When we first got married, my husband was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa so we lived there for several months until he was reassigned to Germany. Tampa has a vibrant Cuban community centered around Ybor City and we spent lots of time wandering through the shops – and especially the restaurants – enjoying its Cuban soul.
Ybor City Chronicles was written by a member of Tampa’s Cuban community and is a series of stories about the people and places that made up his world as he grew up here. Ferdie Pacheco is probably best known as the Fight Doctor for the time he was involved in professional boxing. In addition to writing, he’s also a prolific painter. Both his paintings and his stories in Chronicles preserve the culture and people that make Ybor City unique. As a memoir, his stories may not all be historically correct but they beautifully describe the spirit of this community.
I remember attending a concert – part of a Cuban heritage festival – held at a vacant city block in the middle of Ybor City. A fabulous Latino band was set up on the back of a flatbed truck playing to a huge crowd. The locals seemed to know this group well, although we had never heard of them. Most of the songs were in Spanish, but that didn’t matter. The sound and the beat kept everybody moving. We had a great time.
Not long after that, we headed to Germany. Germany is a wonderful place, but there were many cold, gray days that made us very homesick for a warm breeze and some Florida sun. Our Jimmy Buffett cassettes (yes, it’s been a while) got quite a workout while we were there – providing some musical sunshine. It wasn’t long before a Miami group began getting lots of play time on Armed Forces Radio. What caught our attention was the big music with a Latin flavor. We loved it! It took another month or two for the music videos to make it across the Atlantic, but when they did, we were very pleasantly surprised.
This Miami group – Miami Sound Machine – was the same band we fell in love with in an empty lot in Ybor City. And while we do love their big 80s sound created for the American market, it’s Gloria Estefan’s Spanish albums like Mi Tierra that we enjoy most.
We’re heading down to Tampa soon for a couple days full of Cuban food and old friends with a bit of business too. I can’t wait!