Little Havana: Secrets of Miami
by Jennifer Jordan
Miami has many attractions. The beach. The sun. The restaurants. The night life. The Miami Dolphins, er, I mean, the night life. Most of these are well known and sought-after, as spring breakers and crazy vacation takers annually venture to the Magic City for one of the best times they’ll never remember. But to those who want something more than a frozen strawberry margarita or a bucket of beer, Miami is the right place to go: it’s booming with extreme culture, filled with tiny pieces that make it largely unique and like no other American city.
One of the “tiny pieces” that paints Miami colorful is Little Havana, an area of Dade County where Cuban immigrants and refugees found solace from a Castro-controlled regime. Named after the capital of Cuba, Little Havana is geographically very close to its namesake. Culturally close as well, those who inhabit Little Havana often believe in their roots, but have little confidence in their former government.
The neat thing about Little Havana, or really any ethnic enclave you visit, is that the culture of the country it represents is maintained. Visiting Little Havana is almost like visiting Cuba, but, ya know, without the Socialism and potential missile crisis.
Walking the streets of Little Havana, visitors are treated to an array of experiences. From something as minor as old men playing checkers to colorful paintings on the side of buildings, there is culture around every corner. This area of Miami is filled with the smell of cigar rolling, coffee brewing people, juxtaposed against art galleries, family owned shops, Mom and Pop restaurants, and the sounds of lives being lived.
Little Havana, over the past years, has been mainly dedicated to Cuban exiles. However, recent years have seen Nicaraguan immigrants and Puerto Ricans immigrants follow in their footsteps, moving into the area. These days, part of Little Havana is called Little Managua, in a tribute to the Nicaraguan capital.
Little Havana is unlike any other area in the US; its exceptionality sticks out even in a place as diverse as Miami. One reason for this is the Cuban-Festive Calle Ocho street festival, held annually as part of the Carnival Miami celebrations. Free to the public, this festival showcases the pride of Hispanic communities. As people wear colors, wave flags, and adorn shirts dedicated to their heritage, food from different countries is served and culturally different music is played. This festival often serves as the spoon in Little Havana’s melting pot.
Spanish for Eighth Street, Calle Ocho occurs in March between 27th Avenue and 4th Avenue, along 8th Street. Famous for being the biggest street party in the country, it attracts a million people. Typically, the festival contains over 30 stages and hundreds of street vendors, performers, and entertainers. It has been occurring for nearly three decades. In 1998, the Calle Ocho festival found its way into the history books as it set a Guinness World Record for the longest conga line; it was a conga line that contained 119, 986 people.
Whether you venture to Little Havana just for the experience, or to be part of the conga line, it’s definitely worth the trip. Bringing a different country’s culture to America, Little Havana is a great way to see that it really is a small world after all.