Ideas for experiencing Cuban culture in Miami
Popularly called the capital of the Cuban diaspora, Miami has a distinguished Latin flavor. A small southern town not too long ago, the Magic City has become a metropolis in the last few decades. Its heritage is its most notable characteristic, easily recognizable even outside of the States.
Cuban culture in Miami is much more than salsa and cha-cha. Even more than cigars, mojitos, and las fritas, popular Cuban-style burgers. What we know and see today in Little Havana began in the 1950s and 1960s with the influx of Cuban immigrants. The way of life that can be seen in this three-square-mile core area is what makes this part of Miami an extraordinary place.
Modern-day abuelas still know the names of all the kids in the neighborhood, and viejos still play dominoes in the Domino Park. Busy people still stop by for a cup of strong Cuban cafecito at Pasion Del Cielo Coffee and enjoy a hand-rolled cigar. Families still feast on the delicious ropa vieja and boliche, classic Cuban dishes.
In every monument and almost every building in Little Havana, a small piece of history is captured. They are witnesses of the stormy relationship between Cuba and the U.S. and of dreams of the common people seeking refuge and hoping to live on their terms.
Mostly (but not entirely) Cuban, Miami is also home to immigrants from across Latin America. However, Cuban culture dominates the others and creates a unique blend that makes the city distinctive. Experiencing this culture in Miami means getting to know the soul of this South Florida city.
One of the most beloved historic landmarks in the city is Freedom Tower at Miami Dade College. Inspired by the Giralda Tower in Seville, Spain, Miami’s Freedom Tower has served as the Cuban Assistance Center for refugees during the Cold War era. Nowadays, it is a cultural center, a contemporary art museum, and a gallery.
Speaking of museums, Cubaocho Museum and Performing Arts Center is a place where you will find Cuban artists immersed in the process of creating their art and a gallery with Cuban art collections. However, this is also a meeting point for musicians, intellectuals, and artists. Most of whom being rum and cigars enthusiasts.
Miami is also the best place in the world to experience Cuba outside of Cuba. There are numerous unique things to see if you are new in the city, but one thing is certain; visitors get more than they expect. The first stop of any fervent visitor is Calle Ocho (pronounced kye-yay oh-cho), literally meaning 8th St. It is a vibrant heart of Cuban culture in Miami. Also, it is a place where Walk of Fame celebrates some of the most famous Cubans, Hollywood-style.
Calle Ocho is a living cultural landmark. Viernes Culturales (Cultural Fridays) take place on the last Friday of every month between 13th and 17th Avenues. Calle Ocho becomes a host to bands performing live, artisans and painters, historic tours, and numerous enthusiastic visitors.
But there is one thing that glues all the pieces of Cuban culture and sets the rhythm of life in “the 305” – the music. There is hardly a better and more enjoyable way to immerse yourself in Cuban culture in Miami than visiting its live music venues. Ball & Chain has been in the same building since the 1950s and is the most iconic bar and night club in Little Havana. Latin music, Cuban jazz, and salsa keep the patrons drunk on life. Their famous mojitos do the rest.
Hoy Como Ayer lounge and nightclub is more traditional than Ball & Chain but not in the least less popular. Both Cuban and local artists easily get this small place dancing salsa and Latin funk. An authentic musical experience complements the unique and charming, albeit a little kitschy interior.
Visitors should hone their Spanish as most Cuban business owners in Little Havana speak – little English. A true experience of culture most often comes through language. While most of the city is bilingual, Spanish tends to be predominant. It is heard everywhere. Especially in family-owned restaurants like La Carreta and El Mago De Las Fritas as well as the iconic Versailles restaurant, halfway up the Calle Ocho.
Perhaps the best amalgamation of Miami and Cuban cultures is experienced at Estefan Kitchen. Gloria and Emilio Estefan, a famous singer and her husband and producer, own this fancy Cuban spot where dinner and entertainment go hand in hand. If it isn’t about hedonism and simple life’s joys than it is not Cuban.
The most distinctive Cuban product next to the rum is the famous hand-rolled Cuban cigar. It is the basis for an industry resting on family businesses and long tradition. La Tradicion Cubana, El Titan de Bronze, and Top Cigars are the most prominent cigar manufacturers and shops in Miami. Moreover, El Titan de Bronze provides guests with an insight into the process of cigar making. They employ highly skilled tabaqueros who roll the cigars on-site for curious visitors.
However, the terror called gentrification threatens even the soulful place like Little Havana. Efforts are made to preserve as much of the cultural core of the biggest Cuban community in the States. Zoning and gentrification don’t have to be necessarily bad if they’re done right. There are slowly emerging a few smart examples in the form of hotels.
The atmosphere that Cuban culture creates in Miami and its people together make the essence of this unique place. Numerous historic landmarks stand to remind visitors and residents alike what this place truly is about – dreams and hopes, relief in the time of need, and the many good things in life. Millions of visitors are constantly proving that the genuine vibe one can feel exploring the Cuban culture in Miami in and around Little Havana is truly priceless.