By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
"That's a dream," snorts his 73-year-old neighbor Rolando, a Cuban American born and raised in New York City who goes fishing every year to avoid the Calle Ocho hordes.
A fellow boarder, 72-year-old Jesus Salvador, doesn't care about nostalgia or noise. "We meet half of humanity there," Jesus says with delight. "It's like the United Nations."
Throughout the Eighties and Nineties, the flags flying over Calle Ocho multiplied. A revolution in Nicaragua and the booths slinging black beans gave way togallo pinto. Civil war in Colombia; in rolled the arepa carts. Unrest in Peru lined the street with stands selling ceviche. "Every nationality has its little kiosk," Amado explains. "Eat a little taco and you talk to a Mexican."
Corner of SW 8th St. and 10th Ave.
Miami, FL 33135
Category: Attractions and Amusement Parks
Region: Little Havana
7365 SW 8th St.
Coral Gables, FL 33134
Category: Community Venues
Region: Coral Gables/South Miami
To mark Calle Ocho's tenth anniversary, the Kiwanis convoked a comparsa long enough for everyone. The Super Conga, listed by Guinness as the longest conga line in the world, snaked beneath speakers strung from SW 27th Avenue all the way down to 4th blaring "Conga," the Miami Sound Machine's mega-hit. "It was incredible to see the whole city of Miami trying to make history," remembers Estefan. "It was history for us, too."
Even as the streets filled with new immigrants, the Kiwanis tried to keep Calle Ocho's Cuban-American beat, canceling shows in 1989 by three Latin-American artists found to have performed at some time on Castro's island: Puerto Rican salsero Andy Montañez, Spanish duo Los Españolisimos, and Brazilian singer Denise de Kalafe. But the pan-Latin conga veered out of control; Kalafe sued the Kiwanis for damages to her career resulting from the cancellation -- and was awarded three million dollars. The lawsuit cooled the Kiwanis's efforts at exerting exile politics. Then in 1996, two weeks before Calle Ocho, the Cuban government shot down two planes being flown near the island by Brothers to the Rescue, killing four members of that exile group. In mourning, the Kiwanis cancelled Carnaval Miami outright. The next year, with emotions still raw, a second Calle Ocho performance slated for Andy Montañez was cancelled after the salsero was photographed embracing Silvio Rodriguez, the Cuban balladeer friendly with Castro. "We had nothing to do with that," insists Manny Rojas. "We're not political." Convinced that sponsor Miller Brewing Company -- not the Kiwanis -- was to blame for the cancellation, Puerto Rican leaders in South Florida called off a planned protest march, but the Puerto Rican pueblo determined to show the island's colors at Calle Ocho.
Police lounge with little to do along the three-mile stretch of Calle Ocho 1997. Puerto Rican flags fly everywhere. All along the street, groups of young men chant the indigenous name for inhabitants of their island: "Boricua! Boricua!" Amid a proud yet peaceful crowd before the stage headlined by Jerry Rivera, another Puerto Rican salsero, a pair oftrigueño -- wheat-complexioned -- dancers respond to the slow rhythm of salsa romantica. The woman follows her partner's delicate lead with a subtlety that can only be cultivated by years of intimacy on and off the dance floor. Their smiles are meant for each other, but in an instant, as the man executes intricately crossed footwork, he takes in the appreciative spectators surrounding him and his smile broadens.
Unaware of any controversy, three tourists watch the dancers. Jules Delgado, a 23-year-old Chicana hairstylist down from Pennsylvania for spring break, has been sampling liberally from the Bacardi and Budweiser booths, mustering up enough Spanish to answer the eager young men who pass in packs: "Te quiero, too. I love you, tambien." Her friend Elisabeth, an Argentine career girl up from Buenos Aires for a two-week shopping spree, scoffs at what she considers the greasy food, the relentless rhythms, the dark-skinned celebrants: "If I wanted to see this," she sulks, "I would have gone to one of these countries." Her travel companion Laura Segade gamely observes the scene beneath the undulating tide of Puerto Rican flags -- and in smaller numbers the flags of Colombia, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mexico, and even Cuba. "This is supposed to be happy, but it makes me sad," she confides. "I get the feeling all these people had to come here -- that they would rather have stayed in their own countries."
When protestors marched down SW Eighth Street on April 29, 2000, after the INS repatriated little Cuban castaway Elian Gonzalez, the scene seemed familiar. The organizers of the event had turned to the Kiwanis for help with logistics. "We're a non-political group," Rojas reiterates. "We helped them with the stage, with coordinating with the police and departments, with deciding whether to run repeaters or speakers with wires along the street." Look quick and it's 1978: 100,000 Cuban exiles on Calle Ocho again, colors flying.
Then this past autumn the Kiwanis flew a new flag when they organized a prayer vigil for the September 11 victims at Bayfront Park. "Guys, we gotta do something," Rojas implored his fellow Kiwanis at a board meeting on the ninth floor. "We have to rally behind our country."
This newfound reverence for Old Glory did not end with the September 11 vigil. Mounting the stage at a press conference for Calle Ocho 2002, the co-chair announced a new strategy for the street festival: "Since 1978, we've asked people to come dressed in the colors of their countries. This year we are planning a celebration of America."
Rojas can already picture the view from the ninth-floor window. "Can you imagine 1,400,000 people dressed in red, white, and blue?" he wonders. "I never thought I was this patriotic."