Calle Ocho, the Cuban district of Miami, Florida
Cubans started moving to Florida in the 1950s, but their numbers greatly increased in the 1960s after Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba. In Miami, the area they settled in became known as Little Havana. By 1980, Cuban exiles made up half the population of Miami.
Little Havana still thrives today. An area along SW 8th Street (Calle Ocho) between SW 12th and SW 17th Avenues is the heart of the district. It is a popular Miami tourist destination and one of my “must-sees” when I visited Miami.
Little Havana doesn’t look much like the city of Havana, but it has a definite Latin American vibe full of colour. Latin music plays in restaurants, bars and stores, spilling into the streets. Store signs are in Spanish. Restaurants feature Cuban specialties. You hear more Spanish spoken than English. (I actually found this true of Miami in general. Miami is a majority Hispanic city. Although Cubans are the largest group, there are also people from Puerto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and other Central and South American countries.)
At one end of this stretch of Calle Ocho is Memorial Boulevard, a several block landscaped walkway along the median of SW 13th Avenue. It contains monuments commemorating significant Cuban events and freedom fighters.
At the other end of this stretch of Calle Ocho is a two-block art district with studios and galleries.
In between the art district and Memorial Boulevard are stores (“tiendas”), restaurants, bars, cafes, vibrant murals and brightly painted rooster statues. The roosters are the result of an art installation several years ago. I’ve read that roosters are an important symbol in Cuban culture.
Los Pinareños Fruteria is the oldest open-air market in Miami. Beside selling a selection of fruits and vegetables, it offers Latin-inspired milkshakes, coffee and snacks amid an eclectic decor of vintage and kitschy items. We stopped here for a Café Cubano. There are a couple of variations of Cuban coffee you can order in Little Havana. Café Cubano (or Cafecito) is very strong Cuban coffee served in a small cup. It is very sweet. Café con leche is a Latin latte, steamed milk with a shot of Cuban coffee.
We stopped at Cubaocho Museum and Performing Arts Center. Owned by Roberto Ramos, the place houses a free museum containing a collection of pre-revolutionary Cuban art and hosts a variety of music and dance events. Ramos escaped from Cuba in 1992. He had a 1953 painting “El Saxofonista” with him. After settling in Miami, he made several trips back to Havana, Cuba to collect works of art depicting Cuba from 1800 to 1958, many of which are on display here. We viewed the art on display and had a drink here – one of the best Mojitos I’ve ever had.
There are tour companies who offer guided tours of Little Havana. We chose to wander through the area on our own. It was reasonably easy to access via public transportation. Leisurely strolls, browsing through stores and galleries, and lingering over food and drink are a great way to soak up the ambiance of the area.
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