The old men who play at Domino Park still call him e l jefe — the boss. Business owners along Calle Ocho still ask him for advice to solve conflicts with their neighbors. And residents keep calling with complaints at the same number he has no plans to change.
Pablo Cantón, the face and voice of the city of Miami in Little Havana for two decades, said that he misses his old job as an administrator of city’s Neighborhood Enhancement Team. But, he assured, he’ll remain active as a volunteer in the neighborhood that welcomed his family when they came from Cuba in 1961.
In an interview with El Nuevo Herald, Cantón, 67, reflected on his experiences, his crime fighting days and his love for roosters.
When NET started in 1993, I was told that the office in Little Havana was going to be located in the police department’s South District station. So I would be working in the same building as my friends, the police officers. That convinced me, because it was the closest I could get to being a police officer.
One day we were at Southwest Third Street and Sixth Avenue, close to Riverside Park, and there was a suspicious group of kids — long, disheveled hair; pants hanging down to their feet — who looked like criminals.
We got out of the car, and the officers told them to stand against the fence with their hands up. Because I was not a police officer, I stayed to one side, just watching. But then the police officers get in the car and take off, leaving me with all those kids. When the kids see that there are no cops and I am alone, they put their hands down and start badmouthing the police, using foul language. I didn’t know what to do so I told them I was also picked up about four blocks from there and then began badmouthing the cops, too.
Three or four minutes later, the officers came back to pick me up. Those were my friends in the department.
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.
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.
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.