Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Miami, FL: La Pequeña Habana

After spending the day dropping flyers at the hospital and sending a gillion text pages, I drove over to the nearby neighborhood of Little Havana in Miami proper. The neighborhood is about ten blocks long and a few avenues wide, with Calle Ocho at its nucleus. It is the legacy of the Cuban community that exploded during the 1960s in Miami. Having poorly researched the excursion, I half expected to instantly stumble upon the Elian Gonzalez home-turned-shrine. No such luck.

I did enjoy a nice stroll along the main drag catching a distinctly Cuban vibe (maybe it was the son spilling out from Lily's Records). The area is shabby, not unlike its namesake, only with more pavement and the unmistakably capitalist background noise of print and billboard advertisements. There are also the obvious clues that la pequeña habana is sui generis: the ubiquitous monuments, flags, and murals that mourning the 90 miles between the mother city and its exiled child. Up the street from the bust of the universally celebrated Jose Marti, across from the Memorial Plaque of Cuba, is the sizable Bay of Pigs Monument in Cuba Memorial Plaza. It features an inextinguishable flame in the style of the JFK Memorial.* The Bay of Pigs Museum on 9th Street documents the "history of the Cuban Exile." Other indicators, such a tiny wall painting of Jose Marti's sunken head honoring political prisoners, encourage this effect.
* and also in the style of the Che Guevara Memorial in Santa Clara, Cuba. I also noticed that the aesthetic of the Memorial Plaque looks like it could have been ripped from the Revolutionary public art works from 1960s Cuba.

Little Havana is not without its cheeriness of course. The sidewalk cafes along Calle Ocho serve the authentic sticky-sweet Cuban coffee and vieja ropa (perhaps too authentic). There are abundant fruit and vegetable stands and souvenir shops. I saw at least one theater and a beautiful, deco movie house. The most charming element of my visit was witnessing Maximo Gomez Domino Park in action. A fenced-in park on one of the blocks along Calle Ocho holds several large tents. Within the tents are tables, each with four seats that have domino trays in them. The space is reserved for Miami residents over the age of 55 to meet up and play dominoes. The creation of a public space solely for the recreation of elderly people struck me as entirely socialist (either for its consideration for the aging or its not wanting rowdy old folks causing a ruckus on their own card tables in the streets). Perhaps it is just Cuban?

No comments: