La Union Marti-Maceo
La Union Marti-Maceo also referred to as the 'Cuban club for the colored race,' is a club dedicated towards the integration of the black and white Cuban community. The main location or headquarters is Ybor City in Tampa (Casey 71). The officials of the club bought a piece of land at the corner of 6th Avenue and 11th Street in 1907 and embarked on a project of constructing a two-story clubhouse that was completed in 1909. The La Union Marti-Maceo was named after two heroes, Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo, both of whom wanted to end racial inequality in Cuba. In the contemporary world, the site is significant to the people of different races due to its undeniable role in the historic Ybor City. The site has hosted several activities since its founding including the Ybor City Folk Festival that was launched in 1986. La Union Marti-Maceo is an important club in history, it symbolizes unity of people of color in Ybor City, and it attains its mission by hosting several festivals since its founding.
Backstory and Context
After the war, both non-white and white Cubans emigrated from their country to Tampa in Florida. Their immigration to Tampa was prompted by the establishment of a cigar factory by Vicente Martinez Ybor. The company town was known as Ybor City. Here, non-white Cubans found great employment opportunities in cigar factories due to their excellent skills and workmanship (Sproule and Lawrence 36). This created plenty of work, and along with the nature of the Cubans they formed clubs, one of them being the La Union Marti-Maceo. The La Union Marti-Maceo was named after two Cuban independence heroes, Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo.The two came from different background but had a common goal – the desire to bring an end to racial inequality in Cuba. Ybor City was one of the main place that Marti went to fund raise for Cuban independence. They were greatly committed to their cause of ending racial inequality, which culminated to their untimely deaths. Marti died in the battlefield in 1895 while Maceo was killed the following year in the battlefield (Florida Heritage 11). The dreams and aspirations of these two great men are memorized through their statues in the Marti Park, at 8th and 13th street in Ybor City.
The site is a two-story clubhouse known as the Marti-Maceo, has pictures and statues of Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo, originally located at 6th Avenue and 11th street in Ybor City. The La Union Marti-Maceo has the pictures of Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo placed side by side in the tiles on their walls; thus, keeping the spirit of their alliance alive. The declining cigar industry, coupled with the demolishing of the old structures, Ybor started falling into disarray. As a result, the Marti-Maceo was forced to relocate to its current less-opulent location, which served as a former union hall (Guzzo 2). The reason for its relocation was the poor condition of the land and building.
Initially, when the club began, it comprised both black and white Cubans that fought side by side in the war. Then the La Union Marti-Maceo comprised of both colored and white Cubans that lived happily together. However, the introduction of the Jim Crow laws prompted the separation of the colored and white Cubans (Sproule and Lawrence 36). In 1900, the club got divided along racial lines leading to two separate organizations; El Circulo Cubano and La Union Marti-Maceo. El Circulo Cubano became an exclusive white Cuban club, while the La Union Marti-Maceo become a black-dominated Cuban society (Guzzo 1). The social halls developed by La Union Marti-Maceo were it was used to provide cultural, social, and medical support to cigar workers and their families. Though the club has ceased providing medical benefits, it continues to facilitate social activities such as excursions, parties, and dances regularly. The site is significant, especially to black/afro Cubans, since it contains the history of their undeniable role in the historic Ybor City. For many years, they have been isolated from Italians, Spaniards, and white Cubans living in the region. Afro Cubans form only a small proportion of the larger Ybor City, and it was very easy for their influence to be forgotten. For a long time, journalists and local historians neglected the history of Cubans of color and the La Union Marti-Maceo (Greenbaum 59). Besides, they were not included in the official records of Ybor City. However, the site of the Marti-Maceo was incorporated as a "significant structure" in the official documents and maps of Tampa. Though the La Union Marti-Maceo is a sign of remembrance for Cubans of color, it also serves as a mutual aid society.
Several activities that occurred in the region can also help in the interpretation of the site. One of these activities is the Ybor City Folk Festival that was launched in 1986. The purpose of the festival was to highlight the rich history of the region. It was sponsored by the Arts Council, the Museum Society and the Ybor Chamber of Commerce (Sproule and Lawrence 36). Members of the committee comprised of local leaders and the main ethnic groups in the region, including the Afro Cubans. The La Union Marti-Maceo was a consistent participant in the festival through exhibits of the Ybor’s City folk culture (Greenbaum 61). In the first festival, 35% of the total participants were from the Union. Besides the Marti-Maceo freely provided its venue to use a clubhouse during the festival events. Several times, the Mart-Maceo has organized free Cuban breakfast events that attracted numerous Cuban citizens. The breakfast events have enabled many people to learn about Afro Cubans for the first time.
In conclusion, it is without a doubt that the La Union Marti-Maceo site in Tampa, Florida, serves a historical site for Cubans. It represents the great struggle Cubans of color encountered during the segregation era. It’s also is a symbol of the need for unity between white and non-white Cubans since it is named after two popular Cuban heroes, Marti and Antonio Maceo.
Casey, Matthew. "Between Anti-Haitianism and Anti-Imperialism: Haitian and Cuban Political Collaborations in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries." Haiti and the Americas (2013): 54-76.
Florida Heritage. Florida Cuban Heritage Trail. Florida Department of State, 2008. <https://dos.myflorida.com/media/32348/cubanheritagetrail.pdf>.
Greenbaum, Susan D. "Marketing Ybor City: Race, Ethnicity, and Historic Preservation in the Sunbelt." City & Society 4.1 (1990): 58-76.
Guzzo, Paul. It overcame racism, but how much longer can the Marti-Maceo club survive? 16 Oct 2018. <https://www.tampabay.com/news/It-overcame-racism-but-how-much-longer-can-the-Marti-Maceo-club-survive-_172561700/>.
Paul, Guzzo. The historic Marti-Maceo nearly sold its clubhouse. Members stopped it. 29 Oct 2018. <https://www.tampabay.com/The-historic-Marti-Maceo-nearly-sold-its-clubhouse-Members-stopped-it-_172879705/>.
Sproule, William J., and Lawrence L. Smith. "History of the Tampa Harbour Island People Mover." Automated People Movers and Automated Transit Systems 2018: Moving to the Future, Building on the Past. Reston, VA: American Society of Civil Engineers, 2018. 36-44.