Three or four minutes later, the officers came back to pick me up. Those were my friends in the department.
ENH: How has the neighborhood changed?
Cantón: The crime situation has improved a lot. Now you can walk on Seventh Avenue and Flagler at 2 in the morning and nobody is standing around. It’s night and day what has happened in that area.
The Cultural Fridays program helped a lot. It was something we were able to do with the help of County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, then-City Commissioner Joe Sánchez, the organizations and Peñalver Clinic. People began to come and see that the area is beautiful and that they could set up art galleries. This is what really pushed the improvement of the neighborhood.
ENH: What changes would you like to see in Little Havana?
Cantón: What we need are cosmetic fixes — remove the dead trees and plant new ones, install flower pots here and there, and paint more murals. Many of the businesses close at night with metal shutters. I would love to see murals painted on the shutters. I’m not talking about graffiti but a copy of Van Gogh or another painter.
ENH: Part of your legacy to Little Havana will be the fiberglass roosters located all over the neighborhood. It was a project done with artists Pedro Damián and Tony López. Why roosters?
Cantón: I began painting roosters because they are easy. You can paint a rooster too thin or too fat, but it will always be recognized as a rooster. In Coral Gables they had these flamingo statues that were beautiful. One year I went to the Kentucky Derby and they had metal sculptures with rooster silhouettes in Louisville. That made me think that it would be fantastic to have roosters in Little Havana.
ENH: In 2011, students from Florida International University, your alma mater, stole one of those roosters. Some people criticized you for allowing the students to return it without pressing charges. How was that situation resolved?
Cantón: Better than we expected. The students’ fraternity got in trouble with FIU, but I never got involved in that. They had to pay for painting, repairing and putting the rooster back in its place. They also worked community hours and gave us a computer as a gift for our office. It was just kids’ stuff.
ENH: You retired in August but your retirement party was held only last week. In that event, Raquel Regalado, member of the Miami-Dade School Board, thanked you for preserving the Cuban soul in Little Havana for Cuban Americans of her generation. Was that part of your mission?
Cantón: I think Raquel is right. This is the closest we are to Havana for many reasons: the different businesses, tobacco stores, pharmacies, supermarkets. You go into a store and it seems you are in another country. This is because of the people, especially the recent immigrants whose first stop in Miami is Little Havana. You can spend the entire day here doing whatever you want — pumping gasoline, buying coffee, having lunch — without having to speak English.
When my family arrived, we moved to a duplex on Second Avenue and Southwest Seventh Street, and if I tell you that it was more than 300 square feet I would be exaggerating. I slept on the sofa with my brother in the living room. But we got used to it and the next apartment was a little bit larger. We still slept in the living room, but we had two little beds. That’s the story of many immigrants in the neighborhood.
ENH: The person who will replace you in Little Havana is Celso Ahumado, who will also runs the NET office in Allapattah. What is your advice to him?
Cantón: Celso doesn’t need too much advice because he knows what he is doing. But I’m going to take him around the neighborhood to meet people and some of the business owners. I’m going to tell him who’s the good, the bad and the ugly, and also show him places where he should never go.
ENH: How are you enjoying your retirement?
Cantón: I have spent more time with the family, my wife Mikki, my children Cristina, Pablo and David. Mikki travels a lot because of her work and, before, I couldn’t accompany her. Now I can travel with her more. I always have my suitcase ready.
I have also gone to some fishing seminars. I’m very impatient . I want to just go some place and fish and that’s it. Sitting in a boat and waiting 20 minutes is something I just can’t do. What I want is to be able to fish a mangrove snapper, known in Cuba as “cubera.” So far I have not been successful. Everything I catch is extremely small.