Little Havana was the focal point for Cuban immigration to the United States following the Cuban Revolution of 1959. The neighborhood still maintains a large Cuban-born population and distinct culture and politics. The residents, in large part, see themselves more as a community in exile than as assimilated Americans.
Miami, Florida’s “Little Havana” (La Pequeña Habana) has been the cultural and political center not only of Miami’s Cuban American immigrant community but also of the Cuban community of the entire United States. The neighborhood has been home to everything from political organizations hatching plots against
Although officially designated as a “neighborhood” by the U.S. Census of 2000, with the Miami River, Southwest Eleventh Street, Southwest Second Avenue, and Interstate 95 for boundaries, Little Havana is best located and understood by both residents and outsiders by its landmarks and places of historical importance. Calle Ocho (Southwest Eighth Street), which Cuban Americans call La Saguacera in the hybrid argot of Spanglish, is the gateway to the neighborhood. A giant mural overlooking the Eighth Street entrance to Little Havana depicts crucial scenes from pre-Castro Cuban history, reinforcing the notion that this is a community in exile, and not, culturally speaking, an integrated part of the United States. Another cultural and political signpost is the Versailles Restaurant, which many residents consider the epicenter of Little Havana. Here, over dishes of chicken, rice, beans, and plantains–Cuban staples–conversations often turn to exile politics. The neighborhood economy rests largely on small shops selling everything from guayaberas–the white linen, short-sleeved shirts traditionally worn by Cuban men–to statues and talismans associated with Santería, the Afro-Cuban syncretic religion of African deities and Roman Catholic saints.
Little Havana has changed little demographically since the first wave of exiles arrived in 1960. More than 90 percent of its population is Latino, with Cubans constituting almost the entire Hispanic bloc. Many residents still occupy the same homes and own the businesses they purchased during the 1960’s. The area is more politically conservative than the rest of Cuban Miami, and the population is less willing to engage in any sort of dialogue with the Castro regime.
The graying, and physical demise, of many of the first-generation Cubans and the boom in tourism to the neighborhood, bringing other Latinos and non-Hispanic Americans to spend their money in local enterprises, have the potential to alter the political and cultural features that have made Little Havana distinct. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the obsession of the locals with anti-Castro politics is slowly giving way to the notion that most residents will never see their homeland again, and tourist dollars have transformed traditional political and religious festivals into street parties rather than evocations of Cuban history. Little Havana seems destined to be incorporated into a new patria (homeland), the United States.
García, Cristina María. Havana USA: Cuban Exiles and Cuban Americans in South Florida, 1959-1994. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. Poey, Delia, and Virgil Suárez, eds. Little Havana Blues: A Cuban-American Anthology. Houston: Arte Público Press, 1996. Rieff, David. The Exile: Cuba in the Heart of Miami. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.
Latin American immigrants
Latinos and immigrants