La Gaceta: A Tampa Relic

I drive from Valrico to Tampa every day, rarely thinking about anything other than the radio or the upcoming day.  However, every day I pass Ybor City on my right and the Port of Tampa on my left.  I pass Lykes Gaslight Park and drive over the Riverwalk before I finally end up at 420 W. Kennedy Boulevard, right across the street from historic Plant Hall.  Not far from my route are Channelside, the Florida Aquarium, Davis Island, Tampa Theatre, Water Works Park — even the bridge I drive across has a story.  If you pay attention, there are signs everywhere of Tampa’s distinctive history and the determination to continue to develop a dynamic and engaging community. In other words, Tampa is a pretty cool place to live.

One link between past and present is La Gaceta, first published in 1922.  Every week, for only 50¢ a copy, you can hold a unique piece of Tampa history in your hands. It is the oldest family-owned newspaper, one of the oldest Spanish-language newspapers, and the only tri-lingual newspaper in the United States.

La Gaceta was founded by Victoriano Manteiga, a former lector in the cigar factories of Ybor City.  The position of lector, although not unique to Tampa, is fascinating.  The lector was hugely important to the life of the factory workers, who all contributed to pay his salary.  His job was to translate and read newspapers and novels and to discuss current events.  Apparently, Manteiga and the other lectors were a bit too thorough in their discussion of events, as factory owners blamed them for labor disputes and eventually banned them from the factories.  Fortunately for Tampa, Manteiga founded La Gaceta shortly after leaving the factories.  In the following decades, La Gaceta was run by his son, Roland, and his grandson, Patrick Mantiega, continues the tradition today.  As in Victoriano’s days as a lector, La Gaceta seeks to involve its readers in history, culture and current events.

Reading La Gaceta is much like reading a small-town newspaper.  It covers national and international stories, but its main focus is local.  The editorial viewpoint is noticeable thoughout, from columns written in the first person to a definite political leaning which will not please everyone.  More importantly, though, La Gaceta is able to focus on stories that are about the community.  The writers can be more detailed, more personal, because they are dedicated to promoting and protecting the city and heritage they so obviously love.

In its three languages, La Gaceta serves a weekly reminder of our strong ties to other nations — most notably Cuba and Italy.  It reminds us of a time when clubs such as the Italian Club and El Centro Asturiano  were integral to the life of Ybor City.   It promotes the preservation of our past and calls for the Tampa of today to live up to its potential.  It remains passionately devoted to Tampa and its culture — past, present and future.

 

Tracy Bailey

 

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