Maria Simon: Little Havana 2021


Photo by Maria Simon (CC by 4.0) of FIU at Little Havana

Hello! My name is Maria Simon and I am a junior at the Honors College at Florida International University. I am also a Biological Science major aspiring to be a doctor. Seeing and feeling different cultures has always been the hobby I enjoy the most, whether it is from traveling to different countries, eating different food, and meeting unique people. I immigrated to the United States from Cuba in the year 2010 and it was one of the greatest, if not the greatest gifts my family has ever given me-the opportunity to have a prosperous future. Aside from traveling I love to play volleyball and to dance.


Little Havana is the home of many Cubans who have made that region of Miami their own version of Cuba. It is full of life just from the walls of Calle Ocho. On every corner, on every street of every restaurant you see a mural signifying the principles of the immigrants who came here when Cubans fled their country. Some murals contain the national symbols of Cuba just like the coat of arms and the flag, as well as  the famous “almendrones” which are the classic vintage cars that can be found in every corner of Havana.  Little Havana is also filled with trees and natural landscape which next to the restaurants and the music in the background makes you feel as if you are in a little part of Cuba.

Map of Little Havana


During the early 1950s until the 1960s Cuba faced many political discrepancies and differential ideologies that led to a political “war” within the island. Such issues brought the Revolution upon the cuban people. Due to the ongoing conflict that the Revolution meant and the economic toll that it took on the citizens, many decided to flee the country in hopes that one day Cuba will change. Cubans came to reside in the United States, more specifically Downtown Miami. An establishment was created in Downtown Miami that was called the Cuban Assistance Center, known today as the Freedom Tower, where they would receive basic living support such as medical and dental check-ups and the paperwork to become a resident of the United States. When they started spreading out throughout neighborhoods close to proximity, the main neighborhood that they came about was Little Havana or as it is called in spanish “La pequena Habana”.  One of the main reasons for this, aside from the familiarity they had since they first came to the Freedom Tower, was the ability to have everything nearby from their homes, from supermarkets to churches. It was also more in their economical reach to live in that area. However, before the cubans took over, Little Havana used to be mostly populated by Jewish residents. Before its famous name, Little Havana was separated on Southwest Eight Street into two sides: Riverside on the northside and Shenadoah on the southside. This took place in the early 1900s but as the cubans came in, the Jewish spreaded out to other parts of Miami and cubans personalized the area as their own with the special touch of live music and salsa shows at night in Calle Ocho. Up until today, Little Havana still contains that touch of home to all cuban immigrants. Throughout the years immigrants from other parts of the world such as Nicaragua and Honduras also resided in the area. (Dixon, 2019)


According to the United States Census Bureau, Little Havana’s Demographics centers a race of white representing 60% and hispanics representing 18.5% of the population with 328,239,523 people recorded in 2019.  The elderly over the age of 65 take  16.5% of the population and  22.3% are people under 18 years of age. Little Havana also was recorded to have a population of 50.8% of females . The median household of the family in the neighborhood was $62,843 with 10.5% living in poverty. I had the pleasure to speak with one of the residents, Carlos Ruiz. Carlos is a cuban immigrant who came as a 20 year old with his mother on the Mariel Boatlift, one of many ways of the cuban exodus, and he was selling peanuts on the corner of the street in Calle Ocho. That is traditionally seen in Cuba, where there is usually a man that passes by the neighborhoods selling peanuts. Intrigued by such a thing, I decided to ask him some questions which is where I learned that he came with his mother in 1980. He was originally from Havana and is currently 60 years old. He has lived in Little Havana most of his whole entire life and has seen it grow and prosper throughout the years. Carlos has witnessed the personalization that Little Havana has gotten after the Cubans immigrated to the neighborhood and has never wanted to leave ever since he came. Cuba stays with him and the single most part of Miami that reminds him of Cuba and makes him feel as though he is still there is Little Havana. The music, the energy, the familiarity, which mainly resides in Calle Ocho, does not allow him to go live anywhere else. Carlos had two children, Luisa and Carlitos who have now made their own lives in other parts of the United States, but as they grew up Carlos reminded them of their cuban roots and how important it is to maintain them no matter where you go. He would always tell them that no matter where life takes them their family and their will always be the most important thing to keep close to the heart.

Photo by Maria Simon (CC by 4.0) of FIU at Little Havana


Bay of Pigs Monument 

One of the landmarks that Little Havana is known for is the Bay of Pigs Monument. The Bay of Pigs monument was made to honor those Cubans that were exiled and then hired by the CIA from the 1960 to 1961 to invade Cuba. Although the mission was a failure due to lack of preparation leading to many men killed and the others imprisoned for many months, it did not stop Cubans from immigrating to the United States and fighting for the liberty of their home country (Patin, 2020). 

Photo by Maria Simon (CC by 4.0) of FIU at Little Havana

Miami Dade College’s Tower Theater 

Tower Theater was built in 1926 and has an Art Deco architectural style made by Robert Law Weed in 1931. Tower Theater has had its fair share of historic events that happened in it. The Tower Theater was the first theater in Miami to have subtitles in the early 1960s Spanish right after the cuban exiles laid eyes on Little Havana in 1959. Ironically, the movie that is being aired on the theater is called Plantados  which tells the story of many Cubans that were “presos politicos”, aka. political prisoners, during the Cuban Revolution (Patin, 2020).

Photo by Maria Simon (CC by 4.0) of FIU at Little Havana

Plaza de la Cubanidad

After many years of Cubans feeling as though their walls in Cuba were closing and there was no opportunity for them or their family members to have a prosperous economy, many decided to immigrate to the United States through water on boats or even rafts made by them using wood, clothing fabric, and even old car tires. Those who had the strength and bravery to do such a thing are called “balseros” aka rafters.  Plaza de la Cubanidad venerates all those men, women, and children who have risked their lives in such manners. It states a quote from the famous poet Jose Marti which says “…las palmas son novias que esperan” which means in English that palms are waiting brides. (Patin, 2020). 

Photo by Maria Simon (CC by 4.0) of FIU at Little Havana


Cuban Memorial Boulevard 

The Cuban Memorial Boulevard is filled with green life that lights up the neighborhood even more. It has a walkway where pigeons usually fly over and stand across the walkway. Amongst the trees reside monuments representing the struggle of the liberty of Cuba and its people. 

Jose Marti Park 

Jose Marti park would usually have a closed space filled with domino tables for people to go and play domino but after COVID-19 it closed down until further notice. Now, what people have started to do after accommodating to this new situation, they have drought their own tables and dominoes and they play as distanced from each other as possible, but they never lose the essence of playing dominoes as a true suban.


Lummus Park Historic District 

Lummus Park History district resides a little farther than the other parks. In the Lummus Park, alongside the green life, there is the Fort Dallas and the William F. English Plantation Slave Quarters. This plantation, according to the Miami River Greenway, this area became where many would settle after ongoing wars on other parts of the country. In all parts of Little Havana and its surrounding areas you can find fractions of immigrants’ history who also struggled to get to a place of freedom. 


The transportation in the neighborhood is very effective because since the very early times, it was used to get from Little Havana to places that can be a little fathrest for the residents of the area. Although, given that supermarkets, stores, and schools are very close to each other, the need for public transportation is not as much as other parts of Miami where locations of basic necessities are more spread out into the area.

Photo by Maria Simon (CC by 4.0) of FIU at Little Havana



Versailles Cuban Cuisine as the banner of the restaurant states it is “the most famous cuban restaurant”. The purpose of the owner and creator and Versailles, Felipe Valls, was to create a space that was not high-priced for families to go and enjoy some time, especially to cuban families who came from Cuba with nothing. With time, Versailles has become the hotspot for many cuban celebrations and manifestations such as the death of the former president of Cuba, Fidel Castro, and many more. Aside from its history, they do make one of the greatest “croquetas” in all of Miami (Versailles Bakery).

El Cristo 

El Cristo makes very good milkshakes and wonderful “media noche” which is cuban bread with ham and cheese. They have given the tropic touch with the natural green life that it has on the outside. 

Esquina de La Fama 

Esquina de la Fama has very authentic food and authentic energy, Every time people pass by there, there is music on and people are dancing salsa. It has a grand variety of food such as steaks and classic cuban drinks. Esquina de la Fama also has a mural with the national symbols of Cuba such as the crest. 

Photo by Maria Simon (CC by 4.0) of FIU at Little Havana


Top Cigars 

Top Cigars is one of the many cigars stores in Calle Ocho, although it is well known for the free drinks that it offers on fridays. Cuba is well known for its cigars and how they make it by hand from scratch. Top Cigars not only sells cigars but they also offer live music. 

Los Pinareños Fruteria 

“Los Pinareños Fruteria” sells fresh fruits just like the “mercados” aka. supermarkets in Cuba. It has all types of fruits and vegetables which enriches the neighborhood with colors and smells giving the area the authenticity that it deserves. 


Cubaocho is one of the most well known places where people can dance at night as well as drink “un cafe cubano” aka. cuban coffee in the afternoon, while listening to live music on the outside of the place. It carries within it, much history and personality. From the caricature drawing of the Beatles outside of it to colorful imaginary cartoons. Cubaocho is filled with life and energy. 


After many visits to Little Havana, a great variety of culture can be seen. From the background it has with the Jeweish people to the long path it has had with the cuban immigrants. Little Havana is the pure example of immigration as its core with the remembrance it has a little neighborhood that you can find in the middle of Old Havana back in Cuba. The life, the music, the colors make this neighborhood work. Although, it is true that it is not known as the safest area in Miami in spite of how much tourism it received from Calle Ocho. This must be improved. Little Havana is not only a place with dances and shows but also families with children who go to school which also require the safety that all children from all parts of Miami require as well. 


Dixon, Written by Lance. “How Did Miami’s Little Havana Become the Home for Cuban Immigrants? We Took a Look at the History.” 25 Apr. 2019. Web. 26 Apr. 2021. Retrieved from

N. Giogioso, Placing immigrant incorporation: Identity, trust, and civic engagement in Little Havana, retrieved from

US Census Bureau QuickFacts: United States retrieved from

“12 Must-See Little Havana Historic Sites.” Web. 26 Apr. 2021. Retrieved from“OUR STORY.” Versailles Bakery. Web. 26 Apr. 2021. Retrieved from

Maria Simon: Miami Service Project 2021


Photo by Annette Cruz (CC by 4.0)

My name is Maria Simon, currently a senior at the FIU Honors College, majoring in Biological Sciences and hoping to become a physician one. I love spontaneous adventures such as hiking mountains, parasailing, and yakaing. I love to meet people from all around the world and learn about their culture and backgrounds so hopefully one day I will be able to visit their homeland and feel as if it was my own. 


I volunteered with the Deering Estate, made by Charles Deering in the 1920s. Through the partnership that the Deering Estate has with the Honors College at Florida International University, they are able to have students come in and take care of its surroundings through the removal of waste around the estate. A small island right outside the Deering Estate called Chicken Key receives the trash that comes from South Beach and from the mainland. I was allowed to do a clean-up with my honors college class and Professor Bailey.  One of the main purposes of this trip was to gather as much waste that comes into Chicken Key from the main beaches such as South Beach and from the mainland. Waste that through one way or another, its final destination is that inhabitable small island. 


Beach clean-ups have always called my attention because of the vulnerability that the environment has due to every trash bag that gets through at the beach or any glass bottles that are left behind, even the small lids of bottles.  I selected the volunteering opportunity to clean up Chicken Key as much as I can because I felt that not only as a resident of Miami and this world I felt the urge to help animals that die because they can get trapped in those trash bags. As well as the marine life that cannot digest the bottle caps. This activity did relate to my major because since I study Biology and Biology is the study of all living organisms I also felt the responsibility that after studying the causes and effects that not taking care of the environment has on animals and plants. Being a citizen of this city, after the Spring Break that Miami had, where many left the public areas of Miami with a lot of waste, I felt an urge to help as much as I can. 


This opportunity to to a clean up in an area that is highly neglected and unknown to the residents of Miami made me realize how important it is to visit places to are not well known to those around you and to ask how can I be of help to preserve the institution and its surroundings and in this case being Chicken Key. Miami is the city where I live, where my family lives, and were in the future my children will also live. I would like to feel that the city I live and always lived in is clean for my children and for my children’s friends to live. It would be a great opportunity to feel as though Miami will become a cleaner city due to the help that I was able to give through this clean-up. 


The day started vey sunny and not too humid, perfect for a kayak experience. After bringing down the kayaks to the water from the Deering Estate, we passed by some mangroves before getting to Chicken Key. These mangroves had already trash bags hanging on the sides as well as plastic pieces of what seemed like to be the door of a boat or a part of a boat. We got off the kayaks and tried to clean up as much as we could before getting to the final destination-Chicken Key. It was a very interesting and fun experience since I have never kayaked before but it was very enjoyable to be able to go from one point to another where the only way to get to the other point is by water. After arriving at Chicken Key, I remember hearing the professor Bailly say that we will be able to fill at least 10 bags all the way to the top in just one afternoon and I could not believe him to be true. Although, it was in fact true. As I walked inside Chicken Key, on every corner a glass bottle, a piece of a plastic chair, and even pairs of shoes could be seen. We had lunch after cleaning up, some of us went back to the water and had a swim, while others like me took a nap. We had finalized the day with the clean-up and lunch then we decided to head back. Fortunately, the stream was in our favor so we were able to travel back faster this time around. We got on our kayaks and one of my favorite things about going back was the fact that we all laid down on the kayaks and looked up at the sky and genuinely thought about the many things that we can be grateful for, one of them is having the possibility to take charge in our environment and protect it as a group and as individuals. We are also lucky to be able to have a voice and to spread this opportunity of taking care of our surroundings. 



Participating in a clean-up really served as a learning opportunity to learn more about areas that are not as known to the public to properly take care of them. In my personal experience, the best thing that worked was our ability to work together to pick up as much waste as we could. One way that we all worked together was to manage the space into all of our bags to see who had more to fit bigger objects. Also, another way that we all worked together was by identifying areas that were cleaned by some of us to then focus on other areas that were not cleaned up. We did realize that more of us were necessary to clean up as much as we can from Chicken Key. It served me as a learning experience that you could never have too many people to work as a team and help the environment we live in. 

Maria Simon: Miami as Text 2021

Photo by Maria Garcia (CC BY 4.0) of FIU

Hello! My name is Maria Simon and I am a junior at the Honors College at Florida International University. I am also a Biological Science major aspiring to be a doctor. Seeing and feeling different cultures has always being the hobby I enjoy the most, whether if it is from traveling to different countries, eating different food, and meeting unique people. I immigrated to the United States from Cuba in the year 2010 and it was one of the greatest, if not the greatest gifts my family has ever given me-the opportunity to have a prosperous future. Aside from traveling I love to play volleyball and to dance.

Downtown Miami as Text

Photos by Maria Simon (CC by 4.0) of FIU at Downtown Miami

“Miami beneath Miami” by Maria Simon of Florida International University at Downtown Miami.

The city of Miami is well known for its beaches and it’s beautiful skyline. Although,  Miami carries a long path of historical evolvement and an enrichment of culture from all parts of the world. Miami takes part in a multicultural setting where immigration has formed part of the city for many years and the years to come.

An example of how Miami has carried its immigrant roots and has sheltered the history and the culture from represented countries all around the world is Cuba. In the late 1950s Cuba had a “Revolution” where many parents and grandparents sent their children to the United States in fear of what the Revolution would bring. The act was called “Operation Peter Pan” which happened from 1960 until 1962. After those kids came to the United States the first place they would come across with is the Freedom Tower in Downtown Miami. The Freedom Tower is the one on the bottom right corner. The children along with other cuban immigrants would do their paperwork and get a medical check-up. The Freedom Tower is where they would formally become residents of the United States of America.

Through other ways and measures, Cubans would immigrate to the United States after the political crisis in Cuba, all in hopes of returning one day. When they started realizing that the situation in Cuba was not getting better they started opening their own businesses in Miami. As seen in the top light corner, there is a restaurant that was built up by them where they would specialize in “pollo frito” (fried chicken).

IIn the realization of what Miami was doing for the cuban people, Russia granted the city a piece of the Berlin Wall in representation of the cuban people that were divided of their families due the dictatorship of their country just like Russia was once.

Miami has taken into their wings many immigrants who starve for a new life and a new meaning. It shelters their traditions and their backgrounds while creating a new life in a new country where the opportunities are endless to those who seek it and to those who work for it.

Everglades as Text

 “The other side” by Maria Simon of Florida International University at the Everglades National Park.

As the morning started to take place and the sun started to rise, I arrived at the Everglades National park. I got down the car and I could not help but notice the difference of sound, smell, and air. It was the smell of nature in an area where there is no phone service. It was just me and what consisted of my surroundings: the birds chirping and the sun hitting my face. I realized that the Everglades was one of the most special locations in Miami due to how it has not been untouched by science and technology for urbanization. Modernizing natural habitats often come with those disadvantages, especially in a city like Miami. 

The Anhinga trail facilitates the walk-way through the Everglades. It allows you to see the Everglades from an observatory and appreciative point of view. All kinds of wildlife are seen through the Anhinga trail like alligators, adult anhingas, and other kinds of birds which are typically seen in that area. 

The Everglades is such a well preserved national park that it is self-sustained. It finds its ways for resources. One of these resources is the bromeliads.

Bromeliads are in cypress domes which offer a habitat to the airplants. 

The conservation of these natural habitats and environments must be preserved and taken care of. Living in a big urban city, nature is often forgotten and sometimes neglected but humans are outdoors beings that need fresh air, the sounds of birds chirping, and the smell of soil. 


“OUR STORY.” Versailles Bakery. Web. 26 Apr. 2021. Retrieved from

South Beach as Text

Photos by Maria Simon (CC by 4.0) of FIU at South Beach

“Relief Sculptures and Pastel Colors” by Maria Simon of Florida International University at South Beach.

South Beach is one of the most multicultural parts of Miami. It has history, culture, and religion designed all over its area. With its unique colors and architectural design it takes you back in time to places all around the world. These places represent a religious part of our culture and our background given the fact that in the city of Miami you can find people from all around the world either passing through or living here. Through its three main architectural designs, Miami Modern ( aka:MiMo), Art Deco, and Mediterranean Revival, South Beach makes you travel in time and transport you to many other places.

Art Deco is an architectural design that is distinguished by its constant three parts. The design of the building is made into three parts, for example three dots on one side of the building, three windows throughout it, and the bars that cross vertically through the building. Art Deco is seen throughout the many structures that South Beach has. This architectural design reached its peak from the 1920’s through the 1930’s. 

Along with ArtDeco goes Miami Modern which is known as MiMo. MiMo is also seen in a grand variety of structures in South Beach. It developed after World War II and it created an environment or all those who would come in and feel identified with the architecture. They were also made by young designs which gave it a modern touch to the buildings and its surroundings. 

Mediterranean Revival is the third architectural design that portrays a Spanish style of living. It is particularly identified for its iron balconies, designs on a form of arches portraying a way through the building. This design was implemented in the 1920s as well as Art Deco. Mediterrenean Revival gives an atmosphere of a Spain-like neighborhood, especially with Espanola Way in one street. 

South Beach carries a history on its shoulders. Many movies have been filmed there and a special one was Scarface. Scarface is a movie that was filmed in 1983 which tells the story of one of the many people that came from Cuba during one of the most famous exodus known in history and the many ways that their life changed while coming to the United States. 

Deering Estate as Text

Photos and edit by Maria Simon (CC by 4.0) of FIU at Deering Estate

“Old traveled territory” by Maria Simon of Florida International University at Deering Estate.

While the city of Miami is seen as a very developed and up to date city, there’s plenty of proof that people lived here more than 10,000 years ago. The city of Miami is a very well explored city where you can find all types of artifacts pertaining to those who lived in it 100 years ago as well as 10,000 years ago. This found proof were rocks and tools that were used as construction mechanisms and daily activities such as cooking. Furthermore, because of those artifacts it can be analyzed that there were early inhabitants of the northern continent in Miami, specifically in the area of the Deering Estate. 

The Deering Estate was built by Charles Deering in the 1920s and it holds around 444 acres of land which he lived on. This part of the estate is called the Stone House which is seen in the picture above on the left. 

Through Deering Estate, one can get to Vizcaya, although, initially to get there one would have to go by car through the cutler ridge because the cutler ridge is an elevated area but it is 45 minutes away from the Vizcaya. 

The Deering estate went through many time changing decades such as the Prohibition in the United States where alcohol was not allowed. Although, Charles Deering is believed to be the exception. At the bottom of the Estate there is a wine cellar that was built during the Prohibition Era. A bottle of wine from the wine cellar can be seen on the top right of the picture. 

The inside of the Deering Estate offers a grand variety of culture and religion from past decades. For example, in one of the bedrooms there is a stained glass mosaic with The Madonna with the Child which is the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus. This can be seen in the picture on the bottom right on top.

Vizcaya Museum & Gardens as Text

Photos and Edit by Maria Simon of FIU (CC by 4.0) at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

The Rise of Mediterranean Revival in Miami” by Maria Simon of Florida International University at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

The famous Vizcaya Museum & Gardens was built between 1914 and 1922. Its original owner, James Deering, designed the estate in such a way that it would accentuate its tone of freedom, pleasure, and eccentricity. The name Vizcaya comes from the feminized version of Sebastian Vizcaino, a Spanish explorer from the 15th century who James Deering was captivated by. Before the entrance, there is an arc which is inspired by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France. The history behind it is that James Deering saw Arc de Triomphe as an inspiration even though it means the victories of Napoleon’s army. The image of the arc is above on the very top.

At the very beginning of the entrance it is seen the god of wine and pleasure standing up with a bowl of grapes in his hand. In front of the god there is a 2,000 year old bath. Right at the very beginning of the inside of the estate you get the sense that you are entering a state of sin due to the liberty that the god transfers you. Such a picture of the god is seen above on the middle image on the left side. James Deering’s unconventional way of god complex is seen on a stained glass window’s top where it states in french “ J’AI DIT”, meaning “I said”. This means that what he says is the final word, it is what rules in his estate and in his mind. A picture of the stained glass can be seen above on the middle image on the right side.

James Deering’s sexuality was always in doubt given that he was never married nor did he have kids. It can be seen in two of the tapestries in the estate, which also supports this suspicious idea. On the tapestries it shows the phallic figures representing a male and flowers representing the female. This tapestry is on the bottom right corner. On the other tapestry, there is a peculiar phallic figure at the center of it.  This figure is on the bottom left corner. 

The estate has various scents in  it. For example, in one room which is done in Paris you get the Neoclassical design where everything is perfectly symmetrical and balanced. If you stand on a section of the floor and look up, you get to see the same thing on the roof.  

Margulies as Text

Photos and Edit by Maria Simon of FIU (CC by 4.0) at Margulies Art Collection

“Immigration and loss of identity at its core” by Maria Simon of FIU at Margulies Collection Gallery 

As I entered the Margulies Collection gallery, I felt a singularity between the art pieces. Something I have never seen before. The art works felt familiar even though I have never been to the gallery before. The first art piece I saw (picture on the left) was Hurma by Magdalena Abakanowicz in 1994–98 which tells the story of the Holocaust. When jeweish women, children, and men would do labor at the concentration camps in Germany after some time they became a form of a robot, where the only thing they did was work. Children had no future and men and women could not see their kids have a future either. The art piece represents the loss of identity that they felt during that time, after being stripped of their liberty and human rights, they felt as though they had no humanity, they were just a shell to do work and follow the rules. This art piece not only represents the emptiness that the Nazis brought upon many jews but also the loss of identity that many immigrants face after their home country took away their rights to study, to prosper, and basically become the owners of their lives. 

The second art piece that brought upon my attention (picture on the top right) was the Asia Pacific Ant-Farm done in 1995 by Yukinori Yanagi. Little background story of this art work: It was made with ants that were put inside each of the boxes that contained the flag of the country. These ants did not follow the rule and walked through the conduit that connected every flag with one another. This art piece represents immigration and how there’s no real barrier between countries as they connect with each other by the people. 

The connection that people have with one another is not dependent on space nor physical aspects. It is dependent on the goals of each other, of the mentality, and way of being. We are all connected no matter our skin color, our race, nor background. The art piece National Anthem, by Kota Ezawa in 2018 represents that. While the National Anthem goes on, all the players and viewers are united into one representing a commonality between them: the game (picture on the down left). 

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