VICTORIANO MANTEIGA (1894 – 1982)

Prepared by the Historical Monument Trail Selection Committee.

Victoriano Manteiga was the preeminent leader of Tampa’s Latin community for much of the twentieth century.  He founded La Gaceta in 1922, and it remains the nation’s only trilingual newspaper:  published weekly, it has pages in Spanish, Italian, and English.  Born in Cuba, he became a lector, or reader, in cigar factories soon after his 1914 arrival in Tampa.  Cigarmakers hired lectors to read to them while they worked, and many Tampa immigrants thus were more familiar with classical literature and international news than most Americans.  Manteiga was one of many lectors, but he became the outstanding advocate for immigrants by founding LaGaceta – less than a decade after arrival and at age 29.  Although some termed him a “communist” at the time of the Cuban revolution in the early 1960s, respect for him nonetheless was so great that candidates for national office sought his endorsement.  He passed the newspaper on to his son Roland; in its third generation, it is owned by grandson Patrick Manteiga.

Victoriano Manteiga was born in Havana, Cuba, on November 2, 1894 to Ramona De Los Rios and Patricio Manteiga.  Both of his parents were natives of Spain and had immigrated to Cuba.  Victoriano first came to the United States on June 17, 1914 on the historic ship that traveled between Tampa and Havana, the Olivette.  According to Gaceta’s website, the nineteen year old had a ten-dollar bill and two linen suits.  He rented a room on the second floor of El Encanto Cleaners, and on his second day in town, went to work as a lector for the Morgan Cigar Factory in West Tampa.  Tall and slim, he soon established a reputation as a dramatic reader capable of making books come alive. Sometimes he translated from English to Spanish as he read.

Manteiga briefly returned to Cuba, but was back in Tampa by October 9, 1918, when he married Ofelia Pedrayas, also a Cuban native, who was born December 26, 1900.  (Their wedding license uses the formal Spanish name structure that includes parentage, calling her “Ofelia Pedrayes y Madera” and him “Victoriano Manteiga de los Rios.”)  Ofelia’s father had died when she was twelve, so she was accustomed to working and continued to be employed at Katz Fabrics after marrying Victoriano.  One of their children, Ramona, recalled in a 2017 interview that her mother frequently gave sewing materials to poor women and asked the shop’s owners to deduct it from her pay.  Victoriano and Ofelia would go on to have four children between 1920 and 1929 — Rolando (later called Roland), Victoriano, Claudette, and Ramona.

Cigar makers were proud of their craft, and strikes against corporate owners were not uncommon.  The 1920 strike, unfortunately, would end the tradition of lectors.  Owners never had approved of their often-liberal readings, and getting rid of them became easier when handmade cigars increasingly were replaced by machines that made factories too noisy for lectors.  Out of a job, Manteiga made the huge leap of establishing LaGaceta in 1922.

He got financial support for his newspaper from Dr. Jose Avellanal, a physician and benefactor to the Latin community, but Ofelia’s experience as a businesswoman doubtless added to their success.  While Victoriano did most of the writing, she handled the bookkeeping, advertising, and delivery.  According to their daughter Ramona, Ofelia had amazing mathematical ability:  “She could add up five figures across and five figures down in two minutes.”  The children helped at the newspaper, and Ramona continued to work there even after her brother Roland became its publisher.

La Gaceta (The Gazette) was a success immediately after its 1922 genesis, and Manteiga’s reputation as a leader of community opinion soon was cemented.  He became an American citizen in 1928, and when democratic forces resisted fascists in Spain during the 1930s, he led Tampa’s Spanish-speaking community in support of the rebels.  That revolution failed, but he went on to editorialize against the rising fascism in Germany, Italy, and Japan that resulted in World War II.  Governor Spessard Holland, co-founder of the international law firm Holland & Knight, recognized Manteiga with a commendation in 1941, the first year of American involvement in that war.  Encouraged by his editorials, many Tampa Latinos joined the military — including Roland Manteiga, who was decorated for heroism in the Pacific.

During the decade after World War II, rebellions erupted all around the world as people newly aware of democracy resisted colonial and/or repressive governments.  Cuba, with help from the United States, had thrown off Spain’s colonialism in 1898, but internal dictators soon arose.  Fidel Castro was one of the young soldiers who formed an army in the mountains to resist Fulgencio Batista’s Havana government.  In the words of eminent historian Gary Mormino, Batista was “Cuba’s corrupt and brutal president.”

The initial rebellion failed, and Castro was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.  He got early release in 1955 and came to Ybor City to raise funds for the continued rebellion.  Residents responded generously, just as they had with earlier revolutions, and Victoriano Manteiga led Tampa’s 26th of July Club, which honored the date of the failed 1953 rebellion.

But a photograph of silver-haired Manteiga seated next to young Castro soon would come back to haunt Manteiga, as Castro also sought help from the Soviet Union.  The FBI put Manteiga under surveillance, and American intelligence agents made Batista aware of Manteiga’s activities.  He not only was a target for Cuban right-wingers, but also for the Ku Klux Klan, as he editorialized for justice for all.  Florida was a prohibitionist state back then, too, and he campaigned against this hypocrisy by publishing the locations of moonshiners – who once sprayed his house with bullets.  He raised a posse in response, and the violence never recurred.

Castro’s forces won their revolution in 1959, and Manteiga visited there in 1960, but was troubled by the increased influence of the Soviet Union – and told the FBI that.  Nonetheless, many conservatives branded him a communist and a traitor.  He supported John Kennedy in the 1960 election and remained a liberal Democrat.  He also led plans for revitalization of Ybor City in this era.

Ofelia died prior to Victoriano, and he lived on to age 87.  His death certificate listed his address as 2911 Harborview and said that he died at 4:20 PM on July 30, 1982.  His funeral director was the historic West Tampa firm of A.P. Boza, and he was buried in Myrtle Hill Cemetery in East Tampa.

 

Sources include, but are not limited to:   La Gaceta’s website; Tiffany Razzano, “Silhouettes,” LaGaceta, June 30, 2017; Gary Mormino, “Castro, Cuba, Tampa Recast,” Tampa Bay Times, December 31, 2014; Paul Guzzo, “Gaceta Founder Swayed Cuba History,” Tampa Bay Times, January 12, 2014; Jack Espinosa, Cuban Bread Crumbs (Xlibris, 2008) Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, Latina/os and World War II:  Mobility, Agency, and Ideology (Austin: University of Texas, 2014); Araceli Tinajero, El Lector:  A History of the Cigar Factory Reader (Austin:  University of Texas, 2007); wedding license, naturalization and death certificates.