Little Havana - Flagami

Old-timers visit CubaNostalgia for a look back at the island of long ago

Julio Lago shows the magazine Herencia to Alberto Fernandez at CubanNostalgia on Sunday, May 21. The magazine aims to preserve the collective memory of Cubans before the arrival of Fidel Castro.
Julio Lago shows the magazine Herencia to Alberto Fernandez at CubanNostalgia on Sunday, May 21. The magazine aims to preserve the collective memory of Cubans before the arrival of Fidel Castro. el Nuevo Herald

From stamps, coins and rare books to cigars, classic cars and an image of Cuba's patron saint, the Virgin of Charity, cultural artifacts were on display over the weekend at the annual CubaNostalgia show at the Miami-Dade Fair Expo Center.

“We come every year,” said Haydee Gonzalez, 78, who attended with her husband Cecilio. They miss “everything” about Cuba, he said.

“We've been here 40 years and we've never returned. While the dictatorship is still there, we will not go for anything,” said Cecilio Gonzalez, 81.

The Virgin of Charity image is usually kept at the Shrine of our Lady of Charity in Miami, said Ondina Menocal, coordinator of apostolic movements at the Archdioceses of Miami.

A street map of the city of Havana that covers part of the floor was one of the most popular attractions. The Gonzalezes examined the map carefully, looking without luck to see their neighboring hometown, Melena del Sur.

Karen Arocha, a U.S.-born Cuban American, said the idea of visiting the island raises “conflicting emotions.” Although she took her family to CubaNostalgia to enjoy the dip in Cuban culture, she said she feels “no urgency” to visit.

Glendaly Martinez and her family had their pictures taken on a reproduction of a slide of Havana's famed Malecon seashore boulevard. She was raised in New York but her parents left Cuba in 1959. Now, she's thinking about a visit to get to know the island.

“I brought them because I want to show them Cuban culture, to love Cuba,” Martinez said, pointing to her two daughters. The youngest one said she wanted to get to know the island “because of all the history and the buildings.”

As time passes, CubaNostalgia will depend more and more on second-generation Cuban Americans.

The magazine Herencia, or Heritage, “has been trying for more than 23 years to promote and preserve the Cuban patrimony before Fidel Castro, for the future generations of Cuban Americans who don't know the history,” said its president, Julio R. Lago, as he displayed several editions.

The magazine, published in Spanish and English, will soon have a younger president in hopes of attracting younger members, Lago added.

CubaNostalgia is a commercial event where you can buy anything from a good cigar to an antique Cuban book. Barbara Gonzalez promoted the Don Gonzalez brand of cigars, made with Cuban-seed tobacco grown in Nicaragua. Her brand, she said, “sells very well in the northern U.S. states.”

Nearby was the Old Cuban Books kiosk owned by Jose Javier Rabasa, one of the first used-book sellers in Havana's now-crowded Plaza de Armas. He came to the United States in 1999 and now sells books on the Internet. One of his rarest books is the first book on Cuban ophthalmology, from 1848.

This year's theme for CubaNostalgia was the classic old cars that still ply the streets of Havana and other Cuban cities, known as almendrones. Next year's theme will be baseball, said event organizer Leslie Pantin.

Columnist Daniel Shoer Roth contributed to this report.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

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