Ybor City, a neighborhood located just northeast of downtown Tampa, is one of only two National Historic Landmark Districts in Florida. It was founded by Vicente Martinez-Ybor as a cigar-manufacturing center in the 1880s and was populated by thousands of immigrants, mainly from Spain, Cuba and Italy. Ybor City has been known as Tampa’s Latin Quarter since.
It’s a small neighborhood made up of a small number of streets with very interesting architecture – red brick buildings, wrought iron balconies and narrow brick streets. It also has eclectic shops, restaurants, bars and nightclubs The cigar-manufacturing aspect is still present and visible in several of the shops, where cigar makers clean the leaves and roll cigars. A very unique place.
Tarpon Springs, a city in Pinellas County just north of Dunedin, has a strong Greek heritage. This neighborhood was also established in the 1880s along with railroad service to New York. Wealthy northerners built beautiful Victorian mansions; established churches and hotels; and started businesses.
Because the waters surrounding this area were teeming with sponges, divers from Greece came here and soon developed a flourishing sponge industry. The many Greeks who migrated here also set up restaurants, pastry shops and markets, giving the neighborhood a distinct Mediterranean flavor. In 1946, red tide attacked and killed almost all of the sponges. Although there has been a slight resurgence in this industry, tourism is the primary industry in Tarpon Springs today. The neighborhood still has the largest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the U.S.
Another visit was not to a specific community, but to a Latin market and restaurant in the town of Valrico, FL. The Latinos Market includes a grocery store, restaurant, money wire transfers service, beauty parlor and watch repair service, all in one location. The market has a vibrant feel. The restaurant offers Dominican, Puerto Rican and Cuban specialties. This was definitely a comfort food stop for us
Visiting all of these diverse communities is really enriching. And seeing all of the Latinos at the supermarket brought back a lot of memories of living in Miami, Puerto Rico and Mexico and of visiting Latin America many times during our corporate careers. A client of mine in the Bahamas said to me years ago “never forget where you came from”. And being here helped me to remember.