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Miami's Little Havana serves up dose of nostalgia

  • Associated Press
  • May 5, 2014 - 2:15 PM

MIAMI — Once a refuge for Cuban exiles rekindling the tastes and sounds of a lost homeland, today Miami's Little Havana is a mosaic of cultures and a popular tourist destination.

On the neighborhood's main street, Calle Ocho, cigar shops, art galleries and souvenir stores try to recapture the nostalgia of the community's early years.

At the Cuba Tobacco Cigar Factory, Luis Mator rolls cigars and owner Pedro Bello sits outside each day in a pair of dark shades, signing boxes, cigar in mouth. Nearby, Pablo Gonzalez Portilla taps his hands rhythmically on a pair of bongo drums outside his gift shop.

Tourists from throughout the U.S., Latin America and nearly every continent stop by in bright red double decker buses that shuttle travelers throughout the city. They pose for photos next to a gigantic, colorful rooster, a symbol long associated with the Cuban culture, take sips of Cuban coffee and watch old men play dominoes at Maximo Gomez Park.

There are also hints of how the neighborhood is changing: Newly painted murals cover many of the buildings and Honduran and Colombian restaurants stand alongside Cuban ones.

It is a mix that amplifies a Cuba of the past and the immigrants of today — a neighborhood and story uniquely Miami.

© 2014 Star Tribune