Hello! My name is Gabriela Peña but Gabbiee works just fine. I am currently a junior in the Honors College at Florida International University, majoring in Psychology with a route in the field of Behavior. I expect to graduate in the Fall of 2021 and continue to pursue two Master’s in Health Services Administration and Speech-Language Pathology.
I was born here in Miami, Florida yet I consider myself 99% Cubana. Like I mean how can I not as the daughter of two Cuban immigrants, who live in a city that fully embraces the Cuban culture and all its traditions. Miami is a huge cultural melting pot and what better way to explore my Cuban heritage than right here in my hometown through this project.
The neighborhood that I chose to delve myself into was none other than Little Havana, aka “Miami’s Vibrant Cuban Heart.” This neighborhood shares my parents’ stories and struggles, the ones that I can confidently say have made me into the croqueta-loving, cafecito-drinking, chancletera I am today!
Little Havana, which also goes by as La Pequeña Habana in Spanish, named after the largest city in Cuba, La Habana, is home to many Cuban exiles as well as other Latin American immigrants. The neighborhood is a part of the City of Miami, Florida, United States which lies within Miami-Dade County lines, running across a span of about 21,815 square miles as of 2010. Its borders are constantly changing and the neighborhood does not seem to have officially described its geographical extent.
“The area has merely existed with loose boundaries based largely on cultural
perception. According to the many boundary descriptions suggested by the city of Miami Planning Department, the borders of the area known as “Little Havana‟ not only have continued to change, but they have continued to shrink in size.”
– Hilton Cordoba, FAU
As of now the borders that are said to define Little Havana are:
- Western Border: Southwest 27th Avenue
- Eastern Border: Southwest 4th Avenue
- Northern Border: Northwest 7th Street
- Southern Border: Southwest 16 Street
Within these given borders you can see that the neighborhood contains very little greenery and natural reserves. Its spaces are filled with small businesses like cultural restaurants and the local mom and pop enterprises. It is a neighborhood best known for its “street life, … cultural activities, political passion, and great warmth amongst its residents”(Little Havana, 2020).
Photos taken by osseous found on Creative Commons (CC by 2.0)
Retrieved from Public Domain
The neighborhood of Little Havana has for a long time been a hotspot destination for many minority groups. It has housed a number of groups including:”Miccosukees, Bahamians, Jews, Greeks, Cuban refugees, and immigrants from almost every Latin American country” (Shell-Weiss, 2009).
Before Little Havana became what it is today it went through some drastic cultural changes, it was originally a lower-middle-class Southern and thriving Jewish neighborhood in the 1930s (Little Havana, 2020). It was composed of two neighborhoods: Riverside and Shenandoah. Calle Ocho was formerly known as Orange Glades Road and marked the division within the area that is still noticeable today. “Riverside, the neighborhood north of Calle Ocho, acquired its name due to its close proximity to the Miami River and was home to some of Miami’s earliest schools, churches, and businesses”(Aag, 2020). Shenandoah (the neighborhood south of Calle Ocho) on the other hand remained a farmland as a single-family residential area.
All of that changed in the late 1950s and the 1960s when waves of immigrants coming from Cuba arrived with the hopes of escaping their social-political oppression otherwise known as the Castro regime. These Cuban immigrants “became known in the Cuban Community as the ‘golden exiles’ because of the human capital that they brought with them. Many of them were well educated and had business experience. They settled in Riverside and Shenandoah and established businesses and social organizations” (Aag, 2020). Being used to living in close proximities back home, they began spreading their roots by establishing and transforming neighborhoods around the Downtown area while still managing to stay close to the city’s epicenter. Neighborhoods were given nicknames according to their cultural landscape hence the change of Riverside and Shenandoah to the local sobriquet of La Pequeña Habana, resembling home.
Today, Little Havana’s Cuban population has decreased drastically yet still remains over 90% Hispanic. Its landscape has changed as different groups have come to the area making it their home and cultures like Uruguayan, Nicaraguan, Colombian and Peruvian can be now be seen throughout the neighborhood. Although these new Hispanic additions have been made, most old mom and pop shops continue to be primarily Cuban and the Cuban-inspired designs aided by Jose Casanova, a City of Miami Planner, are still intact today. He helped with the restoration of the Tower Theater on Calle Ocho and the creation of Domino Plaza (La Placita) which houses Domino Park. He also led the expansion of the Cuban Memorial Park.
According to The City of Miami Planning Department, Little Havana’s 2020 current population consists of 49,206 inhabitants. It is composed of 19,341 households that are made up of 11,266 families. The people live a paycheck to paycheck style of life with their average household income being around $15,213.16 depicting the neighborhood’s impoverished state.
When it comes to the age, sex and ethnicity that make up of the neighborhood, Little Havana is home to a mostly Younger Adult population. In accordance to the data stated by Statistical Atlas, most of themare Males between the ages of 22 to 39. Meanwhile, Little Havana shows to be thriving with minorities as Hispanics make up more than 90% of the population with the majority of them being Cuban and Black individuals constituting almost another 5% of the population.
Retrieved from Statistical Atlas via Screenshot
Interview: with Diana Medina
Diana Medina is 34 years old and was a student part of the FIU Honors Program. She was born and raised in Miami but comes from a long line of Cuban family. As a kid she grew up in Little Havana with a strong appreciation for her Cuban culture which resonated throughout every aspect of her life.
Gabbiee: While living in Little Havana what cultures did you encounter most?
Diana: In the early 90’s when I was a kid, the community was primarily Cuban but throughout the years diversity began to increase although it remains primarily Hispanic. Now with more tourism in the area, the Cuban culture is more noticeable and celebrated.
Gabbiee: What race/ethnicity are you? And as a kid and as an adult, did you engage any cultural activities while at school or with family?
Diana: I was born and raised in Miami and I am white skinned but my parents and grandparents are Cuban.
Diana: The Cuban culture was very much alive in my family. For instance, we used to listen to old-school Cuban music on vinyl records as I was growing up. We also ate the traditional foods.
Diana: Another interesting fact is that even though my father was a doctor he was also very involved in the Anti-Castro movement and was the leader of a political organization that focused on that. As a child I had the opportunity to participate in a radio show that aired both in Cuba and right here in South Florida.
Diana: My family also kept a lot of traditions alive especially in regards to the holidays and the way we celebrated them.
Gabbiee: Oh wow! That’s awesome to have these kind of memorable moments.
Gabbiee: In your opinion what has changed since you grew up there? What places are new or still remain preserved?
Diana: Most grocery stores that I grew up with and authentic mom and pop shops are gone. Now most of the businesses that took their place feel inauthentic and straight out of a movie set for tourists. It it not like when the owner knew my grandparents and conversations sparked out of nowhere about family history and coincidences.
Gabbiee: One last question, what do consider some “must see” places in Little havana?
Diana: Definitely Domino park. There you see old-school Cuban guys playing dominoes. When I see them playing it connects me to my childhood.
Diana: Another must see is the murals. There is one mural that I used to love as a child. It was filled with Cuban artist, writers,and other famous celebrities from Cuba. As more hispanic cultures came and settled it now depicts more of a universal Hispanic community not just Cuban.
Retrieved from various public domains, Creative Commons, flickr, etc. (CC by 2.0)
Calle Ocho is the center of Cuban life and culture in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. This vibrant street is known for its Cuban restaurants, popular ventanitas, Cuban bakeries and colorful street festivals. This vast and endless street is also where some of the most iconic festival in the whole city take place, one them being The Calle Ocho Music Festival. It takes place in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Florida between SW 8th Street and 27th Avenue.
Viernes Culturales or Cultural Fridays is Little Havana’s monthly festivals that happen on the third Friday of every month stretching across 13th and 17th avenue. “This monthly celebration of Cuban living is where history, food, music, dancing, and art collide. Here, more than 4,000 visitors roam through Little Havana as art galleries keep their doors open late, local restaurants spill their tables out onto the streets, neighborhood artisans sell their handicrafts, locals play dominoes and roll authentic Cuban cigars, and live music and dancers keep the fun going late.
It’s both a party and a history lesson, and for Calle Ocho, it’s simply not to be missed.”
Bay of Pigs Museum & Library
Retrieved from Public Domain
The Bay of Pigs Museum, named after two Bay of Pigs invasion Veterans, is a historic place near the famous Calle Ocho in Little Havana.
Bay of Pigs Museum and library is small place that is packed with old pieces and artifacts from the Bay of Pigs invasion in the early 1960s. The Museum displays details from the attempt to overthrow the Cuban government.
While walking around you can hear stories from employees who participated in the invasion. In one of the rooms of the museum you can appreciate a wall full of pictures from the fallen heroes of the war. The museum also has videos of what happened on those days in April. As well as small collection of memories on display, that includes the Cuban Brigade 2506 flag, held by John F. Kennedy in his 1962 address.
At a ceremony in Miami, December 29, 1962, members of Cuban Invasion Brigade 2506 presented this flag, which they had carried into the Bay of Pigs Invasion to President Kennedy. In accepting the flag, the President said: “I can assure you that this flag will be returned to brigade in a free Havana.”Bay of Pigs Museum
Cuban Memorial Boulevard Park
Photo taken by wallyg from Creative Commons (CC by 2.0)
Cuban Memorial Boulevard Park is an intersection of SW 8th street and SW 13th Avenue composed by four blocks filled with monuments that pay tribute to Cuba’s freedom fighters. One of the memorials is the Ethereal Torch of The Brigade 2506, illuminated every day and night by an endless flame commemorating those who passed away in the Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961.
Among these monuments there is also a bas-relief map of Cuba displaying each one of the island’s municipios and a bronze statue in honor of Nestory Izquierdo, participant of the Bay of Pigs invasion and Nicaragua’s Somozan forces. You can also find more memorandums from Cuban writer, Jose Martí.
Máximo Gómez Park (Domino Park)
Photo taken by paologmb & wallyg from Creative Commons (CC by 2.0)
Domino Park is an authentic meeting spot for older Cubans. This is where everyone comes to play one of Cuba’s most iconic game of Dominoes. It is an everyday tradition for the residents of Little Havana to come and take part in endless rounds of dominoes while sipping on some cafecito as they discuss politics and gossip with their friends. A place where the gameplay is taken with seriousness and passion. A tradition that never ends.
The park has walkways decorated with domino tilework. And it is surrounded by benches for spectators.
It is a place where every Cuban feels like home.
Retrieved from Public Domain
Marlins Park is the current home of the Miami Marlins, the city’s Major League Baseball Franchise. But before it was even known as Marlins Park it used to be home to Orange Bowl Stadium located in Little Havana. The facility has 37,000 seats and features a retractable roof to protect players and fans from the weather. The building was built to resemble the water merging with the land, making emphasis on the symbolism of the city’s coastal landscape. On the outside, the stadium has glass walls which reflects the gorgeous views of the downtown skyline.
Also on the back of the field, it has a backdrop with urban life and mosaics displaying the diversity in Miami’s culture.
Don’t forget to support your local Marlins by purchasing your tickets here!
If you are wondering how to get to Little Havana and what modes of transportation are available to you in the neighborhood, then I have the answer for you.
You can get to Little Havana by Bus, Subway, Train, and your own personal mode of transport from just about anywhere in city. According to the Moovit app there are only three ways (public transportation) of getting there:
Some of the quickest ways of getting to Little Havana are 31 minutes from Hard Rock Cafe via Bus-7, 28 minutes from Brickell via Bus-208, and maybe by personal transport depending on where you live. From personal experience, if you decide to drive there you might find yourself parking curbside and paying a fee whether it be through the Pay by Phone app or with your own pocket change.
Versailles Cuban Bakery
Photo taken by jpellgen from Creative Commons (CC by 2.0)
Versailles is a very popular and cherished place for many people in Miami. It is a cafeteria, restaurant, and bakery all in one. The large restaurant which seats almost 400 people is located on Calle Ocho in Little Havana. It has a takeout area through a small ventanita that reflects those in Cuba and has the ability to host banquets and parties. It was established by Felipe A. Valls in 1971, who has also founded many other Cuban cuisines around South Florida.
Versailles is a popular restaurant among local Cuban natives and tourists known for its delicious Cuban food and connection to Anti-Castro politics. People go to enjoy the typical Cuban sandwiches such as the “media noche” y el “cubano” while chismeando over some Cafecito. From personal experience, as soon as you enter you are guaranteed to come across older folks discussing politics, gossip, and the smell of fresh Cuban expresso. The food is like no other, authentic, a simple bite can take you right back to Cuba! The croquetas, pastelitos de guayaba, and homemade chocolate ice-cream that taste like what we know today as Nutella.
Sanguich De Miami
Photos by Gabriela Peña (CC by 4.0)
It has never been about what a sanguich is, but what it has always been— homemade.Sanguich De Miami
Sanguich De Miami is a recently opened sandwich shop by a young Cuban couple. The shop seats 25 cuban sandwich lovers and uses its decorative walls and tiles to pay tribute to Cuba’s early 1900s. The name itself is a play on the Spanglish language and all the Cuban who butcher the English word, sandwhich.
They take their sanguich making seriously, every single one is made with love and only the finest ingredients that are produced entirely in-house, something they let you know as soon as you walk in.
There not a spot more Cuban than this one as you can even order your Cafecito through a ventanita, a tradition that goes back generations.
From my own experience, I felt right at home as the owner himself prepared, hosted, and gossiped with us as he made our delicious meal.
A truly unforgettable experience!
Azucar Ice Cream Company
Photo by Grete Howard LRPS on flickr (CC by 2.0)
AZUCAR! sang Celia Cruz, an infamous Cuban artist whose face is exhibited on the inside of the artisanal mom and pop ice cream shop.
“azucar ice cream company, llc, located in the heart of miami’s little havana neighborhood, was founded in july 2011 as artisanal ice cream and sorbet boutique. inspired by south florida’s diverse cultures, our hot subtropical climate and a passion for sabor latino, we create our ice cream confections just like abuela used to make, using the highest quality ingredients and a desire to bring smiles to friends faces.”Azucar Ice Cream Co.
Azucar Ice Cream Company is not your typical scoop shop hosting a large variety of flavors that remind you of the tropical island of Cuba. Their ingredients are fresh and resembling Cuba are natural ingredients collected from local farmers and suppliers giving their guest “a cultural ‘farm to cone’ experience”(Azucar Ice Cream Company). They also have flavors that pay tribute to celebrities and many other Cuban insiders and slang.
La Casa De Los Trucos
Retrieved from Public Domain
La Casa de los Trucos, Miami’s oldest costume shop. A family-owned shop that evolved from a small space in Calle Ocho to a larger building in the same street. The business has been opened for 45 years and counting.
Coming into the store is like madness. On their walls they have thousands of costumes, makeup and accessories so that people create their own designed costumes having a wide variety for all ages.
When Halloween comes, it gets even busier but the wait and rush are always worth it.
Los Pinareños Fruteria
Photo taken by wallyg from Creative Commons (CC by 2.0)
With just one step inside you are guaranteed to feel transported directly to the island oasis.
Inside the semi-outdoor market there are endless rows of fresh fruit, art and relics that fill its space. Every thing is natural. Fresh fruit smoothies are made right in front of you and the collection of exotics tropical fruits like mangoes, mammeys and coconuts which are native to Cuba intrigue you and open up your wallet.
When you pay your visit don’t forget to get yourself an order of guarapo (sugar cane juice) which is made to order.
Little Havana is a vast neighborhood that I can’t even begin to summarize. A place full of life and traditions. Within its undefined and constantly changing boundaries, it houses a variety of different Hispanic cultures, people, business and more of what make it what it is today.
Even though it lacks in greenspaces it makes up for it in culture and authenticity. Take a stroll or signup for a tour as you eat traditional Cuban foods and learn about the neighborhood’s distinctive history.
Home to a wide array of festivals, colorful and powerful murals, historical landmarks, delicious food and friendly people…
Little Havana is a must visit neighborhood bound to give you a great experience, one that you most certainly won’t forget. It is definitely is a place that everyone should visit despite their cultural background.
Aag. “Little Havana: A Latin American Gateway.” AAG Newsletter, 30 Mar. 2020, news.aag.org/2013/10/little-havana-a-latin-american-gateway/.
“All About Little Havana and Calle Ocho.” All About Little Havana and Calle Ocho, http://www.miamiandbeaches.com/neighborhoods/little-havana.
“Azucar Ice Cream Company – Cuban Ice Cream – Miami, FL.” Azucar Ice Cream Company – Cuban Ice Cream – Miami, FL, www.azucaricecream.com/.
Bond, Amber Love.“The 21 Essential Restaurants to Visit in Little Havana.” Eater Miami, Eater Miami, 11 Feb. 2020, miami.eater.com/maps/best-restaurants-little-havana-miami.
Brozic, Ashley.“Inside La Casa De Los Trucos, Miami’s Oldest Costume Store.” Racked Miami, Racked Miami, 20 Oct. 2014,miami.racked.com/2014/10/20/7572457/la-casa-de-los-trucos-miami-costume-store.
City of Miami – Planning Department, web.archive.org/web/20080517201540/www.miamigov.com/Planning/pages/services/Census.asp.
“How to Get to Little Havana in Miami by Bus, Subway or Train.” Moovit, moovitapp.com/index/en/public_transit-Little_Havana-Miami_FL-site_15356974-742.
“Little Havana.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Apr. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Havana.
“Race and Ethnicity in Little Havana, Miami, Florida (Neighborhood).” The Demographic Statistical Atlas of the United States – Statistical Atlas, statisticalatlas.com/neighborhood/Florida/Miami/Little-Havana/Race-and-Ethnicity.
Shell-Weiss, M. (2009). Coming to Miami: A Social History. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.