Ybor City Inaugurates an Antifascist Mural

November 18, 2023

Mural by Michelle Sawyer in Ybor City (FL) commemorating the 1937 Antifascist Women’s March.

Ybor City’s history of Latino antifascist activism is now memorialized with a permanent historical marker and a stunning public art mural in the heart of the historic district. A collaboration between Sarah McNamara and Tampa-based Latina artist Michelle Sawyer, the landmark commemorates Ybor City’s 1937 Antifascist Women’s March.

In the early afternoon of May 6, 1936, tabaqueras, women cigar workers across Ybor City left their workstations and made their way to Ybor City’s central Seventh Avenue. Dressed in black, arms linked, heels tapping in unison, some 5,000 women marched through the streets of Ybor City towards downtown Tampa. The Anglo police escorted the demonstration on motorcycles, a gesture in equal measures of protection and intimidation. The women protesters, joined by a crowd of about 2,000 supporters lining the streets, reached the steps of Tampa’s City Hall by late afternoon. When Mayor Robert E. Lee Chancey appeared, a woman representative read a statement expressing support for the Spanish Republic and condemning the actions of Hitler and Mussolini:

In the name of the thousands of U.S.-born americanas, Spaniards, Italians, Cubans, workers, professional and business persons, who are horrified by the hideous and horrendous slaughter of non-combatants, and defenseless women and children by Hitler and Mussolini’s invasive forces, we ask you as mayor of Tampa to publicly condemn this monstrous crime against humanity.

As citizens and residents of a peaceful and democratic nation, we feel morally obliged to give all possible aid to Spanish cities that defend their democratic government against fascist aggression, thus maintaining the standard of peace and democracy in the world.

This was a courageous display of multiethnic, antifascist activism amidst a climate of veritable racial terror, rampant sexism and political intimidation. Latina women put their bodies on the line, taking over the public streets as emboldened political agents committed to the cause of antifascism at home and abroad.

The mural and the marker.

The public art mural commemorating this historic event was unveiled on March 30, 2023, during Women’s History Month. Researched, led and created by women he mural, it highlights women’s pivotal role in politics and in the workforce. It features three women. At the top is Isabel de Palencia, spokesperson for the Spanish Republic and leading member of the international Asociación de Mujeres Antifascistas. In the middle is Luisa Moreno, Guatemala-born U.S. labor organizer who resided and worked in Ybor City. At the front is McNamara’s great-aunt, Margot Falcón Blanco, who participated in the march. Her profile is derived from a family photograph. Years before McNamara delved into her research on the subject, her grandmother recounted the march to her while sharing photographs of family members who had participated. All three women are profiled in the mural with a distinct yet equally strong, determined and forceful gaze. Each also sports a unique red personal accessory—red earrings, a red necklace, red lipstick. These feminized adornments speak to their gendered experiences as well as their boldness, power, and socialist convictions. Including Palencia, who was not present at the march, connects these local women’s demonstration to a global movement, an international network of women’s antifascist activism, while the poignant, personal inclusion of Falcón Blanco recognizes the contributions of everyday women, not just those who lead movements, but also those who through their participation and support make movements happen.

The women’s profiles are enhanced by the mural’s many rich details. Its aesthetic and typography evoke 1930s antifascist visual culture, while the color palette conveys a cohesiveness with the area and local architecture. The women’s profiles are juxtaposed to a background image depicting a multitude of female protesters, the rank and file, marching and holding signs, including one prominently displaying the message “Spain Needs Your Aid.” This image is based on a photograph published in a local newspaper the day after the march. Passion flowers frame the mural, an evident allusion to Dolores Ibárruri Gómez, La Pasionaria, leader and representative of the international women’s antifascist movement. Against the flowers, sharp white triangles, symbols of white power, protrude from the city’s buildings onto the women’s faces, evoking the local KKK and the looming, domestic threat of vigilante terror. The large, bold, black slogan “No Pasarán” integrates the mural’s pictorial elements.

That the words “No Pasarán” continue to serve as a rallying cry against all forms of authoritarianism and oppression underlines the timeliness of the mural’s message. This visually arresting mural, with its militant slogan displayed prominently in a central street in Tampa, in a state that has seen the resurgence of fascist policies, from the banning and controlling of subjects that can be taught to xenophobic immigration policies and the repression of dissent, is a powerful reminder of the urgency of solidarity and the importance of collective action. ¡La lucha continúa!

Location: 2015 E. 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605. The mural adorns the western side of the Ybor City Development Corporation building, while the marker is positioned at the building’s entrance.

Erected: 2023 with the support of the Carlos H. Cantu Hispanic Education and Opportunity Endowment, and the Hillsborough County Historical Advisory Council.

Artist: Michelle Sawyer