I am Amaranta Mattie Bailly and I am of mixed nationality. My father, John William Bailly has ties to family all over Europe, and my mother, Natalia Garcia-Lee has ties all over the Carribean. I have the privilege of experiencing food, culture and traditions that I can connect with that are actually derived from all over the world. As I continue schooling and graduate within the next year and a half, I will continue to be surrounded by individuals that are incredibly diverse like I am, and we will be able to bond over sharing our cultures. The beauty of living in Miami, especially for an Antilliean and European woman such as myself, is the ability to admire my culture and share it with others, even though I live in America.
I didn’t know much about Little Havanna, aside from the fact that there is a strong Cuban presence in the neighborhood. I previously didn’t want to exlpore an area that was a site for tourists. I felt because I’ve been a local my whole life, that I had a responsibility to complete the Ineffable Miami project in an area of Miami that was not often seen or appreciated. Speaking to my mother, Natalia, revealed that my relationship with Little Havanna went far deeper than I had ever expected. When my family immigrated to America, they first lived in Little Havanna in a miniscule apartment for four years before moving to Princeton. I was extremely surprised to hear this information, as it means that my mother spent her first years in America in a place I hadd never been to. My interest in Little Havanna had peaked, and I was certain it was necessary that I complete this project while uncovering another piece of her past.
Little Havanna is located just below Allapattah, Overtown and Downtown Miami, and is centered around Calle Ocho (southwest 8th street), although it extends all the way to Flagler. Sorrounding Calle Ocho are quaint neighborhoods with houses stacked closely together. I adored that many of the houses, although similar in size, each has a personality of their own, inviting me into the neighborhood with a resounding level of shapes and colors. The area just surrounding calle ocho is bustling with life, as the majority of tourists and locals spend the majority of their time shopping for both everyday items and unique products.
In the 1930s, Little Havana first was categorized as a jewish neighborhoood. Today, Little Havana is the largest hub in the world that shelters Cuban exiles and immigrants. In the 1960’s thousands of Cubans flooded the American border in order to escape the Castro regime. It remained the main landing point for the majority of immigrants and although some settled permanently, anger still lived within many of the people. Many presumed their stay in America was less than permanent and therefore, there were high tensions in the neighborhood for decades. People were driven to earn their home back and to exact revenge on the regime for removing their free will and way of life. Over time, Cubans that realized their stay would be permanent and began to spead across the city of Miami. Over time, hispanics that are not Cuban began to flood Little Havana as well, and now it is a hub for hispanics in general, but is still named after the capital of Cuba, as well as still being the biggest hub in Miami for hispanics.
There are more than 50,000 people currently inhabiting Little Havana, 98% percent of which are of Latin origin, and the majority of these Latinx peoples are of Cuban origin. An astounding 38% of Little Havana are not American citizens, citizens not born in America account for 33% of Little Havanna, and the remaining population (27%) would account for American born citizens. The majority of civilians in Little Havana are white collar, but approximately 30% are blue collar, and the median household income is approximately 30,000 dollars per year. 39.1 percent of the population in Little Havana lives below the poverty line, which is likely the most astounding statistic I uncovered, seeing as how Little Havanna is so often flooded with tourists, and Calle Ocho brings in a massive amount of money daily.
I was immediately drawn to Johnny Cigans are they have a beautiful yellow exterior that although has been taken care of extensively, had a dated design. I was taking my time exploring calle ocho and although they have a countless amount of stunning boutiques, restaurants and historic sites, I couldn’t help but stop at this one. The brightness and originality that this store emanated from the front and immediately welcomed me. It might strike one as odd that I decided to do a professional interview in a smoke shop, but it must be known that there is a smoke shop on every corner of Little Havana. Cigars specifically are one of Cubas biggest exports and the economy relies greatly on those profits. Many Cubans opened cigar shops upon their arrival to America because it has become an integral piece of Cuban culture. Evangelina, the owner of the shop, met me at the door and offered me various modern smoking devices, but I politely declined and instead asked to view her cigars. Her face lit up and she began to explain that the store just behind her rolled the tobacco leaves handmade, which is when I realized there would be nobody better to interview. Her enthusiasm caught me by great surprise as she quickly agreed when hearing about my Ineffable Miami project.
Me: What is your name?
Evangelina: My name is Evangelina and I own Johnny Cigars
Me: What motivated you to open a shop in Little Havana?
Evangelina: I always loved Little Havana, and I always smoke with good friends. Little Havana is a good place to sell cigars because they roll here. I work with the shop next door that rolls those off the bottom shelf.
Me: What do you like most about Little Havana?
Evangelina: I have friends coming from all over the world here, we all share our cultures. I’m Argentinian, they are Cuban, he is Colombian, we are the whole world in one place.
I’m happy here. My kids do well here, they’re very social.
Me: Most of Little Havana is Cuban, do you feel your unique culture is represented being Argentinian?
Evangelina: Yes. Cultures always share their customs with each other. I like that I am different, and I like how others are different. Everyone likes each other. We all have a place here.
Me: Thank you very much Evangelina
Evangelina: Yes yes! Of course.
Location Review Preface:
Calle Ocho in Little Havana is extemely populated with friendly people, tons of eateries, stores, tourists centers, parks, churches and community centers. It was incredibly challenging to decide which areas I should review and include in my project. In my last project reviewing Princeton, Miami, the isolation and lack of tourism in the area provide a much more quiet and ethereal experience. In Little Havana, the bustling life allowed for me to speak to dozens of people and it was almost challenging to decide what I felt was superior enough to add into my project. I highly recommend if you are visiting Little Havana, that you take under avdvisement my discoveries while exploring, but also attempt to go onto the various shops I didn’t have a chance to. I left Little Havana eager to explore every corner, and knowing I would have to return for more.
The food in Little Havana is wildly expensive as it is a place various tourists find their way to, and theur food consists mostly of various hispanic places. I instead opted for a morning treat of an Empanada de Espinacha as well as a Habana Vieja Cafe (a spinach empanada and an “old havana” coffee). The House of Cuban Coffee was an incredibly high end coffee place with an authentic Cuban feel that struck me right as the door. Although quaint, kind energy possessed me to immediately move to the bar. I spoke in Spanish to the employees there, and they asked me about where I was from as well as what exactly I was doing in Little havana. Their interactions with each other pointed to the fact that they share incredibly close and family-like ties. I felt immediately at home and filled to the brim with a delicious treat. The Habana Vieja had a copious amount of condensed milk and whipped cream in the place of milk and sugar, which definitely felt more like a dessert than a coffee, but it was recommended to me straight off the menu and I couldn’t find it in me to decline. The Empanada de Espinacha was salty and creamy, which settled my stomach well in pair with the strong cafe.
sw 8th st and 14th ave
Domino Park was named after the general Maximo Gomez who was Dominican born. He was a great leader of the Cuban Liberation Army, therefore, it makes sense that such a vital portion of Little Havana was named after him. Maximo Gomez became a large symbol of the battles wages against the Castro Regime in every single one of the escaped Cubans’ hearts. Castro took Cuba away from its people, and having Maximos name above such a public place was the Cuban way of taking things back. In the Domino Park, there are not many plants, but there are various tables scattered across the short property where older gentleman and ladies gather around to play Dominoes, as well as some chess. Upon my visit to Domino Park, I found the atmosphere welcoming and yet intense. It was obvious that Domino Park was solely dominated by locals, as opposed to everywhere else in Little Havana. I spoke shortly in Spanish to an employee there, and she emphasized how heated certain games can become, and how nice it is to socialize with the regulars. I don’t think I showed at the busiest time, although there were quite a few tables filled with kind gentlemen who greeted me as I took a look around, although I didn’t make much effort to socialize because I didn’t want to distract them from their games. There is a mural painted on the back wall of this “park” that displays various war heroes that were involved in the Bay of Pigs Invasion, or attempted to combat the Castro Regime. It is vibrant and bold, representing the core of the Cuban people, fierce and resilient.
Cuban Memorial Boulevard and Bay of Pigs monument
Sw 13th ave 8th-12th st
This unique park spans four blocks down, beginning on Calle Ocho and extending in a small strip to twelfth street. On either sidde of this park is a road and houses, bordering the slim park but not crowded. Within the park you’ll find various memorial and monumental pieces of art dedicated to the Cubans who died during the Bay of Pigs invasion, heroes that emerged and protected the country, and a stone carving of Cuba protecting a tree of life. As I strolled the strip I also saw a statue of the Virgin Mary, cradling her son Jesus, and holding a yellow flower that a civilian placed in her hand. I felt that this statue spoke volumes about the value that this park holds in the hearts of its citizens. Aside from being absolutely breathtaking, with enormous banyon trees that scatter the light and greenery on all sides, the plastic flower was obviously placed there recently. This shows me that this park is still often used by the people to mourn, and to commemorate. Oftentimes, I’ve always held a fear in my heart that history might be erased and that individduals will cease to care once there is no place or visual to recall what has occurred before us. Places like this park ease that fear, and that plastic flower might have felt insignificant, but there was someone out there in the world who felt that this park and all the hard work that has gone into making it beautiful, was a place worthy of making beautiful.
The Miami-Dade College’s Town Theater
1508 sw 8th st
The Miami-Dade College’s Town Theater located on Calle Ocho is the oldest movie theater in Miami’s history. It now has a more retro appearance but in 1926, when it was first opened, it was grandiose and modern, attracting visitors for miles around. This theater played a massive part in growing Little Havana’s reputation, and businesses that have been developed around the theather have flourished in part because of its presence. This theater wasalsothe first in Miami to add spanish sub-titles. This is an incredibly historic event because by 1960, when this first occurred, the majority of Little Havana was already dominated by Cubans. Many of these Cubans had not yet learned to speak English, and the inclusion of subtitles in their language must have felt magical. To be forced from your home in a vicious manner and dinto a new country that you know nothing about is harder than I could ever fathom. My grandmother telling me of her near decade long journey to make a home here with four children feels surreal, and I can’t imagine how special she must have felt first coming to live in a neighborhood that felt like the good parts of home.
There are various tour buses that take tourists to the focal points of Calle Ocho. I felt that it was in fact dangerous to cross the street while exploring, and as a typical Miamian I j-walk, but I was forced to put aside my unwise tradtion in fear I would be flattened by an irritated driver and twenty tourists from Georgia. Other than the immense number of tourists, Little Havana residents ride public transportation three times more than other residents in Miami-Dade County. There is very limited parking and space in Little Havana, and because it is a relatively small area, many residents prefer to travel by bus to fulfill their daily needs. Through my research on the difficulties of transit in such a compact area, I found that the community is actively improving their means of transportation. Joe Corollo, the County commissioner, and Miami-Dade County both approved and aided the Have a Seat Project. This project began in 2020 and was responsible for the installation of thirty-five benches around Little Havana, so that people may sit comfortably while waiting for their ride. Other than the increased use of buses in the area, many cars often pass through as the 836 extressway flanks Little Havana from the north. In essence, there are many ways to travel in Little Havana, but caution should always be exercised. Nobody’s as fast as they think they are.
Home of Miami’s first Mayor/Saint Peter and Paul Orthodox Church
1411 sw 11th st
Saint Peter and Paul’s Orthodox Church was origionally built in 1927 as a home for the first mayor of Miami, John Bernard Reily, and his wife Marie. John unfortunately passed away shortly after the home was built, but Marie inhabited the area for another decade before remodeling her home and making it a church. Now it neighbors a relgious elementary school, and although the church was locked upon my arrival, I can imagine it is very well maintained because the exterior was stunningly pristine, although it attained an aged appearance. There is a statue of the virgin mary that still rests above the door of this caltholic church, that has been replaced over time, but is a personal choice Marie made because she herself was a devout catholic. Little Havana is a bustling Cuban hub, but the church is located in the dead center of a relatively quiet neighborhood, just south of Calle Ocho. Walking to the church gave the the opportunity to admire the quaint and friendly neighborhood that wasn’t crowded to the brim with eager tourists.
Visiting Little Havana was long overdue, as I believe it’s one of the most welcoming and charming areas in Miami. I am shocked my mother and grandmother had never taken me there before, as their first years spent in America was in Little Havana. I am still ever so curious as to their past and history, and the ways in which Little Havana provided a smoother transition into this country. I had spent more than half a day in Little Havana, and hours on Calle Ocho alone, but still found new things that I wanted to try or didn’t have the opportunity to participate in. It is now one of my dreams to bring my own set of Dominoes to Domino park and participate with the locals there, and with any friends willing to join me. Speaking to the dozens of kind people, seeing the brilliantly painted murals around every corner, eating the delicious food, admiring the memorials, and taking a day to live a Little Havana life has gotten me back in touch with my Cuban roots, but has also pushed me to see what the rest of the world hsads to offer. If this beautiful community exists just forty-five minutes north of me, I can’t begin to fathom what else I might be missing.
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