There are over 1 million Americans of Cuban descent in the Miami area. Many of them are displaced, or children of displaced Cubans escaping from the Castro regime. The heart of the Cuban story started in Little Havana, the area surrounding Calle Ocho or literally, 8th Street, in Miami. This area has been known as the center of Cuban culture in Miami for decades. Truth be told, many Cubans have since left the adjacent neighborhoods and other immigrants of Latin descent from South and Central America have moved in to the neighborhood. Still, if there is a place that is the epicenter of the Cuban experience in Miami, Little Havana symbolizes it.
Having traveled to Cuba a number of times in the last 20 years, I was very interested in getting a glimpse of the other side of the story of the Cuban experience from the ‘exile’ perspective, especially in light of the new diplomatic relations being proposed between America and Cuba.
A group of us signed up for a Sunday afternoon walking tour of Little Havana. We met our guide (Rafael or Ralph) at one of the art galleries in Little Havana, owned by Cuban artist, Agustin Gainza. That is one of the great things about this tour, it isn’t just about the food but about history, politics, geography, art and music – with food. Really it is perfect.
For the next hour and half we enjoyed a traditional Cuban sandwich at El Pub, an empanada at El Exquisito, saw Cigar rolling at the Cuba Tobacco Cigar Company, a long time enterprise of the Bello family and tried Cafe Cubano and fresh sugar cane juice.
We were led through Domino Park to watch the old timers at their favorite past time and learned about the intermingling of the Afro Cuban and Spanish culture and religions. We also learned all about the feral chickens that roam the neighborhood and have become such a problem that there is a group of officials running around in jumpsuits that say “Chicken Removal Services” – apparently they used to have “Cock Removal Services” but that was confusing – OK, they didn’t really but I couldn’t just let that joke lie there without picking it up. The chicken situation has now become an inspiration for art as you will many beautifully decorated chicken statues throughout the neighborhood.
We wrapped up with some killer ice cream at the Azucar Ice Cream Company. Get the Abuela Maria, or maybe the mango, or hell…you get to try them all and then pick a full serving so go to town.