'Fernando's Footsteps': Centro Español

One of the first locations that Fernando visits upon arrival in Ybor City is the Centro Español de Tampa where he is reminded of his home country.

The men had walked one block north. At the corner of 7th Ave. and 16th St., Ignacio signaled them to stop. In front of them was a large wooden building. Zapato grabbed Gaitero's arm and pointed to it.

"Amigo, esto será tu segunda casa...por supuesto...el foco de tu vida aquí en Tampa."

Ignacio informed Fernando that this building was certain to become his second home....the focus of his life here in Tampa. Fernando's curiosity peaked. What was this large, wooden building that lay before him, and why was it to be so important to him? (Tony Carreño, Chapter 8)

Ignacio's comments concerning the imposing building on the corner of 7th Ave and 16th St peaked Fernando's curiosity. As they approached the entrance, the new arrival noticed the strong aroma of cigar smoke wafting through the doors and windows. This was accompanied by a familiar and distinctive sound...the "clickety-clack" and occasional loud bang of dominos being shuffled and slammed onto wooden tables. The game, a Spanish and Cuban tradition, had clearly found its way to Ybor City. Gaitero's feelings of uncertainty and alienation were quickly disappearing. Ignacio gestured to his two companions to enter.

A familiar scene was before Fernando. The room was crowded and smoky. Only men were present. Adding to the cacophony was the also-familiar sound of practically everyone speaking loudly and simultaneously. Politics, religion, work...all topics were fair game. There seemed to be an implied dress code, as few were not wearing their "boina"...the black berets so very popular in Spain. His thoughts drifted to how Spanish cultural pride perhaps clouded reality. He grew up believing that the Spaniards had introduced the beret and the omelette to the French, and the bagpipes to the Scottish! His whimsical mental wandering was interrupted by Ignacio.

"Gaitero, bienvenido al Centro Español de Tampa. Te sentirás como en casa aquí, seguro!"

Ignacio explained that they were in the Spanish Center of Tampa, and he was surely to feel at home here. Practically every Spanish male, including himself, was a member. He went on to explain that it had been founded nine years ago, originally as an exclusive gentlemen's club for wealthy cigar manufacturers. Since Spanish immigration to Tampa was rapidly increasing, membership had been opened to all males who were born in peninsular Spain. "Criollos" or Creoles, those born outside of Spain, but of Spanish parentage, were not eligible for membership. Fernando had belonged to a smaller club for Spaniards in Havana and was surprised at the exclusivity of this one. At the same time, he was comforted by the familiarity of the surroundings. (Tony Carreño, Chapter 9)

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At the corner of 7th Ave. and 16th St.