Evelio Grillo, Activist and Author

The Latino community has lost a pioneer. Evelio Grillo, 90, was a social worker and community organizer. He was also an author.

Black Cuban, Black American book cover

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.

The St. Petersburg Times covered his return to Ybor City in 2001.

Black Cuban, Black American is highly recommended. It is a personal story that provides insights into the interplay between culture, language, ethnicity, and race.

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5 Responses to Evelio Grillo, Activist and Author

  1. Jerry Cox says:

    I met Evelio Grillo in West Oakland in 1950 when as a young Catholic priest I was assigned to St Mary’s Church, 7th & Jefferson Streets in June 1950.

    Grillo had become fast friends of Father John Duggan in their mutual concen for at risk Latino boys. Duggan organized the St Mary’s Boys Club while Grillo had “The Rogues” at the Oakland City Recreation Department’s Alexaner Community Center where he was
    the Director.I replaced Duggan at St Mary’s and inherited a deep and loving friendship with Grillo right up to his death.

    Intense, compassionate, wise he could electrify you with his convictions of social justice and the need for communities to work together.

    A graduate of Loyola University, New Orleans, Columbia University, NYC, and University of California, Berkley, he was an intellectual with a commanding and persuasive vocabulary matching his compassion.

    When we got together we would attack the social evils of the day, solve them, and also trade stories and jokes together. I frequently visited him at his apartment on 10th Street, later at his assisted living facility, and finally the rest home where he died.

    We were kindred spirits, this Black Cuban and Irish American, a relationship which grew over the years into a Brotherhood. He was a powerful force in my life which helped shape my sense of social justice and my commitment to community building.

    I think of my brother often and miss his presence.

  2. Herman Gallegos says:

    Thank you for posting Jerry Cox’s moving recollections about Evelio Grillo, someone younger activists need to learn about and emulate.

    His magnificant landmarks live on in the many he mentored, in the communities he catalyized, and the effective organizations he nurtured. He was one of a kind and is sorely missed.

    Ken, congratulations on your new launch and hope you will continue to tell the stories about community builders like Grillo, Cox, Duggan, Ross, and Alinsky.

  3. Marcelina Delgadillo says:

    As a daughter of one Evelio’s best friends and had the blessing to be a recipient of his knowledge and mentoring. I am so sad to see the giants of community organizing and activism in civil rights leaving us. It was wonderful to see these postings. His story, his work with my father will live on in the stories I am developing to tell in the Oakland public schools. I will refer them to his book and this blog in my telling.
    Thank you Ken.

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