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.
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).
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).
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).
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.
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 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.
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 https://thenewtropic.com/miami-little-havana-cuban-history/
N. Giogioso, Placing immigrant incorporation: Identity, trust, and civic engagement in Little Havana, retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Map-of-Little-Havana-Miami_fig2_48189278
US Census Bureau QuickFacts: United States retrieved from https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045219
“12 Must-See Little Havana Historic Sites.” MiamiandBeaches.com. Web. 26 Apr. 2021. Retrieved from https://www.miamiandbeaches.com/things-to-do/history-and-heritage/12-historic-sites-in-little-havana“OUR STORY.” Versailles Bakery. Web. 26 Apr. 2021. Retrieved from https://www.versaillesbakery.com/history