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Why the interest in Little Havana? Porque aquí todavía cantan los gallos por la mañana. Not really and besides, roosters crow in Hialeah, Little Haiti and Davie, as well. My name is Joe Cardona and my attention and care for the area spurns from a combination of nostalgia, legacy and civic duty.
To me, Little Havana encompasses all that a Cuban enclave in Miami should: it’s a place where Starbuck’s is replaced by the elixir of the Gods, Cuban café along with the quaint ventanitas from where it is dispensed. It’s a part of town where lots of folks know my name and about the same amount don’t.
The neighborhood is subject to what I call “spontaneous combustion of just about anything.” Controversy and intrigue are a wrong adjective away and politics is a blood sport. It’s also a place constructed by longing and remembrance. It became the closest thing, the next best thing to our parents’ and grandparents’ real, tropical home but it’s the only “home” my generation has known.
Little Havana: The Last Miami Bulwark Against Homogeneity
Little Havana has true character and cache and it, fortunately, lacks the pretense of the midtown prefabricated village known as Wynwood and the tamed predictability of the mega rich carpetbaggers and foreigners on the Beach (and by “foreigners” I mean from another galaxy—carpetbaggers I guess are just carpetbaggers).
It is a town built by the hardworking ethic of immigrants and exiles. First, the Eastern Europeans (mostly Jews—Little Havana was once called “Polish Town”) then the Cuban migration–and all its phases and finally the Central and South American influx.
It’s a place where my sense of America in all of its diverse splendor is baked fresh every day. So, when Rosi (the editor-in-chief of Calle Ocho News) asked me if I would write a regular column in her publication, called Calle Ocho News, my response was, “how can I not? It’s on Calle Ocho where I most feel at home.”
It is also an area that is in peril from the onslaught of over development, greed, and sadly and frighteningly a wanton dearth of concern for what the place represents and to whom it is important.
In this column, I will share snippets of my tiny sliver of America. I will highlight the people that make Little Havana special and the history that frames it, explains it and shapes it. I will also reflect, comment and obsess about all my awakenings and discoveries, especially the “aha” moments when I come to the realization that Little Havana is one of Miami’s last (if not THE LAST) soulfully and karmically distinct, deliciously unsanctioned spots.
I look forward to sharing ideas, impressions and definitions of what makes me and those that surround me different in other words, unique Miamians. I’m going to consistently regale you with examples of Little Havana’s distinct dysfunctionalities. I’m also going to attempt to depict its people’s unabashed vulnerability and genuineness.
My proposition to Miamians and Visitors
In this my initial column, I propose to you the following idea:
Little Havana belongs not just to Cuban-Americans but to all Miamians and every well-intentioned newcomer or visitor that is concerned with the preservation of culture and history.
Clearly I do not include the carpetbaggers. The responsibility to intelligently and compassionately usher Little Havana’s infrastructure, business and social climates and cultural identity into the future falls on all our shoulders, as Miamians, as Americans, as people who care for places where roosters still crow in the mornings.
This my friends, foes and “frenemies” is my Little Piece of America and on these pages, I will share my notions and observations.
Filmmaker, Radio Host, Community Activist and last, but not least, a café drinker