Miami Stories - Marta Magellan

From Rio to Hialeah — Cuban coffee and Latin music became a family favorite


Tell us your story

HistoryMiami invites you to share your story about how your family found its way to South Florida.

To submit: Email your stories and photos to Please include caption information with your photos.

In print and online: Look for your story at and in Sunday’s Neighbors.

About this project: Miami Stories is a collaboration by HistoryMiami, The Miami Herald, Arva Moore Parks, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and National Conference on Citizenship Chairman Michael Weiser.

Special to The Miami Herald

The first time I traveled out of the city of my birth was on a 24-hour trip from Rio de Janeiro to Miami on an old propeller airplane in 1958. We were one of the handful of immigrants trickling into Miami just before the Cuban exiles started arriving. At that time, my father was required to have a sponsor and a deposit of $12,000 to be allowed to emigrate.

I don’t know why he chose Miami, perhaps because it was the closest city to South America, although it was so far that it took 24 hours to reach our destination. At some point, I looked out of the window, hoping to see Miami but saw instead an unusual sight: Cotton, piled as high as buildings. It didn’t look like the pictures of snow I had seen. I was 6 , and I looked hard at that cotton before I realized I was looking at clouds. Many meals later we broke through the clouds and Miami in all its glory appeared below us.

We settled in the home of our sponsors, the Aguiar family, in a pristine neighborhood of modern houses and deep black asphalt near Tropical Park, at that time a race track. Even as a child I was amazed at the cleanliness of the neighborhood — its wide open spaces and its wide, smooth, ebony streets, so unlike the crowded cobblestone streets of my Rio neighborhood. And the freedom! We were allowed to play outside on our own, leave our toys on the lawn, cross the streets without adult supervision, and live and roam freely. Miami was a small town then.

We bought a house across the street from our sponsors, and I began attending Emerson Elementary School. It was such a modern school that each classroom had its own bathroom, and we didn’t have to raise our hand in order to use it. On the other hand, there were no air conditioners so the windows were always opened. At Emerson Elementary I learned to speak, read, and write English.

My father loved outings. With four kids, my father couldn’t afford to take us on too many expensive outings, but beaches were free, so every Sunday we switched from Crandon Park (where there was a free zoo!), Haulover (clothing was required then), South Beach (mostly filled with retired people), Cape Florida (not Bill Baggs then) and one of our favorites, Matheson Hammock (we called it “Devil’s Toilet“).

One beach we never visited when we first arrived was Virginia Key, which was reserved for blacks. I never even knew Virginia Key existed until the 1970s when, as a teenager, I went there to hear my brothers’ rock band playing at an outdoor concert. By then beaches had been desegregated and Virginia Key was a haven for hippies, bands, and young people playing Frisbee.

Occasionally my father splurged, taking the four of us to those wonderful, old Florida theme parks that flourished before Disney World: Monkey Jungle, the old Parrot Jungle in Pinecrest, Pirate’s World, Pioneer City. His favorite was the Seaquarium. He delighted in hearing us squeal at the shark sculpture revolving at the entrance to Key Biscayne. The shark is still there, but motionless now, and much less threatening.

Because I was the oldest, and the only one who could appreciate it, he took me alone to a Seminole Indian Village, a place he’d visited the year before we moved here, when he came to make arrangements for our arrival. Before the casinos, many of the Seminoles lived in thatched huts. Though Seminoles are now identified with Broward, the Miccosukee and Seminole were one and the same before the early 1960s, when they were recognized as independent tribes.

Then, in 1960, the Cubans began to arrive. Rapidly, Miami began to change. More and more of our neighbors spoke Spanish. Around the mid-1960s, my mother was able to have a shot of sweetened espresso (now known as Cuban coffee) at Kress. Even as children we noticed that something was happening. Cuban neighbors would sometimes give us cans of free food given to them by the U.S. Government as a way to help the new refugees. The cans came with no paper labels, merely an official “Cuban Refugee Program” stamp and a description of the contents. I guess the Cubans didn’t much like them because they kept giving them to us. None of us liked the powdered scrambled eggs or the canned meat either, so my mother stopped accepting them.

When we moved to Hialeah, I found a boyfriend, who took me to an empty area he called Master’s Field not far from our house. It had once been an airport, but what was then nothing but rocks and gravel. He told me as a kid he often biked there to watch army tanks and soldiers, but was oblivious to what was probably the preparation for either the Bay of Pigs invasion or perhaps the Cuban Missile Crisis. Later, part of that field became Amelia Earhart Park and another section became Amelia Earhart Elementary and Hialeah Junior High School, which we attended.

When the Cubans arrived, we found much of Latin America taking root and growing right in our backyard. Our family was once again able to live a Latin lifestyle — sweet, strong coffee at every corner, a language my mother could understand, although not speak perfectly, and crowded beaches, filled with loud, rhythmic music.

Read more Miami Stories stories from the Miami Herald

Geoffrey Philp

    Miami Stories

    There was no slacking off in this family

    Recently, everyone in my family came down with a nasty cold/flu that has been going through Miami like a wildfire in the Everglades. We were walking around like sniffling, bleary-eyed zombies addicted to Kleenex and Theraflu. Pitiful.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">Pedro Fournier</span> shows a photo of himself outside his home in Havana before fleeing 20 years ago. Fournier was among the 35,000 Cubans who fled during the Balsero Crisis in 1994. He currently lives in Miami’s Little Havana.

    miami stories

    A long journey by raft, and a lesson in freedom

    I was born in Guantánamo in 1956. I moved to Havana as a teenager to study and ultimately graduated with a math degree. In 1994, I decided take a raft to the United States.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">Quite a change of heart: </span>From left to right, daughters Flynne and Jana, Marlene Warren, and daughter-in-law Amy pose for a photo in 1995.

    Miami Stories

    Converted: New Yorker thrilled to be a Floridian

    I wanted to spend my retirement entertained with a million things to do each and every day. My husband Steve, on the other hand, wanted to spend his retired life in the sun, fishing for permit. He said, “Key West.” I said, “New York.” I was determined to remain in New York, and Steve was just as determined to move to Florida.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category