Tampa Natives Show Host Mario Núñez Talks Local Nostalgia, Our City Flag, and More | Events and Movies | Tampa

Click to enlarge

Photo by Ray Roa/Design by Joe Frontel

The cover of the September 1, 2022 issue of Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

The hiss of an espresso machine steaming milk and the crackle of Cuban toast. The sight of display cases filled with guava pastries and the cackling of tables surrounded by abuelas and abuelos engaged in lively conversation. The unrest of workers across the spectrum of Latin American countries makes it all easy. These are familiar sensations to any self-respecting Tampeño, so it’s no surprise to find the king of them surrounded by them on a Monday morning as he sits with a café con leche in his hand.

But Mario Núñez is not at La Teresita or even at La Segunda.

It’s all happening in a strip mall in North Tampa, inside Cafe Caribe which says it has the best Cuban sandwich in Carrollwood. The statement is not far from the truth. If you’ve imported La Gaceta editor Roland Manteiga’s famous wooden table and red telephone, you’ll get closer to the ambiance of Ybor City’s La Tropicana cafe.

“It’s West Tampa Sandwich Shop,” Núñez says, wide-eyed and alluding to the building on N Armenia Avenue once visited by President Obama. “But more like West Tampa Sandwich Shop ‘North.’”

Unsurprisingly, the 63-year-old American Airlines retiree also knows a bunch of people inside the cafe — heck, Atlanta Rhythm Section founder Rodney Justo bought the cafe from him. Núñez seems to know everything about Justo. His knowledge of Tampa also includes more or less everything you would want to know about this waterfront town first inhabited by the Tocobaga people before being built on tobacco and Golden Age ambition. by Henry B. Plant.

“When people left Ybor City in the 60s and 70s, after the highway was built and our town split in two, the younger generation was born and they didn’t want to be in the cigar industry, which was failing by that point,” he says, detailing how Cafe Caribe landed in the suburbs. “They wanted to leave town, and they went to the new housing estates being built, but they brought a lot of that juju with them.”

This month, Núñez and his very own juju are celebrating the 11th anniversary of his award-winning Best of the Bay television program, “The Tampa Natives Show,” which airs on Tampa Bay Arts & Education Network, a government station that has served Tampa for nearly four years. decades.

Click to enlarge They don't put tildes on state license plates, so Mario Núñez took care of that.  - Photo c/o Mario Núñez

Photo c/o Mario Núñez

They don’t put tildes on state license plates, so Mario Núñez took care of that.

The show grew out of a Facebook group started by former “Tampa Natives” co-host Steve Cannella. Núñez — a Jefferson High School graduate whose older brothers played baseball at Plant — tapes an episode or two most Thursdays, and the results are streamed on the show’s social media page, as well as on Spectrum and Frontier twice a week; episodes live in perpetuity on YouTube and tbae.net. At the heart of the program is a deep love for Tampa and a nostalgic longing for the region. Simply put, it’s hours and hours of fantastic storytelling.

Núñez’s love affair with the city began at Old St. Joseph’s Hospital near downtown where he was born on September 20, 1958. Mom was a paralegal who spent time in the office of Senator Louis A. de la Parte Jr.; dad was a Hall of Fame server at the Columbia restaurant, but retired as a mail carrier as part of the Hillsborough County school system. They were busy parents, so they quickly returned to work after he was born.
“Thank goodness my grandmother lived two blocks down the same street,” he explains, detailing parts of his childhood neighborhood, Broadmoor Park, where Lois Avenue almost intersects with W Cass Street. The neighborhood is now called North Bon Air, a change that happened while he was in Texas as a flight attendant — and one he would certainly have pushed back against.

Maria Delgado was 48 when her grandson arrived. Núñez said she had nothing to do but take care of the new baby, which was bad news for the rest of the world. “At the age of four, I knew that this moon came out every night just to say hello to me,” he jokes, alluding to the love she wrapped around him.

Delgado (his Puerto Rican grandmother, the other was a Cuban Tampeña) always told him to make the most of every opportunity. “You know, in so many words, she was telling me in Spanish, ‘Mijo, apply yourself, do your best’ and, ‘This is not a dress rehearsal. Whatever you do, do it well,’ adds Núñez.

So he was always wide-eyed on the public bus his grandmother started taking when he was four. Together, hand in hand, they walked six blocks to the stop. He watched the coins disappear into the box and walked around. “It felt like an eternity to get downtown, but it was really 10 minutes,” he laughs.

At every turn he would ask Abuela if it was time to pull the cord indicating a request to stop.
Núñez can still hear the loud hum and feel the sensation of finally being able to pull it, and he fondly remembers his grandmother giving him a dime so he could go to Woolworth and buy a cashew wrap at the Lazy Susan spinning under the 100 watt glow. light bulb that kept the nuts warm. “Those are some of my memories. They’re stuck there, and thank God they’re stuck there because they’re my touchstones,” he says.

These touchstones are exactly what he tries to share with viewers and bring out the guests who come to his show.

And when asked to look ahead and speculate on what Tampa needs to stay in Tampeño, Núñez — who is active in local politics but keeps them away from the show outside of elected officials’ visits — doesn’t not immediately turn to affordable housing, political reform or even Bayshore’s damn statue of Christopher Columbus. Instead, it keeps it relatively simple and emphasizes two things.

One is the word “Tampeño”, his favorite term for someone from Tampa. “Tampan” is out of place for Núñez, and while “Tampanian” is somewhat acceptable, he prefers the flair and warmth brought by the tilde (“ñ”).

Click to enlarge One of Mario Núnnez's hopes is for the city of Tampa to adopt a new flag.  – Dyffunctional at English Wikipedia, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Dyffunctional at English Wikipedia, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

One of Mario Núnnez’s hopes is for the city of Tampa to adopt a new flag.

His other hope, well known to local vexillologists, is for the city of Tampa to adopt a new flag. Núñez swears by Roman Mars’ TED talk on municipal flags and says Tampa could use a revamp. In the same week we expect the first launch of NASA’s new Artemis mission to the moon, he invokes Neil Armstrong.

“What’s the first thing we did when we landed on the moon? Before hitting a golf ball, we planted a flag in the ground,” Núñez exclaims. “If you want to have a rallying point for your people, it has to be the flag. If you want to be a big city in this new era, you need a big flag.

It’s a controversial subject, and Núñez can talk about it, but it all comes down to a question of identity. And when it comes to conversations about belonging—whether you’re in West Tampa or in the booth of a Carrollwood coffee shop that looks like Ybor City—sharing a space and a café con leche with Núñez is one of the best places to be.

Javier E. Swan