The Latino community has lost a pioneer. Evelio Grillo, 90, was a social worker and community organizer. He was also an author.
His memoir, Black Cuban, Black American, provided a poignant and compelling recollection of growing up in Ybor City, the politically active, Spanish-speaking neighborhood in Tampa, Florida that produced the bulk of the nation’s cigars.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the Cigar Makers’ International Union was integrated, but social life in the community was more segmented. There was a clubhouse for black Cubans: the Sociedad La Union Marti-Maceo. There also a club for white Cubans, and yet others for Spaniards. Young Grillo felt these divisions even as he enjoyed being part of the larger Latin community.
Grillo ended up in California, where he worked with African Americans and Mexican Americans. This included work with three prominent Latino groups: the Community Service Organization (CSO), the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), and the Spanish-Speaking Unity Council in Oakland.
Black Cuban, Black American is highly recommended. It is a personal story that provides insights into the interplay between culture, language, ethnicity, and race.