Ineffable Miami: Little Havana by Blanca Alcaraz

Biography

“Photo by Blana Alcaraz CC by 4.0”

Hi everyone! My name is Blanca J Alcaraz and I am a senior at Florida International University. This semester I am taking my final course of the honors program and John Bailly is the professor of the course titled Miami In Miami which takes on the challenge of exploring a city many call “home” yet are complete strangers to it. The class focuses on the hidden gems of the city of Miami, the art that was inspired by its rich culture and the places of historical meaning that now serve as a reminder of what started it all. Having the opportunity to take this class was life changing and I am forever grateful for knowledge I have gained and the things i have had the opportunity to experience. I am always up for a challenge and this class was definitely challenging for me but it was also an adventure and I loved every minute of it.

Geography

Little Havana is considered a loosely defined district that is roughly 5.74 squared miles west of downtown Miami and is home to more than 50,000 residents. Many would describe it as Miami’s vibrant Cuban heart and its borders are as follows: eastern border southwest 47th avenue, western border southwest 27th avenue, southern border southwest 16th street and northern border is northwest 7th street. Its most famous street by far is 8th street, also known as “Calle Ocho” and it is a local tourist attraction as well as a place where festivals are hosted and some of the best food is found. The neighborhood is the 2nd Miami- Dade neighborhood to make it to the 11most endangered list, as it is considered a historic place whose existence is detrimental to preserving the history our Miami. The buildings in Little Havana date back to Miami’s early days and its buildings are attributed as being architecturally diverse mid-20th century home, apartment and commercial buildings. This Cuban American enclave is a cultural melting pot that continues to thrive even when it faces the threat of being taken down and redeveloped.

History

“Photo by Blana Alcaraz CC by 4.0”

What today is known as Little Havana has actually been a common destination for many groups such as the Miccosukee’s, Bahamian Jews, Cuban refugees and immigrants from almost every Latin American country. Before there was Little Havana, there were two neighborhoods, Riverside and Shenandoah, Calle Ocho was known as Orange Glades Road. Riverside was the neighborhood north of Calle Ocho, which acquired its name because of its proximity to the Miami River, was home to some of the earliest churches, schools and business in Miami. On the other hand, Shenandoah, which is south of Calle Ocho, developed in the 1920’s and experienced a slower rise in development then did Riverside.

The first wave of Cubans arrived between the years of 1959 to 1962 and this group of people became known as the “golden exiles” because of the human capital they brought along with them. Once settled the refugees began to establish businesses and social organizations and from 1965 to 1973 the second wave of Cubans were airlifted into the US, about three to four thousand per month and as they continued to settle, Riverside and Shenandoah collectively became Little Havana. The buildings that once house Jews and Anglo Americans now housed the newly arrived Cubans. Cubans are not the only ethnicity in Little Havana, they do make up 58% of the population but the rest is made up by Hispanics from all over south America and central America

Demographics

Little Havana has always been a multi-ethnic community. The majority of the population is Cuban, making about 58% of the population but the other 42% is made up of Nicaraguans, Hondurans, Colombians and Peruvians. The neighborhood has changed as the different groups of people and have and gone but Nicaraguans have an affinity for Little Havana as you can find their restaurants aka “Fritangas” at every major intersection. Of that 42% about 4% is black or African Americans which goes to show just how diverse the neighborhood really is.  Little Havana has a population of roughly 50,000 people with 19,341 households and 11,266 families residing in it. The annual average household income is $15,213 and the median age is 41 years of age with 43% of the families having children under the age of 18.

The people of Little Havana may not all be rich in money, but they are rich in culture, from the food to the music, it’s a rhythm that they carry in their blood. The entire population of Little Havana is hardworking by nature and a lovely woman that I was able to speak with spoke about her life as someone who lives in little Havana. Lourdes Pensado is 59-year-old women who came to the United states 25 years ago and settled in Little Havana.

She has two sons, Wilson and Nicolas both were born and raised in Little Havana and she describes her life as “full of color”, yes she has struggled and faced challenges but she says that she has found comfort in her neighbors and those strangers that she met along the way and became family.  I asked her if she ever felt out of place as a Colombian in a predominately Cuban neighborhood and she said something that resonated with me “here we are one”, in a country that is foreign Lourdes said that they don’t label themselves as one Cuban or Colombian or Peruvian but that they are all Hispanic. The Hispanic culture runs deep through the streets of this neighborhood and it is truly a melting pot of all those looking for a better future, all those that are here for a better tomorrow.

Landmarks

Little Havana itself can be considered a landmark, as the entire neighborhood is a representation of a journey, of a people of a culture and some of the buildings commemorate. Going to Little Havana is a whole day’s adventure but there are certain must-see places that have to be on your list.

“Calle Ocho” walk of Fame

By Dtobias – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4119108

Much like the Hollywood walk of fame, Miami has its own walk of fame which pays tribute to those who have left an indelible mark and originated from little Havana or claim the city of Miami as their own. The walk of fame is out in the open and is on southwest 8th street between 12th and 17th avenue, and thousands of people walk along it every day. Right in the center of the strip that is Calle Ocho this is a great place to start your little Havana journey. Here you will find stars with the names of Boxer Roberto Duran, radio personality Martha Flores, singer-songwriter Gloria Estefan and of course the queen of salsa Celia Cruz

By Comayagua99 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23038578

Manuel Artime Theater

Formerly known as the Riverside Baptist Church, in 1975 the city of Miami purchased this building and transformed it into community center called Little Havana Community Center. In 1982 the center was renamed to Manuel Artime Community center to recognize a hero of the Cuban Brigade, Dr. Manuel Artime Buesa. The center and theater’s purpose is to provide cultural activities for organizations that can then be of benefit to the community. The community of Little Havana really benefits from this as there are numerous films, events and cultural activities that allow them to enjoy themselves and stay connected to their heritage. The theater seats about 839 people and gives artists the opportunity to showcase their talent to the community. The theater is adaptable and can be suited for opera, dance and symphonic presentations, just to name a few. To reserve the space for an event that you want to hold the rates are about $205 for events from 2-4 hours long. To attend an event the price for admission is between $30-$35, a great price to watch a show like the annual Miami Jazz Fest that happens on February 14th!

Bay of Pigs museum

By freddthompson – Fred Thompson at Bay of Pigs Museum, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59194952

Located on 1821 Sw 9th street, this is a unique museum that was built in memory of the Bay of Pigs Invasion’s Brigade. The museum was dedicated on April 17th by 400 attendees and among those were both veterans and Cuban exiles. The museum is small but its collection is nothing short of extraordinary, it contains memorabilia from the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and plaques of fallen comrades. One great thing about the museum is that members of the staff are veterans of the Bay of Pigs war! There are also detailed videos that showcase what happened during those three days that will allow you get a glimpse of that time in history. The museum is open Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and entry is free which is great if your trying to stay on a budget while exploring the neighborhood

Green

Maximo Gomez Park

By Infrogmation of New Orleans – Photo by Infrogmation, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10728348

The Maximo Gomez Park better known as the Domino Park can be considered the “it” spot of Little Havana. Founded by Rene Janero in 1976 the park cost the city of Miami $115,000 to build.   This park is located on the corner of Sw 8th street and 15th avenue and opens everyday form 9am – 6pm. Here members of the community spend their time in fellowship, drinking coffee, smoking cigars and talking about baseball or politics but most importantly they play dominoes. If you want to experience the true expression of Cuban culture, this is the park you have to visit. Tourist love it because it feels like stepping into real Cuban culture, its “Cuba stuck in time”.  The park also has an artistic mural made by Oscar Thomas with images of the presidents of the united states. The park itself is named after a Cuban revolutionary, General Maximo Gomez and you will not truly experience Little Havana until you’ve gone to the domino park.

cuban memorial boulevard park

Image by Wally Gobetz, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, www.citylab.com/equity/2012/09/death-and-life-little-havana/3275/.

This park stretched along SW 13th AVE south of 8th street and it contains monuments to Cuban icons. Some of these monuments include the Eterna Torch in Honor of the 2506th Brigade, commemorating the exiles who died during the Bay of Pigs Invasion. You will also find a Jose Marti memorial and a statue of Madonna. It can be easily reached through any mode of transportation. This park is small but does is great or a stroll that allows you to learn about Cuban history. One of the monuments is a map of Cuba with a Jose Marti quote that says “the country is agony and duty” beneath it. These are just some of the few monuments displayed in the park. This is definitely worth the visit.

Jose marti park

This park detours from the center of Little Havana and is just a few minutes from downtown Miami. This is a green space of 1.7 acres that runs along the Miami River and is pretty popular among the citizens of the area. It is great for all ages which is beneficial to families in Little Havana because your children can play on the basketball courts or indoor gym while you sit on one of the picnic tables and watch the tugboats pass by. There is also a six-lane 25-meter pool at Jose Marti Park which is a perfect spot for swimmers and is open from 10am- 5pm and admission is free. The park also has activities that are geared towards the community like after school programs and summer camp for children. It is not necessarily a relic to little Havana, but it is well known and definitely should be one of the places you visit. The park is named after Jose Marti, a Cuban poet, philosopher and essayist

Transportation

Retrieved from mobile.com/webtracker/webtracker.htm?labels=false&tkn=81E39EC9-D773-447E-BE29-D7F30AB177BC&lan=en.

Miami is a spectacular city that many dream of visiting but if it has one flaw it has to be the traffic. It is absolutely dreadful, traveling by car or bus is basically torture. It can take up to one hour to travel 2 miles because of the poor street designs and the overpopulated neighborhoods. Sadly, Little Havana is no exception to this rule, most transportation in the neighborhood is in cars or public busses and a trolley system that is very limited. In order to get from one place to the other in the city of Miami most people will argue that your best option is to drive there because public transportation will take you just as long and there are no added personal benefits. Of course, if more people used public transportation, we would not only reduce carbon emissions, but we would reduce the amount of times we would all spend in traffic because there would be less cars on the road. I have been a personal victim of traffic and it is something that never gets any better, it only gets worse and as our population continues to increase this problem only becomes more pressing. Above is a picture of the bus routes that are available in Little Havana, a screenshot I took from the website.

Food

Food is a big part of every culture and so many people identify through it. Food sent simply something we eat to survive, it is an art form, a reminder of where we came from and it is the one of the simplest forms of love. The Latin community everywhere is extremely proud of their food, their dishes speak of tradition and the taste is a vivid memory of the times we spent on our land. This is something that is especially true in Little Havana, there are restaurants that you must go see as they aren’t simply serving a plate of food, they are serving an experience

Ball & Chain

“Photo by Blana Alcaraz CC by 4.0”

Ball and Chain is a neighborhood treasure, opening in the 1930’s this swinging bar and live music venue on 8th street used to have a shady repertoire as one of Miami’s criminal underbelly with some of the worst criminals as their top clientele. This place is credited with having the best mojitos in town and features live performances on stage for their customers to enjoy. The venue also featured African American artists in the 1940’s and 50’s and the entertainment continued to get better and better through the decades. This venue has food, drinks and the liveliest entertainment, it is one of the premiere bars and lounge in Miami Florida. The venue also sells merchandise with its logo and the products include “Guayaberas” to Fedoras, coffee cups and onesies for the youngest members of the family. This is one of the pricier restaurants with appetizers ranging between $9-$12 and the entrees ranging from $20-$80. The restaurant opens from 11:00am – 12:00 am from Monday – Wednesday but Thursdays it is open until 2 am and Friday and Saturday the restaurant closes at 3 am. 21 + Id is required during the evening hours but between 11:00 – 6pm anyone is more than welcome to come and enjoy the music and food. I was able to visit the restaurant and even tried my hand at salsa dancing with the performers.

Versailles Famous Cuban Bakery

If you know one thing about Cuban cuisine is that the people thrive on bakery food and one of the most famous ones is located right on 8th street. This bakery is open Monday through Thursday from 8am – 10 am, Friday and Saturday from 8am – 1 am and Sunday from 8am to 11 pm. Sadly you cannot make any reservations but there is plenty of room to accommodate you and your party. The bakery was opened in 1971 by Felipe Valls and his goal was to create a place where families could enjoy quality food with quality people and at an affordable price. During the time of its opening many Cuban families were financially struggling and could not afford luxury dinners so Felipe wanted to offer a dining experience that they could affords. There is staff in the restaurant that have been working there for 40 years and it’s a place they now call home. Their website is so aesthetically pleasing that if you did not want to go before, just looking at their pictures will make you want to visit it. They serve croquetas, empanadas, pastries and coffee, cakes and pies, sandwiches and desserts.  All the photos are taken from their website and I recommend that you definitely check it out. https://www.versaillesbakery.com/home

Selva negra restaurant

Although Little Havana is predominately Cuban, many other nationalities have left their mark on the neighborhood. This restaurant is a great example, described as “a little corner of Nicaragua” opens its doors to international food. The food is inspired by the Nicaraguan cuisine but there is an international twist to it. The owner is Marisol Mendoza and the head Chef Carlos Oviedo enthusiastically invite all those willing to try something new. The menu at the restaurant is vast it offers breakfast, brunch, appetizers, sandwiches and salads, cocktails, soup, chicken, beef, pork, seafood and desserts. You can also make reservations for events and you are able to select meal plans that range from $18 – $32 per person at your party. The food is described as modern and seductive by the people who frequent the restaurant and if you saw their dishes, you’d say the same thing. The restaurant opens from Sunday to Thursday from 11am – 9 pm and Friday and Saturday from 8am to 9pm. The pictures of the food are all taken from their website, which you can order from and is in Spanish! Check it out: https://www.selvanegrarestaurant.com

Business

Tower Theater

By Sabonarola (talk) – I (Sabonarola (talk)) created this work entirely by myself., Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27815250

Located on 1508 Sw 8th street and built in 1962, this historic theater is an Art Deco gem created by architect Robert Law Weed. The Tower Theater operates as an art house specialized in foreign language films with English subtitles and English films with Spanish subtitles. Fun fact this theater was the first in Miami to add subtitles to its films. Since 2015 it has been South Florida’s highest grossing art cinema and, in the beginning, it served as a way to introduce recent immigrants to the American culture. The theater is listed in the National Register of historic places and still operates to this day. The price of admission is $11.75 per adults, $10.00 for seniors above the age of 62, students, and military and lastly $8.25 for tower members, Miami Film Society members and MDC students. Special events and film presentations might have different prices but this is a great place for a date, family night or just to enjoy a foreign film!

Art district cigars

Image by Paul Scharff retrieved from https://artdistrictcigars.webs.com

An establishment that has provided fine cigars and entertainment in Miami since March of 2007, this world class cigar lounge has been rated as one of the fifty finest cigar friendly places in the US by the magazine Cigar Aficionado. The cigar lounge has hundreds of visitors and is a top choice amongst the people in Little Havana, as it does have some cigars that are exclusive to the store. The Pergamino is their exclusive brand, a 100% Nicaraguan Puro Cigar, they are completely grown and manufactured in Nicaragua. Their website offers virtual tours and the shop is open Monday – Thursday 12 pm – 8pm, Friday 12pm – Midnight, Saturday 12 pm – 7pm and Sunday 11am to 6pm.

“la casa de los trucos” the house of costume

Image courtesy of Stephanie Parra

A family owned business who has been around for almost 48 years is located at 1343 SW 8th Street in Little Havana and it is a business that is open all year round. The shop has been named the best costume shop of Miami by The New Times and The Miami Herald. The shop sells more than just costumes and its perfect for people of all ages. Offering a wide selection of things, you can find anything from fart machines to exploding gifts and of course if you have a sudden costume party in the middle of June, you’ll have about 15,000 styles of costumes to choose from. The store has even made exclusive deals with certain distributors, so they offer one of a kind products that you cannot find anything else.  The business is open Monday – Saturday from 10am – 6pm. The façade of the shop is unique on its own, as it seems to be stuck in time, looking at it is almost nostalgic and could even be considered a landmark.

Summary

“Photo by Blana Alcaraz CC by 4.0”

Little Havana is a wonderful neighborhood that highlight the resilience and courage of immigrants. For decades this neighborhood has been the starting point of many people in the united states and it has become a melting point of Hispanic cultures. Little Havana is a neighborhood that is rich in population, culture, food and business and thousands of tourists come year-round to visit the thriving neighborhood. Through this project I have been able to shine a light on what makes this neighborhood so great but of course there are negative areas that are present must also be looked at. There is a population in little Havana that is poor and struggles financially, there are government housing areas in the neighborhood and many who need welfare to live. Traffic in little Havana is always terrible like the rest of Miami and this is a problem that definitely needs to be looked. I myself was one of the many immigrants who started in Little Havana, it was the first neighborhood that I called home. I however never frequented any of the places I mentioned in this project because my family was very poor when we first came to this country. Doing this project really allowed me to see my old neighborhood in another light, I saw what everyone talks about, what makes so many fall in love with Little Havana and I am eternally grateful.

Citations

“12 Must-See Little Havana Historic Sites.” 12 Must-See Little Havana Historic Sites, www.miamiandbeaches.com/things-to-do/history-and-heritage/12-historic-sites-in-little-havana.

Aag. “Little Havana: A Latin American Gateway.” AAG Newsletter, 30 Mar. 2020, http://www.news.aag.org/2013/10/little-havana-a-latin-american-gateway/

Areavibes. “Little Havana, Miami, FL Demographics.” Little Havana, FL Population & Demographics, www.areavibes.com/miami-fl/little havana/demographics/.

Benfield, Kaid, and Kaid Benfield. “The Death and Life of Little Havana.” CityLab, 14 Sept. 2012, www.citylab.com/equity/2012/09/death-and-life-little-havana/3275/.

Brozic, Ashley. “Inside La Casa De Los Trucos, Miami’s Oldest Costume Store.” Racked Miami, Racked Miami, 20 Oct. 2014, www.miami.racked.com/2014/10/20/7572457/la-casa-de-los-trucos-miami-costume-store.

Chapple, Renee. “Best Miami Guide to Discovering Calle Ocho.” TripSavvy, TripSavvy, 23 Jan. 2020, www.tripsavvy.com/calle-ocho-in-little-havana-2346664

“HOME.” Versailles Bakery, www.versaillesbakery.com/home.

“Manuel Artime Community Center and Theater.” Manuel Artime Community Center and Theater on Full Slate, www.manuelartimecommunitycenterandtheater.fullslate.com/

“May 2016 Photo Gallery from Ball & Chain Miami Florida.” Ball & Chain, www.ballandchainmiami.com/portfolio-items/may-2016/

Nbc. “Miami’s Little Havana Endangered: Preservation Group.” NBC 6 South Florida, NBC 6 South Florida, 1 July 2015, www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/miamis-little-havana-endangered-preservation-group/51458/.

“Selva Negra: Selva Negra Restaurant: Miami.” Selvanegrarestaurant, www.selvanegrarestaurant.com/.

“Tower Theater Miami.” Tower Theater Miami, www.towertheatermiami.com/about

Leave a Reply