Those aggressive Latin Americans. First they take over the town, and now they're hogging public transportation. Okay, that's just our Latin side, making us prone to exaggeration. Actually only a trio of Metrobuses are commandeered for three hours at a time on Saturdays in October (Hispanic Heritage Month to you and me) for the Herencia Hispana Tour, which transports visitors to some of the city's most significant historical sites related to Latin American ( i.e., Cuban) immigration.Offering sneak peeks into the Freedom Tower (Miami's Ellis Island), the excursion shuttles visitors along Flagler Street and SW Eighth Street (Calle Ocho). Stops include art museums and tourist traps, but the highlight is a personal tour of the Miami Museum, the little house that baby-faced political pawn Elian Gonzalez called home.
As the bus zooms along Flagler Street, traffic sometimes slows to a crawl. Cheery tour guides America Gonzalez and Manny Palmeiro remain undaunted and keep the crowd entertained with corny riddles and songs from the old country. At the Plaza de la Cubanidad (17th Avenue and Flagler Street), Gonzalez explains the history of the bronzed map of Cuba flanked by poet José Martí's words. She neglects to mention that the small office behind the monument is headquarters to exile political group Alpha 66, where various nefarious plots to overthrow Fidel Castro have been devised.
Soon the bus rolls into a residential neighborhood, pulling up to 2319 NW Second St. At last Gonzalez announces: "We are arriving at Elian's house." And who should be standing at the gate, smiling and waving? Uncle Laz, Lazaro Gonzalez, the man who defied the Palo Loca (Janet Reno) and said Elian would not be taken away from his family and the good ol' U.S.A. Looking a little paunchier and ruddier than he did during the showdown, he reports that Marisleysis, his daughter and Elian's surrogate mom, is not here but happily working hard at her beauty salon.
Lazaro will be at the gate every Saturday, organizers promise. Inside the house, you can indulge your curiosity. Gaze at the umpteen shelves of toys and photos with the likes of Andy Garcia, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Peer inside the closet where Donato "The Fisherman" Dalrymple tried to shield Elian from federal goons during the raid. Stare in awe at the inner tube wrapped in twine, said to be the actual tube in which Elian was found. Read the sign beneath it stating: "This is a tragedy of a nation that wants to live in freedom."
Back on the bus, it chugs its way up Calle Ocho, dropping riders off at the Latin American Art Museum on SW 22nd Avenue. But attention wanes as stomachs growl. Everyone is thinking about food. Next stop: the Cuban eatery El Pub for lunch. Afterward, a quick gander at the Tower Theater and Domino Park and then a drive by the Monument of Heroes. Before heading back downtown, the expedition visits the home of Ronald and Nelson Curras, twin artists whose ceramic and glass workshop is open to the public. After all, this is Miami: Even a brief bus tour provides a place to pick up souvenirs.