Since 1885 - when Don Vicente Martinez Ybor opened his huge Tampa Bay factory - the manufacture of cigars has been a big part of life in Ybor City, the district that bears his name. For more than a century, the industry invited generations of Cuban migrants to find their fortunes by the tables of the cigar rollers (known as torcedores – “twisters” in Spanish). Today the tradition continues.
Enrique Laferte was born 32 years ago in Marianao, a borough of Havana, the capital of Cuba. His children and mother's family still live there. He learned the art of the cigar roller (sometimes also called a tabaquero) at the Cohiba academy, the island's famous factory. Four years ago he came to the United States and a year ago he moved to Tampa Bay. He now works as a roller at the popular Tabanero factory in downtown Ybor City.
How many cigars can you roll a day?
We have a standard of making one hundred to one hundred and fifty [cigars] a day. There are some rollers that are asked for the standard of one hundred and fifty to regulate the quality of the rollers. So that a roller doesn't go too fast, although more can be done if you do things calmly.
How long does it take to create a cigar?
Generally, you make a minute or minute and a half each filler. And you spend a minute or minute and a half to pass each layer of the casing.
How many years have you practiced your work?
Eleven years. After five years the person is considered a master.
What's one thing about your job that other people don't know?
Many people don't know about the leaf. Each leaf has a specific purpose. And there are things that are kept secret. One is the mixture of the tobaccos. People say they’re from Nicaragua or Nicaragua or Colombia. But in Nicaragua there are many types of leaves and in Colombia there are many other types of leaves and in Ecuador there are many other types of leaves. Only the person who creates the mixture and is a tobacconist is what knows how much of what type of leaf the cigar is made of.
How do you feel when a customer likes your product?
Feeling that someone likes the product I made is a great honor -- an honor that you realize that you have done well. It's not good for any tobacco rollers to talk badly about one's work. It's a source of pride for me when someone smokes a cigar and wonders "who did this cigar?" They say "it was Enrique" and he congratulates me or tells me something about my work. For me this is an honor.
What would your life be like without tourism?
Without tourism here my life would be tedious. Even though I like the work I do, it's good to talk to people, to see the people who come by from time to time. Tourism is that it gives me my salary, too. It allows me to buy things. And with tourism I also practice a little my English. It's good for me at the moment.
Who is your hero? Are there famous rollers?
Any famous rollers you'd really like to meet? I don't have one. But for me it was an honor to work side by side and learn things from two or three people in my life who gave me a step to make a better roller. One of them was from the Hachauma factory which is also called Enrique. And the next one was my teacher Daisy Mendieta who for me is the "top" of tobacco rollers. They are not well known, but they are people that I know are good at doing what they do and love what they do.