Thursday, August 31, 2017

A game of el riquito, anyone?

Youth stand in the street and on sidewalks in Ybor City at the turn of the 20th century
Immigrant youth in Ybor City added an ethnic flavor to their
 games and pastimes in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Photo credit: State Archives of Florida
Back in 2002-2003, the Ybor City Museum Society hosted an exhibit about childhood pastimes during Ybor City's early years. I didn't see "Growing Up Ybor," but do have a copy of the 10-page booklet that accompanied the four-month exhibit.

So, what exactly did youngsters do in their spare time in the Tampa neighborhood at the turn of the last century? Some of them had no spare time. The exhibit booklet's section on "Childhood's End" quickly drew me, in part because it references Italians. I'm always on the lookout for domestic history about people who share my heritage. I learned the U.S. Census in 1900 reported that almost a third - more than 30% - of Italian cigar workers in Ybor City were ages 5 to 19. So much for playtime. They and other immigrant youth also had to help out at home and in family businesses, and attend school.

All wasn't dour, though. Although I think of Ybor City in that era as populated primarily by Cubans and Italians, it also housed immigrants from Spain, Germany, Romania and elsewhere. Children of each ethnicity introduced traditional games and pastimes, such as a Mediterranean singing game or re-enactments of Spanish or Italian folk tales.

The children also adopted American games and pastimes - even though they often used their native languages to describe them. The booklet states that "... stick-ball was el riquiti, jump rope was bailando la Suiza and jacks became las Yaquis."

Often, toys were handmade. They included dolls, dollhouses, button yo-yos, and scooters made of a skate and scrap wood. Store-bought items might include pick-up sticks, paper dolls, toy trucks and soldiers, and marbles. Pretty much what you'd expect in an early American childhood anywhere in the United States at that time. When movies arrived, neighborhood youth flocked to local theaters on Saturdays in Ybor City just as they did elsewhere. Truly, we're all much more alike than different, in so many ways.

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