Axios Tampa Bay

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Happy Valentine's Day! 💘

☀️ Sunny and clear. 74°/54°.

  • Sounds like: "Somos Sur," Ana Tijoux ft. Shadia Mansour.

Today's newsletter is 9 words, a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: From Tampa to Santiago, a family heals

Left: Jeanette and Bob Hastings holding Maria on a trip to adopt her from Chile. Right: Maria and her birth mother (left) reconnect on FaceTime. Photos: Courtesy of Maria Hastings

Maria Hastings never wondered where she came from. She grew up knowing she had been adopted from Chile, but her life was in Tampa.

  • She'd been told her birth mother had given her up willingly, and she was OK with that — until she learned it was a lie.

Why it matters: Hastings, 37, is one of tens of thousands of children stolen from Chile between the 1970s to 1990s.

  • As she prepares to return to her home country, Hastings joins a community of U.S. families who want accountability for the lies and complicity that led to their pain.

Flashback: Chilean investigators estimate up to 20,000 children were stolen from low-income mothers under dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, whose solution for child poverty was sending kids abroad to be adopted under false pretenses.

  • Families from America to Australia unknowingly participated in child trafficking, convinced of their adoptions' legitimacy by adoption agencies and embassies, as well as the Catholic church.

"My initial reaction was, 'There's no way,'" Bob Hastings, Maria's adopted father, told Axios about learning the truth. "We went through so much legal stuff: Catholic social services, home studies. … It's not like we flew down and got a kid out of the back of a pickup truck."

Driving the news: Nonprofit Connecting Roots is helping Hastings and four other adoptees travel to Santiago, Chile, on Saturday to meet the families they were stolen from.

  • The organization has helped 45 people reunite with their birth families since starting up in 2021.

The intrigue: After learning he was one of these adoptees, it took 11 years for Houston firefighter Tyler Graf to connect with his birth mother. She was told he died after giving birth to him.

  • Graf now runs Connecting Roots with a small group of fellow adoptees and Chilean firefighters.
  • He told Axios that he's asked legislators, immigration officials and law enforcement to investigate the adoptions, but "it falls on deaf ears."

What she's saying: After talking to her mother for a year on Zoom and WhatsApp, Hastings still hasn't processed her own truth.

  • "I hope it brings her some peace for her to know that I am OK and I'm here for her."

Keep reading: How Connecting Roots reunites these families

2. 😅 The things we'll eat for you ...

The strawberry shortcake kebab, the cheddar pickle pizza and the poutine burger. Photos: Kathryn Varn and Yacob Reyes/Axios

👋 Kathryn and Yacob here. We paid a visit yesterday to the Florida State Fair to check out this year's new wacky food items.

🐊 Florida quesadilla

Kathryn, in utter betrayal of her alma mater, took the lead on this gator nugget quesadilla. It was cheesy, rich and, frankly, a little light on the alligator chunks. Probably not worth the $17 (!!!) price tag.

The verdict: 🦩🦩/5

  • Find it at Mexican Grill.

🍋 Lemonade funnel cake

It's exactly what you'd imagine the fair would taste like: fluffy, sweet funnel cake paired with the refreshing zing of lemonade. The tart lemon sauce cut through the sweetness of the fried dough.

The verdict: 🦩🦩🦩🦩/5

  • Find it at Topscan Funnel Cakes.

🌶️ Spicy Korean corndog

We spent much of our trip drooling over the picture of this buttermilk-dipped hotdog rolled in red, flaky Hot Cheetos.

Yes, but: It wasn't love at first bite.

The verdict: 🦩/5

  • Find it at Seivers Smokehouse Grill.

Keep reading: Poutine burger, Pop Rocks pickle and more

3. The Pulp: Sports betting fight goes to SCOTUS

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

ICYMI: The family of John Walter Lay, who was fatally shot at West Dog Park on Feb. 2, says shooter Gerald Radford had previously harassed Lay with homophobic slurs. (Tampa Bay Times)

  • Prosecutors are reviewing the case. Radford claimed self-defense and has not been charged.

👑 Tiana's Bayou Adventure, the new ride featuring Disney's first Black princess, is replacing Splash Mountain and will open this summer at Disney World. (Axios New Orleans)

🧑‍⚖️ Companies challenging the 2021 compact that gave the Seminole Tribe control over Florida sports betting are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block the deal. A similar request is also pending before the Florida Supreme Court. (WTSP)

4. 💰 Renting while rich

Data: RentCafe; Note: Ranking includes cities with at least 100 renter households with incomes of more than $1 million; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: RentCafe; Note: Ranking includes cities with at least 100 renter households with incomes of more than $1 million; Chart: Axios Visuals

There are 52 millionaire renters in the Tampa Bay area, according to data from RentCafe.

Why it matters: We've long been told real estate is the best investment you can make. But more people with extra cash are choosing to put it elsewhere.

  • The number of U.S. millionaire renters nearly tripled from 2020 to 2022, per RentCafe data.

What's happening: Renting is the better deal in nearly every U.S. city right now. So rich renters are putting their money into stocks, bonds and their own businesses, RentCafe analyst Veronica Grecu tells Axios.

💭 Kathryn's thought bubble: If I were a Tampa Bay millionaire, I'd swallow my hatred of gray wood floors to rent this $11,000 a month "home in the sky."

Go deeper

Sponsored event listings

Stay booked and busy

📅 Upcoming events around the city.

Repticon at the Florida State Fairgrounds on February 24: See live animals, buy pets and products, and learn about reptiles and exotic animals at amazing prices. $6-$12 online tickets only.

Hosting an event? Email [email protected].

5. 💕 Love in the Bay: Because the night

Wayne and Sharon Tagle. Photo: Courtesy of Sharon Tagle

She worked as a claims adjuster in St. Pete. He worked at Lowe's. They both loved Bruce Springsteen and met while volunteering for his Super Bowl halftime show at Raymond James Stadium in 2009.

  • They slogged through hot and cold weather for two weeks, pushing a video cart around, preparing for the show. But they had lots of downtime and got to know each other well during these breaks.
  • They started seeing each other after the performance, which she still describes as "over-the-top."

Two years later, he proposed to her on stage, in front of hundreds of people at a music festival in Live Oak. They'll celebrate 11 years of marriage in April.

💌 Have a Tampa Bay love story of your own? Reply to this email and share it! It could be featured in our new series, Love in the Bay.

🫣 Yacob is still reeling from that poutine burger.

ğŸŽ¡ Kathryn is dreaming of the Barbie funnel cake she didn't have room for yesterday.

❤️‍🔥 Selene still has indigestion from last year's fair food.

This newsletter was edited by Jeff Weiner and copy edited by Azi Najafi.