of the railroad system in 1884, Tampa was suddenly connected to the rest of the world and upon the arrival of Ybor and Ybor City, Tampa became the center of the booming cigar industry. Almost every building in Ybor was built around the cigar factories establishing Ybor City as the cigar industry town. The Florida humidity preserved the tobacco leaf and by 1920, there were – two hundred cigar factories employing -fifty thousand  people.

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Tampa, Florida was very much a part of the racially divided American South. Although the Civil War had ended by the time Ybor City was founded and born a cigar industry town, it was still under the reigns of segregation. What set Ybor City apart, however, was the number of immigrants who had settled and rooted there. Ybor is famous for its Cubans but it also hosted Sicilians, Spanish and Jewish immigrants. 

The Cuban migration to the Tampa area began slightly before 1890 while the Spanish held the reign over Cuba, thus Ybor City’s Cubans were revolutionaries of the earlier revolution.

Prior to the Cubans winning their freedom from Spain in 1898, there was a tremendous amount of exile activity and effort in Ybor City. Jose Marti frequently stayed in the Pedrosa house on the corner of 8th and 13th streets and delivered multiple speeches. Today there still exists a plot of land in Marti’s honor that is legally owned by Cuba.

cuban ybor city
Ybor Square. Photo credit: Kate Obderdorfer

Don’t believe me?

Visit Ybor–a city where Old Havana meets Bourbon Street, where the buildings still bear the last names of the Jewish merchants who ran their stores alongside the cigar factories and where chickens and roosters wander, peck, talk and stop traffic to cross the road.

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Kate Oberdorfer is a writer from Tampa, Florida. She studied English and music at Mount Holyoke College, and spent a semester in Havana in 2007. She has returned to the island almost every year since then. Kate wrote her master’s thesis on the Cubans of Union City, New Jersey at the Columbia Journalism School. She is currently finishing her first book in Bethany Beach, DE. Kate loves to cook, sing, and dance and is a diehard Washington Capitals fan.

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