Cigarmakers had world at their fingertips

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Beginning Monday, the Ybor City Museum Society will showcase 90 of these Spanish and Italian language publications for the first time in "Otras
Voces: The Radical and Alternative Press in Ybor City," an exhibit highlighting the "Other Voices" in the city's 100-year history.

They rolled cigars for a living - all day, every day. But Ybor City and West Tampa cigar factory workers looked forward to something new and different each morning.

They paid several cents a week to listen to a lector read homegrown Spanish newspapers from a pulpit in the factories for two hours a day.

During their half-hour lunch breaks, the cigar workers referenced newspapers such as Cuba, published in Ybor City in 1893 during Cuba's revolutionary struggle against Spain to try to organize exile communities in Florida. Or they'd get riled up by labor publications that advocated better working conditions.

Over time, they grew to know the names of elected officials and foreign leaders and events happening half a world away in countries they'd never visit.

"The Latino cigarmaker was the most informed working class in the United States at the time, because he may not have known how to read or write very well, but for two hours in the morning, he was finding out what was happening in Japan, in Paris, in London, in New York, in Moscow," said Judge E.J. Salcines, a West Tampa native and local historian.

They owed that education to local newspapers, many of which published for a year or two, then faded into obscurity.

Until now.

Collected over the years by the University of South Florida's Department of Special Collections and through donations from local historians, the papers published between 1886 and the 1980s were digitally scanned and saved electronically.

Prints of the digitized papers will be on display at the Borders bookstore in South Tampa with their English translations.

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