“We are so going to get stabbed,” my friend quipped as we got out of a cab at the west end of Calle Ocho in Little Havana.
I rolled my eyes and began walking east.
For those who think that Little Havana is a typical tourist destination, pristine and tailored to consumerism, its not. Not really.
The neighborhood is home to over 50,000 residents – 85% of them are Hispanic. Real people live here. Its not an amusement park or a resort.
There is crime and poverty. The median household income here is about 1/3 the national average; its not a swanky place.
But it is a place with history and charm and grit. (American grit that is, we’re not talking about the slums of Calcutta here.) I assume the ‘grit’ is what my friend was focusing on as she tugged her Coach purse a little closer to her body.
For me, Little Havana was really the only place I wanted to visit in Miami; everything else was secondary.
While the majority of neighborhood residents are still Cuban, the population is down significantly since the 1970′s when the concentration topped out at 84%. But, there’s no mistaking the distinctive Cuban vibe.
Strolling down Calle Ocho (Little Havana’s main drag) you notice restaurants, cigar shops, cafes, parks and innumerable nods to the mother country.
Old men play dominoes in the famed Domino Park (I assume these are the hooligans that were meant to stab us?), while young couples down Cafecito on nearby benches.
Cafecito? Its a wickedly strong beverage that literally translates to ‘black coffee’ and is sipped from a plastic cup smaller than a shot glass – its that strong!
Calle Ocho is also home to the Cuban Walkway of the Stars, featuring the likes of Gloria Estefan and Julio Iglesias.
While national chains are starting to creep in on the neighborhood (think H&R Block and Walgreens), it remains a sea of mom-and-pop shops; family businesses started by parents and grandparents decades ago.
Miami is a city with international flare to be sure, but Little Havana gives a taste of authentic Cuban culture and daily life in a community striving to maintain the traditions of its roots.
And in case you were wondering, no, we did not get stabbed.
Know Before You Go:
- Cafecito 101: When ordering – even if there are 3 or 4 people – only order ONE! It will come in a styrofoam cup with small sipping cups on top. Pour from the big cup into the sipping cups and sip casually. This is not a shot! Take your time and enjoy. No-name, hole in the wall cafes are your best bet.
- Even if you don’t smoke, its worth popping into one of the many cigar shops to see the art of traditional Cuban hand rolling. Little Havana Cigar Factory has an impressive assortment (grab one as a gift?) and they sell beautiful old cigar boxes for $5!
*For more glorious Photo Friday, pop over to Delicious Baby!