Sicilian influence still felt in Tampa generations after first immigrants arrived to work in cigar factories

Many Tampa doctors, lawyers, politicians, and community members can trace their roots back to a city in Sicily and ancestors who immigrated to the United States more than a century ago, whose lives were vastly different as they struggled in a new country. 

Tampa native Jeannette Tamborello has done a lot of research on her grandparents from Sicily. 

"They were poor," she explained. "They had a hard time feeding their families." 

So, her grandparents and others from their town crowded onto steamships and ended up in Tampa.  

"One heard there were jobs here and they all came," Tamborello explained. 

READ: Tampa man makes it his mission to restore old cigar factories in Cigar City

Family members and their friends from Sicily worked in Tampa’s cigar factories. They had names like Guggino, Giovinco, Guagliardo, Guyardo, Capitano, Chillura, and other last names that are still prominent in Tampa. 

Many Sicilian immigrants worked in the Ybor City cigar factories.

Many Sicilian immigrants worked in the Ybor City cigar factories. 

"All those people are here," said Tampa historian and restaurant owner Richard Gonzmart. 

Now, generations later, thousands in Tampa trace their Sicilian roots to one town in Central Sicily called Santo Stefano, where the names are still the same. 

READ: Ybor City's newly restored Centro Asturiano pays tribute to cigar workers who helped build Tampa

"The mayor is a Cacciatore and he’s related to the Cacciatores that own the market here," Gonzmart shared.

Pictured: Ybor City in 1908.

Pictured: Ybor City in 1908. 

Gonzmart visited the town with his wife Melanie. Her ancestors are from Santo Stefano. 

The Gonzmarts opened a restaurant in Ybor City called Casa Santo Stefano. It features authentic Sicilian cuisine and it’s full of photos from the town in Sicily along with family photos of the immigrants who helped build Tampa and the generations that followed here. 

READ: 100 years of Florida's tobacco growing history rolled into each J.C. Newman premium cigar

"Their children did better, and their grandchildren became doctors, judges, and the mayor. It’s what makes America great," Gonzmart stated.

Old photos line the walls of Casa Santo Stefano.

Old photos line the walls of Casa Santo Stefano. 

Tamborello wrote a book on her family’s journey. The dozens who first immigrated had families in Tampa and now number in the thousands. How many distant cousins does Tamborello have?

READ: Tampa honors man who built city's first cigar factory, Ignacio Haya

"I couldn’t tell you, but you know what?  I’ve done my DNA and there’s a lot," she shared. 

Richard Gonzmart raises a glass to the Sicilian families in Tampa.

Richard Gonzmart raises a glass to the Sicilian families in Tampa. 

There are a lot of connections between one town in Sicily and Tampa. It’s history worth celebrating. Gonzmart raises a glass.

"Here’s to all the Sicilians who came and made Tampa home," he toasted. "God bless you."