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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Republicans, Cuban Immigration, and Child Care

Sunshine State News is an electronic site that leans Republican. Or maybe I should say bends over for Republicans, as it doesn’t pretend to be an objective source of information. Its headline sentence last week: “Blaise Ingoglia was elected the new chair of the RPOF [Republican Party of Florida] on Saturday and the story is not that Rick Scott’s choice of Leslie Dougher was turned out but that Republicans selected the right man to lead the GOP in the most important battleground state in the 2016 presidential election…”

This isn’t the end of the long sentence, which lacked any punctuation, but we won’t inquire if writer Jeff Henderson skipped high-school English. Instead, what stands out like a slap in the face is “the right man.” In what century is he stuck?

In case you haven’t been paying attention to insider Republican politics, loser Leslie Dougher is a woman. She led that party through the 2014 elections with great success, winning not only the governorship and all other Cabinet posts, but also strong majorities in both houses of the legislature. How could anyone justify “turning her out?” But that is exactly what her fellow Republicans did, despite Rick Scott’s campaigning for her.

More important, can’t these troglodytes see that having a woman as their spokesperson would be an advantage as they presumably prepare to campaign against Hillary Clinton? Firing a proven female leader was an insult to Governor Scott, but more than that, it’s an insult to all women. Blaise Ingoglia is almost completely inexperienced, but apparently he has the most important asset. I could go on about that, but I won’t.

And did you see the advice that US Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, offered to working mothers? They should, he said, “find someone to support them.” Where’s the outrage from Republican women?

* * *

When Ibis Lezcano Kramer wrote her autobiography, Returning to Me: A Cuban-American Woman’s Journey, she couldn’t have known that it would come out at such a propitious time, when President Obama would end the embargo that was so crucial to her life. She was born in 1936, and her father was an ally of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. It was clear to me between the lines that her father, Raul Lezcano, was corrupt: no honest politician could have accumulated the fortune that it took to build and maintain their family compound, complete with separate houses for his divorced parents.

Except for taking Ibis on shopping trips to Miami, Ibis’s mother was emotionally distant and cold. Her grandmother was the most important person in her life -- yet although Abuela Lezcano had divorced because of her husband’s repeated infidelity, she did not try to talk Ibis out of marrying at age seventeen. Her husband, Alberto Medina, was a law student with a quick temper, and she soon found herself an abused woman with a child, Raul.

They divorced, but both families pressured her to go back to him when he promised to be better, and because she lacked any career opportunity, she remarried him. You can guess how that was going to work out. The tension further tightened when the Medina family supported Fidel Castro, while the Lezcanos stayed with Batista. When Castro’s forces took over on January 1, 1959, Ibis’s family fled to Miami. Her mother was happy with that, but her father remained convinced that Castro would fall and life would return to the old days.

Ibis, of course, stayed with her husband and son in Havana. She had no choice, as Cuban law gave automatic custody of sons – but not daughters – to the father. She was very nearly apolitical, but her life nonetheless came apart on April 17, 1961. She had flown to Miami to visit her parents and was on a plane back to Havana when the pilot announced that he was turning around. It was the day of the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, and she wouldn’t see her son again for two decades. He grew up in a boarding school, believing that his mother had abandoned him.

Ibis became almost a completely different person. Alberto divorced her in absentia, and with her family no longer wealthy, she worked a series of menial Miami jobs. Then she met and married a Marine -- who also was a law student when they wed. She moved to his home of Boston, converted to his Judaism, and supported him: while also bearing two children, she developed a strong career in cosmetic sales. Her male bosses at Estee Lauder and Revlon seemed to be the only men who truly valued her intelligence and abilities, and she rose to high positions. This turned out to be her salvation when her husband died suddenly. Although he was a lawyer, he died without a will and she found herself deep in debt.

There’s much more to the story, of course, including a third marriage and the stories of other family members, especially her Tia Nena and son Raul. The contrasts between her life in Boston and in Havana/Miami are particularly meaningful. Tampans who are excited about the reconnections we soon will build with Cuba will understand why she called it Returning to Me. With good black-and-white photos and even a recipe or two, it’s well worth the $15.95 cost. You can order it from several sources online – or from our own local folks at Inkwood Books.

* * *

You doubtless will read elsewhere in this issue of La Gaceta about the dedication of a section of Ybor City’s Palm Avenue to the late Roland Manteiga. The ceremony was across the street from where La Gaceta’s office was when I first moved to Tampa – and that stately building now houses HCC Ybor’s child care center. I smiled as I looked over the speakers’ shoulders at the building’s colorful banner of kids playing: I had fought for child care when I was a member of HCC’s Board of Trustees.

Governor Lawton Chiles appointed me to that position, and more than any other modern male politician, Lawton truly cared about kids. Having child care available on campuses is an obvious boon to female students and the underpaid women who work there (and some men, too), but the attempt to create it was not easy. It wouldn’t have happened without the brave initiative of then-president of the Ybor campus, Dr. Lois Gaston. She was the only female president among Ybor’s four campuses, and she faced appreciable hostility from the boys who ran HCC from their Davis Island high-rise headquarters. Indeed, some of them would have closed the Ybor campus and sold the land to their buddies.

That didn’t happen partly because of the vigilance of fellow trustee Sam Marotta. Now dead, Sam was then a retired school principal who lived humbly in West Tampa. He spent his time reading to elementary students who needed extra help, and I thought of him, too, during the ceremony. He was the one who pushed for the iron gates over Ybor streets that now define the campus, as well as for additional property – including the building that houses the child care center – and for much better landscaping. That HCC Ybor looks as good as it now does was almost solely because of Sam’s insistence and Lois’s steady courage.

She was the only female president among Ybor’s four campuses at that time. Now there are five campuses, and no female presidents: feminist progress is not inevitable. And only the Dale Mabry campus, with its excellent president, Dr. Robert Chunn, has followed Ybor’s example on child care. I guess it just makes too much sense.

Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.

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