A local story suggests that the Cuban Revolution started in Tampa. In 1895, Jose Martí, a Cuban Revolutionary leader nicknamed the “George Washington of Cuba”, was said to have tasked Blas O’Halloran, a cigar maker, with an important job. Martí asked O’Halloran to roll him a cigar. But it was no normal cigar. It has been dubbed The Cigar of Liberty. As the story goes, this cigar had a hidden message inside that would ignite the Cuban Revolution and change Cuba forever.
The Cuban Revolution was a big deal to the citizens of Ybor City. In November of 1891, Jose Martí was invited to deliver a speech to a meeting of supporters of Cuban independence. Martí gave a speech of such fervor that an official Cuban Revolutionary Party was formed. His speech was titled “Los Pinos Nueyog” (The New Growth) and was one of the two speeches he delivered that year in Ybor City, with the other being “Con Todos Y Para Todos” (With All and For All). Cuban residents of Ybor City were inspired by Marti, whose passionate speeches caused them to work tirelessly for Cuban independence. His words imprinted the phrase “Cuba Libre” on the hearts and minds of every Cuban citizen in Ybor.
In 1893, Marti delivered another speech -- fitting titled "Cuba Libre" -- in Ybor City. Marti told residents, “We shall triumph. Their hammer blows will be met by a destructive file of steel.” After this speech, Ybor’s cigar workers began to donate a days’ worth of pay every week to help fund the Revolution. The money raised funded ammunition and weaponry for the Cuban soldiers and provided them with machetes. Some cigar workers even went to the extent of going back to Cuba to help in actual battle against the Spanish.
Helping the war effort resonated not only with the Cuban workers but also with the Spanish workers. According to a newspaper article written in Ybor about the Cuban Revolution, restaurant workers, both Spanish and Cuban, secretly sent boxes of silverware for the Cuban soldiers to use for guerilla warfare.
The Cuban Revolution inspired the citizens of Ybor. As a resident of Ybor City, it was all but impossible to avoid taking part in the Cuban fight for Independence. The workers worked not just to feed their families and survive, but also to help their fellow Cubans in their fatherland. The Cuban War for Independence shaped the lives of the Cubans in Ybor. Without their involvement in the struggle, Cuban independence might have remained a dream.