Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105i/Section 52/Dr. M. Santos
Dr. M. Santos[edit | edit source]
Dr. M. Santos was a Cuban optometrist and cigar maker living mainly in the American South and Cuba in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Over the course of his life, he resided in a number of places, including Tampa, New York City, Chicago, and Havana, and occupied a number of professions. He was interviewed by a person who went by F. Valdez for the Federal Writer's Project in 1935. The interview covers his experience through the beginning of the Great Depression in Ybor City as part of a sociological survey.
Biography[edit | edit source]
Life Summary[edit | edit source]
Santos was born in 1888 in Sagua la Grande, Cuba. His family life is unclear, but his father was a prevalent figure in his life and owned a bakery. Santos deeply respected his father's work ethic to support their family. He moved to Key West, Florida 8 months after his birth and attended a private school, living there until 1894. In 1898, he went back to Cuba for 3 to 4 years to learn the trade of cigar making.
After learning the trade of cigar making, Santos moved to New York City for a few years with his friends. He developed an appreciation for the arts, academia, and the grandeur of human achievement through his experiences observing the many museums and the architecture of New York City.
Santos assisted his father with his small business when needed, and took care of him. He was not married; he felt that no girl would be good enough for him, and that his parents would not approve.
Santos studied optometry at the American Optical College of Philadelphia and became an optometrist.
Later in his life, Santos moved back to Cuba and worked in entertainment and tourism, where he frequently interacted with American tourists.
The time of his death is unknown.
Career[edit | edit source]
Around 1902, he came back to the Key West to learn the trade of cigar making in the factory of Teodoro Perez. He continued to learn the trade in Tampa and San Martin.
After living in New York with his friends, he moved around between Tampa, New York City, Chicago, and Havana and worked in a number of professions, including cigar maker, policeman, and interpreter. He entered Tampa Business College, but never graduated, as his father asked him to come home to help with a business of machineries to fix shoes. Instead of helping with the business, Santos took care of his father, who was of old age.
Dr. Ubaldo Ubeda, a childhood friend of his who became an optometrist, persuaded him to study optometry at the American Optical College of Philadelphia. He graduated from the college with good marks and became an optometrist. He was deeply critical of eye care chain stores that sold cheap and mass-produced 'glasses' and other eye care, as they were often harmful and injurious to eyesight.
When Santos moved back to Cuba to work in entertainment and tourism, he encountered American tourists many a time, and described experiencing racial hatred from them. "Se formaba bulla" (translation: "noise was made") is how he described their behavior, especially when drunk. At one point, he got into a fight with 3 Americans because one of them had seized the breasts of a local Cuban woman.
Religion[edit | edit source]
Santos was not religious, though he had been baptized in the Catholic Church of Sagua la Grande, Province of Santa Clara. His family never forced him to adhere to religion, but one of his teachers, while in Tampa, was an ardent Catholic. Santos, on the other hand, agreed with Karl Marx's description of religion as, "the opium of the people."
Political Views[edit | edit source]
Santos was deeply critical of government politicians, especially Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He voted when he was younger, but stopped voting for any candidate because he believed, "anyone of these presidents has not an ideology really democratic and just, for those of us who work, and produce, and are respectful of the law."
Santos disliked the domination of trusts and large corporations in America during industrialization, as they forced many small businesses out of the market. He also disapproved of mass production and industrialization of inefficient eye care products and cigars marketed as 'handmade.'
Santos believed a revolution was necessary for the American people to truly receive justice as he watched his quality of life deteriorate. He stated, "History shows us that every step towards justice and liberty has been bathed in blood. The American people are a people well disciplined and docile, but the American people if some day they should determine to shed their blood against this imperialistic and ante-democratic system, all that passed in France, and in Russia, will be a drop of water compared with what will happen here."
Social Issues[edit | edit source]
Health Care in the United States During the Early 1900s[edit | edit source]
During the 1900s, doctors faced the challenge of balancing their image as disinterested professionals with medicine's growing economic presence. By the 1930s, health care provision was becoming one of the largest industries of the country (6th among American industries), with Americans spending 4-5% of the GDP on medical services and commodities.
Medical equipment made great advances during the 19th century, including the development of new tools such as the stethoscope, laryngoscope, improved microscopes, the medical thermometer, and the X-ray. There was also an increase in laboratory research to study cellular, bacterial, and viral causes for disease.
But as American medicine became more effective, it became more expensive - treating ailments was a necessity that many were willing to pay for. Between 1880-1920, a distinctive consumer culture formed around patterns of health-related consumption and popular definitions of good health, which flooded the industry with national advertising and marketing schemes to entice consumers with an array of goods and services. Americans sought "health in a bottle," through over-the-counter drugs to avoid the increasingly expensive trip of going to the doctor.
Many goods had widely known negative connections, but were advertised anyways to counter prevalent perceptions that they were unhelpful. The flood of tonics, home remedies, and patent medicines produced to gullible Americans promised miracle cures, but were frequently little more than alcohol and "snake-oil" and completely ineffective and occasionally even dangerous.
Industrialization of Cigar Making[edit | edit source]
Cigar manufacturing was an important industry in the US during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and was going through a period of immense growth. Before industrialization, products were made by hand, but with factories, imperialists could profit immensely by producing things as cheaply and efficiently as possible - workers were only needed to operate the machines. As more factories turned to machines over skilled cigar makers, the number of skilled cigar makers continued to decline, and more people were forced to turn to occupations that required much less skill.
Factory conditions, however, were extremely long while pay was very low, as there were no regulations on work hours. It was not uncommon for workers to have shifts that lasted 10-15 hours for 6 days of the week.
The idea of organizing labor stemmed from these deteriorating conditions, and consequently, several cigar unions were born to counter the overruling and exploitative nature of factories and industrialists, one of which was the Cigar Makers' International Union. 40% to 48% of cigar makers were members of one of these powerful unions. One union member described, "The union provided a sort of fraternity ... Most of the leaders of the Union had political ideas that were socialist ... The socialist members felt that people should have a decent living."
Nevertheless, the cigar industry continued to decline as machines were too tempting to factory owners and skilled laborers were increasingly put off.
Cuban Tourism and Entertainment Industry in the 20th Century[edit | edit source]
In the 20th century, Cuba became a geographical and business extension of Florida in many respects, a key tourist destination. The Cuban government had the vision of creating a multimillion dollar industry surrounding tourism and entertainment, and worked towards upgrading its infrastructure and public works. By 1925, middle class and wealthy Americans spent millions of dollars on Cuba's hotels, casinos, shops, restaurants, and more.
Cubans began to consciously exploit the imagery of the savage and erotic to attract American tourists: "dark-skinned dancers, wild songs, and images of the primitive." There were even references to illicit opium dens in some Havana guidebooks.
Tourism intertwined with the politics of the time. It acted as a catalyst in the political conflict surrounding the 1950s era dictator Fulgenico Batista, accelerating his demise and reinforcing the transition of power to Fidel Castro.
The growing importance of foreign capital and investment in countries so tourism-heavy provoked nationalist backlash, reinforcing cultural nationalism against U.S. intervention in Latin and Central America, economically and politically. Cultural nationalism cherished heritage as a shield against "corrupting Anglo-Saxon influences", and was also associated with anti-imperialism.
References[edit | edit source]
- Folder 136: Valdes, F. (interviewer): Dr. M. Santos, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- Tomes, Nancy. “Merchants of Health: Medicine and Consumer Culture in the United States, 1900-1940.” The Journal of American History 88, no. 2 (September 2001): 519. https://doi.org/10.2307/2675104.
- “The 1900s Medicine and Health: Overview,” October 2, 2020. https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/culture-magazines/1900s-medicine-and-health-overview.
- Jordan, Joshua. Traveling, Rolling, and Smoking: The History of the Union Cigar Makers in the United States. Senior Thesis. University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, 2009.
- Schwartz, Rosalie and David Sheinin. "Pleasure Island: Tourism & Temptation in Cuba." Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies 23, no. 45 (1998): 96-97. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/220260411?accountid=14244.
- Bushnell, David, and James Lockhart. “New Order Emerging, 1910–45,” January 23, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/place/Latin-America/New-order-emerging-1910-45.
Bibliography[edit | edit source]
Bushnell, David, and James Lockhart. “New Order Emerging, 1910–45,” January 23, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/place/Latin-America/New-order-emerging-1910-45.
Folder 136: Valdes, F. (interviewer): Dr. M. Santos, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Jordan, Joshua. Traveling, Rolling, and Smoking: The History of the Union Cigar Makers in the United States. Senior Thesis. University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, 2009.
Schwartz, Rosalie and David Sheinin. "Pleasure Island: Tourism & Temptation in Cuba." Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies 23, no. 45 (1998): 96-97. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/220260411?accountid=14244.
“The 1900s Medicine and Health: Overview,” October 2, 2020. https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/culture-magazines/1900s-medicine-and-health-overview.
Tomes, Nancy. “Merchants of Health: Medicine and Consumer Culture in the United States, 1900-1940.” The Journal of American History 88, no. 2 (September 2001): 519. https://doi.org/10.2307/2675104.