Miami’s famous Calle Ocho festival wrapped up yesterday after a record breaking year. The 35 year old fest centers around 8th street in Miami’s southwest side, the legendary heart of Little Havana. Performers play on a main stage, their are lots of tents selling knick knacks and t-shirts that say stuff like “100% Cubana” or “Cubanos do it better”, and enough food to feed an army of chubby Latinos. I wasn’t able to go this year, but I was there last year and I noticed some major changes from the Calle Ocho festival of my childhood. Namely, it’s not all about Cuba anymore.
When the Cuban exile began in 1959, the newly arrived Cubanos congregated in this part of Miami. The southwest side became “La Sowesera”. Cuban restaurants line the streets, including Versailles, ground zero of the community. There is the famous domino park where old guys play dominoes and discuss how to overthrow the Castro regime. That’s all still there. But Miami has changed a lot. Many Cubans, who later moved up the economic ladder, have left the southwest side for more affluent areas. Calle Ocho is now more of a tourist attraction about the Cuban community. Also an increased influx of immigrants from other countries like Colombia, Puerto Rico, and Mexico are challenging the Cuban dominance over Miami’s Latino community. Today at the Calle Ocho festival, you are as likely to see a Colombian flag as a Cuban one. Last year the headline performer was Puerto Rican rapper Fat Joe and not Gloria Estefan or someone like that. The Calle Ocho fest is now more of a pan-Latino festival, which is fine. As long as I can still eat a plate of ropa vieja I’m fine.