Interest in the life and travels of Santiago Gonzalez, my great grandfather, certainly inspired the creation of Soul de Cuba Cafe. Finding out details about the man hasn’t been easy and the dysfunctional relationship of the last 60 years between government’s of the United States and Cuba certainly hasn’t helped this process. I was, however, able to learn that Santiago was aboard, at least on one occasion, the USS Mascot in October of 1898 headed to Key West from Havana. I also found in the archives of La Union la Sociedad de Marti Maceo held at the University of South Florida, that he is listed in the year 1900 as a founding board member of this organization charted by Black and Mestizo Cuban American activists who saved money earned working in cigar factories to fund Cuba’s independence movement from Spain.
My elder cousin Olga Rubio, who passed away last year at the age of 85, shared with me that my great grandparents, her grandparents, had actually met in Tampa in the early to mid 1890s and decided to be married in Havana and begin a family, on Cuban soil. Beatrice was from Bayamo and Santiago from Guanabacoa.
Then by 1900, Beatrice is listed on the US census having 6 children all being born in Havana. How the ??? Yeah, lots of questions…
Why did Santiago and Beatrice marry in Havana when they had met in Tampa and decided to lay roots on Cuban soil instead of the United States as most immigrants to the US tend to do?
Was Santiago a mambi, a revolutionary for Cuba’s independence from Spain? If so, why hadn’t I learned this before?
Santiago’s death certificate has him listed as a cigarmaker then a master bread baker. This history is inline with our family stories. It is well know that he even spent the last thirty plus years of his life baking Cuban bread at the famous La Segunda Central Bakery which operates to this day in Tampa. It seems he started this career switching from cigramaker sometime in his late 30s, in the early 1900s. During his earlier life as a cigarmaker, could he have been involved with revolutionary activities with other members of the community who were?
If he was organizing in Tampa to support the freedom protectors in Cuba, the mambi, what then was his long term intentions post cuban independence for his family and his community?
Was he more committed to the American dream or the Cuban dream of freedom, prosperity and liberty or was he divided?
Pondering these questions and taking in all the information I have available I can see some of the obstacles that Santiago must have faced all those years ago. During these times he and many Cuban immigrants faced choices to commit to the American dream or support the home land in hopes of returning to a liberated country of their own.
As I work to unravel the theses mysteries, some of the clues I have available to help enter Santiago’s conscious and understand his true intentions lie still in Tampa and Havana, and possibly beyond.
I cannot help but wonder, as I take in new findings almost daily through this research, is whether I am following Santiago’s vision through Soul de Cuba Cafe’s mission. Would he want me to be content with life here in America and my business or would he want me to participate in removal the walls between Cuba and America and finish what he started building bridges rekindling ties, connecting the communities of Tampa and Cuba, and possibly unlocking lost knowledge of the ancestors? I sense that together, through your support of Soul de Cuba Cafe and our products, we will help to find these answers and for this I am forever grateful.
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- Jesus Puerto