on June 23, 2011
The impact on Miami by Cubans is huge. They are the largest and most visible ethnic group in the city. The initial home of Miami Cubans was a few miles west of Downtown, in what became known as Little Havana.They say that if you have never been to Cuba, come here, and you will have come close. The sounds, tastes, smells and rhythms are all reminiscent of Cuba.Predominantly a working class area, it is the core today of Miami's Hispanic community. Many successful Cuban Americans have moved elsewhere in the city to be replaced by immigrants from other parts of Central America, especially Nicaragua.Spanish is the language that predominates - street signs are in English and Spanish. Some say you do not have to speak a word of English to live an independent life here.Little Havana is not that picturesque. Do not expect Disneyland with Latin flair - this is real life Miami. There is however, great and inexpensive food; distinctive art; cigars; strong Cuban coffee and a unique and wonderful atmosphere. The streets, parks, memorials, shops and food all reflect the Cuban experience. It is a world away from South Beach.Do not wander around this area at night though. Apparently crime rates are high then and gang activity is a concern. We found it to be perfectly safe and the people very friendly during the daytime.The main street is 8th Street or Calle Ocho, where authentic Latin shops and restaurants abound. Stroll down Calle Ocho from 12th to 17th Avenues and look around. The cafes all sell guava pastries and rose petal flan, there are tropical fruit stands with vendors hacking the tops of coconuts with machetes, thimble sized cups of Cuban coffee are passed through the open windows of coffee shops and there are small galleries selling modern art.Cuban Memorial Boulevard is the stretch of SW13th Avenue, south of Calle Ocho. A cluster of memorials underscores the Cuban-American presence in Miami. An eternal flame burns in memory of those who died at the Bay of Pigs on 17 April 1961 during the abortive invasion of Cuba by trained US Cuban exiles. Veterans of the landing gather here for each anniversary to make all night long pledges of patriotism.Look at the massive ceiba tree here with its large above ground roots. You might see piles of chicken bones - these are ritual sacrifices by practitioners of the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria. The Paseo de los Estrellas (Walk of Stars) is a few steps away. It is a pavement embedded with stars honouring Hispanic celebrities including Julio Iglesias and Gloria Estefan.At Domino Park (Maximo Gomez Park to give it its proper name), seniors bask in the sun and play dominoes; at corner bodegas and coffee shops around here, regulars share neighbourhood gossip.The sounds are salsa and meringue pouring out of shops and restaurants. There is the constant backbeat of people speaking Spanish and the occasional rooster crowing. Everywhere you can smell tobacco, Cuban coffee and a whiff of tropical fruit. No visit to Miami would be complete without going to Little Havana. It has a wonderful, foreign feel, even amid cosmopolitan Miami.
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