A Family Willing to Risk it All

Maria Castillo
Maria Castillo

West Tampa

Maria Castillo is a lifelong Tampa resident and proud Cuban-American. As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, the City of Tampa is featuring families who make up the foundation of our great city. Here is her story:

This is my grandfather, Manuel Martinez Sr., my grandmother Amada Martinez,  my uncle, Jorge Martinez, my great-grandmother, Nicasia Crespo and my dad, Manuel Martinez Jr. This photo was taken in Robles Park Village, just a few months after they fled Cuba.

My grandfather, Manuel Martinez Sr., grandmother Amada Martinez,  uncle, Jorge Martinez, great-grandmother, Nicasia Crespo, and dad, Manuel Martinez Jr. at Robles Park Village, just a few months after they fled Cuba.

Maria's mother, Zoila Martinez, at the age of. five atop the hill in MacFarlane Park in 1966.

Maria's mother, Zoila Martinez, at the age of. five atop the hill in MacFarlane Park in 1966.

My dad along with my uncle, grandparents, and great-grandmother came to Tampa in 1966 from Cuba to escape the Communist regime that had taken over the country. The flights that many Cubans took during that time, including my dad and other family members, were called "Freedom Flights.  

My mother was born in Tampa. Her mother came from Cuba in 1954 to work in the cigar factories. The first cigar factory she worked at was the Gradiaz, Annis & Co.

Tampa Means Family

Maria, her husband, Jorge, and her two daughters.I choose to stay in Tampa and raise my kids here to be close to my parents and extended family members. 

For us Cubans and my other Latinos, family is everything. It is not usual, especially in West Tampa, to live within blocks of your cousin or grandparent. We are a close-knit community. I believe that comes from the trauma that so many families suffered when they were separated after the takeover of Castro. 

For many Cubans, years passed before family members were reunited again. I think growing up knowing that, I knew I would stay close to home. 

Pride in our Hispanic Heritage

All over Tampa, there are little reminders and influences of the city's Hispanic Heritage. The old cigar factories that were once filled with cigars rollers built Ybor City. Some of those beautiful buildings are still standing. 

Maria playing in her front yard in West Tampa as a child.There are also second and third generations that have continued to speak Spanish in the home. And please, we cannot forget the food! Tampa invented the Cuban sandwich and the deviled crab. 

Tampa is also home to not only amazing Cuban restaurants but great Mexican, Colombian, and Puerto Rican restaurants. Lastly, the tradition of celebrating Noche Buena and Quinceañera has continued here in the United States.

Advocate and Neighbor

I have been involved with my neighborhood association for the last four years. First as a board member and now as the president for the past two years.  

After I graduated from the Mayor's Neighborhood University, my passion grew to get more involved with the community. As president of the neighborhood association, I have had the opportunity to advocate for my neighbors.

My Home

I think Tampa is the perfect city.  It is large enough that you can enjoy great restaurants, sporting events, the beaches, and the diversity of a big city, but small enough that I can run into someone I went to elementary school with at the grocery store. It's home.