ELOQUENT GRAVEYARDS - Part 4 of 5
Updated: Jul 1
From the 1900s onward, the burial site markers become huge and often very elaborate, clearly displaying the social position of the individual or family. Perhaps these large gravesite markers represent the attempts made by people to immortalize themselves. Nonetheless, as we move into the 1920s, the headstones remain monumental, but the writing begins to change. For example, in the past, you could find short epitaphs such as “Asleep in Jesus” or “Gone but not forgotten,” but these are gradually replaced by phrases such as “Recuerdo de tus padres” or “Recuerdo de tus hijos.” These may be translated as “In remembrance of your parents” or “In remembrance of your sons.” It seems as if the family of the deceased were making sure that the rest of the world knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they loved the individual interred at that site. This would not be inappropriate for a Cuban, Spanish, or Italian family since they all placed great emphasis on kinship ties. By the mid-1900s, the gravestones are much more uniform in size and design than before and, yet, the stones remain quite large and heavy.
On the whole, the cemeteries surveyed, in many cases, overtly display the ethnic background of the groups. For example, two headstones in the Memorial Park Cemetery have an engraved royal palm—one of the official symbols of Cuba. At the Cementerio Español (Centro Español Cemetery), one of the gravestones bears a carved image of La Caridad del Cobre—the patron saint of Cuba. In like manner, the cemetery of L’Unione Italiana displays a fabulous collection of statues representing various saints and other religious motifs—typical of the Italian community, especially during the early days when the ties to the mother country, to a devoutly Catholic Italy, was much stronger. However, out of the cemeteries that I surveyed the Italian cemetery is by far the richest. It contains a magnificent array of statues, crypts, and mausoleums and excellently demonstrates the economic superiority of the Italian community; this is not surprising.
The cigar industry in Ybor City was primarily controlled by the Cuban and Spanish portions of the community. Consequently, when a crisis occurred in the cigar industry, it was felt the most by the Cubans and the Spaniards. However, many Cubans would return to their homeland, a fact made easier due to its proximity to the United States, “…to wait out the wrenching strikes and recessions” (Mormino, 1981). The Spaniards being far away from home like the Italians would stay in the area. This probably resulted in a higher “occupational mobility,” and the Italians had “…come to Tampa to stay, and were determined to weather any crisis” (Mormino, 1981).
Next week in Part 5 of 5, we will conclude our walk through some of South Tampa’s cemeteries and witness some disparity between cultures.
Mormino, G. (1981). The Pursuit of Tampa’s Latin Heritage: Oral and Family Histories. Tampa: University of South Florida.