Every year, Leslie Pantin and Emilio Calleja organize a showcase to honor, remember, and celebrate the golden years of Cuba. In Miami, where many can trace back their roots to the island, CubaNostalgia is a brief escape to warm memories.
"For 15 years, CubaNostalgia has been celebrating 'La Cuba de Ayer' through exhibits such as the Malecon on Havana's bay front, La Catedral (Havana's famed cathedral), and El Encanto, Cuba's premier department store," says Calleja.
In its 16th year, the three-day festival has chosen to come together under the shared theme of a worldwide legend: Celia Cruz. "Celia made her mark with the band La Sonora Matancera and became world famous after being exiled from the island," explains Calleja, adding that FIU will be showcasing part of their collection of the singer's albums, awards, dresses, shoes, and those oh-so-famous wigs.
While you're bound to get lost in the abundance of events going on during the expo, we've narrowed it down to five you don't want to miss.
Viva Payret Mini Movie Theater
One of the biggest attractions this year will be the addition of a mini pop-up movie theater provided by Viva Payret. Calleja explains how it will show "favorite Cuban movies from the 1950s, Cuban documentaries, and episodes of La Tremenda Corte, a favorite in Cuba and Latin America." Showtimes vary, but will run throughout the weekend while the expo is open.
Just like the iconic boardwalk that lines the bay in Havana, a life-sized replica will be on display at CubaNostalgia. The eye-catching exhibit features a large mural of Havana bay with the Morro Castle in the background, making it a "favorite for picture taking," says Calleja. El Malecón will be on display all weekend long.
Pitbull and Celia Cruz Impersonators
The 305 is known for a lot of things, but there's only one who can truly call himself Mr. 305. Of course, Pitbull later changed his nickname to Mr. Worldwide (we'll forgive him for that), and he'll be spending this weekend somewhere out there in that world, rather than at a Cuba festival here in our area-code. But his look-alike impersonator will show up instead. Ladies, line up on Friday at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. for a photo-op with Mr. 786. Dale!
Since the festival this year honors the Queen of Salsa herself, it wouldn't be complete without a Celia Cruz impersonator. Lourdes Nuviola will be readily available, big hair and all, on Saturday at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. When you smile for a photo, remember to say azucar!
Cooking Lessons with Sedano's
Now, we know what you're thinking - you have Latin blood running through your veins, you don't need cooking lessons! But before you slap us with that chancleta, it never hurts to see how the pros use their sazon, and Calleja tells us that Chef Pepín from Univision will be among the cooking talent.
El Solar Afro-Cuban Show
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Cubans know the importance of shaking their hips and dancing until their shoes fall off (but please, no pata sucia here). Part of the festivities this weekend include a dance show where guests can either opt to participate or stand by and cheer on the contestants. Calleja says El Solar is a popular crowd favorite because it commemorates how Cuban life is often celebrated through music and dance. He also knows that El Organo Oriental, which is part of the El Solar performance, will be a hit because it "highlights the kind of infectious music enjoyed by all Cubans." The hand-cranked organ is also backed by a percussion quintet.
Guests can enjoy the dance contest at 6 p.m. on Saturday, and at 4 p.m. on Sunday. Winners will be awarded round trip airfare from American Airlines.
CubaNostalgia will take place at the Fair Expo Center May 16 and 17, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and May 18, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets cost $12 and there will be free parking on site. Visit cubanostalgia.org.