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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.

The Week That Was

During his first few days in office, Donald Trump wreaked more international havoc and violated the US Constitution more than any other president even imagined. I’m delighted, though, that a younger generation is responding in kind, with the hair-on-fire visibility that is necessary to refute Hitler-like behavior. My generation has lost the sense of urgency that we had back in the Vietnam days, and I’m very pleased that today’s young people are returning to the kind of activism that is essential to democracy.

It’s even better that most are doing this for others and not because of any personal effect on them. Frankly, many of us back in the 1970s protested because we didn’t want to die in a Laotian swamp, but today’s activists aren’t that self-interested. Hundreds of lawyers and other volunteers for the American Civil Liberties Union, for example, descended on airports to assist immigrants who suddenly found themselves banned. One story I read (online, of course, as our local print newspaper gets lazier and lazier) was about a woman and her two children who had been detained for more than twenty hours without anything to eat. Another was on a scientist who was returning to her home in the US when she was pulled from the plane.

The only thing that will stop this sort of fascism is for the employer of this woman and others to speak out on the economic value that immigrants add to our nation. If I were a labor leader in Arkansas or North Carolina, for example, I’d implement a one-day walkout of all the Mexicans recruited by Tyson or Purdue to pluck chickens. That might get attention from Chick-Fil-A and other fast food companies who fund Republican politicians to enable this worker exploitation. And I’ve asked before, what happens to the payroll taxes that these people pay and never dare to claim?

I could go on and doubtless will soon, but I’m continuing with my personal strategy of extending rope. And hoping that Hillary is enjoying her grandchildren instead of having to deal with the insane who are running the asylum.

The Deadly Silence

I remember when there was no term for “domestic violence.” People might speak in whispers about someone who was known to terrorize his family or his girlfriend, but it was not a topic for polite conversation. A national low point came in 1965, when Kitty Genovese was brutally murdered on a New York City street during daylight. At least 37 people later acknowledged that they heard her screams, but no one helped her. Many excused themselves by saying that they thought she was being beaten by her husband – and in the view of too many, he had every right to do that.

It was one of many things motivating the formation of the National Organization for Women (NOW) the next year, but it still took a generation for Congress to pass the Violence Against Women Act. That was in 1994, during the administration of Bill Clinton, and with the rise of conservatives in the recent election, some congressmen are musing about repeal. They think that this problem (and many others) should be addressed by states, not the federal government. Such ideologues think it’s perfectly okay if a woman gains or loses rights when she crosses a state line.

All reform begins with public education on the issue, and again I was gratified that a new generation is carrying on. I got an e-mail from Ken Gibson of the Tampa Bay Crisis Center about an innovative approach to this old problem. He announced that in conjunction with the Spring, our local haven for victims of violence, the Crisis Center would join with Robinson High School to raise awareness of the fact that in the United States, a woman is assaulted every nine seconds.

In a project called “Breaking the Silence,” they organized the student body at a recent basketball game so that the crowd remained silent until Robinson scored its ninth point. Then the gym erupted in sound, sending the message that violence against women occurs every nine seconds. Even better, this was at a boys’ basketball game and achieved by male leadership. I hope the other 25 high schools in our county emulate the idea and lead teenagers into examining their behavior, including behavior that is merely silence about abuse. Remember Kitty Genovese. It could be your daughter, your mother, your sister. Every nine seconds. No excuses.

And Some Fun

Before Gasparilla, I wrote about the cookbook of that name published by Tampa’s Junior League and promised to offer you some quotes. I still don’t know who did this wonderful writing in 1961, but her words about our town as it was six decades ago merit repetition. The cookbook is not only nostalgia, but also a reminder of how uncommonly diverse Tampa is – and a reminder of what we have lost environmentally. The Introduction begins:

“A friend of ours once went to a famous restaurant in New Orleans and asked the waiter to suggest a meal that was new and different.

‘Ah,’ he smiled, ‘Madame should try the most delicious Pompano En Papillote, a delicate fish baked in a paper bag.’

‘Oh, we have that at home,’ replied the customer.

‘Then, perhaps Madame would like Truite Amandine, an elegant combination of trout with an almond sauce.’

‘We have that at home,’ said Madame…

‘Langouste Thermidor?’


With an incredulous air, the waiter regarded his customer. ‘But Madame,’ he cried, ‘where are you from?’

‘Tampa, Florida,’ replied our friend.”

To be sure, no African American cooks are included in the book, although doubtless hundreds of them actually prepared the recipes eaten by Ye Mystic Krewe members. Tampa never was as segregated as most Southern cities, though, and poor whites were excluded with similar benign neglect. The cookbook’s producers clearly thought of Tampa as an uncommonly cosmopolitan town – and said so in one of the first sentences.

Chapter One, on appetizers, begins: “At no time during the year is the cosmopolitan nature of Tampa more evident than at Gasparilla. All over the city, visitors from far and near join with the native populace in celebrating this joyous midwinter festival. Under skies as blue as a robin’s egg, the participants set out with picnic hampers to watch the pirate invasion… Later in the day, there will be cocktail parties where the company is good, and the hors d’oeuvres bring a touch of Latin flavor which also is typical of the city. As the backgrounds of Tampa’s citizens are varied, so are the foods.”

The second chapter is on beverages and sets the tone with: “Florida is a wonderful place for parties… After all, it’s hard not to relax when practically any day of the year you can have a barbeque, a picnic, a coffee party on a terrace glowing with azaleas… If you’re a julep fan, pick a spring of mint from under the garden faucet. Pluck a few fruits from the citrus trees in the yard for tropical drinks.”

The chapter on bread points out what every Southerner knew in the past: “light bread” referred to the now-common breads made with yeast, while in your grandparents’ day, it meant biscuits or cornbread, made with baking powder. The chapter on salads spells out another difference: what is autumn up North is spring in Florida. October means “an opening up of the earth after the long hot summer, a time to plant… Ruskin [is] a grid work of green fields producing the nation’s salads.”

On soups: “If you visit a Spanish restaurant in Tampa…be forewarned. The soup is so delicious and so filling you may never get past the first course… During Gasparilla Week one of the main attractions is free Spanish bean soup … Visitors line up for blocks to wait their turn at…steaming cups of bright yellow Garbanzo soup rich with beans, potatoes, and Chorizo sausage.” And may I add, wondrous Cuban bread.

On rice and pasta: “Northerners who came to this region thinking rice was something to be eaten with cream and sugar or in puddings, have learned to their delight of gumbo, pilau, Hoppin’ John, and the flavorsome Spanish combinations of yellow rice… In Italian homes, the first course is always a large dish of spaghetti… [It] is no weak and watery concoction; it has authority.”

The author especially uses superlatives in the fish chapter. “Fish from a beach, a boat, a bridge, or a bank. It doesn’t matter. On this lovely West Coast, where you drop a line, you’ll catch snapper, grouper, kingfish, pompano, trout, mullet… The best way to cook and eat fish is right in the boat. Rent a wooden rowboat… Take along a one-burner camp stove, a frying pan, a can of shortening, a box of cracker meal, a loaf of bread, a jar of marmalade, a jar of pickles, and a box of salt… Civilization never was this good.

“When we were children,” she continued, “the Gulf beaches were a lonely outpost…but Indian Rocks Beach was Tampa’s particular island which was colonized annually from June through August… Built out over the mangroves on rickety wooden stilts was Mr. John’s fish house where one waited…for the day’s output of smoked mullet. This is a delicacy which remains as fine and rare in the present as it does in memory.”

Shellfish rates another whole chapter. The most interesting part to me: “There are still a few old-timers who have the will and the way to make coquina soup. This is a tiny shellfish no bigger than a fingernail… Pail after pail of them are boiled in lightly salted water until the shells pop open… But the Gulf is really most famous for its shrimp… Tampa is home port for a great shrimp fleet which fishes the waters from here to Mexico. In recent years, a new shrimp bank was found which yielded individual shrimp six to eight inches long, and the meat was just as delicate and sweet as the smaller variety.”

I don’t know what happened to that shrimp bank, but the probability is that pollution wiped it out. I can remember bacon-wrapped shrimp of that size at the old Spanish Park in Ybor, but lately I’ve only had them abroad, where they are called prawns. Finally, as with most cookbooks, desserts take up the greatest space. Again, there are some we can call our own: flan, grapefruit shortcake, and cassava pudding, plus mango, mint, and coconut desserts made fresh from the real thing. And calamondin pie. Orange Grove pie. Guava turnovers. Kumquat Marmalade.

I gotta go eat something.


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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