In Hialeah, Miami's True Cuban Heart, a Muted Reaction to Obama's Thaw With Castro

Yesterday's media scrum in Little Havana was nowhere to be found in Hialeah.
Yesterday's media scrum in Little Havana was nowhere to be found in Hialeah.
Photo by Trevor Bach

Yesterday's joint announcement from President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro that they intend to normalize relations between the two long-divided countries was undoubtedly the most momentous day in U.S.-Cuba relations in more than a half-century.

It was business as usual at Yoyito Café.

As cameras mobbed a tiny group of protesters across town outside the famed Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana, all was quiet and politics barely stirred to the surface in Hialeah, the true heart of Cuban Miami these days.

See also: White House: "It Is Clear That Decades of U.S. Isolation of Cuba Have Failed" (Updated)

Last night at the blue-collar Cuban eatery, in a strip mall along Hialeah's largely industrial East 49th Street, young waitresses in trim uniforms took orders for cafecitos and arroz con pollo, a couple dozen patrons ate quietly in the restaurant's brightly lit dining room, and a few café workers chatted among themselves in thick Spanish behind the small bar.

But not about the day's events, apparently. Asked what he thought of the announcement, one employee with gray-tinted stubble had a blank expression and then said he had been working all day and hadn't heard the news. A co-worker began explaining; for a minute or two the men talked and then, expressionless, dropped the conversation to resume their bar work.

At the bar, Juan Carlos Rodriguez, a soft-spoken construction worker who fled Cuba 20 years ago, said he had heard the radio earlier in the day but was mostly reserving judgment.

"I have to see more news," he said in Spanish. But Rodriguez would be happy if the announcement results in eased travel restrictions for Cuban exiles, as it almost certainly will. "All I would want," he said before tucking into a huge plate of rice, beans, and filleted fish, "is to not have to ask permission from anybody."

Down the bar, Manuel Sarabozo was more outspoken. Sarabozo, a 49-year-old who was born in Havana and now drives an Omnibus between Miami and New York, had also heard the news earlier in the day, when passengers told him after picking up a Wi-Fi signal.

"I'm in favor of this," he said of the announcement. "It's been 50-something years and nothing has been achieved. No han llegado nada."

Sarabozo's elderly parents were still on the island, he said, and he expected they would be thrilled because of loosened travel restrictions. "The family is divided," he said, "because of political problems."

Mario Barral, a diminutive 79-year-old sitting next to Sarabozo, was more succinct. "I don't like politics," he said. "I like freedom."

Send your tips to trevor.bach@miaminewtimes.com, or follow @trevorbach.

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