Calle Ocho is a time to be proud of your Hispanic culture. Many revelers wear their country's colors -- a popular fashion statement is draping your nation's flag over your shoulder -- but there still can be confusion. After all, the Cuban and Puerto Rican flags are nearly identical -- only the color scheme is reversed, as are the Honduran, Nicaraguan, Argentine, and several other similar flags.
So navigating the festival can get complicated -- and we don't mean physically (it's a straight shot down SW Eighth Street between 12th and 27th avenue). We mean distinguishing one Hispanic nationality from another. Sure, to some folks, all Latinos look alike (that's the same crew that thinks all Asians and all African-Americans look the same). But whether you are a local or came from out of town to visit Calle Ocho, you'll need help distinguishing one Latino from another.
For some ignoramuses, every Hispanic in Miami represents a Cuban. But we
know that's not the case. One way to isolate the throngs of Cubans
versus non-Cubans is to start an impromptu chat of Cuba Libre and see
who joins. Also, though they are popular all over, guayaberas are
most popular among Cubans, so if you see some old-timer donning one, holding a stogy in his mouth, and playing dominoes, chances are you've run into
an expatriate or Castro spy. Finally, try wearing a Che Guevara
T-shirt. The first ten people to punch you in the face will be Cuban.
There's a good chance the people salsa-dancing are Cuban because that dance
originated on the island.
If you survive being punched for your Che T-shirt, the
next ten people to give you a knowing sign of approval will be
Argentines. Ernest "Che" Guevara was a revolutionary born in Argentina, so he's their native son in spite of being cast as merciless
murderer by Cubans. Argentines have a funny accent, are known to be
arrogant, and are famous for their parrilla (barbecue). Their dance is the
tango, but we don't think you'll be seeing too much of that at Calle
Nicas, for short, are also very populous in Miami -- as evidenced by those
tasty Fritanga restaurants that seem to be on virtually every corner of
Little Havana. Though it's been a couple of decades since the
Iran-Contra scandal rocked this country, a good way to see if somebody
is from Nicaragua is to accuse them of being a Sandinista, though you better watch your back after that.
Slangily referred to as Boricuas, Puerto Ricans are not as widespread in
Miami as they are in, say, New York. But what they lack in numbers,
they make up for in pride and poor pronunciation of their v's and r's. If you hear somebody saying, "Nueba Yol," instead of Nueva York,
chances are you've come face-to-face with a Boricua.
They speak Portuguese, so you can usually differentiate them that way.
But you'll probably suffer some temporary deafness at Calle Ocho on
account of all the concerts, so you'll need another way to distinguish them.
Try this: Throw a soccer ball into the crowd. The person who comes out
of the pack balancing it on their head or foot is probably a Brazilian
(after all, Brazil has won five World Cups, more than any other country).
Also, Speedos are popular on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. Not that you
should be seeing any at Calle Ocho, but we're just sayin'.
We'll resist the temptation to make some kind of inappropriate drug
reference (Cocaine Cowboys notwithstanding), but if you want to distinguish
Colombians from the rest of the pack, play some cumbia and see who
dances. Also, arepas are a traditional Colombian food, so they'll have
one in their hands, although so will everybody else -- arepas are that good.
Yell, "D-o-m-i-n-i-c-a-n-o," and your Dominican friends will holla back at
you. Plus, if throwing a soccer ball will probably bring out the
Brazilians, doing the same with a baseball will probably separate the
Dominicans (A-Rod, Albert Pujols, Sammy Sosa, all Dominicans), although
Cubans might dispute this identifier. Merengue is a Dominican dance, so
look for them to be hip-swiveling to that repetitive, hypnotic beat.
Venezuelan women are known for their beauty. They've won
the Miss Universe pageant plenty of times and have among the highest
rates of cosmetic surgery in the world. If you see a hot Latina
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who is surgically enhanced, she could be Venezuelan, although those
numbers are skewed in Miami. Also, Miami Venezuelans are not big fans of President Hugo Chávez. Throw out some kind of Chávez rant
and see who joins.