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Little Havana | © Phillip Pessar /Flickr
Little Havana | © Phillip Pessar /Flickr
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A Brief History of Little Havana, Miami

Picture of Aisha Moktadier
Updated: 23 January 2017
Miami has an eclectic cultural landscape, full of fascinating neighborhoods to check out. One of the city’s most renowned areas is that of Little Havana, a place that captures an authentic slice of Cuban culture: one filled with hand-rolled cigars, loud salsa and reggaeton, delicious pastelitos and Abuela Maria ice cream, and, of course, a few games of dominoes.

Almost every pocket of Miami features Latin culture, but Little Havana captures the heart and soul of the Cuban culture present in the city and holds on to it tightly. Before the 1960s, Miami had a very small Cuban population, but with Fidel Castro’s rise to power in Cuba, many Cuban refugees fled their country to come to Miami. By 1980, half of the city’s population was made up of Cuban exiles, and in the beginning, they were mostly from the upper class.

Tower Theater Little Havana | © Phillip Pessar /Flickr
Tower Theater Little Havana | © Phillip Pessar /Flickr

In 1980, a large wave of Cuban immigrants came to Miami during the Mariel Boatlift. As these exiles moved to the city, they formed the lively area of Little Havana, which was once a large Jewish community. The neighborhood’s concentration of Cuban immigrants rose throughout time, and it has continued to be a social, cultural, and political center for Cubans in the city.

Little Havana| © Ruth Hara /Flickr
Little Havana | © Ruth Hara /Flickr

Highlights of Little Havana include Azucar Ice Cream Company, which is home to “Cuban” ice cream flavors like Abuela Maria (made with vanilla ice cream, guava chunks, cream cheese, and Cuban Maria crackers) and mamey, and Ball and Chain. A bar and lounge where big names like Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, and Louie Armstrong used to play jazz, Ball and Chain opened in 1935 and remained open until the end of the 1950s. The venue reopened in September 2014, and ever since then, it has been capturing the spirit of Cuban music, dance, and cocktails.

Another highlight is Maximo Gomez Park, also known as “Domino Park.” Dominoes, a favorite Cuban pastime, is played all day, every day at this park, where many older Cuban men will gather to smoke cigars and share memories.

Azucar Ice Cream Store Little Havana | © Phillip Pessar /Flickr
Azucar Ice Cream Store Little Havana | © Phillip Pessar /Flickr

Little Havana, being the epicenter of Cuban culture in Miami, also hosts a festival every last Friday of the month called Viernes Culturales. The street festival is something to see when visiting “The Magic City” as it packs in all the Cuban culture anyone would love to experience in one night: dancing salsa under the stars, drinking mojitos and cafecitos, seeing art from Cuban artists, and playing a few games of dominoes. Little Havana proves that Cuba’s bright spirit came to Miami and never plans on leaving.