• Enrique A. Cordero

A Time Travel Through Florida - Part 5 of 5

Updated: Nov 14, 2020

The Development of Mutual Aid Societies

Ybor City became an isolated town due to cultural differences from the Anglo population in Tampa. This situation created a problem that left the inhabitants of Ybor City with few options when it came to medical services. Necessity is indeed the mother of inventions. Therefore, while the Anglo Americans created their own societies such as the Freemasons, The Odd Fellows, and The Elks, the Italians, Spaniards, and Cubans established mutual aid societies—within the space of eleven years (1891 to 1902) El Centro Español, L’Unione Italiana, El Centro Asturiano, El Circulo Cubano, and La Union Martí-Maceo were born. These associations were founded for various reasons and motivations, and they provided an enormous sense of pride for their members. They were quite advanced and functioned along the lines of insurance companies and as a form of a universal healthcare system.

As time passed, these mutual aid societies contributed to a unification of the Latin community by providing a variety of services: social, cultural, educational, political, and health care. In time, they all assisted each other, and benefits were available for individuals and families at a flat rate. They hosted dances, organized various cultural functions, coordinated recreational activities, and sporting events. Most importantly, they offered medical care and burial services.

These mutual aid societies differed from other fraternal institutions in that the scope of services offered was broader. The Italians constructed a beautiful club called L’Unione Italiana, and the Spaniards built El Centro Español and El Centro Asturiano. The Cubans created El Circulo Cubano, and the Afro-Cuban community created La Union Martí-Maceo. José Martí is often called El Apostol de la Revolucion Cubana (the Apostle of the Cuban Revolution against Spanish rule). Martí was the son of Spanish settlers in Cuba. Lt. General José Antonio Maceo y Grajales (an Afro-Cuban) was the second-in-command of the Cuban Army of Independence. The Afro-Cuban members and the white Cuban supporters were threatened by the Klu Klux Klan but the club continued to operate. I was fortunate to have met a direct descendent of General Maceo while doing anthropological research on La Union Martí-Maceo.

The five mutual aid societies founded by the Italians, Spaniards, and Cubans created a healthcare system and insurance that far surpassed anything offered in the Tampa Bay Area or the Southern United States.

I hope you enjoyed our time travel through Florida. Our next historical exploration will be based on five cemeteries in Tampa. So be on the lookout for “Eloquent Graveyards”—a brief above-ground archeological study of gravestones and what they tell us about cultural changes through time.