"El Lector" ( The Reader)











___In 1864 the concept of a Lector was introduce, when Antonio Leal was hired to read at the Vina Cigar Factory in Bejucal, Cuba. The institution of the "Lector" traveled with cigarmakers to Key West, Tampa and some points in the north.. His job was to read the daily news, stories and keep inform the cigar makers of the daily events. From his position high above the floor, he surveyed the workman sitting at their benches. Slowly he reached out before him, and, taking a large leather bound book, he turned to the pages marked by the red ribbon. Carefully he adjusted his glasses, and with one final look around, he began to read in a well modulated voice in sure, crisp Castillian Spanish. Have to consider, that for many this was the only education available, and none would disrupt their teacher, "EL Lector" , "the Reader".

___Although generaly not highly educated and usually limited to broken English, the avearage Latin cigar worker was extremely well versed in local news, world politics, and, strangely, with the classic work of noted authors. Most cigar workers could boast a better exposure to literatureand philosophy than their Anglo counterparts. Don Quixote, Les Miserables, Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Count of Monte Cristo and Das Kapital were standards of El Lector. Cuban, French, Russian, Italian, and, American authors shared time with, local, national and foreign newspapers as "The Lector" presented a wide variety of reading materials.

___The great Cuban patriot , Josè Martì, praised the lector system which made "factories that a like colleges, and ... schools where the hand that folds the tobacco leafs by day, lift the text at night". Dikens, Cervantes, Zola, Gautier, Kropotkin, Marx, and Twain became familiar to the workers in the factories as soap operas and movies are to us today. After the reading, books and papers were sold to the workers for half price so that they could take the material home to their families.

___Never part of the cigar making process, the "Lector" was an integral part of the factory organization. Selected by workers and paid by a weekly stipend, the Lector was the nearest thing there was to a modern movie star. Skilled in dramatic presentation of written materials, the "Lector" provided a form of on-the-job education that predated anything similar in tha average American factory. The responsability of auditioning, choosing, and paying Lectors rested squarely with the laborers in the factory. Generally, the workers elected a Presidente de la Lectura, a secretary, and a treasurer. The large salary, sometimes as high as $75 dollars a week, made lectors men of subtance in the community, and their education generated and attitude of deterence and respect from the laborers and the community.

___The first "Lector" was seated in Ybor in 1886, and became as part of the factories of West Tampa in 1893, when The Ellinger Cigar, Co. established the first lector in their galley. Factory owners in Ybor City & West Tampa initially supported the use of Lectors in their factories. Most were convinced that workers were more productive and more attentive when Lectors were part of the work place. As time when by, ideas like socialism, comumunism, and nihilism swept through the European work force, these men were frecuently asked to put these ideas into a local perspective, and such was their perceived influence that owners blamed them for virtually every outbreak of labor unrest.

___In 1931, the "Lector" went the way of the dinousaurs. Factory owners, increasingly concern with the rise of strong labor unions and afraid that the cigarworkers were becoming too radial, in the summer of 1932 decreed an end to the "Lector" system. Factory after factory, the reading plataforms that for over 40 years were part of the galley, were torn down, popular "Lectors" at the time were intimidated, and radios replaced the cultured tones of learned men.

___Owners replaced the human element with machinery and the cigar industry declined. With no "Lector" and few workers, the factory was safe from radicalism, but the industry soon died; the irony was inescapable...


Reference: Synopsis of Chapter 7 - El Lector -"Ciudad de Cigars West Tampa" by Armando Mendez 1994. - "Once Upon a Time in Tampa" - 2014 - by W. Reyes Ph.D. -

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