Welcome to my blog! My name is Aleksandra Baryshnikova. I’m a Junior, majoring in Hospitality Management at Florida International University. I was born and raised in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. I have always been passionate about the organization of events. For as long as I could remember, I have wanted to help my family and friends to experience the best celebrations in their life. I organized many events and I have realized how much I care about the industry of events. Now, I want to continue helping people to experience the best ceremonies of their life. Though I love hospitality, I also enjoy hiking, adventures, and nature. Miami in Miami class helped me to fall in love with Miami. Before, I thought that this city is a show-off and nothing more. To start my journey, I decided to explore Little Havana get educated and dive into the diversity of Miami.
Little Havana, also known as the heart of the Latin (primarily Cuban) community is a neighborhood located the west of Downtown Miami. The place is full of colorful restaurants, cafes, markets with local food and drinks. All the popular, authentic places situated along Eights Street, also called Calle Ocho. Besides, Little Havana has three parts: West, Central, East Little Havana. Although it may sound large, the Cuban heart is relatively small, 25 acres. The neighborhood is surrounded by Miami River on south and west, Brickell on the east, and SW 27th or 37th Avenues on the west.
Photo taken of Little Havana murals in 2021. Photo by Aleksandra Baryshnikova /CC BY 4.0
What made Cubans choose this neighborhood? After the Cuban revolution in the 1960s, many people had no choice but to immigrate to the United States. The reason why Cubans occupied West Downtown was because of the primary location of Freedom Tower. This building was opened as the Cuban Assistance Center. The purpose of the now called Freedom Tower was to assist with immediate help to provide necessities for refugees. Hence, the community started to thrive and expand their culture in the neighborhood.
However, Little Havana was not always occupied by Latinos, before immigration, the neighborhood primarily belonged to the Jewish community. With time, Jewish people moved further North to Broward and Palm Beach districts. Looking closer at the history of Miami there arises a common theme of discrimination as the catalyst for migration- the Jewish community was no exception. Anti-semitic attitudes highly affected the Jewish people. Due to the Miami founders, they were not allowed to purchase the land North of 5th street. People were pushed to live further from wealthy neighborhoods. Eventually, after the jewish community formed an association in North Miami, more Cubans arrived and it grew into a Latin neighborhood, with the well-known name -Little Havana. Later on, the place welcomed many nationalities like the Caribbean, Honduran, Central America, and Nicaraguan cultures. In the following years, Latin people began to explore and later on move to new places like Kendal and Hialeah. Nowadays, even with the new innovation and immigration, Little Havana and Cuban heritage remain.
According to Point2Homes the total population of Little Havana is 83,130 people that includes 41,849 males and 41,281 females. In addition, approximately 33% of the population is individuals who were not born in the USA, and 27% were born in the USA, plus 40% are noncitizens. The average age of the citizen in the neighborhood is 43 years old. The ethnic groups that live in Little Havana are; Hispanic- 92.4%, Black- 4.4%, and 3% of the population are white. The statistics show that only 9117 people received Bachelor’s degrees, while 30,519 people completed some high school, and 12322 people never attended school. The statistic explains why there are many markets and small businesses that are not related to the government chain. It is important to mention that the average household income is $41,000 while the lowest is around $27,000.
That being said, Little Havana is listed as the first most Inhabitated district and the second most packed area in Miami.
An interview with a resident of Little Havana.
Jose Navarro Castellanos is a senior at Florida International University, he was born in 1999 in the Dominican Republic, when he was 5 his family and he moved to Miami, Little Havana.
A: Nice to meet you, Jose, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
J: Of course, my name is Jose Alejandro, I’m a senior at FIU, graduating this summer. I’m working at South Food and Wine Festival as a recruiter. I would say that my personality is extremely energetic and enthusiastic.
A: Do you remember when you moved to Little Havana? Did you like it?
J: I definitely remember moving out, and adjusting to the new place. However, when you are a kid everything feels normal and I thought changing countries is something that everyone does. It was not difficult for me. I quickly found friends and I just kept adapting to the new place. “I liked being in Miami, it is a completely different lifestyle, busier” – says Jose.
A: That is a great story! Can you share your favorite place in Little Havana?
J: This is easy- “Versailles”, I love food, especially Cuban food. This is the most famous Cuban restaurant in the world. I enjoy grabbing cafecito at “Versailles” in the morning and only then, I can start my day.
A: Do you want to stay living here?
J: This is a hard question. I feel that I do not see my future here. I want to travel and see more places. I do not want to settle right now. Besides, I think that Little Havana is definitely feeling a little small to me, everyone knows each other.
Cuban Memorial Boulevard and Bay of Pigs Monument
Close to Domino Park, you can find the Cuban Memorial devoted to Cuban freedom warriors. There are a couple of monuments. The Eternal Torch of Brigade 2506 is one of the main memorials dedicated to the fighters who passed in the Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba in 1961. There, you can also see a statue devoted to all journalists who were not afraid to write and publish against Castro’s leadership. I felt extremely inspired, looking at those monuments. I think people who were not afraid to stand up for their country should never be forgotten.
At 111th Southwest 5th Ave you can find a historical house that was built by J. W. Warner. Warner was the founder of the first South Florida floral company. The house was considered one of the finest buildings in the neighborhood. Elegant verandas and wide porches make the J.W. Warner House perfect for Florida weather. Also, in 1983 Warner’s building was mentioned in the National Register of Historic Places. I was not impressed by the design of the house, however, I think it is pretty impressive that the house with such a design was built in 1983.
Cubaocho Museum and Performing Arts Center
Cubaocho is a little museum situated at 1465 SW 8th St. According to locals it is the best place to listen to live music. However, it is not only a site for music, it is also, Fine Art Gallery. It preserves the largest Cuban Art Collection from 1800 to 1956. Besides, if you are a tobacco lover you can find a huge collection of cigars as well as the biggest Rum collection (482 bottles). I would recommend this place if you want to experience the full extent of Latin culture.
Calle Ocho Walk of Fame
The Walk of Fame on Calle Ocho is a little boulevard of stars that copies the idea of Hollywood- but recognizes famous Cuban people instead of American celebrities. Even though it is a small street, I feel that it makes people smile while looking at it. It is a great landmark.
Domino Park is located at Southwest 8th Street and 14th Avenue. Originally named Máximo Gómez Park in Little Havana, it became a hidden gem to locals. The park was named after a Cuban revolutionary -General Máximo Gómez. He was a chief of the Cuban Liberation Army at the times of wars of independence with Spain. Usually, the park is full of senior citizens who are playing the famous game- dominos, unfortunately, right now because of the pandemic it is temporarily closed.
Jose Marti Park
On 351 SW 4th St- close to Downtown, you can find a 1.7-acre park that was named in honor of Jose Marti. He was a poet and a Cuban patriot who dedicated his life to the concept of liberating Cuba. The park is usually full of locals of all age groups- from little kids to oldies. Jose Marti Park has a beautiful riverwalk that is situated across the park. Personally, I grab my friend, a sandwich, and a blanket and we make an amazing picnic in the fresh air. Among the park’s pathways, you can find a gym and pool, picnic tables, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, and a playground. It is a pretty big park with a plethora of recreational activities.
Last but not least we have Riverside park situated on 799 SW 4th Street. It is definitely one of the smallest parks I have ever visited. Riverside Park has a baseball diamond with a tiny playground. Besides the size, the park still has green space.
In my opinion, one of the main problems in Miami is transportation. More specifically, there is not enough public transportation. Nevertheless, Little Havana provides several options for traveling across the neighborhood. There are public buses, private cars, bicycles, and walking. If you would like to travel by car, it gives you the freedom to decide where you want to travel. However, keep in mind that you would have to pay for parking- so then arises the many benefits of taking the bus- one of which is that public transportation is free. Due to the pandemic, all buses are currently free. Also, another benefit is that there are a plethora of bus stops, however, there is no possibility that the bus will be there on time. After all, Little Havana is comparably small, therefore, it is easier to explore the neighborhood by walking. Personally, walking is my favorite type of transportation. There is no rush, hence, you can admire and appreciate the beauty of the neighborhood. Last but not least, there is cycling. According to Google Maps, it takes about thirty minutes to forty minutes to cross Little Havana.
El Rey De Las Fritas
As their Instagram page says: “Miami’s home for la original frita Cubana”. It is a small cafe that specifies sandwiches. Their menu consists of eight hamburgers that come with fried eggs, cheese, and fries- also called fritas. I’m a big fan of fries, so I was so happy when I saw this place and even happier when I tried fritas because they were incredibly delicious.
I could not miss the opportunity to visit the world’s famous Cuban restaurant “Versailles”. This place started its business almost fifty years ago. Founded by Felipe A. Valls Sr. in 1971, they opened their doors with the lure of great tasting, authentic Cuban food and quickly gained the trust of locals.
Versailles Restaurant is comparably big, it has 370 seats. It also has its own bakery and a takeout area. The restaurant area has its own unique design, I especially liked the ornate etched glass and statuettes.
Miami is a unique place where you can experience many cultures. I think it is incredible, how you can visit Cuba without leaving Miami. This restaurant is a great place to immerse yourself in Latin culture.
Cafe La Trova
Cafe La Trova is a unique place where drinks, food, and dances perfectly work together. You can find the cafe on Calle Ocho. The menu is mostly Cuban with a little bit of Latin hybrid. Besides, they are famous for their cocktails. Unfortunately, I was there during the day and I did not have a chance to try them. However, their empanadas were incredible. I highly recommend this place. Cafe La Trova will immerse you in the Cuban atmosphere with live music played.
Down between 5th and 6th Avenues, right outside of Brickell and I95 you will find the Tosca Bakery. This is a Cuban bakery that serves a huge amount of pastries and hot meals. The owner of this bakery is Cuban and has been here almost thirty years. It is a great place to grab a little snack while exploring Calle Ocho. One of the big benefits of this place is their prices, they are really cheap. If you would have a chance to visit the bakery, take the tamales and a pastry.
The Tropical Supermarket
On Calle Ocho you will find one of the most authentic Cuban grocery stores in Little Havana. This small local store is definitely not as fancy as any chain store, however, it has a little piece of history from Cuba. The store has all of the Cuban and Latin products and foods. Locals usually visit it to grab a snack or quick lunch.
Cuba Tobacco Cigar Co
Situated on 1528 SW 8th Street, Cuba Tobacco Cigar Co is the oldest store that sells Cuban cigars. The owners are the Bello family who have been in the industry for almost 100 years, and have been operating this store since almost fifty years ago. One feature that I find interesting is that the cigars are manufactured the same way that they have forty years ago, saving family traditions. The value and genuineness that comes from Cuba Tobacco Cigar Co is incredible.
Little Havana has become an inseparable part of Miami. The little neighborhood is rich with Latin history and Latin roots. Many times in class, we discuss that Miami is a hub for international cultures. This is a perfect example of the diversity and uniqueness of Miami. Personally, I see Little Havana as a small separate city. And, as it should be history, is never full of just good events. Jewish oppression and Cuban immigration both affected the history of the neighborhood. It is rich with unforgettable events and memories of citizens of Little Havana. I found it fascinating how strong the Cuban people are. They demonstrate a powerful community. Definitely, Little Havana is a pearl and a gem that requires protection.
“Miami Neighborhoods.” MiamiandBeaches.com, http://www.miamiandbeaches.com/neighborhoods/.
Pfeffer, Ryan. “Cafe La Trova – Little Havana – Miami.” The Infatuation, The Infatuation, 27 Oct. 2019, http://www.theinfatuation.com/miami/reviews/cafe-la-trova.
“Little Havana Demographics.” Point2, http://www.point2homes.com/US/Neighborhood/FL/Little-Havana-Demographics.html.
“Little Havana: A Vernacular Mélange of Latin American Influence.” Little Havana: A Vernacular Mélange of Latin American Influence | The Cultural Landscape Foundation, tclf.org/news/features/little-havana-vernacular-melange-latin-american-influence#:~:text=Lying%20south%20and%20west%20of,Ocho)%20and%20W%20Flagler%20Street.
“Miami/Little Havana.” Wikitravel, wikitravel.org/en/Miami/Little_Havana.
“Home.” Versailles, 17 Jan. 2012, http://www.versaillesrestaurant.com/.
Cuba Tobacco Cigar Co., cubatobaccocigarco.com/.
Dahl, Marc. J.W. Warner House, http://www.historicpreservationmiami.com/jwwarner.html.