Arte Público Press’s landmark series “Recovering the U. S. Hispanic Literary Heritage” has traditionally been devoted to long-lost literary and historic works by Hispanics of decades and even centuries past. The publication of Black Cuban, Black American marks the first original work by a living author to become part of this notable series. The reason for this unprecedented honor can be seen in Evelio Grillo’s path-breaking life.
Ybor City, Florida, was once a thriving factory town populated by cigar-makers, mostly emigrants from Cuba. Growing up in Ybor City (now Tampa) in the early twentieth century, the young Evelio experienced the complexities—and sometimes difficulties—of life in a horse-and-buggy society demarcated by both racial and linguistic lines: Life was different depending on whether you were Spanish- or English-speaking, a white or black Cuban, a Cuban American or a native-born U.S. citizen, well-off or poor. (Even U. S.-born blacks did not always get along with their Hispanic counterparts.) Grillo captures the joys and sorrows of this unique world that slowly faded away as he grew to adulthood during the Depression. He then tells of his eye-opening experiences as a soldier in an all-black unit serving in the China-Burma-India theater of operations during World War II. Booklovers may have read of Ybor City in the novels of writer Jose Yglesias, but never before has the colorful locale been portrayed from this perspective.