Few Americans get an opportunity to visit Cuba because of U.S. restrictions on travel. But Americans and others can still experience the island's vibrant culture by visiting "La Pequena Havana," or Little Havana in Miami, Florida. For producers Ade Astuti and Ariadne Budianto. VOA's Jim Bertel reports many consider this neighborhood the cultural and political heart of the Cuban diaspora.
Little Havana boasts the largest population of Cubans outside the island.
One business owner in little Havana, Miami, Carol Ann Weaver, describes it, "This is a very ethnic, ripe, colorful, musical and interesting neighborhood."
William Talbert, Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, explains how Little Havana was born. "When Castro took over Cuba, most of the professionals in Cuba left. And, they came to the closest area they could get to which was Miami. There was a famous processing center here. We became the Ellis Island for the Cubans."
Cuban culture flourishes in Little Havana. Old Cuban men discuss politics over games of dominos. Cuban style cigars are readily available in neighborhood shops. And art galleries exhibiting unique artwork by Cuban Americans line the streets.
No visit to Little Havana is complete without enjoying popular Cuban dishes like Ropa Vieja -or shredded beef - and Cuban Skirt Steak.
Romo Montano owns "Romo," a popular restaurant frequented by Shakira, Marc Anthony, Pele and other celebrities. Montano left Cuba as a child and has lived in Little Havana ever since. "I came up with the idea of bringing people from outside Little Havana to come and see me, and see what Little Havana is all about. I really thank God for the opportunity of being here in the place where I grew up."
The neighborhood's festive mood and Latin music keeps visitors and locals alike talking and dancing all night long in Little Havana's restaurants and clubs.