It’s fitting that I was in the Tampa Bay area on the day that Fidel Castro died over the weekend. A third of all Cubans in America live in Florida. The majority of those of those live in the greater Miami/South Florida, but Cuban immigrants began coming to Tampa in greater number in the late 1800s often working and living near the cigar factories in Ybor City area.
Perhaps I’ll write more about Castro, Cuba and the movies on another post, but for today I’ll say that my views of Castro are shaded by those who fled after Castro took power in 1959, including one college professor I met who left behind everything in Cuba to come to the United States—arriving with 37 cents in his pocket.
The views of Castro are well summed up by Graciela Martinez in The NY Times Sunday,”For those who loved him, he was the greatest. For those who hated him, there was no one worse.” I went to school in Miami just after Mariel boatlift so I was definitely surrounded by people who did not love Castro or what he did to their homeland.
I imagine few would have bet on a 30-year-old exiled Castro arriving in Cuba via boat with Che Guevara and 80 other rebels in 1956 and not only overthrowing the government, but his communistic government staying in power to this day. And much has been written (and will be written) about the pros and cons of Castro’s legacy. Perhaps the one positive thing most can agree on that flowed from Castro’s dictatorship is the 1983 film Scarface. (AFI’s #10 ranked Gangster film of all time. “Say hello to my little friend” is #61 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Movie Lines of All Time.)
But politics and movies aside, I love the Cuban/Spanish culture that you’ll find all over Florida from St. Augustine to Key West.
I took the above photo in downtown St. Petersburg over the weekend. Believe it or not, St. Petersburg is one of the most transformative, invigorating, an artistic cities in the United States. It’s like a mix of the best of Miami and Minneapolis with a little bit of a Marina del Rey/Santa Monica west coast vibe–and Spanish spices tossed in. Call it The St. Petersburg surprise.
Home to several financial institutions, the University of South Florida—St. Petersburg, and the Home Shopping Network, it’s also been ranked #1 in the Top 25 Mid-Size Cities for Art. (In part due to the Museum of Fine Arts, the Chihuly Collection, and the Salvador Dali Museum.)
The USF sailing team finished sixth in the nation at The 2016 College Sailing Match Racing Nationals just last week. And sure, there’s still the world’s largest shuffelboard club in St. Pete (est. in 1924), but you’ll find hipsters there as well as retirees. So when you read in Esquire New Brooklyn Gets Into Good Ole’ Shuffleboard, know that trend started in St. Petersburg.
Part of those St. Pete surprises.
P.S. If you ever visit Tampa make sure you eat at the Columbia Restaurant (Florida’s oldest restaurant) in Ybor City. In 2017, I’d like to cover more global cinema and look forward to getting caught up on Cuban movies made over the last 50 years.