The Republicans are coming, so we are scrubbing down and sweeping up. Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard must be beautiful, the city's palms equally tall, the sidewalks — at least where Republican National Convention attendees might venture — perfectly seamless.
And please, people, please: No misspelled street signs, even if they happen to be significant to our hardscrabble immigrant history.
The City Council's recent vote to correct the spelling of colloquial street signs along Ybor City's festive main drag sounds a like a warning to my Southernmost relatives at a formal dinner: Please, do not ask anyone to "pass the 'taters.' "
Except going from La Setima — how some of Ybor's early citizens pronounced "the seventh" in Seventh Avenue — to La Septima, the more accepted Spanish, says a lot about Tampa growing up.
I understand the argument from The Protectors of Language among us that if the way people actually say something is our guide, we might as well put up traffic signs warning against takin' a left. And really, does Florida need a new reason to be the butt of fun on national TV?
But this is different, given our unique mishmash of Spanish, Italian and Cuban cultures.
Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda, a man who knows his town's Latin roots, had some other old-school Tampa-isms: A Chevrolet, hard to say, became chivo loco, crazy young goat. The bus was the guagua. And a lot of people were called by descriptive Spanish nicknames rather than their given ones: Son of the guy who limps. The lady with one crooked eye. Face of a mule. (Hard to miss him.) Miranda was el hijo Cubano — the son of the Cuban.
He was also the lone vote against changing Setima to Septima. "In my opinion, it's part of the nostalgia, the mystique, the history of who made Ybor City." Setima, he says, was born of immigrants working hard for their children to reach something better. "To change it to something perfect is incorrect," he says, "as perfect as it may be."
So what's next? A city ordinance decreeing, for the length of the RNC, the proper pronunciation of what just officially became Tampa's signature sandwich, the Cuban?
Or maybe that's Tampa's signature "sengwich"
You hear this version around town from old and not-so-old timers. Politicians, too. Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin, fourth-generation, was throwing "sengwich" around council chambers as she led the charge for Tampa's Cuban. "Sengwich" comes out whether she's at Wright's Gourmet House or on Boliche Boulevard, born of learning English from people who spoke "neither Spanish nor English correctly," with a little Sicilian in the mix.
A very Tampa story: Capin's family travels regularly to Spain. At a restaurant here at home, her daughter, who speaks perfect Spanish, ordered a bocadillo, Spanish for sandwich. She was promptly served ground beef picadillo. "Sengwich" would surely have done the trick.
Aren't these the kind of details, like the cigar factories and brick streets, to make a city interesting to several thousand strangers in town?
Miranda sounds more philosophical about the RNC. We are what we are before they come and after they go, he says. He calls Tampa its own unique blend, "the vegetable soup of the world." I prefer caldo gallego, but okay.