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Spelling, culture clash on Ybor's Seventh Avenue

Tomorrow comes a small but interesting clash between culture and correctness, history and spelling, and what is real versus what is right.

The fracas over some street signs in Ybor City sounds a little like the place itself — a rich mix of cultures evolving, not to mention a robust exchange of ideas. (Preferably over cafe con leche in a noisy restaurant. But I guess Thursday's Tampa City Council meeting will have to do.)

If you have been to Ybor, you probably know the main drag that is Seventh Avenue, lined with shops, restaurants and clubs in brick buildings that whisper a century's worth of history. Seventh Avenue is charming, lively and culturally significant enough to have been named one of the country's 10 greatest streets by the American Planning Association.

Because of its history, folks had the idea of putting up extra street signs to commemorate what some locals of generations past called Seventh.

"During the day, after dinner, people would come out of their un-air-conditioned homes and stroll down Seventh Avenue," says Vince Pardo, director of the city's Ybor City Development Corp. ' "I'll meet you at La Setima,' that was the reference."

Notice he said "setima." Not "septima," which is "seventh" in Spanish, but "setima," which is how some of the early residents of Ybor pronounced it.

Those "La Setima" signs rankled longtime Ybor activist Fran Costantino. Visitors think we don't know how to spell. Ybor looks ignorant. Spell it right or take them down. She has dozens of e-mails in a similar vein. "It just sounds like such a no-brainer, spelling something correctly," she says.

She has a point. But maybe history does, too.

One particularly notable dissenter is Rafael Martinez-Ybor, heir to the father of Ybor City, who wrote in an e-mail to Costantino that "SETIMA was one of the many colorful things that made Ybor City such a unique place to live." He is equally passionate. "Right now my blood pressure is beginning to boil," his e-mail concludes, "so buenas nochas."

"Of course the two sides will probably never agree, because history and grammar will never agree," Costantino says.

I call Jack Espinosa, author of Cuban Bread Crumbs, his book on growing up in Ybor. (Espinosa, who has been a comedian, janitor, history teacher, assistant county administrator and sheriff's spokesman, is an Ybor story all by himself.) La Septima is correct and La Setima is how lots of locals said it, he says.

"People speak English the same way, too. They eat letters," he says. He doesn't plan to appear before the City Council about it, however. "I might protest for a chicken," he muses, referring to the wild fowl that wander Ybor, charming some and vexing others, but that is an Ybor issue for another day.

So will it be colloquial, or correct?

Removing the signs could cost between $1,328 and $3,110, depending on how it's done. Putting up new "La Septima" signs is not currently up for consideration.

Even in parsimonious times, one idea being tossed around deserves consideration. How about a marker on Seventh to explain the history behind what otherwise looks like a careless misspelling?

We could educate visitors interested enough to be educated, or at least show them we're not as dumb as all that. And maybe even a little more interesting than they thought.

Spelling, culture clash on Ybor's Seventh Avenue 01/13/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 8:29pm]
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