Little Havana | Calle Ocho Festival

Calle Ocho festival: A loud, proud Little Havana tradition

 

msanchez@ElNuevoHerald.com

The drumbeat could be heard blocks away from Southwest Eighth Street, from the morning hours until sundown Sunday.

It was music from the annual festival on Calle Ocho that attracts thousands of people to the symbolic heart of Miami’s Cuban community: Miami Carnival 2013.

“This is something to savor, said Mirtha Aguilar, who took the opportunity to dance salsa with her husband of 49 years, Manuel. “We come back every year. We love dancing here.”

They were not the only ones. On several stages, musicians from a variety of Latin genres, from salsa to reggaeton, performed before diverse and animated audiences.

And after dancing up a sweat, people had plenty of choices to fill their bellies from dozens of Latin food kiosks along nearly two miles of Calle Ocho. There were also stands with children’s toys, boxes of $25 perfume and children’s T-shirts printed with the flags of Latin American countries.

“We’ve had a great time on Calle Ocho,” said Daniel Romero, who wore sunglasses in the colors of his native Cuba. “It’s a day to celebrate being Cuban.”

The Little Havana Kiwanis Club, a nonprofit organization that supports needy families in the community, organized the event, which marked its 35th anniversary this year.

The festival attracted many of Little Havana’s needy, who spent hours waiting to visit all of the kiosks set up by companies such as Winn-Dixie and Kmart, which gave out samples of cereal, juice and packaged soup. Some residents even showed up with empty suitcases to fill with the freebies.

A group of pro-immigrant groups and unions took advantage of the festival to organize a march from St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, 2987 W. Flagler St., to Calle Ocho. About 200 people participated, waiving pro-immigration-reform posters and cheering for passing motorists.

At the Calle Ocho festival, the activists visited several stages and implored the emcees and musicians to support immigration reform.

Among the activists was Felicita Torres, a 66-year-old Ecuadorean.

“I’m a U.S. citizen, but I support the cause because I am a Latina and have relatives who need this support from the government,” Torres said. “I believe that marching at the Calle Ocho festival is good because there are many people from different countries and we hope they will join.”

Many attending the festival expressed their solidarity with the activists, even though it was a small group in a large and loud event.

There was bit of mayhem: A man was wounded Sunday afternoon by a shot to the derriere — but few festival-goers knew what had happened because of all the noise.

The shooting took place about 4:20 p.m. behind a stage at Calle Ocho and Southwest 11th Avenue, said Miami police Capt. Richard Walterman.

The victim, who was not identified Sunday afternoon, was shot in the buttocks. He was taken to the Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital. The gunman disappeared in the crowd.

Police had not made an arrest by Sunday evening.

“It was really quiet until that happened,” Walterman said. “But this is the kind of thing that happens in the last hours of the event, before the festival ends at 7 p.m..”

Still, many festival-goers said the event continues to be a great way to spend time with family.

“It’s so lovely. We have been coming for six years,” said Fátima Bolaños, whose two small daughters wore dresses displaying the flag of El Salvador. “It’s an opportunity to be happy and meet people from other countries.”

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