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Are you a Tampan, Tampanian or Tampeño?

Mario Núñez is determined to make 2019 the year the Tampa City Council makes an official decision on what to call people who hail from Tampa.
Michelle Faedo’s Tampeño Cuisine on 1218 Ray Charles Boulevard in Tampa. She was originally going to name her Encore Building restaurant Michelle Faedo’s Tampanian Cuisine but then decided to go with Tampeño. A call from Núñez, she said, helped to nudge her in that direction.
Published Jan. 10

Tampan, Tampeño or Tampanian?

Is it time to pick one?

The debate over what to call a Tampa resident is not new. But Mario Núñez is determined to make 2019 the year that Tampa City Council makes an official decision.

His goal is to create a large enough groundswell to convince city council to listen to public debate, choose a moniker and then pass a resolution on a moniker so that being a Tampa resident can be marketed in a singular way.

"In this unique moment in time when a lot of big money is reshaping our city and redefining who we are, we need to reach a consensus," Núñez said. "All eyes are upon us."

Núñez started his charge in late-November as the keynote speaker at the weekly Cafe Con Tampa community forum held at the Oxford Exchange.

He has since taken to social media, is making the rounds at local cafes frequented by power players and is using The Tampa Natives Show that he hosts and that celebrates local history on the Tampa Bay Arts & Education Network as a forum for his cause.

Núñez, a Latino, hates Tampan, can live with Tampanian, and prefers Tampeño.

"When people hear Tampan the first thing that comes to mind is a feminine hygiene product," Núñez said. "Tampanian sounds like something you contracted during a weekend in New Orleans."

Whereas "Tampeño evokes warmth, it evokes charisma, it is engaging, it speaks more directly to the early days of our culture."

Still, because it is a Spanish word celebrated in the Latin quarters of Ybor City and West Tampa, Núñez expects push back from the Anglo community. But, he pointed out that "people from Los Angeles of all heritages and nationalities proudly refer to themselves as Angelenos."

Those city council members who weighed in on the debate were split.

Councilman Guido Maniscalco said that as the son of a Sicilian father and Spanish mother, Tampeño was the common term in his household. "I do not recall a single time any family member used Tampanian or Tampan"

Councilman Harry Cohen also said he prefers Tampeño because of its "Latin flair" whereas "Tampanian is a bit long and clumsy" and "Tampan is bad because it can be turned into an object of ridicule. "

But two of their fellow city council members prefer Tampanian, a term also used by Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

"Tampanian is a fuller and more dramatic expression of being from Tampa," Councilman Luis Viera said. "People who are from Tampa or have generations of families from Tampa are proud of that."

Councilman Frank Reddick agreed. "I prefer Tampanian," he said. "I think Tampanian is directly related to Tampa's culture and its hometown flavor."

Michelle Faedo once sided with Tampanian. She was originally going to name her Encore Building restaurant Michelle Faedo's Tampanian Cuisine but then decided to go with Tampeño. A call from Núñez, she said, helped to nudge her in that direction.

"He gave us his seal of approval," she said."I was thinking Tampanian would be easier for tourists to say. But Tampeño is about having Tampa pride. It explains our roots."

Tampa's Latino roots go beyond Ybor and West Tampa, historian Gary Mormino said. The city's name is Spanish.

First appearing in Escalante Fontaneda's late-16th century memoir La Memoria detailing the Spaniard's imprisonment, Tanpa — and not Tampa — was the Calusa tribe's name for the area where he was confined. The popular belief is that it meant "Sticks of Fire" to describe the lightning activity in the area.

But Mormino said he is "certain Fontaneda never traveled as far north as Tampa," and that there is not a known translation of the word, only speculation.

Regardless of its meaning, he said, Tanpa "was later Hispaniscized to Tampa."

Still, Mormino has no official stance on what a Tampa resident should be called, though he did suggest further muddying the debate by adding "Tampapolitan" to the mix.

Other local historians have an opinion, though.

Rodney Kite-Powell, the curator of the Tampa Bay History Center, uses Tampan.

Andrew Huse, a librarian with the University of South Florida, said the proper term is probably Tampanian, "as in Floridian."

The bigger question, Huse mused, is "what do people from St. Pete call themselves? Burgers?"

When pressed on whether Tampa City Council should take up the debate, Councilmen Maniscalco and Viera said no.

"I think it's just a personal preference," Maniscalco said.

Added Viera, "I do not think an official vote would be necessary on this. Being from Tampa is about more than a name. It's about a set of pluralistic values of a city of immigrants who built a community."

Confident he can gather together enough people to pressure the city council to act, Nunez will not be deterred.

After all, if city council can vote on Tampa's official sandwich, shouldn't they decide on a name for its residents, he asked. And the sandwich, he added, is a Cuban — a Latin delicacy.

"My earliest recollection when we were growing up in the 1950s and 60s was Tampeño," Núñez said. "I didn't know anything else. I didn't know about Tampan or Tampanian. We were all Tampeños."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or . Follow PGuzzoTimes.

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